Lituania, bandiera di libertà


457TSD. 23.08.1989. Akmens tilts. "Baltijas cels". Foto (pers): Uldis Briedis.

Mentre l’Olanda – come tanti altri Paesi occidentali – dimentica i valori di libertà risorti dopo la sconfitta del nazismo, lasciandosi guidare da populismi xenofobi, islamofobi e omofobi, i Paesi che hanno conosciuto il comunismo sovietico inducono a sperare nel futuro. Le nuove generazioni sono pronte a difendere la libertà: la luce viene oggi soprattutto dalla Lituania

Gusundenes Volksempfinden

Some 76 years ago, my then 23-year-old uncle joined the Dutch resistance, several months after the Nazi’s invaded and occupied the country. He managed to stay at liberty during more than three years under the cover of several pseudonyms, falsifying documents and helping Jews escape from extermination in the gas chambers. Eventually he was caught, by sheer miracle not immediately executed but sent to the camps instead. He spent the rest of the war moving from one camp to the other, seven in total. He managed to see the American liberators in April 1945 and died soon after, 28 years old, from malnourishment and disease.

When I grew up, his example was always there, and was one of the important factors that made me dedicate my life to the struggle for human rights and freedom. A key element in my upbringing was the concept that you are to take care of your neighbors, of those who are less fortunate, and that sharing your abilities, possessionsand “talents” with others makes life worth living. The example of my uncle, and the other Dutchmen who gave their lives for freedom, had a profound influence on my decisions.

I grew up in a country that was liberal, open-minded, and perceived as an island of hospitality in Europe. Amsterdam was a global center for the hippy movement, and it is no coincidence that John and Yoko Lennon staged their “make love not war” performance in an Amsterdam Hilton bed. Sure, Amsterdam was in itself an island of freedom in a rather conservative and still very provincial country, but it was also the country that brought forward great politicians like Max van der Stoel, the Minister of Foreign Affairs whose fierce criticism helped bring down the colonel’s regime in Greece in 1974 and who in 1977 went to see Charter ’77 dissident Jan Patocka in Czechoslovakia, resulting in Communist leader Husak canceling their official meeting. It was the country that provided human rights experts like Theo van Boven and Peter Kooijmans, both internationally renowned in their field.

For various reasons my heart went out to a different part of the world, which was then one of the main centers of un-freedom, the Soviet Union. I actively supported the democratic movement in the USSR and rejoiced when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union disintegrated. Since, the region has become my home, and while working in former Soviet republics I see change happening before my eyes, I see the quest for freedom, the desire to change and to terminate the long-lasting destructive effects of totalitarianism on both the countries and their peoples. It is a long and uphill battle, but it is a satisfying one, in particular when you notice that people understand the meaning of freedom, the value of it, and are ready to sacrifice both economically and otherwise to make their dreams come true.

On the other hand, over the past fifteen years I have seen The Netherlands regress. Gradually, the open-mindedness and hospitality made way for self-centeredness, for petty dissatisfaction, for fear to loose the enormous wealth that istaken for granted. “Phobias” became a permanent element in Dutch politics: xenophobia, islamophobia, and a resurgence of homophobia. A long sequence of populist politicians did everything to stir the pot and put more oil on the fire, and although the dangerous developments were clear, many of the more decent politicians decided to remain silent out of fear of losing votes.

The picture that emerges is a country where the largest political party is not even a party because it has no members and only a “leader”, white-haired Geert Wilders. Where the underbelly of the nation has become the most vocal, where an MP calling Parliament a “fake parliament” goes unpunished and where people openly call refugees “insects” or “scum”. During the three months of campaigning in favor of the Association Agreement I have seen reactions in social media that I could not have imagined were possible, I have seen how a combination of ignorance, self-centeredness and outright stupidity has led to a mob that is ready to burn down mosques or synagogues, if they at all even know the difference. What now reigns is the “Gesundenes Volksempfinden” that Hitler so proudly referred to, and used to gain power, reign terror on his opponents and eventually murder most of the Jews on the European continent.

Yes, it is true, only 32,2% of the Dutch population voted, and of these only 64% against. Yet you do not need to have a majority of the population to destroy a country’s moral fiber. In Germany in the 1930s the majority of the population stood by and watched, pretended it didn’t concern them and that it would all pass, and see how it eventually ended. I am not saying The Netherlands lost its democracy, but it did lose the democratic energy and the readiness to defend freedom in all its diversity, both for itself and for others.

The paradox is that the fight for European values and the defense of the freedom we have known since the end of World War Two is no longer coming from the “old Europe”. The real understanding of these values, and the willingness to fight for them, is now coming from the East, from some of the formerly communist countries, who until 25 years ago were struggling to get free and who still remember what it is like not to be free. While living and working in this part of the world, I feel and share their passion, their desire to come to terms with the horrors of the past and to build a country that is based on the rule of law and the norms and values that Europe stood for. How paradoxical that they wanted to become part of a European Union that itself has lost the power to defend the values on basis of which it was built.

I have lived for the past sixteen years in Lithuania, and I have seen the country change immensely, from a narrow-minded and rather closed society dominated by a combination of Soviet and catholic conservatism, to a much more open-minded and outward looking society that understands the price of breaking free from totalitarianism and dictatorship, and is willing to fight to preserve this. While four-five years ago seeing a black person in the street was still exceptional, and my students from Africa would complain about racist shouts and curses, it has now become a regularity. With an improving economy the possibilities to see the world and meet other cultures became “normal” and with it came tolerance and open-mindedness. It is not only President Grybauskaite who has the habit of saying exactly the right things when freedom in her region is threatened, or when she stands up for Ukraine. Grybauskaite is merely the voice of a nation, and this nation has made enormous strides in the direction of the European society that the founding fathers of the European Union envisaged.

And this can be the future for Ukraine. If the country can maintain the energy and perseverance to rid itself of the Soviet past, which in its most ugly forms still permeates society, the country has a great future. It has an enormous potential, a well-educated young generation and a newly discovered multi-ethnic national identity. One of the opponents of the Association Agreement wrote in my social media that Ukraine will go in the same direction as Lithuania, being a “totally impoverished nation taken over my multi-nationals and rid of all national wealth”. My hope is that Ukraine indeed becomes like Lithuania – and fully joins the family of nations that cherish European values and norms, and not trash them like the organizers of the Dutch referendum did.

Robert van Voren

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