Friday, April 18, 2014

The continuing assault on freedom

“My grandfather was imprisoned for ten years simply because he refused to change our name as directed by our Soviet masters. He was not the only one put to jail, countless more were, and when the Soviet Empire fell they were freed and recompensed – but the years they wasted were utterly way beyond.” An Eastern European friend was relating (against this backdrop) how some of their Russian friends were behaving – with jingoism – following Crimea. “Can you imagine how these recent events have sent chills down our spines?”

“From the moment that Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea cast a new, bitter chill over relations with the West, a sinister jingoistic vibe has pervaded this unsettled capital — stirred up by state-controlled television and Mr. Putin himself.” [Xenophobic Chill Descends on Moscow, David M. Herszenhorn, The New York Times, 12th Apr 2014] “Moscow today is a proudly international city, where skateboarders in Gorky Park wear New York Yankees hats they bought on vacation in America, and where the designer French or Italian handbags might just as well have been picked out in Paris or Milan as in one of the boutiques in Red Square. Apple iPhones and iPads are nearly as common on the subway here as they are in Washington . . . In the weeks since the military incursion into Crimea, however, Russian flags have been hung from the windows of apartment buildings all over the city, just as American flags appeared in profusion after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.”

“At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new state policy in culture . . . [T]he proposed cultural policy emphasizes that ‘Russia is not Europe’ and urges ‘a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance’ in favor of emphasizing Russia’s ‘unique state-government civilization’ . . . ‘What do we see from the first pages? Gnomes, Snow White — these are representatives of a foreign-language culture,’ an expert of the Russian Academy of Education, Lyubov Ulyakhina, [said] in a question-and-answer interview. ‘Here’s some monkey, Little Red Riding Hood,’ . . . ‘of 119 characters drawn here only nine are related to Russian culture. Sorry — no patriotism — this is not funny; this is our mentality.”

And the friend continued: “Some people don’t appreciate, much less value, freedom because unlike my grandfather, freedom wasn’t summarily taken away from them.” And not surprisingly, in PHL, where we talk a lot about our colonizers, we have been constantly assaulting freedom – unwittingly, of course? For example, after 68 years we have yet to build strong institutions, which are lower in our value system compared to our respect for hierarchy – and reflected in our cacique culture and deference to oligarchy, even that of the dummy variety? And there is no strong public opinion to overcome them – not now and not in the distant future especially when a big chunk of media is in the back pockets of vested interests?

And while glossing over our lack of community sense (reflected in culture of impunity), crab mentality (or mistrust of representative democracy) and poor self-esteem (expressed in our parochial worldview), we like to harp on family? That is a virtue indeed yet as the young Jesus demonstrated in the temple, beyond family is a bigger community? And it is beyond . . . “kaklase based, Jesuit based and law school alumni based,” to quote a priest?

Spending more time outside the Philippines, I am witness to the reality that family values are not our monopoly as Filipinos. For instance, I learned about our “querida system” while still a young boy in Manila. And I have yet to know of the querida system among my foreigner-friends and acquaintances. Of course, I have seen divorces but as Francis says, who are we to judge? And Pope Francis made himself available to celebrate the baptism of a divorcee's child, out of wedlock. And we don’t want to mirror the ideologues Francis referenced as suffering from leprosy?

“The problem with ideologies . . . is that we live in a non-ideological world. Nobody knows what will happen to the Eurasian idea [of Putin] if oil prices start to fall. No matter how different [Putin] thinks he is from the westerner, the crux for the Russian will again be bread and survival.” [Boyko Vasilev, Putin’s turn signals, Bulgaria on air, April 2014]

And as the friend explained: “Flying from Moscow to Siberia where they have winter resorts, one would not miss the poverty on the ground – it is stark and visible from the sky.” And that is reinforced by “. . . [F]or 25 years after the fall of the Soviet system it did not build a consumer oriented economy and now fully depends on the export of natural resources . . . mostly to the EU. If extraction of shale gas in Europe develops on the scale it has developed in North America, the Russian economy will suffer a dreadful strike . . .” [Konstantin Tomov, Incurable dependence, Bulgaria on air, April 2014]

“The threats exchanged between the EU and Russia hide their mutual helpless . . . In the epoch of globalization, economic sanctions are subject to Newton’s law: each force is equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to another force. With such a law, there is no chance for a long-term benefit.”

What should we in PHL be concerned about? As I explained to my Eastern European friends, while I came over as a business consultant, I’ve learned a lot from them. Could we Pinoys learn some about freedom and democracy from these ex-socialists?

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