Virtue overcoming boundaries
Matilda Amundsen Bergström revisits temperance – the sixth century ethical cornerstone, dismissed as naïve, if not downright silly in postmodern times – as a means to redefine limits in a seemingly boundless world.
History has a long fuse and memory often betrays the past. A journey across borders and through no man’s lands brings that past alive and reminds us of what we have lost, in particular the diversity of the past and the beauty of the “other”.
In the summer of 1989, when the Berlin Wall was still standing, I arrived at Havana after a nearly 20-hour flight that included several stopovers, one in Moscow and another in Shannon among them. I was on my way to Mexico. I had to pick up the last batch of my tickets in Havana. It must have been around 1.00am when the plane landed. The airport was packed with people and it was sticky hot. I realized quickly that it was impossible to get into one of the buses that made their random appearances at the bus stop, so after some failed efforts I managed to find a taxi, whose back seat filled up with people in a second. It was already dawn when, having deposited my fellow travellers in different parts of the town, the taxi driver brought me to a huge hotel and exhorted me to “Pay dollar. Give tip.”
I performed a long ritual of supplication, paid dollar, gave tip and was awarded a key. But the hotel seemed to be completely empty. The door of my room did not lock properly, but I couldn’t care less. I collapsed on the bed. After some hours of restless sleep I got up, took a cold shower, abandoned the idea of fighting for breakfast and, carefully taking all my documents and money, made my way to the travel agency. There I learned that my tickets were not ready but would be in a couple of hours. I was advised to go out for a stroll and out I went, wrapped in a haze of exhaustion, delight and jet lag. I walked in slow motion, like in a dream, as if the space around me were made of cotton. It was early morning; the air was still fresh.
The city was beautiful, but rather dilapidated. Once splendid colonial buildings stood around half-ruined. I wandered into a big, empty square. Some middle-aged men hurried by in neatly ironed guayaberas, probably on their way to work. An old man was walking his grandchild in a prehistoric pram and, further away, a little boy dragged a cardboard box full of broken nick-nacks. Suddenly I felt a blow and somebody pushed me, snatching my bag. For a split second, I saw the determined face of a young man, and then all I saw was his back rapidly moving away. I started to run after him with all my strength. It was like those dreams when you run as fast as you can, but still move with awkward slowness. I did move though, because the scenery had changed. Now I was zigzagging through narrow streets, full of people, and even found myself shouting: “Help! Help! Thief!” The labyrinth of human bodies opened and closed around me; for moments I could see his back again, now he turned left, now he took a dark side road, now he disappeared completely. I looked around, gasping for air, covered with sweat. I could not believe this was happening to me. People gathered around me, staring.
“Why didn’t you help? Why didn’t you stop him?” I cried. Nobody answered. We gazed at each other as if we were from different planets. Then a man asked: “What happened, blondie?”
In other parts of the world people took me for a Gypsy because I had black hair and dark complexion. But here, I realized in a tiny sane corner of my mind, I was a foreigner, therefore a blond. Everybody had seen what happened. I took a deep breath and explained. One of the men proposed I go to the police. Immediately a little group formed around me and took me to the nearest police station. After standing for hours on a corridor deprived of chairs, in a permanently changing mass of people, where I could not tell offenders from victims, I was called to a stuffy office, where two officers listened to my story. There was nothing they could do for me, they said. You had better find your embassy and go home, they advised. It was early afternoon when I stepped out of the police station. I had a piece of paper testifying that I was victim of a theft. Outside it was so hot that I involuntarily stepped back to the shade of the gate. The small group that had taken me there waited patiently on the other side of the street.
“What happened, little one?” asked one of the men. I was not a blondie anymore. My status had changed. I had nothing and needed help; I was one of them. I described what happened. They shook their heads as if they knew the outcome beforehand. Then an elderly woman grabbed my arm.
“Listen! This man here has a car. You go with him. He will help you.”
It did not even cross my mind that I was alone, in a light summer dress, without papers or money, in an unknown city, sitting obediently in the front seat of the car of an unknown man, waving goodbye to a group of unknown people. The unknown man turned out to be a pearl. He drove me all around the city until we found the Hungarian consulate. There we found out that the consul was at home. In the consul’s home we learned that the consul was not at home. After some more rounds we found him at some gathering and there I was sitting across from him, relating again what had happened to me that morning. He took some notes. When I finished, he said I had to go back to Budapest on the next flight.
“No way,” I said. He lifted his head and looked at me in surprise. I must have looked pretty devastated; he did not expect any resistance. I cleared my throat. “Monday morning at 10.00am I have to give a lecture at the UNAM in Mexico City. I have to represent our socialist homeland.”
The consul seemed even more surprised. He became attentive. I was not an unfortunate tourist any longer, but a confabulator. Or, possibly, a representative of our socialist homeland. The latter, however, seemed quite unlikely. Representatives of our socialist homeland did not travel on a shoestring but wore a two-piece ensemble and nail polish. Nevertheless, I was indeed on my way to Mexico to present my new work. Some years before, after receiving a research grant to study faraway Mexico, I arrived in a country where the colours, the smells, the language, the gestures, everything was new and different. But I felt at home right away. I found astonishing parallels between Hungarian and Mexican development patterns, history and culture; I found people who had the same affinities and references as me; I recognized the causes that mattered. I was on my way home to Mexico when I got trapped in Cuba. No way I would turn back.
The consul started to question me and soon we discovered that we had graduated from the same university in Budapest and had many common acquaintances. We were still staring at each other, as gladiators in an amphitheatre. But at one point something moved in his eyes. He decided to believe me. I became one of “us”. What happened after this was like an accelerated science fiction film. It was a Friday afternoon in a tropical country afflicted by basic shortages. However, as soon as the consul adopted me, nothing could stop him. Closed office doors, missing stamps, absence of working cameras, secretaries long gone; nothing mattered. At ten in the evening, the proud owner of a temporary passport, I was sitting on his patio, sipping Cuba Libre. Earlier we had even gone back to the hotel to gather my stuff and drive to the home of the pearl man. I gave him all the soap, shampoo and toothpaste I had in my luggage. He was convinced he owed me thanks.
Monday morning, 10.00am. I was delivering my lecture at the UNAM. I described the parallels between Hungary and Mexico, two countries with decades-long one-party systems that reproduced themselves through oppression, co-option and bribes, using the benefits of forced industrialization. The audience was delighted. Me too.
On my way back home the Moscow authorities were not moved by the stamped paper that testified that I was victim of a theft in Havana. They took me out of the line waiting for the Budapest flight and made me walk to the police office. The ritual was already familiar, though this time it lacked the tropical flavour. After thorough questioning I was escorted to a windowless airport hotel by two armed soldiers. I asked what was going to happen, but they just shrugged their shoulders. In the hotel room, there was a man lying on one bed and an old lady all dressed in black sitting beside another. When I greeted them, the man nodded. The old lady just looked at me, anguished. I smiled at her and lay down on the middle bed. We waited in silence. Once in a while the man got up and went out to smoke in the corridor where the guards were posted. I did not hear him utter a single word during my whole stay. Hours later, when the man left the room, the old lady approached my bed. She took out a crumbled piece of paper from the folds of her clothes. Ghulam said the paper with some numbers next to it.
“What does this mean? What is Ghulam,” I asked. She said something, but I did not understand. I tried everything, but we didn’t have a common language. Later, when one of the guards escorted me to the bathroom, I learned from him that the old woman was Afghan. She was looking for her son who had been taken to the Soviet Union injured or as a prisoner. Back in those days I did not waste too much time wondering about what the Soviet Union was doing in Afghanistan. I had just started to discover the shortcomings of the system I thought was the best of all possible ones. I could not even imagine that the Soviet Union, our saviour and ally, could nurture imperialistic ambitions. It was Soviet soldiers who had liberated us from Hitler. It is true that they were also guarding the hotel room, preventing me from getting out. But they were not nasty. The younger one, who accompanied me to the toilets, was actually quite jovial. “Nobody understands,” he said, “how this Afghan woman managed to cross the borders.”
When I got back to the room, I sat down on the old lady’s bed. We sat next to each other in silence. Then she made me understand that she wanted to sleep and asked me to guard her dreams. I stayed on the side of her bed and pretended to read. In the evening, the guards took us to a restaurant at the airport. We received orange tokens that entitled us to a dinner of cold barley, a piece of meat of undisclosed origin and a yellowish drink. I grinned happily as if I were being served in a four star gourmet restaurant. The old lady sat across the table, carefully observing me. Then she started to eat, slowly working through every single mouthful. She must have been terribly hungry. And, as I looked at her in the naked light of the empty restaurant, I realized that she was not old at all. She must have been in her late-thirties, just some years older then me.
In the middle of the night I woke up to a strange noise. The woman in black sat at the edge of my bed whispering, her hands open above my face.
“What happened?” I sat up startled.
“Ghulam, Ghulam!” she said.
“Did they find him?” I asked.
She kept whispering, making signs in front of my face. I saw her tiny bundle next to her. She was ready to leave. The soldiers came and signalled to her that she should move. I wanted to accompany her, but they stopped me at the door. We stood at the threshold, looking at each other, then I put my arms around her for a moment.
“Come on, grandmother, let’s go!” said the younger soldier and they left. I went back to my bed and fell asleep again. When I woke up, the room was empty.
Some years ago, one autumn day my work took me to Tarnow. Tarnow is a beautiful mediaeval city in the south of Poland. It has an almost intact renaissance main square, cobbled roads, centuries-old wooden churches, some remnants of the once-flourishing Jewish culture and a unique ethnographic museum dedicated to the history of the Gypsies. As soon as I arrived, I dropped my bags in a friendly little hotel and went out to explore. I was eager to see, to move, to mix in with the Sunday afternoon strollers. I have been living in the West for over 20 years now, but I still go home to eastern Europe. It is my background, it is my culture; I understand the gestures, identify the smells, recognize the traces of history. I melt in; I am one of us.
As I was wandering around in the city centre, I found a monument dedicated to Josef Bem. Bem was a Polish general, a freedom fighter, inspired by the French Enlightenment. In 1848, he came to Hungary to help our revolution and tried to protect our great poet, Petofi. He became our national hero, still affectionately called “Uncle Bem”. The 1956 uprising and several opposition gatherings during the Iron Curtain years started at his monument in Budapest. I stepped back to look at his statue, when my eye caught a strange construction some hundred metres further away. Four blackened columns stood in the middle of an abandoned ground.
I went closer. There was an empty square with a ruined wall on one side. Facing the strange structure there was a public toilet: Ladies, Gentlemen. As I walked towards the steps that led up to the square, I passed a group of children, two girls, a little boy of around eight and a slightly older one, who sat on top of the wall. They stared at me and giggled as I walked by, as kids often do when they see strangers. The tourist season was over; there were few visitors in the town. As I headed towards the square, the little boy dashed past me, mumbling something to himself. As I approached the construction, he rushed by again, throwing some word at me and run back to his friends. At this point I stood in front of the structure. Suddenly I realized that it was the Bimah, the only remaining part of a seventeenth-century synagogue that the Nazis had burned when they occupied the town. And suddenly I identified the word the little boy now shouted at me from the other end of the square. “Jewess, Jewess!” he howled.
I stood in front of the Bimah. I tried not to blush, not to turn pale, not to change the expression of my face. I pretended I did not understand what the little boy shouted, now at the top of his lungs, in the midst of the wholehearted laughter of his friends. I pretended I did not know what that word meant shouted this way, and where such cries can lead. Soon after, I started to walk and left the square at the other end. Now I noticed the Jewish stars on the remnants of the fence that once surrounded the synagogue. I moved very slowly, as if my leg hurt. I was not at home any more.
I am sure that little boy had no idea what a Jew was. The Jews of Tarnow inhabit the cemetery on Szpitalna Street. I was dressed like anybody else and did not perform mysterious rituals. All the little boy saw was a stranger looking at a strange object. Other people I met in his town, from managers to shopkeepers, found that meeting a stranger could be interesting or funny. But for the little boy, a “stranger” was an enemy. He had learned to use the word “Jew” as an insult and applied it to make the “other” understand that her presence was not welcome. In other places and other contexts he would have shouted “Coloured”, “Muslim”, “Terrorist”, “Immigrant” or “Black-eyed”. An invisible border separated us, as solid as the concrete and barbed wire ones that surrounded my childhood. And between us there was mined territory. It was like the empty land between East and West Berlin some weeks after the Wall was broken; like the dividing line between East and West Jerusalem just after the first Intifada. Or the no-man’s land between Kosovo and the country that was still called Yugoslavia a year after the Kosovo crisis. In each case, a driver took me to a corner of a road, stopped suddenly and said: “From here you have to go alone.”
Behind the invisible border “they” lived. “They” usually spoke the same language and ate the same food as “us”, but “we” treated them as dangerous enemies who threatened our lives. In Berlin I tried to argue. In Jerusalem I got out of the taxi without a word. In the former Yugoslavia I walked on the deserted road, my head tucked between my shoulders. My lonely steps confirmed the existence of a border.
If I had the courage and the words, I would have crossed the invisible border, have gone over to the little boy to tell him a story from my childhood. When I was a little girl, some years younger than him, I refused to shake hands with the first black person I was introduced to. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, like the one in Tarnow, and my mother took me to the zoo in beautiful Budapest. She dressed me in my nicest dress. We were walking in the gardens when we met a young African man. My mother taught at the University of Horticulture; he was one of her students. Back in those days Hungary was a closed country with very limited contacts with the outside world. We would see some tourist groups from our comrade countries, but people from the magic West, from other cultures or continents, were rare exotica. Some of them were students from friendly Third World countries, who received state grants to study in the Eastern Bloc.
My mother introduced me to the black man. I smiled politely, but did not give him my hand, as I had been taught to do. I was afraid my frilled white Sunday dress was going to be dirty if I touched that black hand. The young man smiled at me and waited. My mother was embarrassed. She tried to convince me, but I did not give in. I had only one frilled white Sunday dress. Then suddenly my mother caught the young man’s hand and shook it vigorously. Then she showed her palm to me. There was no mark on it. So slowly, cautiously, I reached out and touched the hand in front of me. It was soft and warm, like my own. I looked at my finger: there was no mark on it. I tried again, to be sure. Nothing. I was terribly relieved. I took the soft, warm hand and no longer wanted to let it go.
We continued our walk together. I was extremely proud; I had the nicest dress and the most interesting friend in the whole garden. And, as we walked among the rose bushes and weeping willows, I made an important discovery. Listening to the adults, who were talking about things I did not understand, I realized that language had its own music. The young man used the words of my mother tongue correctly, but they sounded different. It must have been the music of his native language that came across and gave a new tonality to the familiar words, making them sound fascinating and funny. That unknown African man, a complete stranger, took my heritage and taught me something new about it.
One hot summer afternoon, some time in the early-1970s, I stood with a friend, sweating, exhausted and hungry, on a bumpy road leading to the Black Sea somewhere in Bulgaria. Hungary is a small, landlocked country. At that time, it was also communist, which meant, among other things, restrictions on travel. If we wanted to jump into the sea, we could either go North to the GDR or South to Bulgaria. There was also Yugoslavia, with a nice long coastline, but since it started to affirm its political independence, simple tourist visits there were made complicated. My friend and I had enough money to take a train to Sofia, but from there we had to hitch a ride. Some good-hearted truck drivers brought us closer to our goal, but that afternoon we had been standing by the road for hours, in sweltering heat, with no transport in sight. There were few vehicles and the ones that did pass didn’t even bother to slow down. We entertained each other with sweet fantasies: “Ah, a swimming pool with cold water… Mm, a glass of cold water… Woooh, a white Mercedes with air-conditioning…”
And there it came: a white Mercedes with air-conditioning. It passed us, turned the corner, then we heard the brakes creak and there it was again, coming towards us, backwards. An elegant gentleman dressed all in white stepped out and invited us to get in. First we hesitated, then we jumped in. From the following conversation that took place in rudimentary English, it turned out that our saviour was a Turkish businessman, on his way to address some important meeting. When he figured out who we were and why we were melting away on the asphalt, he took us to a nice restaurant, fed us, drove us to the next railway station, bought us tickets and put us on the next train going to the seaside. He didn’t leave his card, didn’t ask for our address and didn’t search for our knees under the table in the restaurant. When the train pulled off, he kindly waved goodbye and disappeared.
We were thrilled and completely puzzled. As a member of the class of exploiters, this generous man was our political – and also historic – enemy. The Turks occupied Hungary for 150 years, destroying, exploiting, raping and plundering, killing our national heroes and taking away the young boys to make them janissaries. There are beautiful folksongs still sung today that recall the pains and losses caused by the Turkish occupation. Every Hungarian child reads The Stars of Eger, an historical novel that relates the adventures of two children caught in the desperate struggle to defend the town of Eger from the advancing Ottoman hordes. It is true that all this happened about 500 years ago, but historical memory can be eternal – particularly when it concerns grievances. It can also be extremely short-term – making it all too easy for manipulators of all sorts to use the same nasty old tricks to turn people against each other.
The elegant gentleman obviously didn’t know that he was our double enemy. He had a completely different reading of our common history that shaped his attitude towards us. We were his long-lost compatriots encountered on the land of his ancestors, and, on top of all that, hungry and female. He followed the codes of hospitality. He had to protect us. And, with all our notions of class and the independence struggle, we highly appreciated his gesture. Many years later, when I travelled to Turkey, I was again warmly welcomed as a little sister. This made me feel comfortable, but the richness of Istanbul, the beauty of Sinan’s mosques, the splendours of Topkapi and the archaeological sites filled me with awe. What an astonishing richness and sophistication, I kept asking myself, “Are these the same Turks, who destroyed, exploited and plundered Hungary?”
These memories came back to me looking at the images of Ebro, a photo project carried out by a Turkish photograph, Attila Durak, accompanied by texts written by leading Turkish intellectuals. What an astonishing richness, what wonderful resources, what a variety of faces, environments, universes! The photos of Ebro are the fruit of a seven-year journey that started when the artist asked himself a simple question: “Who are the Turks that the slogan ‘Turkey to the Turks’ refers to?” And at the end of the journey he answered: “We are Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Greeks, Gypsies and Jews; Turks of different cultures and customs and life conditions and this is our shared country. Let’s enjoy it!”
The images of Ebro make the same journey for the reader. They bring close what appears to be far away. They have the same inspiration as the “Face2Face” photo-project that posted large portraits of ordinary Jews and Palestinians on the separation wall that is supposed to cement the differences between the two people. Or the documentary film of Amar Kanwar, The Lightening Testimonies, that presents Indian women who suffered communitarian violence. Their ethnic group and cast are different, but their stories are painfully identical. Looking at the faces the spectator starts to wonder: “Which of these is ‘us’? ‘They’ laugh, suffer and work in exactly the same way as ‘we’ do” Until the moment when the words “us” and “them” loose their absolute values.
As I was looking at the images of Ebro a small voice within me started to talk: “Lucky you, Turks,” it said in Hungarian. “You still have diversity. Certainly, a lot has been lost, but you can still count dozens of ethnic groups, with their traditions, languages and cultures. There is something to defend, to promote, to be proud of; a fertile ground for creativity. Think of the golden age of Al-Andalus, the cultural flourishing of Iran under the first Safavids, fed by the encounter of different people and traditions. Think of Yugoslavia 30 years ago and its sad, ‘ethnically cleansed’ successor countries today, built over the dead bodies of hundreds of thousands of former compatriots.”
One hundred years ago, Hungary was a multi-ethnic, multicultural country, with dozens of languages, traditions and cultures. Children growing up in this diversity were the natural ambassadors of their country, not only of their community. After two World Wars, Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, loosing or actively getting rid of its ethnic minorities during the process and afterwards. Today, Hungary is a monolithic, white country, with a government that wants to represent, first of all, national interests. The large majority of Hungarians consider that the country’s biggest tragedy was the loss of its former territories and the separation of Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring countries. Most do not even think about the loss of the ethnic minorities that have always been an organic part of our country’s development. We proudly recall that Hungary has the highest ratio of Nobel Prizes per capita in the world, but rarely add that most of those Nobels were won by Hungarians who were chased away from the country because they were Jews. The world became richer, but Hungary became much poorer without its Slavic, German, Romanian or Jewish citizens.
Hungarian national ideology characteristically oscillates between a feeling of national superiority and victimhood. The ideas of national supremacy, combined with disdain for the ethnic minorities, played an enormous role in the loss of the former Hungarian territories. This historical fact is rarely evoked, particularly today, when nationalism has again become the leitmotif of Hungarian political discourse and being “part of the nation” is again a political decision. Hungarians outside the borders have been offered citizenship and promised the right to vote at the next elections, but the critics of the system are treated as “enemies of the country”. The extreme right party in parliament, Jobbik, wants “Hungary for the Hungarians” and, since there are very few minorities left, their primary target is the Gypsies, who have been living in the country at least as long as “genuine Hungarians”. Jobbik’s language has contaminated the public discourse, its arguments are taken up by mainstream politicians and it has been implementing its policy with increasing self-assurance.
The emerging authoritarian, populist and nationalist forces in Europe all operate with the same logic. They single out “the other” – an ethnic, a social or a political group – as a scapegoat and blame it for their country’s ills. This is much easier then facing facts, searching for solutions, taking responsibility for former actions and drawing lessons from history. From Belgium, through Hungary to Lithuania, there are efforts to rewrite history that aim to highlight glorious chapters and make the shameful ones “disappear”. Every country has bright and dark chapters in its history. One can consciously choose which ones to identify with and which ones to refuse. You may refuse the heritage of Talat Pasha and identify with the military commander of Smyrna, who refused to deport the inhabitants of Armenian origin from his town. Or the other way around. The heroes of my national history are certainly those who understood that fighting for the freedom of a nation – or a particular social group – must mean freedom for all, not simply those who used the notions of nation and freedom to exclude others.
Ebro, or “marbling”, is an ancient Turkish art technique. The artist adds drops of different colours to a wet surface. The colours interact, mixing or contouring each other, and the artist can intervene to direct this natural melding. The result is a dreamlike texture with fluid shapes and infinite combinations of colours: a synthesis of hazard and will. The Turkish photo project is called Ebro because it mirrors the fluid variety of the people of Turkey. “Marbling” is also a good visual image of today’s Europe. A continent where several cultures, languages, peoples, ethnic minorities and immigrants live and mix together. There is no way to separate or extract one of the ingredients. Whenever a drop of a new colour arrives, the whole constellation changes; every element is obliged to react. It would be difficult to reset the previous status quo. Even if one were able to remove an undesired colour with some high-performance tool, the movements of the manoeuvre would leave their traces. Just as historical memory preserves the marks of those who were massacred, even when their tracks were destroyed as well. The void can also leave traces.
The subtle lines and fluid forms of Ebro art recall the texture of marble, one of the strongest and noblest materials of nature. The noblesse and strength of marble comes from the multitude of different elements that were pressed together by time. We seem to believe biologists and environmental experts who say that biodiversity is a value and an indispensable element of nature’s healthy development. Why can we not use this analogy for society? Why is it so difficult to reckon that diversity makes a society richer, more coherent and more flexible? How is it possible that 65 years after the end of World War II Europe is again filled with movements that want to get rid of the “other” by all means?
When my children were small, as a good Hungarian mother, I read The Stars of Eger with them. And I slowed down at the scene that I consider the most beautiful in the book. After a terrible battle that left hundreds of dead in both camps, a Turkish woman arrives at the half-destroyed fortress of Eger with a captive Hungarian boy. She hopes to find her own son behind the enemy lines. He is indeed in the other camp, looked after by the Hungarian women, among them the mother of the little prisoner. The two sides agree to exchange their respective captives. In the midst of the rubble, the two mothers approach each other in deadly silence. They exchange the little boys. Then they look at each other and shake hands.
In Geneva, where I live, it happens that Turks, Armenians, Kurds and Hungarians sit at the same table and have fun. Or Yugoslavs, all belonging to the same defunct country, not Bosnians, Croats, Serbs or Kosovars. Will diversity be a luxury of exile? We should not let that happen. Today, my teenage son learns Turkish. For him it is not the language of our historical enemy, but the language of a vibrant, lively culture at the crossroads of East and West. My daughter learns German. For her it is the language of Goethe and Hölderlin, not of those who decimated our family during the past World War. Our children’s generation might do better then ours. But it is our responsibility to teach them history and help them to select the bright pages. And show them the beauty of the “other”, the most important thing I learned in all my travels.
I wonder sometimes what happened to Ghulam? Did he go back to Afghanistan to become a Taliban to blow up girls’ schools? Or is he one of the guards who protect the teachers? Was my mother’s student killed, belonging to the “wrong” ethnic group, or did he end up in the camp of perpetrators? Will that little boy in Tarnow grow up surrounded by “strangers”? Will he one day put on a black shirt and heavy boots and demand that they get out of “his” place? Or will he be lucky enough to meet someone – a stranger, a parent, a friend, a public figure – who will help him cross the invisible border built of dogmas, prejudices and fears? Will he be lucky enough not to grow up to become a murderer, like the young man who shot Hrant Dink? That young Turk also wanted “Turkey for the Turks”. He aimed at a white-shirted back, the target for the “other”. He probably did not even see Dink’s face. Had he seen it, had he seen the faces of Ebro, he might have hesitated. I foolishly, naively, desperately hope he would have hesitated.
Published 7 June 2011
Original in English
First published by Lettre International 90/2010 (German version); Magyar Lettre Internationale 80 (2011) (Hungarian version); Eurozine (updated English version).
© Yudit Kiss / EurozinePDF/PRINT
Matilda Amundsen Bergström revisits temperance – the sixth century ethical cornerstone, dismissed as naïve, if not downright silly in postmodern times – as a means to redefine limits in a seemingly boundless world.
We speak about the differences between North and South as though they explain everything. In the process, age-old prejudices again penetrate the European consciousness and shape how we think about the world.