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June 21: A Day of Balance and Harmony

In Being a World Citizen, The Search for Peace on June 21, 2017 at 8:43 AM

JUNE 21: A DAY OF BALANCE AND HARMONY

By René Wadlow

 

Our earth is a small star in the great universe

Yet of it we can make, if we choose, a planet

Unvexed by war, untroubled by hunger or fear,

Undivided by senseless distinctions of race, color, or theory.

-Stephen Vincent Bennet.

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The twenty-first day of June, the Summer Solstice, is in many cultures the cosmic symbol of balance and harmony: balance between light and dark, between the universal and the local, between giving and receiving, between women and men, and between our inner and outer worlds. History records humanity’s preoccupation with the sun’s annual cycle. Sites such as Stonehenge in England are thought to have been erected specifically to trace the path of the sun through the heavens.

The sun has always had symbolic meaning. As that most ancient Sanskrit prayer, the Gayatri tells us, the sun is a disc of golden light giving sustenance to the universe, and Plato used the image of the sun to represent the idea of the One, the Good. In the age of the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt, the concept of harmony, order, and balance were personified by the goddess Ma’at, the winged woman who replicated on earth, the celestial balance of order and beauty.

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There is an old tradition attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and the Emerald Tablet which says, “That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below.” Thus, the cosmic growth of light should be reflected in our lives in greater light, greater awareness, greater understanding.

June 21 is a day of recognition of the world-wide increase of light which destroys ignorance. It is a day in which we celebrate illumination as it dispels darkness. It is a day during which we can all recognize the growth of greater consciousness and concern for the common good. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens stresses cooperation and visions of a better future. Harmony and balance include tolerance, acceptance, equality and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts.

Due to the efforts of those with a world vision, people throughout the world are recognizing their responsibility to each other and are attempting to revolve ancient and entrenched global problems. Today, we see a new spirit of cooperation as we move toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society. We see a growing spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and dialogue. We are one human race, and we inhabit one world. Therefore, we must see the world with global eyes, understand the world with a global mind, and love the world with a global heart.

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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

June 20: World Refugee Day

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 20, 2017 at 8:19 AM

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JUNE 20: WORLD REFUGEE DAY
By René Wadlow

June 20 is the United Nations (UN)-designated World Refugee Day marking the signing in 1951 of the Convention on Refugees. The condition of refugees and migrants has become a “hot” political issue in many countries, and the policies of many governments have been very inadequate to meet the challenges. The UN-led World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23-24, 2016 called for efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts by “courageous leadership, acting early, investing in stability, and ensuring broad participation by affected people and other stakeholders.”

If there were more courageous political leadership, we might not have the scope and intensity of the problems that we now face. Care for refugees is the area in which there is the closest cooperation between nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the UN system. As one historian of the work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has written “No element has been more vital to the successful conduct of the programs of the UNHCR than the close partnership between UNHCR and the non-governmental organizations.”

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

The 1956 flow of refugees from Hungary was the first emergency operation of the UNHCR. The UNHCR turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies which had experience and the finances to deal with such a large and unexpected refugee departure and resettlement. Since 1956, the UNHCR has increased the number of NGOs, both international and national, with which it works given the growing needs of refugees and the increasing work with internally displaced persons who were not originally part of the UNHCR mandate.

Along with emergency responses − tents, water, medical facilities − there are longer-range refugee needs, especially facilitating integration into host societies. It is the integration of refugees and migrants which has become a contentious political issue. Less attention has been given to the concept of “investing in stability”. One example:

The European Union (EU), despite having pursued in words the design of a Euro-Mediterranean Community, in fact did not create the conditions to approach its achievement. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995 in order to create a free trade zone and promote cooperation in various fields, has failed in its purpose. The EU did not promote a plan for the development of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East and did nothing to support the democratic currents of the Arab Spring. Today, the immigration crisis from the Middle East and North Africa has been dealt with almost exclusively as a security problem.

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Za’atari, Jordan. The biggest refugee camp in the world.

The difficulties encountered in the reception of refugees do not lie primarily in the number of refugees but in the speed with which they have arrived in Western Europe. These difficulties are the result of the lack of serious reception planning and weak migration policies. The war in Syria has gone on for six years. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, not countries known for their planning skills, have given shelter to nearly four million persons, mostly from the Syrian armed conflicts. That refugees would want to move further is hardly a surprise. That the refugees from war would be joined by “economic” and “climate” refugees is also not a surprise. The lack of adequate planning has led to short-term “conflict management” approaches. Fortunately, NGOs and often spontaneous help have facilitated integration, but the number of refugees and the lack of planning also impacts NGOs.

Thus, there is a need on the part of both governments and NGOs to look at short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate modification impact. World Refugee Day can be a time to consider how best to create a humanist, cosmopolitan society.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: To the very essence of everything

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2017 at 9:41 PM

ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN: TO THE VERY ESSENCE OF EVERYTHING

By René Wadlow

 

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I want to push through

To the very essence of everything:

Straight to the core of days gone by,

To what made them,

To the foundations, to the roots,

The heart of the matter.

 

Boris Pasternak

 

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s most autobiographical novel The First Circle, a diplomat says “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government. That is why no regime anywhere has ever loved its great writers, only its minor ones.” The writer as the conscience of the people has a long tradition in Russia both in Czarist and Soviet times. Turgenev was compelled to live much of his life abroad, and many of his works were suppressed. Chekhov felt this duty of public conscience so strongly that, even though suffering from tuberculosis, he insisted on making a long journey to the Sakhalin Islands to report on the conditions of exiles there. Leo Tolstoy was regularly censored and finally excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church which banned any prayers at his funeral.

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In 1974, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union and found shelter in the house of German writer Heinrich Böll in Cologne, (then West) Germany. (C) Dutch National Archives

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s father Isai was a follower of Tolstoy. As David Burg and George Feifer point out “Tolstoyism was a kind of nonchurch religion propounding that the kingdom of God resides within each human soul, and that the way to a true knowledge of Christ and to salvation was through individual conscience and love rather than the strictures of an organized church. Tolstoy preached moral betterment by means of restricting human appetites and simplifying life; his ultimate goal was to transform the whole of Russia, including the intelligentsia into a community of peasants satisfying their own basic needs through manual work on their own land. Tolstoyism was one of the country’s most popular ideological movements at the turn of the century and reached its crest with Tolstoy’s death in 1910.” (1)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose birth anniversary we note on June 18 never knew his father who died of a hunting accident six months before his birth. However, Solzhenitsyn’s mother shared her husband’s Tolstoyian views and passed on the values to her son. She never remarried so as to be able to care for her son. Although Leo Tolstoy is not mentioned by name, his ideas are strongly evident in Solzhenitsyn’s Letter to Soviet Leaders of September 1973, his last effort to speak truth to power before being deported from the Soviet Union in February 1974. The letter was published in Paris in Russian and then in English from London in 1974. (2) Solzhenitsyn calls upon the Soviet leaders “So let us come to our senses in time, let us change our course!” Recalling Tolstoy indirectly he wrote “They hounded the men who said that it was perfectly feasible for a colossus like Russia, with all its spiritual particularities and folk traditions, to find its own particular path.”

Much of the letter is devoted to warning against unrestrained industrial growth. “Economic growth is not only unnecessary but ruinous. We must set ourselves the aim not of increasing national resources, but merely of conserving them. We must renounce, as a matter of urgency, the gigantic scale of modern technology in industry, agriculture and urban development (the cities of today are cancerous tumors). The chief aim of technology will now be to eradicate the lamentable results of previous technologies.” He went on to stress “We need to heal our wounds, cure our national body and national spirit. Let us find the strength, sense and courage to put our own house in order before we busy ourselves with the cares of the whole planet. And once, again, by a happy coincidence, the whole world can only gain by it…The village, for centuries the mainstay of Russia, has become its chief weakness. For too many decades we have sapped the collectivized village of all its strength, driven it to utter despair.”

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Solzehnitsyn addressing the media as he left his longtime home in Cavendish, Vermont in 1994, finally returning home to his native Russia.

It was Solzhenitsyn’s novels and his documentation of the lives of people in the Soviet prison system which brought him to world attention and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. His first short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published in the Soviet Union, but his other novels and the monumental Gulag Archipelago were published from Western Europe. It was his own years spent in prison camps and forced exile in Central Asia which focused his sense of mission and his drive to awaken the Russian people to the inhumanity which the Soviet regime had wrought.

As Leopold Labedz wrote “like other major novelists, Solzhenitsyn makes his own experience the center of his literary work and the point of departure for its symbolic significance. The concentration camp and the cancer ward are for him places in which to reflect not just on the problems presented by extreme situations, but on the wider questions of Soviet reality and of our epoch, of good and evil, in short of la condition humaine. Like other great novelists he is uncompromising in his attitude to truth and he restores to Russian literature the moral universalism which had been lost during the Stalin era. His writing is philosophical in the traditional sense; with its complexity and sense of tragedy; it is the antithesis of the shallow optimism and vulgar sociologism which under the sign of ‘socialist realism’ has for so many years dominated Soviet prose writing.” (3)

Solzhenitsyn spent 18 years in forced exile in rural Cavendish, Vermont. When he returned to post-Soviet Russia in 1994, he often wrote and spoke in a tone considered pessimistic, deploring crime, corruption and a decline of spiritual values. Some saw these remarks as nationalistic. They are better seen in the spirit of Leo Tolstoy, highly critical of the current situation but calling for reforms through a strong inner light and a confidence in the strength of the rural population.

Notes

David Burg and George Feifer, Solzhenitsyn (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972, 371pp.)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Letter to Soviet Leaders (London: Index on Censorship, 1974, 59pp.)

Leopold Labedz (Ed.)., Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972, 264pp.)

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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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