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Nothing New Under the Sun

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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Source: Gush Shalom


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DURING THE last hundred years, Russia has undergone huge changes.

At the beginning, it was ruled by the Czar, in an absolute monarchy with some democratic decorations, a "tyranny mitigated by inefficiency."

After the downfall of the Czar, a liberal and equally inefficient regime ruled for a few months, when it was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution.

The "dictatorship of the proletariat" lasted for some 73 years, which means that three generations passed through the Soviet education system. That should have been enough to absorb the values of internationalism, socialism and human dignity, as taught by Karl Marx.

The Soviet system imploded in 1991, leaving few political traces behind. After a few years of liberal anarchy under Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin took over. He has proved himself to be an able statesman, making Russia into a world power again. He has also instituted a new autocratic system, clamping down on democracy and human rights.

When we view these events, spanning a century, we are obliged to conclude that after undergoing all these dramatic upheavals Russia is politically more or less where it started. The difference between the realm of Czar Nicholas II and President Putin I is minimal. The national aspirations, the general outlook, the regime and the status of human rights are more or less the same.

What does that teach us? For me it means that there is something like a national character, which does not change easily, if at all. Revolutions, wars, disasters come and go, and the basic character of a people remains as it was.

LET US take another example, closer to us geographically: Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal was a fascinating person. People who met him when, as an officer in the Ottoman army, he was serving in Palestine, described him as an interesting character and a heavy drinker. He was born in Thessaloniki in Greece, a town which was mostly Jewish at the time, and took part in the revolution of the Young Turk movement, which aimed at the renovation of the Ottoman Empire, which had become the "sick man of Europe."

After the Turkish defeat in World War I, Mustafa Kemal set out to create a new Turkey. His reforms were very far-reaching. Among others, he abolished the Ottoman Empire and the ancient Muslim Caliphate, changed the script of the Turkish language from Arabic to Latin, pushed religion out of politics, turned the army into "the guardian of the (secular) republic," forbade men and women to wear traditional dress like the fez and the hijab. His ambition was to turn Turkey into a modern European country.

In 1934, when the surname law was adopted, the national parliament gave him the name "Atatürk" (Father of Turks). The people adore him to this day. His picture hangs in all government offices. Yet now we witness the reversal of most of his reforms.

Turkey is today ruled by a religious Islamic party, voted in by the people. Islam is making a major comeback. After staging several coups, the army has been pushed out of politics. The present leadership is accused by some of neo-Ottoman policies.

Does this mean that Turkey is returning to where it was a hundred years ago?

ONE CAN cite examples from all over the world.

Some 220 years after the mother of all modern revolutions, the Great French Revolution, the frivolous adventures of the present French president are being compared to those of the Bourbon kings. Nothing much has remained from the times of the austere Charles de Gaulle, neither morally nor politically.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)
 

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