Before us now in the Christiania Theater is an immensely dignified figure: Emil Constantinescu, president of Romania from 1996 to 2000. He gives the impression of having come through a lot. His country came through a lot, to put it with absurd mildness.
In the course of his remarks, Constantinescu calls the Soviet Union “the most criminal regime in history.” He says this with great passion. It is hard to argue with him. And he ends his remarks in a moving way. He calls out the names of countries whose people are engaged in a freedom struggle — Syria, Tunisia, and so on. And he says, “Until the last moment of life, we will feel solidarity with you.”
That word “solidarity,” it seems to me, has special significance coming from an East European.
‐Justine Hardy is an interesting and admirable figure, hard to sum up. She is a writer, an activist, an executive. Maybe I should give her bio, as supplied by the Oslo Freedom Forum — and I have something interesting to add to it:
Justine Hardy is a British journalist, author, and trauma therapist specializing in Kashmir. An author of six books, she contributes to the BBC, The Financial Times, The Times, and Vanity Fair. Director of the Delhi-based Development Research and Action Group, an NGO that sets up schools in impoverished areas, Hardy is also the founder of Healing Kashmir, an integrated mental health project in Kashmir, combining a suicide helpline and mental health therapy center.
And here is the aforementioned addition: I’m told, by someone who would know, that her father is an actor, Robert Hardy, who is recognized by virtually everyone in Britain.
Here in Oslo, Justine explains to us that the Kashmir conflict is now 22 years old. The region has been fought over for much longer than that, of course. But we’re speaking of the terrible intensification — if that’s an acceptable word — that began in 1989. Hardy points out that this is the same year the Berlin Wall fell.
She further says that Kashmir is ignored by much of the world. She quotes a Kashmiri doctor — I believe I have heard this correctly — who said, with some bitterness, “When a rat dies in Gaza, it makes the front page of the New York Times. Our people are shot in the streets, and not a word is said.”
My ears prick up at this, because I have said something a thousand times — you have probably heard it, all too often, in Impromptus. People sometimes ask me why I cover Cuban human rights, Belarusian human rights, and so on. I say, “Because this is largely uncovered territory. Other people spend very little time on it. And time ought to be spent. If a Palestinian kid falls on the sidewalk and skins his knee, it’s on the front page of the New York Times.”
Funny, what the world chooses to focus on. (I have a whole spiel on this, which I may unleash on you sometime.) (As a friend of mine says, that’s a warning, not a promise.)
Hardy says that, naturally enough, the people in Kashmir consider themselves victims. And “victimhood has its own pathology. People lose their ability to discern things, and to take responsibility for themselves. If you’re a victim, nothing is your fault.”
A psychiatrist told her that 90 percent of the people in Kashmir are “psychologically damaged,” owing to the endless conflict: the violence, the uncertainty, the fear. Kashmir is “blanket medicated,” says Hardy. The people “wander around in a semi-zombie state.”
She says that people in the broader world have told her, over and over, that “the mental-health question is the unsexiest issue there could possibly be.” I’m not so sure about that. You?
‐Outside the Christiania Theater, there are leafleters. What are they leafleting about? They are pleading the case of the Cuban Five. You know that fun-loving quintet, I’m sure. They are five Cuban spies serving prison terms in the United States. They are a big, big cause of the Left worldwide. The five were convicted of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Needless to say, they were afforded every legal protection and opportunity — appeal after appeal, etc.
One of the five was convicted for his role in the Castro government’s shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996. Those planes were in international airspace. The attack killed three U.S. citizens and one permanent resident. Ho-hum.
Wouldn’t it be nice if “progressives,” for once in their lives, leafleted about Cuban prisoners of conscience — the political prisoners of the Castro brothers and their dictatorship? First, pigs will fly, to the moon.
‐Belisario Betancur makes a touching and interesting speaker. He was president of Colombia from 1982 to 1986. Born in 1923, he is a couple of years away from 90. He leans against a cane and speaks to us in a gentle, lilting, wise way. It’s impossible not to respond to him. At least I find so.
Here’s how he begins: “Good afternoon, dearest — that’s how the Indians greet one another in the Andes.” He proceeds to tell us about his life, his work, and his aspirations. “My family was poor, eking out a living by transporting goods. They had four mules of their own, and four they hired.” His parents had 22 children. Seventeen of them died. “My mother died very young. She died too young. Not because of all the children she bore. But because she had to bury so many of them.”
He says that he tells us all this “to show that I’m not some egghead academic. I am a survivor.”
Here is another statement, spoken in a simple, matter-of-fact way: “I grew up in an atmosphere of political violence.” Oh, yes. Betancur was imprisoned 14 times. As president, he had to deal with terrorists and a host of other problems. In recent decades, he has done what he can for education — the education of campesinos. “Deep down, I’m still a displaced peasant whose dream was to be a poet . . .”
I sense that Belisario Betancourt is a canny politician — tough as nails — with volumes of sweetness and warmth. Just a sense, mind you.
‐In yesterday’s installment, I mentioned the Progress party, the Reaganite, or Thatcherite, party here in Norway. As I’ve said before, Progress is strongly pro-Israel — which is something very, very unusual in this country. Let me quote something I wrote about Siv Jensen, the Progress-party leader: “. . . there are two items of particular interest in Jensen’s office: a little Israeli flag and a bust of Reagan. It would be hard to convey how extraordinary these symbols are in the traditional Norwegian political culture. An American politician might be less scandalous for having kiddie porn in his office.”
Okay, all that is prelude to tell you this: A friend informs me that the mayor of Bergen is set to attend a mayors’ conference in Jerusalem. (At least I think I have this right.) The mayor of Oslo begged off. But the mayor of Bergen, Norway’s “second city” — he is Progress. So . . .
Israel is not friendless in Europe. Just almost friendless.
See you tomorrow for a final installment? I have some good ones, I think . . .