Sunday, December 31, 2017

The saddest thing I ever saw: A caution to liberals

Alexander Litvinenko, Russian defector whom British courts adjudged had been murdered by two Putin operatives in London in 2006

Back in the good old days, when the USSR still existed and so did the USA, my husband and I traveled frequently between Ireland and New York because of our work; we were writers, providing US magazines with lots and lots of copy about Ireland's burgeoning economic powerhouse and its continuing attraction for tourists.

On one of those trips, we flew from Shannon to NY rather than from Dublin. We had often been through Shannon, so we knew it well. As we waited for our Aer Lingus flight, an Aeroflot plane landed and, astonishingly to us, the passengers were allowed to disembark and enter the terminal, including the Duty Free shop.

We amused ourselves for a while trying to pick out the KGB agents, but it was too easy. They were all bearlike, wearing ill-fitting blue suits and black, rubber-soled shoes. So we returned to our books and our coffee.

And then we heard the crash of ceramics and glass. We turned around to look through the glass windows into the Duty Free shop, and saw a lot of people milling around. Shortly, two of the KGB agents escorted a young man out of the shop and, double time, back to the Aeroflot plane.

We knew his fate, I think. But what we wanted to know is how he managed to get caught seeking asylum at Shannon, something that should have been relatively easy at the time. But he was not a westerner, and did not know how truly easy it was to go where you wanted in a western  airport back then.

We asked the staff in the shop, and they told us what they knew. It turned out that the feckless fellow thought he would hide in a dressing room until the plane had departed and then would be free in Ireland. I have always wondered why he thought the plane would leave without him; I doubt it would have, at least not without leaving people behind to search for him and apprehend him.

He could actually have just walked out the doors from the departure lounge to the stairs and escalator to the arrivals hall downstairs. At that time, no one would have checked at any door short of the boarding door. Then if he exited through the front doors, and made a decent sprint down the main access road to Shannon Town, he could easily have walked into the Garda station and claimed asylum. Sure, he would have had to do so before the KBG goons saw him at the head of the stairs, so timing would have been important. But still, it could have worked; the dressing room could not.

The wannabe defector would also have to have known the layout of the place, and that security, so called, was very lax back then in the west. Even in Ireland, despite the continuing Troubles that sometimes spilled across the border, you pretty much did what you wanted, went where you wanted and no one inquired. It was entirely possible, back then, to just walk down the stairs from the departures lounge--where, unaccountably, the Russian passengers were led--and right down the stairs and out without passing a single person asking for ID. Passengers were not checked in for departure at the entrance to the lounge, but only at the gate itself. He would have had to know enough English to ask where the police were located, too. And he would have had to wipe the furtive look off his face as westerners didn't look haunted--back then. All of this was knowledge that, at the time, Russian citizens were prevented from acquiring.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, internationally renowned ballet dancer and Russian defector, who got away because he had travelled in the west and could figure out how it was done. Plus, he's probably too famous to kill on a dictator's whim.

It was so sad. The man wanted freedom, had no clue how to get it because of the isolation that was the main feature of Russian lives back then. He probably ended up in a gulag for god knows how long.

I can't recall ever being sadder in an airport, ever. I am still sad thinking about it. 

But now I'm also sad because the governments of both the US and the UK are hard at work turning the two major bastions of constitutional freedom and democracy in the world into the same sort of locked down, repressive society the USSR was. And is. 

USSR-style repression has not gone underground; it has been ground under Putin's thumb, with freedoms curtailed as much as in former times if in different ways. Putin is using the might of the still-extant (under another name) KGB to intimidate and worse; he is using prisons to destroy (remember Pussy Riot?); he is using his own immense wealth--wealth of a sort that only a dictator with no opposition can amass--to bring the western world down to his despicable level. He has willing flunkeys to do it in the form of Donald J. Trump and Theresa May.

And if we permit it--if we allow the Republicans in the US and the Brexiteers in the UK to turn kind and decent societies into pits of infamy and ignominy, especially with the collusion of a faux-reformed Russian oligarchy--then we deserve what we get.

We will deserve to be prevented from going where we like when we like...because it hinders the "dear leader's" ability to control us, to make us grateful for every crumb of ease and decency they allow us. 

They have already begun turning decent people into slavering xenophobes, people who are at the lower end of the education ladder and therefore unaware of what their knee-jerk hatred of those they are told to hate (A-rabs, furriners, Poles, etc.) is doing not only to those they hate but to those they love. How many grandmothers were aghast when they realized their son's job, due to Brexit, was now in jeopardy, and forget university for the grand-daughter. How many miners and steelworkers in the US have finally figured out that Trump cannot (and would not if he could) bring back their industries? How many, in both countries, will die because of Tory and Republican cutbacks in healthcare?

This is no time to let the Brexiteers and Trumpanzees intimidate us by objecting when we tell them what they are: morons. It is time to explain their moronicity to them. Over and over, as loudly as required. If they fail to understand, then isolate them. They are noisy, as any empty barrel is, and so it seems there are more of them than there are. In fact, there are a lot fewer than we think. They are just loud, and we allow them to batter us with their mewling of "unfair" and other ludicrous words they throw at the left, forgetting the relentless battering they gave Mr. Obama and Mr. Brown.

No more. The year 2018 must be the one in which the humane left puts on its fatigues and does battle in the trenches with the dunderheads. Why? Because the trenches--the gutter--is where they lurk. It will do us no good to fight on the high ground; that's not where they live. They live in the darkness and slime of unexamined thought...and that's exactly where we must fight them.

And we dare not lose, or all is lost.


Copyright 2017 by Laura Harrison McBride

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