Canada Slim and the Humanitarian Adventure

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 10 December 2019

There are things in Switzerland (and in our existence) that we simply take for granted:

And the thing about Swiss stereotypes is that some of them are true.

Diplomatic?

Yes.

Efficient?

Absolutely.

Boring?

Only at first glance.

Despite being one of the most visited countries in Europe, Switzerland remains one of the least understood.

It is more than simply the well-ordered land of cheese, chocolate, banks and watches.

It is more than a warm summer mountain holiday upon a cobalt blue lake, more than skiing down the slopes of some vertiginous Alp, more than postcard pristine beauty.

It is easy for the tourist to remain blissfully unaware of Swiss community spirit, that it speaks four official languages, that it possesses stark regional differences from canton to canton, that it has exubrant carnivals, culinary traditions and sophisticated urban centres.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

With its beautiful lakeside setting, Geneva (Genève) is a cosmopolitan city whose modest size belies its wealth and importance on the world stage.

French-speaking and Calvinistic it is a dynamic centre of business with an outward-looking character tempered by a certain reserve.

Geneva’s major sights are split by the Rhône River that flows into Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) and through the city’s several distinct neighbourhoods.

On the south bank (rive gauche), mainstream shopping districts Rive and Eaux-Vives climb from the water’s edge to Plainpalais and Vieille Ville, while the north bank (rive droite) holds grungy bars and hot clubbing Pâquis, the train station area and some world organizations.

 

A view over Geneva and the lake

 

A little over 1 km north of the train station is the international area, home to dozens of international organizations that are based in Geneva –  everything from the World Council of Churches to Eurovision.

Trains and buses roll up to the Place des Nations.

Gates on the Place des Nations open to the Palais des Nations, now occupied by UNOG, the United Nations Office at Geneva, the European headquarters of the United Nations, accessible only to visitors who sign up for a tour.

The huge monolith just off the square to the west, that looks like a bent playing card on its edge, is WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization), the highrise to the south is ITU (the International Telecommunications Union), just to the east is UNHCR (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and so on, and so on, and so on, an infinite combination of letters of the alphabet in an infinite variety of abbreviations and acronyms.

The giant Broken Chair which looms over the square was installed in 1997 for the international conference in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) banning the use of land mines, a graphic symbol of the victims of such weapons.

 

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Geneva is also the birthplace of the International Red Cross / Crescent / Crystal Movement.

And it was the latter, along with the International Museum of the Reformation, that compelled me to visit Geneva.

 

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(For details about the Musée Internationale de la Réforme, please see Canada Slim and the Third Man in my other blog, The Chronicles of Canada Slim.)

 

Genevè, Suisse, mardi le 23 janvier 2018

Housed within the HQ of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Musée International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant Rouge chronicles the history of modern conflict and the role the Red Cross has played in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in war and natural disasters.

Enter through a trench in the hillside opposite the public entrance of UNOG and emerge into an enclosed glass courtyard beside a group of bound and blindfolded stone figures.

The stone gathering represents the continual worldwide violation of human rights.

 

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Inside, above the ticket desk, is a quotation in French from Dostoevsky:

Everyone is responsible to everyone else for everything.

 

Portrait by Vasili Perov, 1872

Above: Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881)

 

A free audioguide takes you through the Museum.

 

Twenty-five years ago, Laurent Marti, a former ICRC delegate, had the idea of creating the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

 

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Above: Laurent Marti

 

Marti won the wives of US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Gorbachev over to his cause in a bid to obtain the support of their respective countries, together with that of local and international societies and personages and of various multinational companies representing a full range of human activities.

 

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Above: Nancy Reagan (née Davis) (1921 – 2016)

 

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Above: Raisa Gorbacheva (née Titarenko) (1932 – 1999)

 

The goal of the Museum is to emanate a very powerful atmosphere where no one leaves without having been shaken and deeply moved by what they had seen.

Suffering, death, wounds and mutiliations can be followed by a time of healing, restoration, reunification and an opportunity to be happy again, a right that seemed to have been withdrawn.

Of course, the scars remain deep within the human soul, but the hope of restoration and of a return to normalcy is the message of the Museum.

 

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The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is dedicated to preventing and alleviating human suffering in warfare and in emergencies, such as earthquakes, epidemics and floods.

The Movement is composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the 188 individual national societies.

Each has its own legal identity and role, but they are all united by seven fundamental principles:

  •  humanity
  •  impartiality
  •  neutrality
  •  independence
  •  voluntary service
  •  unity
  •  universality

The interactive chronology covers one and a half centuries of history, starting with the creation of the Red Cross.

For each year, the events listed include:

  •  armed conflicts which caused the death of more than 10,000 people and/or affected more than one million people
  •  epidemics and disasters that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people and/or affected more than one million people
  •  significant events in the history of the Movement
  •  cultural and scientific milestones

 

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In 1859 Henri Dunant was travelling on business through northern Italy.

 

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

 

He found himself close to the Solferino battlefield just after the fighting.

The battle of Solferino was a key episode in the Italian Wars.

 

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With the support of France under Napoleon III, Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, King of Piedmont, endeavoured to unite the different Italian states.

In spring 1859 the Piedmont forces clashed with the Austrian Empire, which had control over Lombardy and Venetia.

On 24 June 1859, the Franco-Piedmontese troops defeated the Austrians at Solferino, in a battle that left more than 40,000 dead and wounded.

Overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of wounded soldiers left without medical care, Dunant organized basic relief with the assistance of the local people.

 

 

On that memorable 24th of June 1859, more than 300,000 men stood facing each other.

The fighting continued for more than 15 hours.

No quarter is given.

It is a sheer butchery, a struggle between savage beasts.

The poor wounded men that were picked up all day long were ghastly pale and exhausted.

Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupified look.

How many brave soldiers, undettered by their first wounds, kept pressing on until a fresh shot brought them to earth.

Men of all nations lay side by side on the flagstone floors of the churches of Castiglione.

The shortage of assistants, orderlies and helpers was cruelly felt.

I sought to organize as best I could relief.

The women of Castiglione, seeing that I made no distinction between nationalities, followed my example.

Siamo tutti fratelli” (we are all brothers), they repeated feelingly.

 

Above: Ossuary of Solferino

 

But why have I told of all these scenes of pain and distress?

Is it not a matter of urgency to press forward to prevent or at least alleviate the horrors of war?

Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies given to the wounded in wartime?

Societies of this kind, once formed and their permanent existence assured, would be always organized and ready for the possibility of war.

Would it not be desirable to formulate some international principle, sanctioned by a Convention inviolate in character, which, once agreed upon and ratified, might constitute the basis for societies for the relief of the wounded?

 

Above: Ossuary of Solferino

 

Back home in Geneva, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino.

The book was published in 1862 and was an immediate success.

 

 

In it, Dunant made two proposals:

  • the formation of relief societies which would care for wounded soldiers
  • the establishment of an international convention to guarantee their safety

Those ideas led, the following year, to the foundation of the Red Cross, and ten months later to the first Geneva Convention.

 

 

In 1863, in response to Dunant’s appeal, Gustave Moynier persuaded the Geneva Public Welfare Society to consider the possibility of training groups of volunteer nurses to provide relief for the wounded.

A committee was set up, the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, the future ICRC, was born.

 

Above: Gustave Moynier (1826 – 1910)

 

The need to defend human dignity has been a constant concern throughout history.

From the Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC) to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), texts from all periods and cultures exist to testify to that.

Those texts were frequently written in response to incidents in which human dignity was shown no consideration – slavery, chemical weapons, civilian bombing, concentration camps, atomic bombing, sexual violence, landmines, child soldiers, prisoners with no legal status.

Throughout time mankind has determined:

  • that the strong should not suppress the weak (Code of Hammurabi – Mwaopotamia 1750 BC)

Above: Stele of the Code of Hammurabi

 

  • that peace is possible between warring nations (Treaty of Kadesh, the oldest peace treaty known to man and the first written international treaty –  Egypt 1279 BC)

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Above: Treaty of Kadesh

 

  • that we should be free to practice our own religions (Cyrus Cylinder – Persia 539 BC)

Front view of a barrel-shaped clay cylinder resting on a stand. The cylinder is covered with lines of cuneiform text

Above: Cyrus Cylinder

 

  • that we should not do unto others what we don’t wish done to ourselves (The Analects of Confucius – China 480 BC)

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Above: The Analects

  • that we should live lives of non-violence with respect towards all (The Edicts of Ashoka – India 260 BC)

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Above: The Edicts of Ashoka

 

  • that power should not be used arbitrarily nor imprisonment without just cause (The Magna Carta – England 1215)

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Above: Magna Carta

 

  • that all persons are free and that no one is a slave to another (The Manden Charter – Mali 1222)

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Above: The Manden Charter

 

  • that women and children and the insane have dignity and rights that must be respected (The Viqayet – Muslim Spain 1280)

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  • that mankind has natural and inalienable rights (freedom, equality, justice, community) (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – France 1789)

 

  • that the wounded need to be treated regardless of nationality, that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and in rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights – United Nations 1948)

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The original title of the initial Geneva Convention was the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.

It had only ten articles and one sole objective:

To limit the suffering caused by war.

Article 7 provided for the creation of the protective emblem of the red cross.

This document laid the foundations of international humanitarian law, marks the start of the humanitarian adventure.

By 2013, 194 nations are party to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.

(See http://www.icrc.org for the complete list.)

 

The Museum explains how the Geneva Conventions developed from one man’s battlefield encounter.

After Dunant’s publication of A Memory of Solferino in November 1862, Gustave Moynier (1826 – 1910), chairman of the Geneva Public Welfare Society, in response to Dunant’s appeal, persuaded Society members the following February to consider the possibility of training groups of volunteer nurses to provide relief for the war wounded.

An ad hoc committee was set up – the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded.

The future ICRC was born.

 

Above: ICRC Headquarters, Geneva

 

Ambulances and military hospitals shall be recognized as neutral and as such protected and respected by the belligerants as long as they accommodate wounded and sick.” (Article 1)

Inhabitants of the country who bring help to the wounded shall be respected and shall remain free.” (Article 5)

Wounded or sick combatants, to whatever nation they may belong, shall be collected and cared for.” (Article 6)

A distinctive and uniform flag shall be adopted for hospitals, ambulances and evacuation parties.” (Article 7)

A red cross on a white background was adopted in 1863, followed by a red crescent, a red lion and red sun (1929) and a red crystal (2005).

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Flag of the Red Crescent.svg

Red Lion with Sun.svgFlag of the Red Crystal.svg

 

To protect the victims of conflict, the ICRC has at its disposal several instruments defined by international humanitarian law.

“At all times, parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick.”

“The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.”

“The parties to the conflict shall endeavour to conclude local agreements for the passage of medical personnel and medical equipment.”

“Civilian hospitals may in no circumstances be the object of attack.”

“It is prohibited to commit any acts of hostility directed against historic monuments, works of art or places of worship.”

“Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear stations shall not be made the object of attack.”

“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensible to the survival of the civilian population.”

 

Above: The Red Cross in action, 1864

 

The Second World War (1939 – 1945) involved 61 countries in war and caused the death of around 60 million people, more than half of whom were civilians.

In 1945 more than 20 million people had been displaced.

In 1995 the ICRC publicly described its attitude to the Second World War Holocaust as a “moral failure“.

 

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Above: Images of World War II (1939 – 1945)

 

The persecution of the Jews by the Nazis began shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933 and subsequently continued to intensify, culminating in systematic extermination from 1942 onwards.

 

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Above: Auschwitz, Poland, May 1944

 

At the time, the ICRC had no legal instrument to protect civilians.

The 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War applied only to members of the armed forces.

The organization thus considered itself powerless in the face of the anti-Semitic fury of the Nazi dictatorship.

 

Flag of Germany

 

Thus in October 1942 the Committee refused, in particular, to launch a public appeal on behalf of civilians affected by the conflict.

Although the International Red Cross endeavoured to provide aid for Jewish civilians, it erred on the side of caution.

 

Above: Jewish women, occupied Paris, June 1942

 

It was not until the spring of 1944 that a change of strategy took shape.

As Germany’s war efforts collapsed, ICRC delegates belatedly managed to enter some concentration camps, becoming voluntary hostages in order to prevent the further massacre or forced evacution of the prisoners.

 

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Above: Auschwitz, May 1944

 

The harsh lesson of the Second World War had been learned.

In 1949 the Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted:

It provides protection for civilians during armed conflict.

It was complemented in 1977 by additional protocols which reinforce the protection given to victims of armed conflicts, international or domestic.

In particular, the additional protocols established the distinction between civilians and combatants.

 

In an armed conflict, the ICRC’s mandate is to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions.

When the ICRC observes serious violations of the Conventions, it points them out to the countries concerned in confidential reports.

However, on occasion, that information has been published in the press:

  • Le Monde during the Algerian War

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Above: Images of the Algerian War (1954 – 1962)

 

  • The Wall Street Journal about Abu Ghraib Prison

Above: Lynndie England with “Gus“, Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq

 

  • The New York Review of Books / Wikileaks about Guantanamo Prison

Above: Guantanamo “Gitmo” Prison, Cuba

 

Such leaks put the ICRC in a difficult position as discretion is a necessary part of its work and its discussions with the authorities.

Its confidentialiy policy actually facilitates access to detainees, wounded people and groups of civilians.

When humanitarian diplomacy fails, the ICRC then resorts to a more open form of communication.

It then issues press releases publicly condemning serious violations of the Conventions.

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In the 1980s the United Nations Security Council set up ad hoc tribunals to judge the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.

In 1998 the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established.

It was a permanent institution with the power to open investigations, to prosecute and to try people accused of committing war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

The ICC began its work in 2005 by opening three investigations into crimes:

  • in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • in Uganda
  • in the Sudan

The existence of a permanent international court gives the world the means of determining facts and of punishing those responsible for the crimes.

It gives victims an opportunity to have their voice heard.

 

Official logo of International Criminal Court Cour pénale internationale  (French)

Above: Logo of the International Criminal Court

 

Poverty, migration, urban violence….

All of them are present-day threats to human dignity.

All over the world, large sections of the population are living in extremely precarious hygenic conditions.

 

Economic changes are forcing more and more people to emigrate.

Those migrants, who frequently have no identity documents, are exploited and ostracized.

In some megacities, whole districts are at the mercy of armed groups which terrorize the inhabitants.

Each of those situations presents a challenge to which a response must be found.

 

Above: Syrian refugees, Ramtha, Jordan, August 2013

 

Since the First World War, the ICRC has had the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian detainees during an international armed conflict.

In other situations, the right to meet prisoners must be negotiated with the authorities.

Visiting prisons, talking to the detainees and making lists of their names are ways of preventing disappearances and ill treatment.

After each prison visit, ICRC delegates write a report.

They must have access to all places of detention and be allowed to repeat their visits as often as necessary.

The visits always follow the same procedure.

Following a meeting with those in charge of the prison, the delegates inspect the premises: cells, dormitories, toilets, the exercise yard, the kitchen and any workshops.

They draw up a list of prisoners and interview them in private without witnesses.

At the end of the visit, the delegates inform those in charge of the prison of their observations.

They then prepare a confidential report for the authorities.

 

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The visitor sees many photographs of prison visits, including those to a German POW camp in Morocco, to French POWs in a German Stalag, political detainees in Chile, detainees in Djibouti….

But it is items from these visits given by prisoners to the ICRC delegates that tell far more emotional stories.

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Some examples:

  • a model village showing ICRC activities in Rwanda
  • a doll figure of a female delegate made in an Argentinian prison
  • a pearl snake made by Ottoman prisoners
  • a necklace with a Red Cross pendant made by a lady prisoner in Lebanon
  • a ciborium (a container for Catholic mass hosts – symbols of the body of Christ) made of bread by Polish prisoners of conscience
  • a bar of soap carved into the shape of a detainee in a cell made by a Burmese artist imprisoned for suspected ties to the opposition party

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An installation in the Museum that followed seemed somewhat incongruous….

Therein the visitor can change and produce large flows of different colours by touching a wall.

The idea is that the larger the number of visitors, the richer the flow of colours, so as to provide an interactive experience that appeals to people’s senses, emotions and feelings, thus all visitors become part of a colourful celebration of human dignity.

Honestly….

This felt more like a gimmick to capture children’s hyperactive attention than an exhibit that strengthens human unity, designed more to entertain than educate.

 

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Human beings are social beings who are defined by their links with others.

When those links are broken, we lose part of our identity and our bearings.

Of the many activities the ICRC performs, the giving and receiving of news and finding one’s loved ones again are understood to be elements of stability that are critical during crisis situations.

 

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This Museum has, like the Reformation Museum in this city, as other museums in other cities and countries I have visited, its own Chamber of Witnesses – video testimonials whose lifelike likenesses are meant to invoke within the voyeur a sense of how we are not unlike those speaking with us electronically.

We see Toshihiko Suzuki, a dentist and specialist in craniofacial anatomy, tell us how he identified victims of the 2011 tsunami.

We learn of the experience of Sami El Haj, an Al Jazeera journalist held in Guantanamo from 2002 to 2008.

We consider the life of Liliose Iraguha, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

We marvel at the resilience of human beings by listening to Boris Cyrulnik, a French neuropsychiatrist and ethologist.

 

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During a conflict or a natural disaster, many people are cut off from their families – by capitivity, separation or disappearance.

Tracing one’s loved ones and passing on one’s news become basic needs.

 

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Originally intended for victims of war, the ICRC tracing services subsequently expanded to include persecuted civilians.

More recently, tracing activities have been extended to families who have become separated as a result of natural disasters or migration.

The International Prisoners of War Agency (1914 – 1923) was established by the ICRC, shortly after the start of the First World War – which involved 44 states and their colonies and caused the death of more than 8 million people, 20 million wounded and in the immediate post-war period of epidemics, famine and destitution another 30 million deaths.

Organised in national sections, its archives contain six million index cards that document what happened to two million people: prisoners of war, civilian internees and missing civilians from occupied areas.

The cards contain information about individual detainees. when they were taken captive, where they were held and, if relevant, when they died.

People who were without news of a loved one could present a request to the Agency, which would then send them what information it had.

Today the Agency’s documents are still used to reply to requests from families as well as to enquiries from historians.

And, as far as I could tell, the Agency is now in the Museum.

It contains:

  • 5,119 boxes with 6 million index cards
  • 2,413 files containing information provided by the belligerents
  • 600,000 pages filling 20 linear metres of general files

This location is fitting for it was in the Rath Museum in Geneva where the Agency once was.

In all, more than 3,000 volunteers, most of them women, worked there during the conflict.

During the War, the Agency dispatched 20 million messages between detainees and their families and forwarded nearly 2 million individual parcels as well as several tonnes of collective relief.

The Agency’s role was also to obtain the repatriation of prisoners who had been taken captive in breach of the Geneva Conventions: doctors, nurses, stretcher bearers and military chaplains.

It helped to ensure that the wounded were returned home or interned in neutral countries.

 

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The pacifist writer Romain Rolland was one of the Agency’s first volunteers:

Its peaceful work, its impartial knowledge of the actual facts in the belligerent countries, contribute to modify the hatred which wild stories have exasperated and to reveal what remains of humanity in the most envenomed enemy.

 

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Above: Romain Rolland (1866 – 1944)

 

It was not until the end of the Second World War that Europe realized the extent of the tragedy affecting civilians.

The International Tracing Service (ITS) was then established.

The ITS has files on more than 17 million people: civilians persecuted by the Nazis, displaced persons, children under the age of 18 who had become separated from their families, forced labourers and people held in concentration camps or labour camps.

The ITS was set up in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and has helped millions of people to trace their loved ones.

 

Above: International Tracing Services, Bad Arolsen, Germany

 

Nowadays, the need to trace missing people also extends to the victims of natural disasters and to migrants, using not only index cards, but photo tracing (used to find nearly 20,000 children missing during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda), distributions of name lists (for example, the Angola Gazette – a list of people who went missing during the Angolan Civil War from 1975 to 2002) and the Internet (for example, http://www.familylinks.icrc.org).

 

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Despite all tracing efforts, sometimes missing people do not get found, do not go home.

In that case, receiving confirmation of death puts an end to uncertainty and enables families to begin the process of mourning and to start to rebuild their lives.

The erection of memorials is one way of honouring the dead and of giving them a place of dignity in the collective memory.

 

 

For example, in 1995 the city of Srebrenica was attacked by forces under the command of General Radko Mladic.

 

 

Mladic had the women and children of this refuge of hounded Muslim civilians separated from the men and forced to leave Srebrenica.

The men were hunted down and killed.

More than 8,000 people went missing.

By 2010 only 4,500 victims had been identified and buried.

 

 

When faced with a collective tragedy and without a dead body, families are completely at a loss.

A memorial is sometimes their only means of paying tribute to the dead, of giving them a place in the collective consciousness and of recalling the events that led to those disappearances.

Examples include victims from:

  • the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima

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Above: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbuko Dome)

 

  • the deportation of Jews from France

 

  • the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia

 

  • the Soviet gulags

Solovetsky Stone

 

  • the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine

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  • the civil war in Peru

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  • the earthquake in Sichuan, China

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  • the 9/11 attack in New York City

 

Communication is often disrupted during a conflict or a natural disaster.

In circumstances like that, receiving news from one’s family is a source of joy and relief.

There are different ways of sending news:

  • Red Cross messages (in use for more than a century)
  • Radio messages
  • Videoconferencing
  • Satellite telephones

 

A Red Cross message is a short personal missive that was first used in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871).

It is still in use today.

Each year, thousands of messages are distributed in more than 65 countries with the help of the ICRC.

To make sure that they reach the addressees, messengers sometimes travel long distances to extremely remote areas.

The messages themselves are generally very simple.

The main thing is to enable people to pass brief news on to their loved ones – their state of health, their place of shelter or detention.

 

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For example, the Museum shows messages:

  • sent by a French POW to his godmother in Switzerland
  • exchanged by a French POW in Morocco and Algeria and his family in France
  • written by aircraft passengers taken hostage in Jordan in 1970
  • illustrated by children during the Yugoslav conflict in 1994
  • by a Sudanese detainee in Guantanamo
  • from a Greek child refugee following the Cyprus conflict of 1974
  • from a mother to her son in Liberia
  • from a little girl writing to her parents in the Congo
  • written by a woman to her brother in prison in Kirghizstan

 

In Columbia, the radio programme Las voces del secuestro broadcasts family messages to people held hostage in the jungle, enabling more than 18,000 people to send news to their loved ones.

 

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In Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, no family visits are allowed, so in 2008 the ICRC and the American authorities developed a videoconferencing system to enable the detainees to communicate with their loved ones.

In the space of just a few months, 70% of the detainees were able to contact their families.

 

Above: Parwan Detention Facility, Bagram, Afghanistan

 

And finally the Restoring Family Links exhibition concludes with works by Congolese artist Chuck Ledy and Benin artist Romuald Hazouma.

 

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Humanity has progressed by refusing to accept the inevitability of the phenomena that endanger it.

In the face of natural disasters and epidemics, communities take action to prevent the worst, to save lives and to preserve resources.

Another Chamber of Witnesses:

  • Benter Aoko Odhiambo, the head of a Kenyan orphanage and the initiator of a market gardening programme
  • Abul Hasnat, a Bangladeshi school teacher and a Red Crescent volunteer
  • Madeleen Helmer, the Dutch head of the ICRC Climate Centre
  • Jiaqi Kang, a Chinese student in Switzerland

 

After all, prevention concerns us all.

Blast Theory, a group of British artists, designed the game Hurricane to test the effectiveness of natural disaster preparedness activities.

Planting mangroves, constructing high-level shelters, building up reserve stocks of food and organizing evacuation exercises are all part of the game and involve actors such as ICRC delegates, village leaders, experts and volunteers.

As the hurricane strikes, the players have to evacuate the villagers.

At the end of the game tells us how many lives were saved.

 

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Posters are key communication instruments in prevention initiatives.

The link between pictures and text makes the messages easy for everyone to understand.

The Museum’s collection of some 12,000 posters from more than 120 countries tells of the many different activities developed by the ICRC.

Nowadays, as the impact of global warming becomes clearer, the ICRC is increasingly involved in natural disaster preparedness.

 

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The ICRC was very quick to perceive the role that the cinema could play in promoting its activities.

Some films focused on prevention – hygiene, epidemics and accidents.

Others on training volunteers in first aid or life saving.

While preventing illnesses and accidents is ancient history, the management of risks associated with natural disasters is a more recent development.

A workshop at the Haute école d’art et de design (Gèneve) was given a free hand to create new montages using more than 1,000 films from the Museum’s collection.

 

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Above: Haute école d’art et de design, Genève

 

Prevention is first and foremost about saving lives.

A number of different measures can be taken to provide protection: building shelters, installing early warning systems, carrying out evacuation exercises and providing hygiene education.

All these activities mobilize the local communities and the humanitarian organizations.

They sometimes call for substantial investment.

It is easy to raise funds during disasters when emotions are running high.

It is more difficult to raise funds for longer-term work.

Nonetheless, one dollar invested in prevention is two to ten dollars saved in emergency relief and reconstruction work.

 

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All of this is brought into sharp focus by the three “théâtres optiques” (Cyclone, Tsunami and Latrines), created for the Museum by the French artist Pierrick Sorin.

 

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Above: Pierrick Sorin

 

Let’s take, for example, Bangladesh.

 

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Above: Flag of Bangladesh

 

In 1970, Cyclone Bhola caused one of the worst natural disasters in history.

A 10-metre high wave and winds of 220 km/hour caused the death of 500,000 people here.

A cyclone preparedness programme was then launched, which included an early warning system, the construction of shelters and the training of evacuation volunteers.

 

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In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr, one of the most powerful ever recorded, hit parts of Bengal and Bangladesh, affecting nearly 9 million people and causing vast economic damage.

1.5 million people were evacuated before the Cyclone struck.

Although 3,500 people died, this number of deaths was far below the 1970 disaster.

 

 

Or let’s consider Brazil.

 

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Above: Flag of Brazil

 

Infectious diarrhoea can affect people throughout the world.

It is most frequently caused by water that has been contaminated by faeces.

Around 2 million people die from diarrhoea every year, most of them children in developing countries.

In 2008 more than 2 billion individuals were without suitable latrines.

Almost half of them defecated in the open air.

In 1997, the authorities in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil launched a water purification programme in the city.

A university team monitored 2,000 children under the age of 3, most of whome were living in impoverished urban districts.

The results showed that water purification had a direct impact on health:

The overall number of cases of diarrhoea fell by 22% in the city and by 43% in the poorest areas.

 

From the top, clockwise: Pelourinho with the Church of the Third Order of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People; view of the Lacerda Elevator from the Comércio neighborhood; Barra Lighthouse; the Historic Center seen from the Bay of All Saints; monument to the heroes of the battles of Independence of Bahia and panorama of Ponta de Santo Antônio and the district of Barra.

Above: Images of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

 

The Museum was never designed with the intention of casting blame or lavishing praise upon particular countries or particular individuals, but rather it shows the situations, both general and particular, in which the ICRC functions and to further a better understanding of what they do.

The ICRC aids victims, not on account of their particular nationality or their particular cause, but purely and simply because they are human beings who are suffering and are in need of help.

It strives to assuage all human distress which has no hope of effective aid from other sources.

The ICRC desires to relieve above all that suffering which is brought about by man, brought about by man’s inhumanity to man, and is more painful on that account and more difficult to relieve.

 

The most terrible form of man’s inhumanity to man is war and that is why the idea of the Red Cross was born in the field of battle.

The Red Cross is a third front above and across two belligerent fronts, a third front directed against neither of them but for the benefit of both.

The combatants in this third front are interested only in the suffering of the defenceless human being, irrespective of his nationality, his convictions or his past.

The ICRC fights wherever they can against all inhumanity, against every degradation of the human personality, against all injustice directed against the defenceless.

These neutrals on this humanitarian front are free of the prejudice and hostility which is so natural to men engaged in warfare.

The dominant idea and the essence of the Geneva Convention is equality of treatment for all sick and wounded persons whether they are friends or enemies.

 

It is the fulfilment of the cry of Solferine:

Siamo tutti fratelli.

We are all brothers.

 

 

The Museum is a living embodiment of that humanitarian adventure.

It is an edifice of humanity working for humanity.

And it is good.

 

John Lennon

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Switzerland / Rough Guide to Switzerland / Red Cross Museum, The Humanitarian Adventure / The International Committee of the Red Cross, Basic Rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols / Dr. Marcel Junod, Warrior without Weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and Our Lady of St. Petersburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 September 2017

It has been a hard year for my heart in my dual roles of teacher and barista.

In the former role, I have been disappointed that my preferred profession of choice, teaching, has sadly not been as busy lately as I might have hoped.

In the latter, I have been saddened by the grim reality that the gastronomy industry has always had lots of personnel turnover.

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Above: The Starbucks logo

In plainer language, I keep having to say good bye to colleagues whom I love.

I have had to say good bye to Anna, a lovely multilingual young lady, and Ricarda, so sensitive and shy, for reasons of health.

Some have left for love, like Katja, Vanessa and Alanna bringing new life into this old world.

Some have left for better work opportunities, like Bryan, Kasia, Ricardo, Natalie, Valentina, Anne Catherine and Coco.

Some have returned to their homelands, like the aforementioned Bryan of Newcastle, Julia of Poland and Natan of Italy.

And though I have warmly welcomed into the fold new Partners, like Sukako of Japan and Michaela of Sweden, and I am truly happy that partners like Volkan, Roger, Jackie, Pedro, Eden, Dino, David, Alicia, Nesha, Christa and Rosio still remain, my poor old heart still has trouble letting go of those partners who leave us behind.

(And apologies to those whose names have been forgotten at this time of writing.)

Tonight we say good bye to yet another partner whose departure affects me in ways complicated to express, for Lyudmila of St. Petersburg, Russia, a place that is prominent in my latest blog posts, will move next week to Canada, my homeland, to live in Annapolis Royal, Canada´s oldest town and where my walking adventures across Canada ended.

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Above: Seaward view from Annapolis Royal

(My tale of Annapolis Royal and the end of my walking adventures in Canada will be told, God willing, at another time.)

Lyudmila is a very open and caring woman.

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Her husband is clearly a very fortunate man, for Lyudmila´s outer beauty is only diminished by her amazing inner beauty of imagination, passion and compassion.

Her spirit is as bright as summer midnight in Siberia, her tenderness towards others makes her as huggable as a soft teddy bear and her red hair, as crimson as the old Soviet flag, blazes and brands a memory in every man´s mind.

Sadly I did not work that often with Lyudmila as she was mostly at Starbuck´s Arena store and I remained mostly at the other two St. Gallen locations, the Bahnhof and Marktgasse.

Yet despite this, we were always delighted to see one another and the warmth between us was real and open.

I will miss her.

How ironic it is that her new home will be in my homeland.

How ironic that she is beginning a new life where I left an old one behind.

How far she has travelled from her old home in St. Petersburg.

I have an odd hobby.

When I meet a partner whose homeland I have never visited I buy a guidebook to their countries and plan a visit there.

My home library, for example, contains guidebooks of places never visited, yet because of the warm feeling that the partners from these countries give me I know that one day I will visit Valentina and Nesha´s Serbia, Vanessa´s Macedonia, Julia and Kashia´s Poland, Pedro and Natalie´s Brazil, Alicia´s Nepal, Eden´s Ethiopia and now Lyudmila´s Russia.

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Landschlacht, 24 September 2017

There were a combination of factors that diminished the bittersweet good bye party I had unconsciously wished for last night:

A head cold (Nothing worse than a man´s cold, ladies!),

Fatigue (I have been doing A LOT of extra hours at Starbucks because of a shortage of personnel at present, including a double shift earlier today.),

Location (We all met inside the basement restaurant Tres Amigos, which was hot, crowded and noisy.),

Numbers (Too many people had been invited, making conversations, at a level more than superficial, impossible.) and…

Age (I truly felt like an old man last night since so many of those invited were either significantly younger than me or were much better at faking a youthful spirit than I was.).

I have over the past few months stopped colouring my hair and have let nature show my age with silver hair and balding pate, and last night my age showed.

I felt shy and awkward and three pina coladas didn´t help.

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But the party wasn´t about me nor should it have been.

It was a farewell party for a beloved and lovely colleague.

And it was nice to see colleagues I don´t see that often.

And seeing the ladies all fancied up, wearing make-up and colourful clothing, made my eyes delighted with the images they presented.

And I lost in the comparison amongst the men, for I had unwisely changed into a shirt that exposed a middle-aged belly and the zipper on my pants chose yesterday of all days to break.

Plus it must be said that youthful bearded men, full of vim and vigour like Volkan and Dino, always have a distinct advantage over me in the attractiveness factor.

Had I been trying to attract one of the ladies last night, I was a drooping daisy that could not compete with all the bright sunflowers around me!

But enough about me and my self pity.

Lyudmila looked lovely and excited about the new life she will begin next week.

Since I have known of her impending departure, I have often thought of how far a road she has travelled from St. Petersburg to Annapolis Royal via St. Gallen.

I wish I had had the opportunity to have spoken to her about her life and the journey that her life had taken her, but, despite our mutual liking of one another, ours was never a relationship that was as close as one she shared with the girl friends she worked with at Starbucks.

I have lived in both Canada and Switzerland, but I have never had the opportunity to visit Russia.

Flag of Russia

And my only exposure to Russians I have had has been with Lyudmila in St. Gallen and the Russian women I met during my days in South Korea.

My knowledge of Russia has been limited to what I have read and the biased media coverage that the Western media provides us.

I am surprised to discover how few books I own in regards to Russia and the media leaves me with the notion, without direct experience or proof, that all Russian leaders in my lifetime have been men of questionable morality, that Russia is a bleak and cold desolate land, and that Russians are humourless bullies obsessed with the notion of the Russian soul.

It is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and its connection to Switzerland has compelled me into trying to discover the truth, as best as I can, about Russia past and present.

What must it have been like to grow up in St. Petersburg?

Above: Pictures of St. Petersburg: St. Isaac´s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, Senate Square horseman, Trinity Cathedral, Peterhof Palace, the Winter Palace.

Originally founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as “Russia´s Window to Europe”, St. Petersburg was constructed on swampland by thousands of serfs, many of whom perished, their bones laying the city´s foundations.

St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia in 1712 and remained so until 1918.

The city´s name was changed to the more Russian-sounding Petrograd in 1914, then to Leningrad in 1924., after the death of Vladimir Lenin.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Its original name was restored following the collapse of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

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Above: Flag of the Soviet Union / USSR (1922 – 1991)

St. Petersburg is a name suggesting great literature.

Alexander Pushkin was the first writer to explore the rich potential of the Russian language as spoken by the common people.

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Above: Russian poet/playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

His masterpiece is Evgeniy Onegin, a novel set in verse form.

Nikolai Gogol, although a Ukranian by birth, a huge amount of his striking original work is set in St. Petersburg, including The Nose and The Overcoat.

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Above: Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the author of some of the world´s most profound literature, such as Crime and Punishment, spent much of his life in St. Petersburg, where in 1849 he was subjected to a mock execution for “revolutionary activities” – a trauma which affected him the rest of his days.

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Above: Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

Osip Mandelstam, the author of symbolic taut poetry, in 1933, composed a poem about Stalin in which he wrote that the dictator´s “fingers were as fat as grubs” and that he possessed “cockroach whiskers”.

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Above: Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

This poem ultimately led to Mandelstam´s death and became known as the “16-line death sentence.”

Daniil Kharms wrote some of the strangest and most original Russian literature, which was suppressed by Stalin due to its downright oddness rather than any overt political message.

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Above: Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)

Kharms starved to death in the WW2 siege of the city.

Andrey Bely, although Moscow-born, reached the pinnacle of his career with his symbolist masterpiece Petersburg, a choatic, prophetic novel that has been favourably compared to the works of Irish writer James Joyce.

Above: Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev, aka Andrey Bely (1880-1934)

Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg and grew up trilingual speaking Russian, English and French.

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Above: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

His family moved to Europe in 1918 and Nabokov wrote many of his novels in English, including his best known work, Lolita.

Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, after leaving the Soviet Union in 1972 after his works were attacked by the authorities.

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Above. Russian writer Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The poetess Anna Akhmatova, branded a “half-harlot, half-nun” by Soviet authorities, wrote Requiem, her tragic masterpiece about the terrifying Stalin years, which was banned in the USSR until 1989.

Akhmatova in 1922 (Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin)

Above: Anna Andreyevna Govenko, aka Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

Alexander Blok developed complex poetic symbols, especially in his most controversial work The Twelve, which likens Bolshevik soldiers to Christ´s Apostles.

Above: Russian poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921)

Many films have been set in St. Petersburg, with the most familiar to the West probably being Golden Eye, wherein James Bond (007)(played by actor Pierce Brosnan) carries out a daring raid involving the Russian Mafia.

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Above: Poster for 1995 film Golden Eye

The 1990s in which Golden Eye was filmed and set, a criminal class had sprung up, willing and able to do anything to build up fortunes, earning St. Petersburg the reputation as “the Crime Capital of Russia”.

Clearly St. Petersburg is quite inspirational.

 

Landschlacht, 25 September 2017

To get from the platform where I disembark in St. Gallen to the Starbucks where I usually work in the city centre on Marktgasse, I normally stop on Platform 1 and chat with the Starbucks Bahnhof personnel who happen to be working at the time.

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Yesterday I had the late shift (1500 – closing).

On duty at the Bahnhof were Lyudmila and Sukako.

How typical of Starbucks to work a Partner right up to her departure day!

(Lyudmila flies to Canada on Thursday.)

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How interesting to see a Russian and a Japanese working harmoniously together when only a little over a century ago their countries were mortal enemies.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

I call Sukako privately “Suzi Q” (reminiscient of the old Creedance Clearwater Revival (CCR) song) and publicly “Tampopo”(“Butterfly”)(from the only Japanese movie I never forgot).

I showed Lyudmila my old second hand copy of a St. Petersburg guide book I had brought with me and she nostalgically pointed out where in downtown St. Petersburg she once lived.

She smiled and said she tries to visit St. Petersburg at least twice a year if she can and told me she still has many friends and family members there.

Knowing someone like Lyudmila makes me wonder just how wrong the images I have of Russia and Russians might be.

Perhaps I make the same mistake about Russia as many people do about America: judging the country by the leadership.

An ancient habit carried over from the days when kings and queens were their countries as theirs was the only authority, yet this is a habit that just won´t fade away quietly.

We shouldn´t judge Russia by the only Russian most people have heard of: Vladimir Putin.

Nor should we judge America by the American most people wish they had never heard of: Donald Trump.

I am reminded of the old song “Russians” by Sting where the listener is reminded that “the Russians love their children too”.

Lyudmila warmly encouraged me to visit St. Petersburg one day and my reading about it does make the city seem attractive.

From the pre-revolutionary grandeur of the Hermitage (the former residence of the tsars and now home to art collected from around the world) and the Mariinskiy Theatre (Russia is famous for its ballet and opera.) to the unavoidable reminders of the Soviet period, St. Petersburg promises to be a city where eras and architectural styles collide.

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Above: The Hermitage Museum, formerly the Winter Palace

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Above: The Mariinskiy Theatre

Blessed with some of the world´s most magnificent skylines and known throughout Russia as “the Venice of the North”, Russia´s second city is a place of wonder and enigma, of white summer nights and long. freezing winters.

And it seems one could easily spend a week, or a lifetime, discovering the city.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the cultural heart of the city, is home to many of St. Petersburg´s top sights, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

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Above: Winter on Nevskiy Prospekt

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Above: Kazan Cathedral

A stroll along Nevskiy Prospekt is a journey through time, from tsarist-era splendours to the cafés and chic boutiques of modern day St. Petersburg.

Immortalised in literature, this 4.5 km/3-mile stretch has been the hub of the city´s social life since the 18th century.

If in Europe all roads lead to Rome, then in St. Petersburg all roads converge on Nevskiy Prospekt.

Just off Nevskiy Prospekt, the Church on Spilled Blood, built as a memorial to Tsar Alexander II in 1881 on the site of his execution, is a kaleidoscope of wondrous colourful mosaics and icons.

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Above: The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Ground

The Russian Museum is an exclusively Russian affair, collecting only works made by Russians.

Above: The Russian Museum in the former Mikhailovsky Palace

The history of St. Petersburg dates from the founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1703, originally intended to defend the city against Swedish invaders, it contains a magnificent cathedral, dark and damp cells, a popular beach(!) and fine examples of Baroque architecture and much like the city itself, much like Russia herself, the Fortress is a contradictory wonder that simultaneously exhilarates the spirit and chills the bones.

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Above: The Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island on the Neva River

And these abovementioned half-dozen sites are just the tiniest sample of all there is to see and do in St. Petersburg.

(I have never been to Russia´s second city, but I have been to its Floridan namesake, which is another adventure that I will share with you, my gentle readers, at a later time.)

Much of what is Russian history happened in St. Petersburg.

To understand the Russia of today, I believe one needs to understand how Russia got to where she is now.

I have previously spoken of the founding of St. Petersburg, “Bloody Sunday” 9 January 1905, the dawn of the February Revolution of 1917, the 900-day WW2 siege of the city when author Daniil Kharms perished from starvation, and the criminal 1990s.

But St. Petersburg is more than these events…

It has seen its share of powerful political figures….

Peter the Great, the driving force behind the city, ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725.

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Above: Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672 – 1725)

Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, was killed by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution of 1917.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Gregori Rasputin was a peasant mystic whose scandalous lifestyle helped discredit Tsar Nicholas II´s rule.

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Above: Gregori Rasputin (1869 – 1918)

St. Petersburg was home to Mikhail Bakunin, a revolutionary involved in insurrections all over Europe and is generally considered to be “the father of modern anarchism”.

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Above: Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

Lenin returned to Russia and St. Petersburg to become the leader of the October/Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union´s first head.

Soviet revolutionary Sergey Kirov´s assassination would mark the beginning of a series of bloody purges in the 1930s.

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Above: Bolshevik politician Sergey Kirov (1886 – 1934)

Anatoly Sobchak would become St. Petersburg´s first democratically elected Mayor in 1991.

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Above: Anatoly Sobchak (1937 – 2000), St. Petersburg Mayor (1991-1996)

Galina Starovoitova (1946 – 1998), a politician known for her democratic principles and assassinated in 1998, would have a funeral attended by thousands of Russian mourners.

Above: Burial site of Galina Starovoitova, Nikolskoye Cemetery, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg

Valentina Matvienko, the Governor of St. Petersburg,  remains a rare female figure in male-dominated Russian politics.

St. Petersburg native and former KGB head Vladimir Putin, who rose to power as Acting President on New Year´s Eve 1999, remains Russia´s dominant leader who has overseen the country´s economic growth while simultaneously cracking down on press freedom and repressing dissent to his rule wherever it may arise.

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Above: Vladimir Putin (born 1952), President of Russia since 2012

But once again we need to remind ourselves that the leadership of a place does not mean that all of its people resemble those leaders.

I would like to think that Lyudmila is perhaps a truer representative, a better ambassador, to the wonder of St. Petersburg and the potential of Russia than Putin or his ilk could ever be.

Sadly, like many things in life, it has taken her departure for me to truly appreciate who Lyudmila is and what she represents to me.

Though it was the commemoration of the Russian Revolution in Swiss museums this year that has evoked curiosity within me about Russia and its relationship with Switzerland, my present country of residence, I am now inspired by Lyudmila to research, and hopefully one day visit, Russia.

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Above: Flag of Switzerland

And maybe, one day, Lyudmila and her husband along with my wife and I will share coffee together on Nevskiy Prospekt, with Lyudmila having an understanding of my homeland and I with a greater understanding of hers.

I still have hope.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Marc Bennetts, Top Ten St. Petersburg, Dorling & Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, 2008

Canada Slim and the Forces of Darkness

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 September 2017

Sometimes you have to borrow from the best, to raise yourself up from the shoulders of the great.

Being the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, with much focus paid on this event and Swiss connections to it, I have found too much too interesting to ignore.

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What follows is a paraphrasing, meant in the spirit of plagirism as a form of flattery, of a part of Catherine Merridale`s great history, Lenin on the Train.

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As this blog does not generate money and as I only wish to whet people´s appetites for Merridale´s amazing writing I hope I can be forgiven for borrowing heavily from this book, often in her own words.

There is almost as much instability across the planet today as there once was in Lenin´s day.

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The great powers are still working hard to ensure they stay on top.

One technique still being used, since direct military engagement is often too expensive, is to help and finance local rebels, some of whom are on the ground, some of them who must be dropped in like Lenin in April 1917.

Think of South America in the 1980s.

Think of the dirty wars in Central Asia.

Think of the current conflicts in the Islamic world.

The history of the intrigue of getting Lenin to Russia to lead a revolution is not unique.

Great powers always plan and scheme and manipulate.

Great powers are often wrong.

As said in previous posts (See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead and Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement of this blog.), I spoke of how Lenin ended up in exile in Switzerland and how he began to grab attention and notoriety amongst both socialists and non-socialists.

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Above: Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Finally, now let us look at how Germany plotted to destroy the Tzar.

World War One, then called The Great War, or The War to End All Wars, was a global conflict that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918, and involved over 70 million military personnel, including 60 million European soldiers.

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By war´s end, over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians would be killed, including mass executions of entire groups of people (Armenians: 1.5 million, Assyrians:750,000, Greeks: 900,000, and Maronite Christians: 200,000).

What marked this war significantly different from previous wars was the increased sophistication in industrial and military technology and the use of bloody trench warfare.

Map of Europe focusing on Austria-Hungary and marking central location of ethnic groups in it including Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles.

The War began with a conflict between two trios of states: the Triple Alliance of the German Empire and Austria – Hungary versus the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

By war´s end, the Alliance would include the Ottoman Empire and other satellite states, while the Entente would expand to include Commonwealth nations (like Canada, Australia and New Zealand), Italy, Japan and the United States, along with Slavic allies of Russia.

When war first broke out, both sides were convinced it would be a short, decisive battle.

No one had anticipated a war of attrition.

By the start of 1917, the relative equality of the armies meant that neither side could score a decisive victory.

No one dreamed it would become a war that would draw in all the major powers of the world and cause death on an unimaginable scale.

All countries suffered in the War, of course, but Russia seemed to suffer most.

By the end of 1916, the Russian army had sustained more than 5 million casualities – killed, missing or wounded.

Long queues outside food shops were common.

Everyone had to make do.

Nothing was working as it should, from transport to the army General Staff, from the Russian police to the delivery of coal supplies.

The political machinery had completely stalled.

There was no directing will, no plan, no system, and there could not be any.

Russia was heading for disaster like a car speeding towards a cliff.

Since he had taken personal command of the Russian army in August 1915, spending more and more time at his headquarters near the front, Tsar Nicholas II had lost whatever knack he ever had for leadership.

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Above: Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

He ignored the Duma (Russia´s Parliament) while stuffing his council of ministers with people so talentless that they were almost comical.

The capital, Petrograd, was gripped by the fear of what were called “dark forces”.

It was whispered that the Germans had a foothold at Court, their goal to persuade Russia to withdraw from the War.

Germany had to fight the War on two fronts: on the Western Front against France and the UK; on the Eastern Front against Russia.

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Above: Flag of the German Empire (1871 – 1918)

If Russia withdrew, Berlin could focus all its troops along a single front, crushing the French and the British like gnats.

Withdrawing from the War was enticing….

“The conditions of life have become so intolerable, the Russian casualities so heavy, the ages and classes subject to military service so widely extended, the disorganisation and untrustworthiness of the government so notorious that it is not a matter of surprise if the majority of ordinary people reach at any peace straw.

Personally, I am convinced that Russia will never fight through another winter.” (British Secret Intelligence Service´s Sir Samuel Hoare, cable to London, 26 December 1916)

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Above: Samuel Hoare (1880 – 1959)

The mass of the Russian population was struggling.

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Above: Flag of the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917)

Russia was critically short of the commodities that people need in times of war, especially pharmaceutical products and dressings, thermometers and contraceptives.

The winter of 1916 – 17 was hungrier than any since the War began.

Factory workers, forced to queue for basic goods and work in bitter cold, grew anxious and angry.

The bitter cold, at 38 degrees below, seemed to paralyse all life.

At this time of inflation, workers found their wages dwindling as the labour force was augmented with unskilled women from the villages, who had no concept of collective bargaining.

Although a striker could face deportation to the front or years of hard labour in penal camps, the number of strikes increased as prices rose.

243 strikes had been recorded in Russian cities in 1916, but the number exceeded a thousand in the first two months of 1917 alone.

The atmosphere was so poisonous that many officers, reluctant to shoot their own people, began asking to be sent to the front to avoid a posting in the Petrograd garrison.

“The outstanding feature, unique in the history of Russia, is that all sections of society are united against the small group – half Court, half bureaucracy – that is attempting to keep the complete control of government in its hands.” (Sir Samuel Hoare)

“A palace coup was openly spoken of, and at dinner at the (British) Embassy a Russian friend of mine declared that it was a mere question whether both the Emperor and Empress or only the latter would be killed.” (British Ambassador to Russia Sir George Buchanan)

Above: George Buchanan (1854 – 1924)

When the Duma´s new session opened on 1 November 1916, reformer Paul Miliukov listed the many misdeeds of the prior few months, pausing to ask, with theatrical repetition, whether the House considered it to be a case of “stupidity or treason”.

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Above: Paul Miliukov (1859 – 1943)

Miliukov´s answer was damning:

“The consequences are the same.”

Even the imperial secret police, the Okhrana, grudgingly reported that “the hero of the hour is Miliukov.”

Many Russians believed that the Empress Alexandra, born in Germany as Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, was a German agent, but Buchanan dismissed the idea:

“She is not a German working in Germany´s interests, but a reactionary who wishes to hand down the autocracy intact to her son.”

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Above: Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918)

Her interference in ministerial appointments, however, had turned her into “the unconscious tool of others, who really are German agents.” (Buchanan)

The Germans, indeed, had their own plans for Russia, but with the outbreak of the War when their diplomats had been expelled and their businessmen and engineers deported and their list of Russian contacts shrunk, they had almost no real friends at Court.

There had been moves to exploit the family loyalities of the Empress Alexandra by having her be reminded of the overwhelming force of German arms and of the needless suffering that Russian soldiers might so easily be spared.

But the Germans underestimated the extent of her loyalty to Russia.

Alexandra was genuinely sad about the bloodshed, but she made no move to stop the War.

And her patronage and admiration of the monk Rasputin, with his murder, on 30 December 1916, dealt a further blow to German interests, the doors to the Court were even more firmly closed against them.

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Above: Grigori Rasputin (1869 – 1916)

The chances of a German-inspired palace coup had never been particularly strong, however, and as they weighed the options for disrupting Russia`s military campaign, the experts in Berlin considered another alternative: fomenting social discontent.

Nationalist movements had been simmering on the fringes of the Russian Empire for decades.

There were plenty of secret clubs and underground societies from which to choose.

The problem was to avoid wasting scarce resources on romantic fools.

The uprising of 1905 had shown what havoc Russia´s working class could wreak.

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Strikes and rioting had forced the Tsar to end the Russo-Japanese War.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

Although fomenting revolution was a dangerous idea – Germany had socialists of its own. – the prospect of a bit of inconclusive civil chaos in Russia appealed.

Russia had a network of home-grown revolutionaries, known troublemakers who could do the job.

With the aid of local sympathisers and strategic double agents, officials in Berlin began to assemble a picture of the Russian revolutionary movement, and especially of its emigré wing, the exiles who had fled the tsarist Empire in the pre-War years.

The most promising was based in Switzerland.

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Above: The flag of Switzerland

Gisbert von Romberg, Berlin`s minister in Bern, had a long-standing interest in Russia and knew far more about the Russian revolutionary underground than his British or French counterparts.

Romberg knew most exiled socialists would be content to sit in Switzerland indefinitely, continuing their arguments about the character of bourgeois government and the moral value of religion.

He needed a hardline group that was more than just a gang of posturing thugs.

The Russians he needed were all marooned in western Europe.

If the idea was to exploit their hostility to tsarism, they could not be allowed to guess how much the Germans might be helping them.

An open acceptance of help from a government whose armies were slaughtering Russians was political suicide.

The first ray of hope came in January 1915….

The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin received a telegram from Ambassador Hans von Wangenheim in Constantinople (present day Istanbul).

Above: Baron Hans von Wangenheim (1859 – 1915)

A Belarussian businessman, Alexander Helphand, aka Parvus, had a plan for the destruction of the Tsar.

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Above: Alexander Parvus (1867 – 1924)

“The interests of the German government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries.” (Parvus)

Parvus believed that they should contaminate Russian troops with anti-tsarist propaganda before they were sent to the front and he proposed a congress of the Russian revolutionaries in exile to get them acting as a unified group.

“Parvus was unquestionably one of the most important of the Marxists at the turn of the century….fearless thinking….wide vision….and a virile muscular style.” (Leon Trotsky)

In March 1915, Parvus was summoned from Constantinople to Berlin to meet Kurt Riezler, the German Foreign Minister.

Parvus drafted a report, “Preparations for a political mass strike in Russia”, the blueprint for revolution.

It was magnificent, promising everything from separatist uprisings in Ukraine and Finland to a strike wave among Russian sailors to be launched from Constantinople.

The Russian mass strike, an epic undertaking that would paralyse the war effort, would be organised under the slogan “Freedom and Peace”.

The goal was nothing less than to “shatter the colossal political centralisation which is the embodiment of the tsarist empire and which will be a danger to world peace for as long as it is allowed to survive.” (Parvus)

Just days after war had been declared in 1914, Estonian Alexander Kesküla turned up at the German Legation in Bern.

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Above: Poster of the 1997 Estonian/Russian film where Alexander Kesküla is the main character

Like Parvus, Kesküla loathed the Russian Empire.

As a nationalist, Kesküla dreamed of putting Estonia on the European map.

Kesküla also had credentials as a revolutionary socialist, having joined the Bolsheviks in 1905.

Kesküla quickly built up a set of contacts in the underground and met Lenin for the first time in September 1914.

In the guise of a Marxist comrade, Kesküla hung around the fringes of the Russian exile colony.

Of its divisions, only one group, Kesküla reported back to Romberg in September 1915, was willing, ready and able to bring down Russian imperial rule.

“In Kesküla´s opinion, it is essential that we should spring to the help of Lenin´s movement in Russia at once. 

He will report on this matter in person in Berlin. 

According to his informants, the present moment should be favourable for overthrowing the government, but we should have to act quickly….” (Romberg to the Chancellor, 30 September 1915)

Pacifism had become a common response to the War among young people on the left, but Lenin was different.

Above: Bolshevik political cartoon poster, showing Lenin sweeping away monarchs, clergy and capitalists (1920)

“An oppressed class which does not strive to learn the use of weapons, to practice the use of weapons, to own weapons, deserves to be mistreated….

The demand for disarmament in the present day world is nothing but an expression of despair.

He is not a socialist who does not, in times of imperialist war, desire the defeat of his own country.” (Lenin)

Lenin predicted a revolution throughout the world, a series of coordinated, pitiless and violent campaigns that would annihilate both capitalism and imperialism forever.

The bourgeoise would have to die, the big country estates would burn, and everywhere the slave owners would face enslavement themselves.

“Lenin did not plan invasions from the outside, but from the inside.

Every revolutionist must work for the defeat of his own country.

The chief task was to coordinate all the moral, physical, geographical and tactical elements of the universal insurrection, to join together all the hatreds aroused by imperialism across the five continents.

Lenin wrote as though thousands awaited his command, as though a typesetter was standing outside the door.

This man would not content himself with peace talks or a plan for social ownership of factories.

His aim was to destroy the very system that created war.” (Valeriu Marcu)

Above: Valeriu Marcu, Romanian poet / Lenin´s first biographer (1899 – 1942)

“Lenin is the only man of whom revolution is the preoccupation 24 hours a day, who has no thoughts but of revolution, and who in his sleep dreams of nothing but revolution.” (Pavel Axelrod)

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Above: Pavel Axelrod, Russian Menshevik (1850 – 1942)

Valeriu Marcu wrote that, by 1916, “the whole Bolshevik Party consisted of a few friends who corresponded with Lenin from Stockholm, London, New York and Paris”.

But the Bolshevik picture inside Russia was not as bad as either Lenin or Marcu imagined.

Although the tsarist police, the Okrana, had battered at the Russian underground for years, most commentators on the spot believed the Bolsheviks to be the best organised and most determined of the surviving socialist factions, with a predominantly young and relatively educated membership that continued to recruit new members despite the ever-darkening political atmosphere.

But soon dramatic changes in Russia would propel the Germans to find a leader who could control and dominate these changes….

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In the historical comedy film All My Lenins, Kesküla sees his great historical chance and intends to use Lenin´s leftist radicals in forwarding the Russian Revolution.

He elaborates manic grandiose plans to exterminate Russia forever and build upon it the Empire of Great Estonia.

At first, Kesküla acts between Lenin and the German government to use German money to ignite revolutionary flames in Russia

Kesküla and the German Foreign Ministry make a deal to support Lenin financially: to pay for the brochures, leaflets and books of the Bolsheviks.

Lenin accepts German help.

The Germans place their superspy Müller as the coordinator of the project.

Kesküla and Müller educate five Russian men as Lenin´s doppelgängers.

They want to be sure they can replace the real Lenin any moment something happens to him.

Doppelgängers are funny but dangerous.

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They could replace you any moment that anyone notices you seem to be inconvenient.

Perhaps Russian interference isn´t limited to the 2016 US elections.

Perhaps they too have doppelgängers or clones of the Donald that could replace him when Trump becomes inconvenient to Russia.

I think I speak for many millions of people around the world when I say to Russia….

Send in the clones.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train

 

Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017

“I have come not to praise Caesar but to bury him.” (William Shakespeare)

“One hundred years after the Revolution took Russia by storm, it might be the right time to re-examine why it happened, how it developed and why its lessons can still shape our vision and understanding of the world we live in now.

Such fundamental questions as relations between the masses and the elites, the vulnerability of democratic procedures faced with organised violence, or of humanitarian values confronted by a large scale refugee crisis, as well as contradictions between the fairness in society and the practical impossibility of achieving it, are still among those being discussed with the experiences of the Russian Revolution in mind.”

(Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths)

In my last post (Canada Slim and the Bloodythirsty Redhead) I wrote about Vladimir Lenin and his visits to Switzerland prior to the First World War and described how he ended up being exiled here during the global conflict.

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Now what follows are a few words about this period of exile and how Lenin used those years to be able to return to Russia triumphantly leading a Communist Revolution.

I have written about Bern before (Canada Slim in the Capital / Capital Be) and despite the uniqueness of Lenin`s character I am almost certain that he enjoyed Bern during his time there (1914 – 1916).

Much of what he would have seen still stands today: streets lined with cozy, covered arcades; people gathered in the lively market square conversing for bargains in Swiss German or French; gray-green sandstone Holy Ghost Church/Heiliggeistkirche looming above; the delightful bendy Aare River flowing below, its waters pumped into Bern`s eleven historic fountains….

Did Bern`s Prison Tower/Käfigturm strike fear and unpleasant recollection of Lenin´s yearlong imprisonment in St. Petersburg or how he had been held in a cell in the Austrian town of Novy Targ wondering if he might be shot for being a Russian spy on Austrian controlled soil?

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Was smoking within Bern`s walls still forbidden in Lenin´s day or did Swiss soldiers still use the Dutch Tower/Holländerturm to sneak their smokes?

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Lenin probably never noticed, for though he was a baldheaded, stocky and sturdy person, he exercised regularly, enjoying cycling, swimming and hunting.

Would he have walked past the Parliament/Bundeshaus and dreamt of the day when the Tsar´s Palace would finally be stormed by the Russian people?

Did he gaze up, like thousands have before and since, at the Zytglogge Turm (Swiss German: time bell tower) and watch the clock perform its machinations every :56 of each hour: the happy jester coming to life, Father Time turning his hourglass, the rooster crowing, the golden man on top hammering the bell?

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Had he heard of Albert Einstein who had lived in Bern from 1901 to 1909?

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Would Lenin have cared about anything that did not directly lead to the overthrow of Russia´s Tsarist Regime?

Would he have deliberately spurned the Berner Münster/Bern Cathedral as Lenin was an atheist and a critic of religion, believing that socialism was by its very nature atheistic?

A grey stone Gothic spire rises above the Old City of Bern

An amoral man, Lenin´s view was that the end always justified the means.

His criterion of morality was simple:

Does a certain action advance or hinder the cause of the Revolution?

Being fond of animals, would Lenin have visited Bärenpark/Bear Park or would the sight of the bears in their two big, barren concrete pits have depressed him?

Tending to reject unnecessary luxury, Lenin lived a spartan Lifestyle, exceedingly modest in his personal wants, an austere asceticism that despised untidiness.

Lenin always kept his work desk tidy and his pencils sharpened and insisted on total silence when he worked.

Above: The residence of the Lenins in Bern (1914 – 1916)

When Lenin arrived in Switzerland from Austria with his wife Nadja in 1914, he assured the authorities that he was a political exile and not an army deserter.

During his years in Bern, Lenin tried unsuccessfully to convince his Swiss comrades of the need for international revolution, but perhaps their hesitation had something to do with the contradictory character that was Lenin.

“The Lenin who seemed externally so gentle and good-natured, who enjoyed a laugh, who loved animals and was prone to sentimental reminisciences, was transformed when class or political questions arose.

He at once became savagely sharp, uncompromising, remorseless and vengeful.

Even in such a state he was capable of black humour.”

(Lenin biographer Dmitri Volkogonov)

As the chairman of Russia´s Bolsheviks Lenin attended several clandestine socialist conferences where he suggested that the First World War was being fought by the workers on behalf of the elite and that the War should be used as a catalyst for an armed uprising against capitalism.

“The war is being waged for the division of the colonies and the robbery of foreign territory. 

Thieves have fallen out, and to refer to the defeats, at a given moment, of one of the thieves in order to identify the interests of all thieves with the interests of the nation or the Fatherland is an unconscionable bourgeois lie.”

(Vladimir Lenin)

5 September 1915 was a crisp autumn day as 38 ornithologists gathered, organized by Robert Grimm, outside Bern´s Volkshaus.

Only, they were not actually bird watchers – that was just a cover.

These were socialists from all over Europe, meeting to discuss ways to bring peace to a continent ravaged by World War One.

Their peace campaign made secrecy necessary:

Opposing the War was viewed as treason in many countries.

The War had driven division amongst Europe`s socialists, with the International organisation split by national lines.

On 4 August 1914, the German Social Democratic Party voted in the German Parliament for war, citing “defence of the Fatherland”.

This was felt by other European socialists as a betrayal of socialist internationalism, prompting discussion for a new International.

On 15 May 1915, the Executive Committee of the Italian Socialist Party decided to call a conference of all socialist parties and workers´ groups who adhered to the class struggle and were willing to work against the War.

Swiss Socialist Robert Grimm knew the Volkshaus was full of spies, so his guests had barely tasted their first mouthful of Swiss beer before they were handed their tickets for a horse-drawn carriage to take them to the mountains of the Bernese Oberland.

Above: Robert Grimm (1881 – 1958)

So few vehicles were needed – only four – that the occasion was seen as a tragicomic commentary on the feebleness of international socialism.

The group was bound for Zimmerwald, then only a settlement of 21 squat mountain houses in a sea of fading autumn grass.

Two of the most famous participants were Russian: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, both political refugees living in neutral Switzerland – Trotsky in Geneva and Lenin in Bern – quietly planning the overthrow of Tsarist Russia.

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Above: Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940)

Trotsky and Lenin were already good friends having met in London in 1902, where Lenin had fled to escape Bavarian police, seeking to arrest him for printing revolutionary pamphlets in Munich.

Today, Zimmerwald has not much changed from that day in 1915.

It is a sleepy little place, with a population of just over 1,100, with a few farms, a church and the Alps soaring majestically across the valley.

And for 100 years there had been no sign that the founders of the Bolshevik Revolution had ever set foot in the village.

But thousands of kilometers to the east, Zimmerwald was famous.

In classrooms across the Soviet Union, the village was being celebrated as “the Birthplace of the Revolution”, “the founding mythos of the Soviet Union”.

“In the Soviet Union, Zimmerwald was such a famous place. 

Every Soviet school child knew about Zimmerwald, but you can ask any Swiss school child and they would never know what Zimmerwald was about.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

Richers describes Switzerland´s attitude to its history as a kind of “forceful forgetting”, especially in Zimmerwald itself, where, in the 1960s, plans to have a small plaque marking Lenin´s presence was formally banned by the village council.

Switzerland`s neutrality lies at the root of that reluctance to acknowledge the past.

During the Cold War, the Swiss were extremely nervous about showing overt friendliness to either East or West, and spent billions on a vast army and on bunkers for every family, in the hope of sitting – neutrally – out of any future conflict.

But in Zimmerwald, reminders of Lenin´s presence dropped through the letter box every day.

Postcards, drawings and notes, from hundreds of Soviet schoolchildren, many of them addressed to the “President of Zimmerwald”, all begged for information about their national hero Lenin.

They asked for photographs, for booklets and some even sent their letters to the Lenin Museum in Zimmerwald.

But there was no Lenin Museum, there were no photographs, there were no booklets.

Most of their letters went unanswered.

In 1945, a Zimmerwald official, made anxious by the excessive amount of mail with Soviet stamps landing on his desk, tried to stem the flow by sending a firm reply:

“Sir, I have not been briefed on your political sympathies.

However, I am not inclined to provide material to a political extremist, which could then beof use to enemies of the state.”

The Zimmerwald Conference was held in the Hotel and Pension Beausejour from 5 to 8 September 1915 and was attended by 38 socialist delegates from across Europe including 2 from the Balkans, 2 from France, 5 from Italy, 3 from Britain, 7 from Russia, 1 from Latvia, 4 from Poland and Lithuania, and 10 from Germany.

Throughout their stay, the delegates kept close to their Hotel, their entertainment limited to yodelling by Grimm.

The Conference began by reading communications from people and organisations who could not be present.

Then the various delegations gave reports of the situations in their respective countries.

“Irrespective of the truth as to the direct responsibility for the outbreak of the War, one thing is certain.

The War which has produced this chaos is the outcome of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation, to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labour and of the natural treasures of the entire globe.” (Zimmerwald Manifesto)

It was the first of three conferences, subsequently held in Kienthal and Stockholm, jointly known as “the Zimmerwald Movement”.

For the next three years any socialist who opposed the War or pressed his government for swift peace talks was identified as a “Zimmerwaldist”.

Even in the centenary year of the Conference, Zimmerwald wrestled with the agonising decision whether to commemorate it.

“Zimmerwald was actually a peace conference.

There were young leftists from the whole of Europe, discussing peace, discussing their strategy against war.

A hundred years after Zimmerwald, we are in a similar situation, if we compare the wars that are going on, with 60 million people fleeing.

We have a refugee crisis.

It reminds us how violent the world is, and so it´s important to remember that there was once a conference of people uniting for peace.”

(Fabian Molina, President of Switzerland´s Young Socialists)

Richers agrees, pointing out that the Conference was the only gathering in Europe against the War, and that the final Manifesto from Zimmerwald contained some fundamental principles.

“The Zimmerwald Manifesto stated three important things:

  • There should be a peace without annexations.
  • There should be a peace without war contributions.
  • There should a peace leading to the self-determination of people.

If you look at the peace treaties of World War One, those three things were hardly considered, and we know that World War One led partially to World War Two, and so I think the Manifesto did state some very important points for a peaceful Europe.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

But the Manifesto was not revolutionary enough for Lenin and Trotsky, who wanted it to contain references with replacing war between nations with an armed class struggle.

The delegates adopted one last document….

It unanimously passed a Resolution of Sympathy for the victims of the War and of persecution by belligerent governments.

Specifically it mentioned the fate of the Poles, the Belgians, the Armenians and Jewish peoples, the exiled Duma (Russian Parliament) Bolshevik members (arrested in December 1914), Karl Liebknecht (German) (1871 – 1919)(arrested and sent to the Eastern Front for anti-war protest), Klara Zetkin (German)(1857 – 1933)(arrested for anti-war protest), Rosa Luxembourg (German)(1871 – 1919)(arrested for anti-war protest) and Pierre Monatte (French)(1881 – 1960)(arrested for advocating trade unions).

The Resolution also honoured the memory of Jean Jaures (“the first victim of the War”)(French)(1859 – 1914)(assassinated for his pacifism) and socialists who had died in the War.

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Above: Jean Jaures

At the end of the conference an international socialist commission, called the International Socialist Committee was founded with a mandate to establish “a temporary secretariat” in Bern that would act as an intermediary of affliated socialist groups and to begin to publish a Bulletin containing the Manifesto and proceedings of the Conference.

This Committee is said to be the foundation of the Soviet Union.

For Lenin, the Zimmerwald Conference was an opportunity to stake his claim as the leader of the real European left.

Lenin remained apart, refusing to join anything as bloodless as a peace movement.

“At the present time the propaganda of peace unaccompanied by revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions….for it makes the proleteriat believe that the bourgeoise is humane and turns it into a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries.

In particular, the idea of a so-called democratic peace being possible without a series of revolutions is profoundly erroneous.”

Swiss socialist Fritz Platten remembered Lenin as the most attentive listener at Zimmerwald, but when Lenin spoke his words had the impact of an acid shower.

Above: Fritz Platten (1883 – 1942)

Again and again Lenin pressed the case for common action to bring down the entire structure of imperialism.

While bourgeois governments might weigh their chance at wartime victory or defeat, the European working class could win only when it smashed the systems that oppressed it.

Lenin`s faction was a small minority at every stage – sometimes Lenin was its sole member – but he managed to set the tone of most discussions.

Lenin had transformed himself into a leader on the international stage, the inspiration for a distinct political tendency, the European movement of radical socialists that would be known as “the Zimmerwald Left”. – Lenin, Grigory Zinoviev (Russian Bolshevik), Karl Radek (Polish), Jan Berzin (Latvia), Zeth Höglund (Swedish), Ture Nerman (Swedish), Fritz Platten (Swiss) and Julian Borchardt (German).

Lenin and the Zimmerwald Left found their fellow socialists and social democrats outvoted them, but Lenin continued to harbour hopes that Switzerland might be a fertile ground for staging a revolution.

In the months to come, Lenin and his Zimmerwald Left would work to persuade more socialists to join their cause.

“Lenin once stated that the Swiss could have been the most revolutionary of all, because almost everybody had a gun at home.

But he said that in the end the society was too bourgeois, so he gave up on the Swiss.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

“I think Lenin recognised after a few years that it was not a good idea to start a revolution in Switzerland.

Switzerland has always been a quite right-wing country, it never had a left majority, and I think Lenin saw that the revolutionary potential here in Switzerland was quite small.”

(Fabian Molina, President of Switzerland´s Young Socialists)

On the spot where the hotel Lenin and the other Conference members lodged is now only a bus stop.

Zimmerwald, Switzerland, 5 September 2017

I am off on another small adventure today but not at all feeling 100% good about it.

The wife is still at home with a bad cold and bad drama.

Her body says, “Stay home.”.

Her mind and conscience say, “Go to work.”

My remaining home would mean being an unwilling participant in this tragicomedy.

So, off I go to Zimmerwald.

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It takes 4 hours, 3 trains and 2 buses from home, but I finally reach Zimmerwald via Romanshorn, Zürich, Bern, Köniz and Niedermuhlern.

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Finally I see with my own eyes, albeit 102 years later, the town where 38 socialists from across Europe gathered together to ask the world´s nations to end World War One (37 participants´ idea) and plan violent revolution (Lenin`s idea).

The Hotel Beausejour where they met is no more.

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As neutral and conservative, right-leaning Switzerland is not enthusiastic about celebrating Communism there are only three small signs across from the town hall that mention the 1915 Conference at all.

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The number 11 seems to be the theme of my short visit.

I arrive at 11 am, the only store in the village and the town hall close at 11 and the road sign indicates that Zimmerwald is 11 km from Bern.

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Outside the store is a free library.

The only English language book is Philip Kerr´s Berlin Noir.

Zimmerwald is taking its afternoon siesta.

There is nowhere to even buy a cup of coffee.

After walking a bit I flag down a postbus.

 

24 – 30 April 1916, Kienthal, Switzerland

The Kienthal Conference, also known as the Second Zimmerwald Conference, was, like its predecessor, an international conference of socialists who opposed the First World War.

Of the nearly 50 participants at Kienthal, 18 of them had attended the Zimmerwald Conference.

Of the Zimmerwald Left, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek and Platten were in attendance in Kienthal.

The delegates met in this small Swiss village at the foot of the Blüemlisalp.

Edmondo Peluso of the Portuguese Socialist Party gave a very detailed account:

“The spacious dining room of the Hotel Bären was transformed into a conference chamber.

The President`s (Robert Grimm) chair was in the centre and, as behooved an international conference, the Presidium consisted of a German (Adolph Hoffmann), a Frenchman (Pierre Brizon), an Italian (Oddino Morgari) and a Serb (Tricia Kaclerovic).

Two tables for the delegates were placed on either side and perpendicular to the President´s table, on the right and the left, exactly as in parliaments.

The Italian delegation, being very numerous, took their seats at another table in front of the President.”

The Conference began with a speech by Robert Grimm on the work of the ISC, followed by a report from Hoffmann representing Germany.

French parliamentarian Pierre Brizon then began his speech….

“Comrades, though I am an Internationalist, I am still a Frenchman….

I will not utter one word, nor will I make any gesture, that might injure France, the land of the Revolution.”

Brizon turned to Hoffmann and told him to inform Kaiser Wilhelm that France would gladly exchange Madagascar for the return of Alsace-Lorraine.

Brizon´s speech lasted several hours, was interrupted by him drinking coffee and eating and included at least two attempts to physically assault him.

Finally Brizon declared that he would vote against all war loans – which brought forth a great applause – and then added “but only once hostile troops leave France”, which resulted in the second of the aforementioned assault attempts.

Unlike the first Zimmerwald Conference, the Kienthal Manifesto did not create much controversy.

The Manifesto stated that the War was caused by imperialism and militarism and would only end when all countries abolished their own militarism, it also criticised the social patriots (those who ruled out any opposition to their government while it was still fighting a war) and bourgeois pacifists and stated categorically that the only way wars would end was if the working class took power and abolished private property.

The Zimmerwald Left felt that the revolutionary struggle would arise out of the misery of the masses and the unification of a number of struggles into a single struggle for political power, socialism and the “unification of socialist peoples”.

The Kienthal atmosphere was more tense than Zimmerwald.

It was clear that the pro-peace centre had become more vulnerable and the Zimmerwald Left duly attacked it.

The Left was growing confident.

Lenin took the whole proceedings as a harbinger of future victory.

The peace program of social democracy was, for the Zimmerwald Left, the proletariat turning their weapons on their common enemy – the capitalist governments.

While the delegates were in broad agreement on the causes of the War, there was disagreement on exactly what measures the working class should take to end the War.

They agreed that the War would not end the capitalist economy or imperialism, therefore the War would not do away with the causes of future wars.

There were no schemes that could end wars as long as the capitalist system existed.

“The struggle for lasting peace can, therefore, be only a struggle for the realisation of socialism.” (The Kienthal Manifesto)

The Kienthal delegates declared that it was vital to raise a call for an immediate truce and peace negotiations.

Workers would succeed in hastening the end of the War and influencing the nature of the peace only to the extent that this call found a response within the international proleteriat and led them to “forceful action directed towards overthrowing the capitalist class”.

“Socialism strives to eliminate all national oppression by means of an economic and political unification of the peoples on a democratic basis, something which cannot be realised within the limits of capitalist states.” (The Kienthal Manifesto)

As at Zimmerwald, the Kienthal Conference passed a Resolution of Sympathy for its “persecuted” comrades, repressed in Russia, Germany, France, England and even neutral Switzerland.

 

 

5 September 2017, Kienthal, Switzerland

Restless after quiet Zimmerwald, I decide to visit this town, the site of the Second Zimmerwald Conference.

Blick auf das Dorf Kiental

So after a bus and a tram to Bern Hauptbahnhof, then an hour`s train ride to Reichenbach im Kanderthal (the same river as that forms the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen)(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem) then a Postbus up Griesalp, I arrive in Kiental.

(Population just over 210, not including cattle and sheep!)

I enjoy a late lunch of Bratwurst (sausages) and Rösti (a potato dish shapped like a pancake) at the Hotel Bären (Bear Hotel).which advertises itself as “well-suited for families, hikers and nature lovers”.

Kienthal is a wonderful place….great scenery, hiking trails galore, gondola chairs up the mountain…Food and accommodation at the historic Hotel Bären as well as other places.

As I eat my lunch I wonder….

Am I sitting where Lenin sat?

By the dining room window staring out at the mountains?

It is said Lenin could speak four languages (English, French, German and Russian).

Which language(s) did he use in Zimmerwald and Kienthal?

Were his thoughts as bloodthirsty as I imagine or was he forced by his peers over time, like Stalin, to commit any atrocities as “the end result always justifies the means”?

The important thing I take away from my visits to Zimmerwald and Kienthal is that at these Conferences in 1915 and 1916 is that honest, albeit disturbing, discussion was made that acknowledged that there is great inequality in the world, that the nobility and the wealthy create and profit from this inequality and that great struggle may be necessary to affect any real change.

Mahatma Gandhi´s ideas of passive resistance had not arrived yet in mainstream political thinking and discussion.

Zimmerwald and Kienthal would bring Lenin to international attention from socialists and those who feared or sought to use socialists.

Within a year of the Kienthal Conference the Germans would finance and arrange for Lenin to take a train ride across Germany and onwards to Petrograd (the renamed St. Petersburg, as the capital`s name sounded too German during a war against Germany), to start a Revolution that would halt the Russian/tsarist war effort against the Germans.

As Lenin gazed out the Bären`s windows at breakfast, did he anticipate that within 24 months of the Kienthal Conference that he would become Russia´s most powerful person?

The mountains remain silent.

Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia (Editor), Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Tony Brenton (Editor), Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Imogen Foulkes, “Links to Lenin: The past Swiss villagers tried to forget”, BBC News, 29 November 2015

 

Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 31 August 2017

It is with great fascination I read of the events of the Russian Revolution and the role that Switzerland played in it.

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I have visited exhibits in Zürich`s Landesmuseum and have photographed the outside of the residence where Lenin lived during his time in that city.

I have always found it curious that the man so responsible for so much bloodshed and suffering in the name of communism once called neutral Switzerland “home”.

Flag of Switzerland

The concept of neutrality is an interesting idea, in that those who claim to be neutral are supposedly not acting for any particular side except one´s own.

Switzerland defines neutrality for itself as taking no one`s side in military conflicts between nations.

But how truly neutral is Switzerland?

Is the manufacture and sale of weapons to other nations “neutral”?

Is the sheltering of political or intellectual leaders out of favour with their homelands “neutral”?

Is the storage of wealth regardless of how that wealth was acquired “neutral”?

Is the refusal to take a side despite the possible consequences of the “wrong” side winning “neutral”?

This year marks the centennial of the beginning of the Russian Revolution.

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“If one had to pick the single event which has shaped 20th century history and our world in the early years of the 21st, this must be it.

The Revolution put in power the totalitarian communism that eventually ruled 1/3 of the human race, stimulated the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, and the Second World War and created the great enemy the West faced for the forty-year Cold War balance of terror.

It is hard to think of another example where the events of a few years, concentrated in one country, and mostly in one city, have had such vast historical consequences.”

(Tony Breton, editor, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution)

That Russians were enduring severe living conditions that desperately cried out for change and reform is unquestionable.

That the change became so bloody and tragic lies primarily on the shoulders on one man whom the Swiss sheltered and the Germans financed.

On Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, a small, bald Russian with a red goatee beard boarded a train in Zürich where he had been living in exile to travel to Russia to begin a Revolution that would transform the world.

His name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov or Lenin, and he would become the founder of an authoritarian regime responsible for political repression and mass killings done in the name of socialism and the championing of the working class.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Had Switzerland not granted asylum to Lenin would he have still engineered the Russian Revolution?

Had Germany not assisted Lenin, an enemy alien, in entering and travelling across their territory, would he have been forced to remain in exile in Switzerland?

How did a Russian end up exiled in Switzerland?

Why did Germany assist him in returning back to Russia?

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born on 22 April 1870 in Simbirsk.

He was the third child of six surviving children of Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov, a teacher and later a director of schools, and Maria Alexandrovna Blank.

Both his parents were well-educated and were considered well-to-do members of the middle class.

His family gave him the childhood nickname of “Volodya”.

Vladimir showed already in his youth that he had an extremely competitive nature and could be destructive.

A keen sportsman, Vladimir spent much of his free time outdoors or playing chess and excelled in school.

His father died of a brain haemorrhage in January 1886 when Vladimir was 16.

Vladimir´s behaviour became erratic and confrontational.

At the time, Lenin`s elder brother Alexander – whom Vladimir affectionately knew as “Sasha” – was studying at Saint Petersburg University.

Involved in political agitation against the absolute monarchy of Tsar Alexander III, Sasha studied the writings of banned leftists and organised anti-government protests.

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Above: Russian Tsar Alexander III (1885 – 1881)

Sasha joined a revolutionary cell determined to assassinate the Tsar and was selected to construct a bomb.

Before the attack could take place the conspirators were arrested and tried and in May 1886 Sasha was executed by hanging.

Despite the emotional trauma of his father´s and his brother´s death, Vladimir continued studying at Simbirsk Classical Gimnazia (equivalent to High School), graduating with honours.

He decided to study law at Kazan University.

In Kazan, Vladimir joined a Zemlyachestvo, a student´s society, and in December 1887 he took part in a demostration against government restrictions that banned student societies.

The police arrested Vladimir and accused him of being a ringleader in the demonstration.

He was expelled from the University and exiled to his family´s estate in Kokushkino.

There Vladimir read voraciously, becoming enamoured with Nikolay Chernyshesky´s 1863 pro-revolutionary novel, What Is to Be Done.

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Above: Nikolay Chernyshevsky (1828 – 1889)

Vladimir´s mother, Maria, was concerned by her son´s radicalisation and convinced the Interior Ministry to allow him to return to Kazan but not the University.

On Vladimir`s return to Kazan, he joined Nikolai Fedoseev´s revolutionary circle, through which he discovered Karl Marx´s Das Kapital.

Above: Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

Marx argued that society developed in stages, that this development resulted from class struggle and that capitalist society would ultimately give way to socialist and then communist society.

Wary of Vladimir´s Marxist views, Maria bought her son a country estate in the village of Alakaevka in the hope that he would turn his attention to agriculture.

Above: Maria Alexandrovna Blank, Lenin´s mother (1885 – 1916)

But he had little interest in farm management.

In September 1889, the Ulyanov family moved to the city of Samara Oblast, where Vladimir joined Alexei Sklyarenko´s socialist discussion group.

There Vladimir produced a Russian translation of German-born Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel´s The Communist Manifesto.

In May 1890, Maria persuaded the authorities to allow Vladimir to take his legal exams externally at the University of St. Petersburg, passing the exams with honours.

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Above: Coat of Arms of St. Petersburg University

Vladimir remained in Samara for several years, working first as a legal assistant for a regional court and then for a local lawyer.

He devoted much time to radical politics, formulating how Marxism applied to Russia.

In late 1893, Vladimir moved to St. Petersburg, working as a barrister´s assistant while rising to a senior position in a Marxist revolutionary cell that called itself the “Social Democrats” after the Marxist Social Democratic Party of Germany.

By late 1894, Vladimir was leading a Marxist workers´ circle, had begun a romantic relationship with Nadezhda “Nadya” Krupskaya, a schoolteacher, and authored a political tract.

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Above: Nadezhda “Nadya” Krupskaya (1869 – 1939)

Vladimir hoped to cement connections between his Social Democrats and the Emanicipation of Labour, a group of Russian emigrés based in Switzerland.

He visited Geneva to meet Emanicipation members Georgi Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod, and then proceeded to Paris to meet Karl Marx´s son-in-law Paul Lafarge and to research the Paris Commune of 1871, which Vladimir considered an early prototype for a proleterian government.

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Above: Barricade on Rue Voltaire, Paris, during the Paris Commune government of 18 March to 28 May 1871)

Financed by his mother, Vladimir stayed in a Swiss health spa (St. Moritz?) before travelling to Berlin, where he studied for six weeks at the Staatsbibliothek and met the Marxist activist Wilhelm Liebknecht.

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Above: Berlin State Library facade

Returning to Russia with a stash of illegal revolutionary publications, Vladimir travelled to various cities distributing literature to striking workers.

While involved in producing a news sheet, Rabochee delo (“the workers´ cause”), Vladimir was among 40 activists arrested in St. Petersburg and charged with sedition.

Refused legal representation or bail, Vladimir denied all charges against him but remained imprisoned for a year before sentencing.

In February 1897, Vladimir was sentenced without trial to three years exile in eastern Siberia.

He was granted a few days in St. Petersburg to put his affairs in order and used this time to meet with the Social Democrats, who had renamed themselves the League of Struggle for the Emanicipation of the Working Class.

Above: The League of Struggle for the Emanicipation of the Working Class, 1897 (Lenin is in the centre of the photograph.)

His journey to eastern Siberia took 11 weeks.

Deemed only a minor threat to the government, Vladimir was exiled to a peasant´s hut in Shushenskoye where he was kept under police surveillance.

He was nevertheless permitted to correspond with other revolutionaries, many who visited him, and permitted to go on trips to swim in the Yenisei River and to hunt duck and snipe.

In May 1898 Nadya joined Vladimir in exile, having been arrested for organising a strike.

They married in a Shushenskoye church on 10 July 1898.

After their exile, Vladimir and Nadya settled in Pskov in early 1900.

There he began raising funds for a newspaper, Iskra (“spark”), as a new organ of the Russian Marxist Party, now calling itself the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).

In July 1900, Vladimir left Russia.

In Switzerland he met other Russian Marxists and at a conference in Corsier-sur-Vevey (birthplace of Swiss architect Eugene Jost and final burial site of English actors Charlie Chaplin and James Mason, as well as the present day headquarters of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles – the international governing body for amateur wrestling) they agreed to launch Iskra from Munich.

Vladimir and Nadya relocated to Munich in September 1900.

Containing contributions from prominent European Marxists, Iskra was smuggled into Russia, becoming the country´s most successful underground publication for 50 years.

Vladimir adopted his pseudonym “Lenin” in December 1901.

Under this pen-name, Lenin published the political pamphlet What Is to Be Done in 1902, his most influential publication dealing with Lenin´s thoughts on the need of a vanguard party to lead the proletarian revolution.

To evade the Bavarian police, Lenin moved to London with Iskra in April 1902, there becoming friends with fellow Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky.

In London, Lenin fell ill with erysipelas and was unable to take a leading role in the publication of Iskra, which in his absence moved its base of operations to Geneva.

(Erysipelas, also known as “red skin”, “holy fire” or “St. Anthony`s fire”, is an acute infection with symptoms that include high fever, body tremors, chills, fatigue, headaches, vomiting and a skin rash that favours the legs, toes, arms, fingers and face.)

The second RSDLP Congress was held in London in July 1903.

A schism emerged between Lenin`s supporters and those of Julius Martov.

Martov argued that Party members should be able to express themselves independently of the Party leadership, while Lenin emphasized the need for a strong leadership with total control over the Party.

Martov`s supporters called themselves the Men`sheviki (the minority) while Lenin`s supporters called themselves the Bol´sheviki (the majority).

The Bolsheviks accused the Mensheviks of being opportunists and reformists who lacked discipline, while the Mensheviks accused Lenin of being a despot and autocrat.

Enraged at the Mensheviks, Lenin resigned from Iskra.

The stress made Lenin ill and to recuperate he went on a hiking holiday in rural Switzerland.

By spring 1904, the Bolshevik faction grew in strength to comprise the entire RSDLP Central Committee.

In December, the RSDLP founded the newspaper Vpered (“Forward”).

In January 1905, the Bloody Sunday Massacre of protestors in St. Petersburg sparked a period of civil unrest known as the Revolution of 1905.

Above: “Bloody Sunday”, 22 January 1905, Father Gapon leading protestors at Narva Gate, St. Petersburg: Tsarist troops kill 500

Lenin urged Bolsheviks to take a greater role in the unrest, encouraging violent insurrection, mass terror and the expropriation of gentry land.

In response to the Revolution of 1905, Tsar Nicholas II accepted a series of liberal reforms in his October Manifesto, after which Lenin felt it safe to return to St. Petersburg.

Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Joining the editorial board of Noyava Zhizn (“New Life”), a radical legal newspaper, Lenin used it to discuss issues facing the RSDLP.

Lenin encouraged the Party to seek out a much wider membership and advocated the continual escalation of violent confrontation, believing both to be necessary for a successful revolution.

Recognising that membership fees and donations from a few wealthy sympathisers were insufficient to finance the Bolsheviks´ activities, Lenin endorsed the idea of robbing post offices, railway stations and banks.

Under the lead of Leonid Krasin, a group of Bolsheviks began carrying out such criminal actions.

Although Lenin briefly supported the idea of reconciliation between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, his advocacy of violence and robbery was condemned by the Mensheviks at the 4th Party Congress held in Stockholm in April 1906.

Lenin was involved in setting up a Bolshevik centre in Kuokkala, Finland, before the Bolsheviks regained dominance of the RSDLP at its 5th Congress, held in London in May 1907.

(13 June 1907, Tiflis, Georgia

The two heavily armed carriages rattled slowly into the central square of Tiflis (today`s Tbilisi), the state capital of Georgia.

One contained the State Bank`s cashier, the other was packed with soldiers and police.

There were also numerous outriders on horseback, their pistols cracked and ready.

It was shortly before 11 am and there was good reason for the security: the carriages were transporting more than 1 million roubles to the new State Bank.

Josef Djugashvili – better known as “Stalin” – one of the most audacious leaders of Georgia`s criminal underworld – was about to pull off a dazzling heist.

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Above: Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvdi, aka Stalin (1878 – 1953)

The money was urgently needed to finance the Bolsheviks´ political movement and Lenin had given his approval.

The robbery was meticulously planned.

20 heavily armed brigands loitered in Tiflis´ central square, awaiting the arrival of the carriages.

Lookouts were posted on all the street corners and rooftops.

Another band of men was hiding inside one of the taverns close to the square.

All were watching and waiting.

The carriages swung into the square as expected.

One of the gangsters lowered his rolled newspaper as a sign to his fellow brigands.

Seconds later, there was a blinding flash and deafening roar as Stalin`s band hurled their hand grenades at the horses.

The unfortunate animals were torn to pieces, along with the policemen and soldiers.

In a matter of seconds, the peaceful square was turned into a scene of carnage.

The cobblestones were splattered with blood, guts and human limbs.

Six people were killed by the grenades and gunfire and 40 were wounded.

None of the gangsters was killed.

The stolen money was taken to a safe house where it was quickly sewn into a mattress and later smuggled out of Georgia.

Neither Stalin nor any of the others involved in the heist were ever caught.

It was the perfect robbery.

But the stolen roubles included a large number of 500-rouble notes whose serial numbers were known to the authorities, making it impossible to cash them.)

(Giles Milton, History´s Unknown Chapters: When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank)

As the Tsarist government cracked down on opposition – both by disbanding Russia´s legislative assembly, the Duma, and by ordering its secret police, the Okhrana, to arrest revolutionaries – Lenin fled Finland for Switzerland.

There he tried to exchange banknotes stolen in Tiflis that had identifiable serial numbers on them.

Alexander Bogdanov and other prominent Bolsheviks decided to relocate the Bolshevik centre to Paris.

Although Lenin disagreed, he moved to Paris in December 1908.

Lenin hated Paris, calling it “a foul hole”, and while he was there he sued a motorist who knocked him off his bicycle.

In May 1909 Lenin lived briefly in London where he used the British Museum Reading Room to continue his writing.

Above: The British Museum, London

In August 1910, Lenin attended the 8th Congress in Copenhagen, following this with a holiday in Stockholm with his mother.

With his wife and sisters, Lenin then returned to Paris.

Here Lenin became a close friend to the French Bolshevik Inessa Armand, with whom it has been suggested he had an extramarital affair from 1910 to 1912.

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Above: Inessa Armand (1874 – 1920)

At a June 1911 Paris meeting of the RSDLP Central Committee, it was decided to move their focus of operations back to Russia, ordering the closing of the Paris centre and its newspaper Proletari.

Seeking to rebuild his influence in the Party, Lenin arranged for a Party Conference in Prague in January 1912, but he was heavily criticised for his divisive tendencies and failed to boost his status within the Party.

Moving to Krakow, Poland, Lenin used Jagellonian University`s library to conduct research, while staying close in contact with the RSDLP, convincing the Duma`s Bolshevik members to split from their parliamentary alliance with the Mensheviks.

Due to the ailing health of both Lenin and his wife, they moved to the rural town of Bialy Dunajec, before heading to Bern for Nadya to have surgery on her goiter.

Before the hostilities of World War One broke out, Lenin and Nadya were living in Poronin, a peaceful hamlet at the foot of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland, then Austrian controlled.

Map of Europe focusing on Austria-Hungary and marking central location of ethnic groups in it including Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles.

It was as close as a political exile could get to home, with Russian territory only a little to the north.

Although Lenin always travelled frequently – a Party leader had to attend key meetings of Europe`s socialist elite – he had lived happily in this backwater, working on theoretical questions and amusing himself by taking long walks in the nearby woods to pick mushrooms.

The summer of 1914 had been a bitter one for the Russian Tsar: there had been strikes in Baku and barricades were up across St. Petersburg.

On 6 August 1914, Austria declared war on Russia.

All over Europe, thousands of people found themselves suddenly in the wrong place.

As Russians, Lenin and Nadya had become hostile aliens in Austrian territory.

The gendarmes turned up at their door soon after dawn.

Barging inside, they searched the house, turning up a lot of papers and discovering a loaded Browning pistol.

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The gendarmes had their proof that Lenin was in Austrian territory to spy.

They took him away and by evening Lenin was sitting in a prison cell in the local town of Novy Targ.

It took a lot of cabling and negotiation, but the authorities agreed to release Lenin once they had become convinced that there was no Austrian alive who hated Russia`s tsarist government as heartedly as Lenin did.

The Lenins had to move.

They had considered Sweden, but they could not cross Germany, Austria´s ally, to get there.

In any case, Lenin liked Switzerland.

He had a good network of contacts there.

He could afford the food and rent.

He enjoyed its lakes and mountains and the opportunities they gave for walking, swimming and loafing.

And while wartorn Europe became increasingly hungry, neutral Switzerland remained a land of milk, cheese and soft white bread and chocolate.

And, though expensive, there was no other country in the world where he preferred to go if he needed medical treatment.

From 1914 to 1916, the Lenins lived in Bern, before relocating to Zürich where he would remain until Easter Monday, 9 April 1917 when he would board a sealed train and assume the reins of the Russian Revolution.

Above: Lenin, Switzerland 1916

In Switzerland, Lenin would assume the mantle of leadership over the Bolshevik movement and would gain recognition as a force capable of tearing down the Tsar.

It was in Switzerland, where this baldheaded, red goateed, stocky, sturdy person, ordinary in appearance but with eyes and movements of a hate-filled political zealot, would rise phoenix-like from relative obscurity as a political refugee to become the revered and feared symbol of Russia and international communism.

The story will begin with a group of bird watchers by a tiny quiet Swiss lake…

(To be continued)

Flag

Above: Flag of the former Soviet Union

Sources: Wikipedia; Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, edited by Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia; Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia, Dominic Lieven; Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917, Helen Rappaport; Lenin on the Train, Catherine Merridale; Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points in the Russian Revolution, edited by Tony Brenton; History´s Unknown Chapters: When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank, Giles Milton; Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects, Duncan J.D. Smith.

T

 

Raising Cain

Many a magazine and newspaper I see in the shops, almost every post I see on Facebook, much of what I hear and see on the TV, all seem convinced that the Friday 13 November attack on Paris demands a response.

Fighting fever and fervor has swept the West and much of the message is not whether the Islamic State should be fought but how it should be fought.

I myself cannot help but mourn the loss of life wherever it may occur and want justice upon anyone who would cause such suffering and sorrow upon a civilian population.

It is one thing when folks with weapons attack other folks with weapons.

It is entirely a different matter when unarmed folks are attacked by weapon wielding assailants.

We are told that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, but I wonder:

Does ISIS actually plan from the “caliphate” itself acts that occur outside their directly controlled territories?

Or is it to ISIS advantage to take credit for acts done by terrorists in their name as these acts give ISIS the reputation of being a force to be feared and respected?

The third possibility that the West itself creates acts of horror upon itself to drum up support for warfare is a conspiracy type theory I find difficult to accept as it seems too unlikely and too insane an option to soberly consider.

I cannot deny the feeling that something needs to be done to comfort the victims of attacks wherever they occur, but two responses I see time and time again unsettle me.

First, intelligence services time and time again always seem surprised when attacks occur in territories whose security they are responsible for, yet within days, sometimes even hours, manhunts begin for specific individuals who we are told are absolutely culpable for these acts and at no time does anyone raise the idea that an accused individual, reprehensible past or not, is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Moments after the Boston Marathon Attack, we were told who did it, we followed with bloodthirsty anticipation the capture of the accused and with breathtaking speed the accused was tried and executed.

Long before the courtroom, the press and the public determined who was responsible and the hanging tree prepared for a lynching.

We, the average citizenry, place such unwavering faith and confidence in the powers that be and are ready to respond appropriately based on what we are told to be true.

As it is easier to believe what we are told than it is to investigate the veracity of this information, we simply let those that govern and administer us decide for us what best needs be done.

Second, as we demand quick response to the suffering that was visited upon civilian lives, few of us consider the consequences of swift retaliation.

So many of us are clamouring for sorrow and suffering to be visited upon ISIS that we perceive it to be a sign of wavering weakness if we stop to consider how many lives will be lost, how many families destroyed, how much damage will result and what follows after power-mad tyrannies are removed.

As long as no more of our lives are lost, no more of our families destroyed, no more damage happens to us, we don´t know or care what happens to others faraway from us.

I never thought the day would arrive that I would find myself partially seeing world politics from Russian President Vladimir Putin´s point-of-view.

I have always felt bothered by Russia´s annexation of the Crimea, citing the dual reasons that NATO was becoming too uncomfortably close to Russian territory for Putin´s liking and that the Russian-speaking population there preferred being controlled by Moscow rather than Kiev.

Not really new arguments…

America used the proximity argument regarding Soviet missiles in Cuba to almost result in nuclear war with Russia during the Kennedy Administration.

Nazi Germany used the language argument to justify invading Czechoslovakia as western Czechoslovakia had German speakers there.

Russia is insisting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, otherwise a power vacuum will result if he is removed.

ISIS itself might not have come into existence and become as powerful as it has become had there not been a power vacuum in Iraq and a civil war in Syria for it to take advantage of.

And as reprehensible and despotic as rulers like Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad or Muammar Qaddafi may have been, their removal can destroy their nations´ power structure, resulting in civil chaos and anarchy, ripe breeding grounds for both terrorist attacks and recruitment.

Russia focuses their attacks on Syrian rebels, (though with the recent bombing of a Russian airline this may change).

Turkey is more concerned with Kurdish nationalists than it is with ISIS.

Sunni and Shia Muslims cannot seem to put their differences aside long enough to deal with ISIS inside Iraqi and Syrian territory.

The West is unwilling to put boots on the ground, preferring long range bombing and drone attacks.

Innocent lives remain at stake, both worldwide and within the self-proclaimed caliphate.

Too often we in the West act quickly to destroy governments we disapprove of, but we consistently seem to fail at rebuilding collapsed nations after these governments have been disposed.

So we remove ISIS, what then?

There will always be radicals in the world, attracted to the purity of fundamentalism and feeling rejected because their foreignness makes it difficult to find gainful employment and attracts discrimination.

Removing ISIS will not remove terrorism.

And the irony is, as dangerous as ISIS is, it is a power structure and acts as a theocratic government over its conquered territories.

Though there are many who flee from ISIS, there are also many who flee to ISIS.

According to the 21 November issue of the Economist:

“Yet the Islamic State endures.

Indeed its territory  remains one of the safer parts of Syria…

Food is cheaper and there is justice of a sort.

There is also a functioning economy, largely thanks to an estimated 30,000 barrels of oil pumped daily from captured fields in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.”

(But, of course, nations would never go to war over oil…)

“It doles out alms to the poor in exchange for total obedience.

It promotes a cult of personality around Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It churns out turgid propoganda about repaired bridges and newly opened schools.

…it has created multiple and mutually suspicious security services…to stave off coups.”

If you were given a choice between total anarchy combined with great uncertainty making even basic survival questionable versus a despotic regime that provides some semblance of order and a greater chance of survival which no one else seems able or willing to provide, could you honestly say you would prefer your children to starve?

Happily we in the West no longer have to make these choices.

Peoples in the Middle East, Africa and other regions are not as fortunate in this regard.

In my mind there is little question that ISIS needs to be dealt with decisively as too many lost lives cry out for justice.

The same could be said for organisations like Boko Haram in Nigeria.

But I think we need to soberly and objectively consider not just winning wars but as well bringing stability and order to the places we invade, not just leaving once the “bad guys” have been ousted.

Otherwise we will make martyrs out of monsters and create more damage and destruction than that we had intended to avenge.

We somehow need to show the world that faith is a matter of personal choice rather than state or military imposition.

We need to learn about other faiths other than our own, rather than simply hate other faiths because they are different or blindly fear them because  a few violent men have used these faiths to justify their barbaric acts.

As we sacrifice the lives of our military sons and daughters, while we sacrifice civilian lives caught in the crossfire, we need to leave behind not just the removal of inhumane despots and zealots but as well we need to replace these with a life worth living for,  a place where families can flourish.

The hate of terrorism, the fervor of fundamentalism, have one only enemy that can defeat them: love.

Not fear, not revenge, not paranoia.

Governments never seem to learn that, like sand,  the tighter the grip, the more control slips through the fingers.

Don´t just remove a governing force.

Teach the people how to govern themselves in a just society allowing individual thought and act that doesn´t violate others´freedom to do the same.

We need to act, not just react.

Yes, remove the negative but replace it with the positive, rather than just leaving behind a chaotic void of uncertainty and instability.

We are all brothers in our humanity.

We are our brothers´ keepers.