They’re haunting, Svetlana Alexievich’s interviews with people who endured the ethnic wars when the Soviet Union was falling apart. Haunting & disturbing, because it is recent history, because these are testimonies of individual people’s suffering, lacking the soothing distance of abstraction.
In the chapter titled “On a time when anyone who kills believes they are serving God” – a woman relates the arrival of civil strife in Abkhazian: how, all of a sudden Georgians and Abkhazians, started to attack and kill each other.
“They walk around like zombies, convinced that they are doing good”. From one day to the other, neighbours, class mates, colleagues turned onto each other. “So fast! So inhumanly fast! Where has all this been lying dormant?“
(Svetlana Alexievich – « Second-Hand Time»)
The 7th century, by contrast, is far away. History becomes less personal then. However vivid Wim Jurg’s account of that turbulent era, however evocative his descriptions of the feuding & the warring – empathy is (mercifully) not called upon.
But one acquiesces with weary pessimism when he paraphrases a 7th century poet commenting on the first Arab civil war:
“one person hates another and believes that is religion. When they accuse us, we accuse them, when they tell bad things about us, we tell bad things about them”
(Wim Jurg – « De lange zevende eeuw »)
And the present? Is it represented by the breaking news on new year’s day? By the terrorist attack on a new year’s party?
Samantha Powers – some time back in the UN
“what chance do any of us stand, if we allow this? Haven’t we learned anything in 70 years?”
My brother in law – watching the news, horrified
“We haven’t changed in a 1.000 years – it’s the same cruelty. The same barbarism “
Two friends – in a Brussels restaurant
“Could there be a civil war here, too? You really can’t know what’s going to happen. Who would have thought evn only 5 years ago that the world would have regressed as it has now? It’s human nature – an irrepressible selfish struggle for life, for power. Bloodthirst. Us versus them. Compassion? Yes, for for one’s fellow group members, for one’s co-religionists.”
Immanuel Kant – at his desk
“From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.”
Walter Benjamin – in the 30s
“[the technocratic conception] recognizes only the progress in the mastery of nature, not the retrogression of society”
Choir & Orchestra of the Minimes - Chapel –– BWV 191
“Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”
Thank you for the music indeed - pouring out harmony. And thank you for a civilisation that took the time and energy to build these musical instruments - imagine all the craft and ingenuity that went into inventing & making them. These instruments - so material, so terrestrial, so technical – but so sensuous, too, singing & sounding along the human voices.
And thank you for this particular Bach ensemble, performing Bach cantatas since 35 years now. Capturing so well their typical alternation of jubilation and meditation.
They’re mostly amateurs, with visiting professional soloists. A mix of different nationalities, each with their independent part, singing together, in a Brussels chapel, bound by their love of music and Bach.
Every year, after the Xmas performance concert, members take tours, each in their native language, to extend their best wishes to the public. In Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Italian, German, Dutch, Greek, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, English, ….. A happy concert of voices.
So far for an attempt at Xmas spirit ... written only a day before a terrorist ran a truck in a crowd on a Xmas market....So far for "peace on earth to men of good will"
The FT cites the editor in chief of BILD : "It may yet turn out that the terrorist assault on Christmas time Berlin is the price of the German display of generosity, so widely praised, 18 months ago. [...] To live with that frustrating idea ....[...]Will a majority of Germans bravely accept the notion that nothing in the world, including compassion towards strangers, comes for free?"