Babi Yar in Manhattan | The Nation


Babi Yar in Manhattan

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Today, terrorists invented a way to transform passenger planes into giant gas bombs. What if tomorrow, terrorists are equipped with atomic mini-bombs, or chemical or biological weapons, and other countries become the next targets? World evil has quick legs, but the legs of goodness are tired. New kamikazes--for whom will be reserved, their criminal teachers promise, the best virgins in the other world--will be ready, even tomorrow, thinking that they are messengers of the highest justice, to rip through the Eiffel Tower, the Kremlin, the Sistine Chapel, the Cathedral of Cologne, Big Ben. Aggressive fundamentalism begins with the explosion of the main foundations of humanity.

About the Author

Yevgeny Yevtushenko
The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko is, perhaps, the best known and most widely published poet in the world.

Also by the Author

A statesman and a poet pay tribute to a historian of Russia.

I grew up during Stalin's terror against our own people. Marxist fundamentalism justified that terror. But if Marx could have seen the nightmare of our concentration camps--the gulag archipelago--he would himself have become an anti-Marxist. Nazi fundamentalism shaped the idea of the gulag into the gas chambers of the Holocaust. Marxist fundamentalism used the explosion of churches, afterward transformed into potato stores or horse stables,to explode the Christian morality and spiritual testament of Dostoyevsky: that no ideals are worth one tear of an innocent, tortured child. (Despite their confrontation, Marxist fundamentalism was very close to Western right-wing fundamentalism in shamelessly cynical politics.) Marxist fundamentalism, crushing with tanks the spring of Prague, switched the idealist Dubcek for the opportunist Husak, and Western right-wing fundamentalism switched liberal-socialist Allende for dictator Pinochet, by the common principle "Yes, he is a bastard, but he is our bastard." Maoist fundamentalism tried to cross out all Western culture, trapping the best translators of literature in foreign languages into so-called camps of improvement. The Russian Orthodox Church's fundamentalism, a hundred years ago, cursed Leo Tolstoy with anathema, and until recent days our humanist patriarch hadn't found time to cancel it. The official Soviet fundamentalist writers expelled Pasternak from the Writers' Union, in what became his civic death. Iranian fundamentalism simply condemned Salman Rushdie to death with no need of adjectives. Fundamentalism is the transformation of earthlings into aliens.

If we want to finish terrorism, we must not become terrorists to all others who are simply different. We must not stoop down to the level of complete suspicion of other political views and religious beliefs. Tough policy toward terrorism must not become a police conglomerate of the richest countries against the Third or Fourth World of pariahs. As long as there is hunger and poverty on our planet, there will also be desperation and terrorism. If you hide a bomb in a pocket with many holes, there are many chances that it will slip out.

Are the professional politicians of the world ready to solve such problems? Don't some of them waste too much time on election rallies? Don't they, too quickly after being elected, immediately begin to prepare for the next election or for a comfortable retirement? Don't they pay too much attention to their own security at the expense of the security of those who elected them?

A 23-year-old student of mine in Tulsa, Christopher Fitzwater, wrote: "Our 'cold wars' turn into wars against people instead of an ideology. People are basically all the same: our similarities far outweigh our differences. It takes politics, money and other intangible things to tear us apart. It is a pity that they do it so well." And another student, 24-year-old Ahmad Al-Kaabi, from United Arab Emirates, counsels that when it comes to aggression, we learn from nature: "In a world where humans stupidly fight to kill millions, cranes fly together in harmony and look for better choices."

We can be sure of the future if it belongs to such young people. Unfortunately, in too many countries, the young and talented squeamishly avoid politics, thinking it an unwashable, dirty kitchen, and they dive into business, into technology, into university teaching, sarcastically criticizing their governments. But politics, like all the rest of nature, won't tolerate a vacuum. As a result, those with negative energy and skill in its use are able to jump into politics and rule those more intelligent and honest than they. Now is a prime time to change this greasy deck of political cards. We need a wide movement of young, unstained people into politics, otherwise we will never untie or cut the Gordian knot of so many problems, one of which is the problem of mutual creation of aliens from each other. Israelis make aliens from Palestinians; Palestinians, from Israelis. Serbs from Albanians; Albanians from Serbs. Basques from Spaniards; Spaniards from Basques. Irishmen from Irishmen, simply because some are Protestants and others are Catholics. And we Russians, having made so many aliens from other Russians, killed them in the past and continue to kill them now.

Imagine two young Russian soldiers from the same village, bunked together fearfully in a cold tent somewhere in the mountains of Chechnya. (Chechens, to these Russian soldiers, have been made aliens.) One of the soldiers leaves the tent, not going far--just to the first little bush. The second soldier wakes up, looks for his friend and, finding him gone, crawls outside. He stands in horror, seeing near his boots the bloody head of his childhood friend, cut off by a Chechen dagger. This soldier is not a coward, and he has a machine gun in his hand. What is he going to do? He runs to find the killers, outraged by madness after his loss. Then he shoots at two uncertain figures that suddenly sway before him, speaking Chechen in the milky fog. Immediately he is seized by a Russian patrol, for he has blindly killed two peaceful peasants. But how do you understand who is peaceful and who is not in such fog...?

Only twenty-five miles from the city of Grozny, which is full of debris after ground battles and bombings, is the Cossack village of Starogladovskay, where there stands only one undestroyed monument to a Russian--to Leo Tolstoy, who was here in the military service many years ago. The museum of the great writer is guarded by a Chechen family, who have only one old hunter's rifle to do their job. Can you imagine that nobody has touched, even with a finger, this village or this museum? "War couldn't be there, where Tolstoy is," says the head of the family. Probably more than anything else, mankind needs now a people with such compassion and dignity, who could paralyze with their words the mutual hatred, like the words of Tolstoy.

Over our wounded mother Earth are flying not only terrorist planes. Cranes still fly, too...

Translated by the author with Marcia Farrell and Irene and Frank Letcher.

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