WORLD RACISM/ LATVIA

Program 0216
April 16, 2002

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.


NOAHA JEHAB: The racism, it’s in all the
world. It’s not only in Palestine. It’s in the US. It’s in England, in Europe,
in Africa. Everywhere in the world there is racism.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, fighting racism around
the globe. Plus, rediscovering religion in Latvia.

GUNTIS
DISLERS:
So
many pastors were murdered, sent over to Siberia, and many of them also tried
to find refuge in Western countries.

KRISTIN
MCHUGH:
Common Ground is a program on world
affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley
Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter.
Racism is truly a global problem. Taken as a whole it may seem insurmountable.

MCHUGH: But efforts are underway
around the world to attack the problem. As Common
Ground
’s Helene Rosenbluth reports, many of the approaches are aimed at
breaking down racism bit by bit.

UNIDENTIFIED
WOMAN FROM RUSSIA:
Russia is actually one of the countries with racism. Not the black and
white one. Sure not. But everybody is aware of problem of Chechnya and that’s
also bad racism. And we have lots of minorities. Over a hundred peoples living
in Russia. And some are discriminated. For example, they cannot register their
property, their cars. They can’t go into the normal secondary school. Very
often beaten by Cossacks. And that’s the face of racism in Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED
WOMAN FROM CUBA:
In Cuba the problem, I think, is the, in the mentality of racism of
some people. In Cuba was a lot of, of element of discrimination. After
Revolution, we carry out a process to eliminate institutionally all form of
racism. A campaign of all people, it’s mean they accept all people everywhere.
No, because we have a Latin culture, yeah? Latin culture is very machist, yes?
So, I think in this moment their minds are opening. We accept better than five
years, ten years ago. Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED
MAN FROM AFRICA:
And it’s not only white against the black. The black also, between us.
Got a problem. You coming from Congo to here looking for job. Maybe from
education he didn’t know what happen to Congo. So we need to get the
information to the people, to teach the people who are in Africa. We want to be
united.

UNIDENTIFIED
WOMAN FROM INDIA:
Racism has to be interpreted in different ways when you talk of
different countries and the way it’s not necessarily color that we talk of in
India. It’s a whole host of other issues. And then you have the whole issue of
discrimination against gays and lesbians. It’s just, there is, just seems to be
so much. And there are very many different ways that discrimination occurs,
which very often most of us don’t look at. Because it’s, we tend not to see
what is, what we would like not to see.

NOAHA JEHAB: The racism, it’s in all the
world. It’s not only in Palestine. It’s in the US. It’s in England, in Europe,
in Africa. Everywhere in the world there is racism.

HELENE
ROSENBLUTH:

When I think of how to begin working on overcoming racism, it seems like a huge
task. I’m drawn to practical approaches that seem to be working on a day-to-day
level in different countries. For instance, in post-apartheid South Africa. Clearly a role model after having
dismantled the program which epitomized institutional racism for decades. But
even here change doesn’t happen overnight. The effects of racism cut deep into
the psyche, and rebuilding a society means rebuilding a self image that has
been systemically eroded. So how does a society overcome a major shift?

LINDA
MAKATINI:

We had many years of being made to believe that you cannot do anything
successful as a person.

ROSENBLUTH:  Linda Makatini works within the new South
African government in Capetown to bring creative programs to the devastated
townships that surround the cities. Programs that bring respect and dignity to
people living in substandard conditions. She says that under the old government
there was little physical space available for young people to learn important
developmental skills.

MAKATINI: Townships were never built
by the apartheid state to be homes.
They were built basically as labor reserves. So you have a situation where the
houses, if you can call them that, are so close to each other that you’ve got a
township congested that is called “mas towle sani.” Now that means “let’s shake
hands.” And the joke is from the lounge you could shake your neighbor’s hand
who is sitting in, in the other lounge. So, with that close proximity and
tightness of space there was never any parks built, there was never any
entertainment areas built. All they had to do was have a, this labor reserve
called a township, have one school, and have a cemetery. So, now that is coming
back to haunt us. And our government has been trying over the last six, seven
years to expand and identify areas that are parks, where soccer could be
played. Areas where people could live as human beings with respect and dignity.

ROSENBLUTH: Creating parks takes money.
Money the new South Africa doesn’t have. In the meantime young people often
travel half a day to come to public areas like the Marketplace; a downtown mall
in Durban, designed mostly for tourists, where you can buy anything from
hand-carved tiki walking sticks to elaborately beaded dashikis. But it’s not
the shopping that draws the disenfranchised youth—it’s the chess.

Just outside an empty arcade, on the second level, I
found a group of young men huddled around the life-sized chessboard painted on
the floor. They were deeply engrossed in every move of the four-foot plastic
pieces. This was an unofficial match between a local player and a visitor who
had come all the way from Colombia, South America. His name: Bismarck Chareirra.
And he is the first black man ever to win a world chess championship. What
Tiger Woods has done for golf, Bismarck Chareirra is doing for chess: taking a
game that has traditionally been associated with a highly educated affluent
white intelligentsia and bringing it to the marginalized youth of South Africa.

BISMARCK
CHAREIRRA

[via a translator] Chess is considered a scientific game. Children, it is
important to practice not only at the competitive level but at the recreational
level, to develop that intelligent capacity, their capacity for analysis,
strategic and tactical vision, and their discipline. He considers it very
important to carry it to the schools. It has been his luck as a person of
African descent to teach or to show or demonstrate to his own people that it is
important for those students to know an African who plays this game and perhaps
they can win at this game.

UNIDENTIFIED
MAN FROM SOUTH AFRICA:
Okay, just, just tell us in brief, what did he do? What type of
mistake did he make? So that we all come into an understanding? What happened?

[Chareirra speaks in Spanish and then laughs. There
is no translation.]

ROSENBLUTH: Learning from a master can
offer wonderful tips to people who have little access to chess clubs or
computer games, or even after school centers. The young men lining the sides of
the checkered floor were either students or unemployed, intent on picking up
any pointers just by watching. No one could understand Spanish and only one
spoke English. Shedrick, the managing director of Independent Executive
Protection Services, a local company partnering with the government to provide
100 chess sets to schools in disadvantaged areas. Linda Makatini sees this as
one creative cost effective way to raise the self confidence of black
youth—both boys and girls.

MAKATINI: This program that we have
now of getting youth to focus on being themselves, knowing that after school
you don’t have to go sit by the road corner and wait for somebody else to mock.
You could actually engage psychologically, mentally, with another person. And
we’ve been making it clear that this sport is the one sport that can also
include girls. Because, of course, as long as the girl doesn’t compete against
the boy, girls will always believe that they’re not as good as boys. And this
doesn’t cost a lot of money. But it’s just not a sport that we’ve always had
access to as black people. And remember, the mentality has always been black
person equals thick. Chess equals intelligent person. Now, what we then have
now is developing this program to get our youth to have the self confidence of
knowing that, “yes, I can do it. And I can actually compete with anybody.”
Because of the strategy that is needed in playing chess.

ROSENBLUTH: Building self confidence is
a crucial factor in overcoming the harmful effects of racism—something that
Noaha Jehab knows firsthand. As a Palestinian living in Jerusalem she works
with a group called United to End Racism, an international organization that
works in 92 countries teaching counseling techniques to people to use with
their peers. She believes that Palestinians, like other disenfranchised people
around the world, have unintentionally internalized negative views of
themselves. Noaha sees these counseling sessions as a useful tool to help break
down some of the stereotypes.

NOAHA JEHAB: No one in the world have
been born to be an oppressor. And no one in the world have been born to be an
oppressed person. We have been taught how to do that. We are working with both
the oppressor and with the oppressed person. Me as a Palestinian, I work with
my community to tell them that they are good, to make them make about how bad
the message is that they got from the racism about themselves, about their
culture, about their roots, about being Palestinian. And the other side, the
Jewish people are working on their racism.

ROSENBLUTH: If racism is a belief in
negative stereotypes, then it’s something we’ve clearly all been exposed to, no
matter where we live. In Israel, groups are set up for Jews and Palestinians to
meet separately, to provide safe places where they can listen to each other and
provide emotional support. Noaha Jehab is a key person for the Palestinian
community, offering these skills as a means of coping with the experience of
being confined and having little control over one’s daily life.

JEHAB: I have a community in the
West Bank, Palestinian people. I cannot go to them. I’m forbidden. Not only me.
All the Palestinian people. You know, there is a big, you know, wall around
them. Indeed, they cannot go out. We cannot get in. So all this separating, all
this isolation make us feel so angry. And we need someone to listen to. And I
go to my people and offer this listening. Some were inviting me. I’m sitting
with him. “Tell me, how do you feel? How your day go?” If we’re listening to
the news, someone cries, someone—they have the feel, they have that now, here,
in my house, it’s legal to cry, you know.

We need it to work. We need it. It’s not easy. We
get then frightened so much these months. We felt very much that we are
threatened. Me, myself, at October, when I’ve heard that the Jewish from the
Nazareth attacked the Arab, I was scared when someone knocked on the door that
maybe this Jew is gonna attack me. You know, my thinking took me back to the
past of my family, that the, how was the ‘48, the Jewish attacked them and
pushed them out of their houses. All this thinking come into my mind. Only by
the help of the co-counselors, that they listened to me. They make me express
my feeling. And by the sessions I just could behave and go on my daily life.
With this work—only by this work—I mean it—I really, I can deal with the Jewish
as a friend.

ROSENBLUTH: Noah sees her goal as being
able to work collaboratively with Jewish Israelis who are also working on their
racism. By breaking down stereotypes on both sides she believes people will be
able to finally see each other as individuals; individuals who each deserve to
live in safety and peace.

JEHAB: I’m doing this hard job
because I don’t want my children and no one Palestinian to suffer what he is
suffering now and what, what our, all people and families suffered. And also I
don’t want the Jewish to continue taking all this damage from the patterns. So
maybe you will say that, that you’re working with the individuals. That’s true.
I’m working with one individual Jewish person. And he’s having a group. So I’m
changing the group. And that group, each one of them have another group. This
is how I’m changing. It’s not only me. It’s hand by hand, me and a Jewish
woman. This is it. I believe we all have the hope. We all have the main goal
and the same thing, that we hope for, for peace.

ROSENBLUTH: Ending racism doesn’t have
to be a huge overwhelming task. It could be a number of creative programs
initiated to counter stereotypes in small towns throughout the world. The
heartening thing is knowing that people are working in all kinds of ways to chip
away at this insidious problem, step by step. For Common Ground, I’m Helene Rosenbluth.

PORTER: Building a religious
college in a former communist country, next on Common Ground.

REBECCA
GUTMANE:
We
have developed programs specially for our country people to understand the
Judeo-Christian values.

PORTER: Latvia gained its
independence 10 years ago following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

MCHUGH: Under 50 years of communist
rule, organized religion in Latvia essentially died. Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman recently talked with a Latvian
couple who are helping restore their country’s religious roots and rebuilding
their nation.

GUNTIS
DISLERS:

When the communists came into Latvia it was in 1944. So many pastors were
murdered, sent over to Siberia, and many of them also tried to find refuge in
Western countries, especially in Germany. And then they, from Germany went out
to the world.

CLIFF
BROCKMAN:

Reverend Guntis Dislers is a Lutheran pastor and college professor in Latvia.

GUNTIS
DISLERS:

Officially the church was allowed in our country. But once you attend the
service you get severe problems and persecutions from the state, from the KGB.
And therefore churches were destroyed. Out of 300 congregations which were in
use, let’s say, before Second World War, some 100, only 100, survived during
persecutions. And the congregations consisted mainly of elderly people who were
not active anymore in life. Sunday Schools were forbidden. Any Christian
education was forbidden. So it was big gap between the society and the church.
So it was practically nonexistent, nonoperating church during those 50 years.
It was very hard. And when the independent was given back—or taken back,
actually—11, 12 years ago in our country, we practically had to start from,
from scratch, from zero, from nothing.

REBECCA
GUTMANE:

It’s many reasons what has happened.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Rebecca Gutmane is the
Rector of the Latvian Christian Academy. She says church attendance exploded
after the fall of communism, then quickly dropped off.

GUTMANE: Our people are educated on
a Marxist basis. And that is so deep in our middle-aged people and also elderly
people. They think that Christianity and church matters, it doesn’t help in
life. This is when you are intellectually weak, then you go to church. But if
you are a wise and intellectually strong person then you don’t need the church.
And then they say, also very often they say, “Oh, this is a fashion, to go to
the church, now. I will be out of the fashion. I will not go to the church.”
And then the third thing is, which is very strongly in our people minds that,
you know, they think that Christianity is like Jewish sophistication, to make
again people to be slaves.

And that’s why it’s very, very important to have
right education for our people. Because when the communist revolution used to
happen, all these people who were sent out to Siberia or who left our country
for other countries, became refugees, they blame the communists. They say,
“They were Jews.” And that’s very deep in our people hearts. And so we have to
educate them, what is the right thing, historically and biblically. What was
happening at that time? So many reasons why people are leaving church.

And also, I have to say that church must start to
work, so to say, from, from the people attitude. The changed attitude. Not just
the proclaim, the proclamation from above doesn’t work. You have to go closer
to the people. That’s why academy college, we are leaders of the college.
Because we want to build the bridge from the church to the society, to the
people. And make people’s hearts softer towards church. And towards their,
their value system.

BROCKMAN: You mentioned the college.
Let’s talk about that. You founded the—well it’s now called the Latvian
Evangelical Lutheran Christian Academy—in ‘93.

GUTMANE: Yeah, back in ‘93.

BROCKMAN: Tell us a little bit about
the college.

GUTMANE: At that time I was working
at the Latvian State University. And maybe everyone, many knows, that in Latvia
women are not ordained. And not allowed to be ordained. Many girls were
dreaming for theological studies but where they will work after they will graduate?
And that’s why we got the idea, I think from God, that we have to start the new
institution for academical education for girls, to be come a lay, lay ministers,
for, to help churches to develop. Deacons and maybe psychologists, Christian
psychologists, and Christian social work was at zero level in our state. So we,
we got this idea to develop this integration of biblical values into our people
hearts, and minds, and deeply into our society. So we have started back in ‘93
with 25 students. And now in academy we have more than 1,000 students.

We have developed programs specially for our country
people to understand the Judeo-Christian values and continuity of these values.
We are providing 30 programs which are not copied from other countries. Like
States, you have very deep traditions in religious or biblical education. Or
from other countries. But we developed our study programs so that they can fit
for our post-totalitarian state. To understand and to teach people how to help
others and how to help themselves to not be dependent on government or, or some
leader, like Lenin. But to depend, to be dependent on the values which, which
makes you real personality free in Christ and, and loving other people. And not
hate—not, you know—so it’s made people full of hatred. Full of lies and
different heavy things, you know. And we have to make, help people to make
free.

BROCKMAN: So, you’re involved, as you
said, not just in church building but in nation building.

GUTMANE: Right. Our government is
very supportive for our, our work. Our ex-President, Guntis Ulmanis is, he was
at the first graduation party. And he gave us special paper of appreciation.
And he wrote in this paper that, that we need the real ethical basis for our
country development. And that’s what a Christian academy is doing. And that we
appreciate very much.

The second thing is that government gave us this
property for future development, what Guntis was speaking about. And in our
country this is like great step from government position. And our government
people are studying at the academy. In different programs. Minister of
Economics. And four of them already graduated. Why? Because they say that we
teach Christianity and Bible in a way so that it is socially understandable.
Why it is of great value. How you have, you can develop many modern social
issues on biblical basis. That’s why they are coming to our academy.

And the third thing is that we have students from
all over the country. They create the social structure, the new, different
social structure, from the previous one: being social workers, but Christian
basis. And our students are state paid for their work. This is very important.
They are members of the church but they are, after their graduation, they
spread all over the country. And they create the new system of understanding.
And they are working for creating the new social structure for development of
our country.

BROCKMAN: I’ve read that Latvians are
100 percent literate. Pastor Dislers, can you tell us about education in
general in Latvia? Specifically since the fall of the Soviet Union.

DISLERS: We are proud being 100
percent literate. It does have something to do with history. Because when
Germans came into our country something like 12th century, they baptized
Latvians formally. And it didn’t reach their souls. And we survived partially
because we were keeping our Latvian language and traditions and culture so to
say, underground. The German politics in Baltic states was that they, they were
keeping themselves apart. Because they didn’t mix with Latvians. And in 17th
century only, when Swedish rule came into our country, first Latvian schools
were opened. That was the beginning of Latvian schooling in our own Latvian
language.

But living in crossroads situation between East and
West, you know, South and North, the objective situation demands knowing at
least two languages. So we all are bilingual or trilingual. We can speak of
course, Latvian is our native tongue. And we can speak Russian, we can speak
English—with some mistakes as you hear [laughs]. And so many people speak
German as well, and Swedish or Polish or whatever. So we are having that
tradition which is very rich.

Immediately when political freedom was given to our
country at the beginning of 20th century, when we were fighting against both
Germans and Russians, during the First World War, immediately Russian, Latvian
culture was flourishing. You know, we have rich literacy. We have beautiful
poems. We have beautiful dramas. We have theaters. We have, you know, writers,
everything. So, so we are thirsty of knowledge. And we enjoy having it in our
college. Because it has to do something with our tradition—Christianity being
integrated. And this is the best part of…

GUTMANE: …not separated but
integrated.

DISLERS: This is the best part of
our culture. Our best writers, they have been Christians.

BROCKMAN: You were talking about the
East and the West. How would you say that Latvians view themselves now? Are
they part of the—are they becoming part of the West? Or want to become part of
the West? Or are they still, see themselves as a former state of the Soviet
Union?

GUTMANE: Our country is very poor
now. And these, those people who are in, who lost jobs and whose education
doesn’t fit in for the new situation, they are longing for previous times to
come back. Like, you know, like chosen nation in desert. Say, “Oh, we have to
go back. That was better.” Young generation is very eager for education and now
the system of values I am worrying about this, because many things, many people
think that most important things in the world are things. Which is not right.
And they are rallying for this materialism and, and then Western people are like
an example for them.

And this is why many people become desperate.
Because they couldn’t afford this system of, you know, material welfare, like
you do have. And then we teach that there is not the most, this is not the
goal. The, only material welfare. That everything must be based on the
personality’s development. And we are working very hard to develop the proper
value system—balanced value system. Where people’s souls were so destructed
during Soviet time. You know, it—people are happy to go to jobs but not to
work.

And I, as a leader, now I can feel that they want to
have jobs but they don’t want to work. And this is big difference from you.
Because when you are working, then you are working hard and money is not
falling from the heaven. This is what we have to teach our people to do, also.
To work hard first. And then only long for something to have. Young generation
is like trying to do their best in this way. But middle-aged people and elderly
people, they are very, very unhappy now.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Rebecca Gutmane and
Reverend Guntis Dislers are husband and wife and co-founders of the Latvian
Christian Academy. For Common Ground,
I’m Cliff Brockman.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

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