A few days ago, I visited an exhibition ‘What Remains: Traces of Refugees’. Two projects in Vienna's city museum exposed objects of a few people who flew war, genocide, persecution and poverty in 20th century.
While I was there I couldn’t help but think about my mother. She was born in 1909, in Kaunas, part of Tsarist Russia back then. She was only 5 years old when World War I began. Her parents were forced to abandon their home in Kaunas and fly to Moscow. In a blink of an eye, they became refugees. As they fled, my mother lost her father and her older brother.
During those times and when they were returning on foot from Moscow to Lithuania, my dear mother had to learn to live with hunger, misery, sickness, orphan hood, beggary. She was a refugee girl, as so many others, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles, Russians...
In 1941, my family was forced to go through yet another exile. They were deported from Lithuania to the Laptev Sea region meaning that my mother had to endure hunger, cold and sickness once again. Yet another sufferance was less visible. The pain of having a label of 'fascists' given to them by communist regime was equally acute.
For me it was somewhat different. In the Tit-Ary barracks we, children, Lithuanians, Karelians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Jews, Russians, Estonians, were raised and played together. We did not see any difference. We did not need any labels. Only later, when my parents were allowed to leave the barracks and moved to the southwest of Yakutia, I could remember people calling us 'fascists'. Later on, when we came back to Lithuania, I recall local children mocking and bullying us DIFFERENT kids who came from Gulags. I couldn’t understand. After all, I was not different, I was back 'home with our own'.
The roots of this behaviour lied in ideology and propaganda, they were behind the crowds shouting 'Heil Hitler', 'za Stalin', 'Mao, Mao, Dan zi Bao'. The result was terrible: millions suffered, were exiled or assassinated.
I sigh. One would think that we, Europeans, have learnt our lessons and should be able to activate memories in our brains and know better where this can lead: Auschwitz, Gulags, deportations, and hatred, all based on radical ideologies, mixed with incitement against the one who is different, foreign, and amalgamated with escalation of violence and fear. This is a Molotov cocktail to be used against humanity and we might bear severe consequences.
TThe exhibition in Vienna and Chemnitz, my mother and my own experience are forcing me to raise my voice again and again. The 'court of crowd' has no future. The only path it could take us on is the one that leads to new conflicts. Are these our values? My answer is no. These are red lights flashing, these are warnings to one and all that we are standing at some very dangerous crossroads.