When the practice of ‘serfdom’ was first introduced, it was nowhere as oppressive as it grew to be later on. In some instances, at the beginning, the ‘serfs’ had to provide as little as 3-4 days of service to the ‘lord’ per season – in return for the ‘lord’ being responsible to maintain peace and order in his domain..
Gradually, the amount of work required of the serfs kept creeping higher and higher, the responsibilities of the ‘lord’ to the serfs kept getting smaller and smaller and the powers of the ‘lord’ over the ‘serfs’ kept getting bigger and bigger as the ‘lords’ increasingly used their powers against the ‘serfs’ instead of in their protection.
By the end, things were not so good…. People were compelled – often forced by armed guards – to work for their ‘lord’ from sun-up to sun-down 6 days a week, every week…
These days, we pay so much of our incomes in taxes – it can reach more than 50% of a family’s income. The State sets the level of taxation one-sidedly and The State has usurped for itself extraordinary powers to compel you to pay these taxes, even suspending your innate civil rights as irrelevant in the process!
Indeed, the parallels to serfdom are increasingly undeniable!
Which is why I’d like to tell you a story about a peasant who refused to become a serf (in the original, ‘robotnik’ – this is the root of the word ‘robot’). His name was Jan Sladky Kozina.
This narration is not exactly the way the story is written up in the history books. Nor does it match the ‘official’ or even ‘semi-official’ narratives put on the internet by people who claim (probably rightly) to be the genetic descendants of the Dogheads. I am not re-telling the story with any claim to ‘factual accuracy’.
Rather, here and now – to us, this version of the story has great archetypal relevancy!
Like Kozina, this storyteller (who was in his 90’s when, I was a child,) was a Chod, born and raised as a ‘Doghead’ – but a ‘few’ generations too young to have lived through these events himself. Still, he was not so young as to not have heard the story from the grandchildren or great-grand-children of the actual people who lived this story! (While there are many guesses – some of them more educated than others – there is no definitive answer as to who the Chods were, where they came from or what their mythology truly was.)
OK – to the story, as I remember it having been told me by an ancient story teller:
The ‘Dogheads’ were not your ordinary peasants. They were a people of their own, with a proud and ancient heritage.
One of their unique skills was in animal communication and training – especially training dogs (hence they had the head of a dog in their clan symbol (is it a coat of arms when it refers to the clan and not a specific person?) – and the nomicker ‘Dogheads’). The Dogheads were the only bunch of people in feudal Europe to have a document officially exempting them from serfdom.
That was the ‘outside’ story.
Our ‘inside’ tradition says that the papers GIVEN to us by John of Luxembourg were simply his acknowledgment of much older and more powerful claims/documents (depending on who told the story, it was either ‘ancient claims that everyone acknowledged’ or a chest full of very ‘ancient documents’). (A few old Dogheads actually claimed these ‘even older’ documents put the Dogheads outside the jurisdiction of even the Inquisition – but that is hard to believe…)
For centuries, all the kings respected this.
Until a bad, greedy king came to power.
He refused to recognize the Dogheads innate freedoms and documents ordering all kings to recognize our rights to these freedoms. This bad king deeded their land to a nobleman who paid him off – effectively turning the Dogheads into this man’s serfs (this was a little over 3 centuries ago).
The Dogheds were not keen on this. They refused to submit to serfdom (‘robota’) and petitioned the king, but the king refused to hear the petition.
The Dogheads did not know what to do.
Many wanted to take up arms and die fighting rather than submit to serfdom – but taking up arms against the king was abhorrent, because it would be an open rebellion against the position and not just the evil man who occupied it.
They could never justify such violent means to achieve any good end.
So, Kozina (that is how he was referred to commonly by his clan) chose a different way: He publicly displayed the documents guaranteeing the Dogheads freedom from serfdom in perpetuity, proving to everyone that the king was indeed the one who was breaking the laws!
This cost the king dearly, because all the noble houses and all the people saw him for what he was…. a criminal thug! An usurper! An unfit king!
But, he still had a big army…
Embarrassing the king publicly was not so very good for Kozina’s longevity. The king had Kozina tossed into jail and sent in his army to install this nobleman (whatever his name was, we called him Lomikar) as our overlord.
Then, the king permitted Lomikar to have Kozina tortured and publicly hanged.
At the gallows, Kozina looked at Lomikar and said:
“Lomikare, Lomikare! Do roka a do dne, zvu te na sud Bozi! Hync sa hukaze – “
Kozina spoke in the old Chod dialect…..and the way the words are put together is said to have the quality of a magical incantation. Roughly translated:
“Lomikar, Lomikar! In one year to the day, I challenge you to God’s judgement! Then it shall be shown – “
He never got to say any more, because Lomikar was wildly gesticulating to the executioner to ‘get it done’ and not let Kozina talk, because he feared he himself might get lynched by the people watching the execution, as the Czechs were rather empathetic to the Chods.
One year later – on the day which was the anniversary of Kozina’s execution – everyone expected Lomikar to be judged by God. Lomikar lives – Lomikar (and, by extension, the king) was right.. Lomikar dies (and stays dead) – Kozina was right.
To show just how ‘not worried’ he was, Lomikar put on a bit of a feast to which he invited his friends (but not the Dogheads).
Just as he was about to make a toast – to mock Kozina’s last words – Lomikar grabbed his chest, fell over and he breathed nevermore…
Nobody else wanted to be the overlord who turned the Dogheads into serfs. The king was told unceremoniously to stuff it and leave the Dogheads be, because God would punish ANYONE who tried to oppress us.
So, after one year of serfdom, the Dogheads were free people once again!
I do hope you liked the old storyteller’s tale. We still can learn from Kozina!
I have never done a book review before. I don’t know how to go about it, so, please, indulge me.
Where to start…
Being the opinionated person I am, the best starting point seems to be the conclusion:
The book is brilliant. Everyone should go out and read it! NOW!!!
(Is that too direct?)
Political junkies in particular (and, I suspect a few of my readers do have at least a tiny interest in politics) will have fun with the quirky interpretation Mr. Green throws on some of the background events in the shadows of perhaps the most important cultural event of the second half of the 20th century – the start of the Cold War and descent of the Iron Curtain!
It is well written.
It is well researched.
There are no internal inconsistencies (at least, not that I noticed on a first read – and, that one’s a biggie for me!).
The characters seem very human, very real. They get inside your ‘monkeysphere’.
The writing style is particularly effective in making this historical novel ‘come alive’!
What am I talking about?
Imagine an established journalist and blogger (!) is contacted by a mysterious man, who has followed his the journalist’s work and now trusts him to tell ‘his story’ – his time is short and he does not wish to take it into the grave with him. Then, ‘mystery man’ sends our narrator a set of recordings in which he recounts his life (yes, a narration within a narration – it is symmetry, as the story contains mystery within mystery…).
His story starts in pre-WWII Belarus (White Russia: our protagonist is White Russian, just like Marko Ramius) and skillfully paints the atmosphere of fear and despair as Stalin’s ‘black crows’ terrorize the population. I have grown up behind the Iron Curtain, but in a much, much ‘milder’ time. Nothing as intense as what was happening in Belarus then. But, during the description of the ‘dreaded knock’ on the door (the secret police never rang the bell – they knocked) – I was transported back into my early childhood, where I feared ‘the knock’. I was too young to appreciate the full meaning of it, but, growing up a child of a dissident, I could taste the fear. OK – you may think me a wuss, but… now, safe for decades, I still have an unreasonably high level of adrenalin pumped into my veins whenever a neighbour (thinking it less disruptive) knocks on my door instead of ringing the bell. The description of this atmosphere is exactly right on – even if my experiences pale in comparison, the dread he describes is real.
Then, the Nazis invade. Our ‘mystery man’ gets stuck in a nightmare. His appearance (pale, blond and blue-eyed) and education mean the Nazis don’t target him for extermination and turn him into their slave, instead. As he witnesses the genocide – with horrible, unbelievable cruelty, he grew numb. But, he was the archetypal survivor – so he found a way to survive, and more.
Again, Mr. Green’s narrative captures the atmosphere so well, it is frightening. Without going into long-winded personal tangents, let me just say that the narrative of this part of the story is so gripping, his protagonist so believable (without crossing over that ‘manipulative’ line), I am completely ‘sold’ on the veracity of the story! Of course, the ‘journalist’s’ frequent footnotes (something he employs throughout the novel) which verify (or not) the facts, as presented in the narrative, is a mightily effective tool in making you identify with the ‘journalist’ narrator: hearing the story, checking the facts, slowly but surely becoming convinced that the recordings are ‘the real thing’.
The move from Belarus to the Canadian Embassy is a little abrupt – actually, it is perhaps the ‘weakest’ point in the story. But, the narrative style saves the day: our ‘journalist’ may doubt the narration here, but it is within the realms of what could be explained by ‘mystery man’s’ human weakness and potential ‘fibbing’ to hide something personal…
Once in Ottawa, the ‘real action’ takes place: espionage, Hoover, Mackenzie King, beautiful women, murder, flight… a ‘historical mystery’ interpreted in a new, radical way!
I dare not write more, for fear of giving it all away and spoiling the fun. Let me just say that, up to and including the epilogue, I am left baffled as to (and eager to figure out) how much of this IS true, and how much is fiction.
I think it’s time for me to follow up on some of the footnotes – and other things!
Iran – and its colourful president Ahmadinejad – are in the news a quite lot these days…
But how many of us really know that much about how Iran became what it is today – a hard-line, fascist theocracy with a decidedly apocalyptic fetish?
While I do know a little bit of their history, my interest in the region kind of waned when they stopped building ziggurats, so I’m a little bit out of touch… (Aside: soon, I’ll be putting up a video with instructions on how to build a model of a ziggurat, inspired by the Ziggurat of Ur – I’m in the process of preparing kits of it for a class-full of eager grade-5-ers! Fun!)
In other words, I needed a bit of a tutorial on the more recent (say, 20th century) history of Iran. CodeSlinger was happy to oblige!
Originally, he posted this as a part (!) of a comment to an earlier post of mine, in which he was answering several of my questions – including What is ‘Cultural Marxism’? (which became a post of its own).
With his permission, here is CodeSlinger’s tutorial on the 20th century events, through which Persia became the Iran of today:
Now that we have all that out of the way , we can see what I mean when I say that the manner in which the Pahlavi Shahs went about modernizing Iran subjected the country to the destructive effects of cultural Marxism. I’m certainly not saying the Shah of Iran was a Marxist. I’m pretty sure he was nominally Muslim, though he vigorously pursued the policy of secularization begun by his father, so what they really believed is hard to say.
But I don’t think either of them deliberately set out to harm their country, though the father was clearly the shrewder and more ruthless of the two. The sense I get from reading about them is that they meant to rule well, if at all possible, but they meant to rule in any case. The social reforms they introduced were being put into practice everywhere in the modern world at the time, but nowhere had they been in place long enough to allow the tree to be known by its fruit.
The father first appears on the stage of history as Reza Khan, commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, which he used to seize control of Persia and put and end to the Qajar dynasty in 1923, upon which he became Reza Shah and took the surname Pahlavi. Being broke, in danger of being swallowed by the Russians, and in danger of being overthrown by the Shiite Imams, Reza Shah implemented a strongly anti-communist police state and gave carte-blanche to the British.
To weaken the Shiites, he mandated European dress for men and supported the so-called Women’s Awakening, which included allowing women to work outside the home and banning the chador (!) in 1931. Another move calculated to weaken the Imams was finalizing the release of the Jews from the ghettos and repealing restrictions on their entry into the professions. Anyone in government who seriously opposed him was killed. In the process, he became one of the richest men in Persia, became loved by the city dwellers but alienated the majority of the population, who were still country folk and devout Muslims, and got into a major confrontation with the Imams.
When he felt strong enough, he turned on the British and broke their stranglehold on the country’s infrastructure. He cancelled the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’s concession, took control of the currency away from the British Imperial Bank, and nationalized the telegraph system. He encouraged trade with Germany and Italy to further weaken British and Russian influence. He also changed the name of the country from Persia to Iran, which means Land of the Aryans in Farsi. Even so, he declared neutrality when World War II broke out, and allowed neither the Axis nor the Allies to operate on Iranian soil.
Not that it helped him. In 1941, the British and the Russians, whom he had so far successfully played off against each other, joined forces and occupied Iran — ostensibly because they needed a route by which the Allies could supply war materiel to the Russians, but recouping losses was definitely part of the agenda. The first thing the British did was force Reza Shah to abdicate in favour of his son, who, they correctly assumed, would be easier to handle. So Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi became Shah of Iran at the age of 22.
In any case, Anglo-Persian Oil Company resumed operations under the new name of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and carried on until 1951, when Mohammed Mosaddeq got the Iranian parliament to vote him in as Prime Minister after engineering a coalition that nationalized the company. In response, Anglo-Iranian pulled all of its people out of Iran and the British navy blockaded the Persian Gulf, which cut off oil revenues and turned Iran into a pressure cooker.
Mosaddeq assumed emergency powers, stripped the Shah of money and authority, and broke off diplomatic relations with Britain. The Shah fled the country. All kinds of factions emerged and before long, everybody was stabbing everybody else in the back. Mosaddeq’s manoeuvrings became increasingly desperate and totalitarian, and this gave the British MI6 what they needed to convince the American CIA that Mosaddeq might get in bed with the communists in a last-ditch effort to keep himself in power. The CIA mounted Operation Ajax in cooperation with MI6.
To make a long story short, the CIA threw a lot of money around, played everyone against everyone and engineered a coupe that deposed Mosaddeq and put the Shah back on the throne in 1953. All the gory details of Operation Ajax can be found <a href=”http://web.payk.net/politics/cia-docs/” rel=”nofollow”>here</a>, if you’re interested. In the end, Anglo-Iranian became British Petroleum, took the lead of a consortium of oil companies, and resumed production. To consolidate his power, the Shah created a new secret police called SAVAK, whose agents were trained by the CIA and the Israeli Mossad (!) and beefed up the Iranian army, which was funded and equipped by the Americans. Then he proceeded with his White Revolution in 1963, which we have already touched on.
All of this, of course created the perfect set-up for the backlash that dethroned the Shah for the second and last time in 1979 and put Khomeini firmly in control of Iran. And for all the reputation that SAVAK had for brutality and torture, its replacement, called VEVAK, has a reputation for being a hundred times worse — of course, not much hard information is available outside Iran, since VEVAK operates without government supervision, but instead answers directly to the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — in any case, the stories that are told are perfectly consistent with the methods known to be used by their friends and neighbours, the Taliban.
So, who are the good guys in this story? I’ll be damned if I can find any. If I had to pick anybody as the least bad, I guess it would have to be the Shah, but that isn’t saying much. Not much at all.
However, it’s interesting to note the speculations that the CIA has backed every player in this game since the 1940’s, including Khomeini–! Why would they do that? Because it gives them leverage no matter how the balance comes out. And in the present circumstances, that means leverage to manipulate the level of tension in the region to whatever level they need to set the price of oil where they want it, while justifying whatever level of military presence they deem necessary to keep control of Persian Gulf oil fields out of Russian and Chinese hands. At the same time, it breeds terrorism, which they can use as a scourge of fear to justify increasingly repressive measures against their own population, back home in America.
As Baron Harkonnen said to Muad D’ib, “there are feints within feints within feints.”
OK, this is another one of history’s unlearned lessons.
It would really be quite sad, if it were not so funny – and vice versa…
The lesson of the ‘Trojan Horse’:
In the past, I have ranted on about how it is not enough to learn from history, but how we must actually learn the right lesson from it.
Perhaps I was just a little too eager…
Perhaps it would be asking way too much for people to learn even the most literal, obvious lessons from history…
My ideas on the lessons from history was turned upside down from the boys down under…
To boycott or not to boycott – that is the question!
At least, that is the question on everyone’s mind. But why?
So many people who wish the Olympics to go on ‘as usual’. “Don’t drag politics into the Olympics!’ they say. “The athletes have trained hard for this pinnacle of their efforts – most will not stay in top shape for the next Olympics!” “The athletes have two great moments: when they perform, and when they walk into the Olympic Stadium behind their country’s flag during Opening Ceremonies – you cannot deprive them of this!” “What would boycotting the games accomplish?”
What a load of dingo’s kidneys!!!
Let’s take a closer look…
From their inception, the Olympic games were about politics and reilgion! And there were wars fought over who would control the games – and reap the political benefits from doing so. Yes, the favour of various deities was vied for, but that would be in the form of real polititcal advantages for the host city-state.
So, for all those people loudly shouting that ‘politics should not be dragged into the Olympic games’ – politics was why they were started!
Of course, if you really want to be true to the ancient Olympic spirit, you will only run 2 footraces for naked men and 2 footraces for 16 women…. Oh, and all the participants must be able to speek Greek.
Ah, but those were just them silly ancients! We are so way above dragging politics into the modern Olympic games! Yeah, right. Pull the other one!
Why were the Modern Olympic Games revived? Well, in a nutshell, because the French could not get over loosing the Franko-Prussian war – and thought this would be a political payback. Some very cynical people (and I would never endorse this point of view myself – I simply report it, since people are questioning the ‘politicization’ of the games) have claimed that the French could not win the war… but they thought that if the discipline was running, they just might excell. So they decided to put on a running race… The ancient Olympia was just found by archeologists, so the idea presented itself – and the first games were symbolically placed in Greece. Legitimacy through tradition, and all that political stuff. But, to drive the French political agenda, the very next one went to Paris…
Ah, but it was not political after this!
Yeah, right. And water is not falling from the skies when it rains! In the interest of brevity (!), let us look at just one example:
Twenty two countries boycotted the Montreal Olympics in 1976, not because Canada did anything, but because they allowed in athletes from New Zeland. And what did the government of New Zeland do, that was so very terrible? Nothing. Just some New Zeland athletes dared to play sports with a country whom these twenty two countries thought (correctly) to be oppressive.
Yes, let us review. Canada did not opress anyone. New Zeland did not opress anyone. But, some athletes from new Zeland took part in a sports event (not paying attention to politics) with non-opressive athletes from an opressive country, and other athletes from New Zeland, who were never part of that sport, were going to the games in Canada… so the Canadian games were boycotted. That would make Canada, the host, three degrees separated (if not more) from the opression itself.
Gee, I wonder what would have happened if Canada had actually opressed someone…..would have been very lonely games!
So, what country was it, that got Canada boycotted, because one of their visitors once played with them? What was that country’s crime? Ah, it was the racial opression in South Africa! And the racially opressive practices of the South African government of those days truly were deplorable. Targetting a portion of a country’s population, and brutally opressing them, because of their ethnicity! Shame, shame, shame, shame!!!
Yeah, that is soooo very differen than the situation today: OK, so China is targetting and brutally opressing a portion of their population, because of their Tibetan ethnicity… but, well, this is China!!! They have all the money, and unlike South Africa, we want access to their market and their cheap stuff!!! Yeah, and the Tibetans are so annoying – represented as they are by that Dalai Lama: always smiling, preaching non-violence and wanting people to get along! Sheesh! And who trusts a religious leader without any major scandals under his belt, anyway???
So, why is Archbishop Desmond Tutu (another one of them holy men without a major scandal – unless you consider the Nobel Peace prize a scandal – like the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu has one), the one man who truly peacefully laboured for the end of opression in South Africa, why is he supporting the boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games?
Could it be that he is colourblind?