Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rest in Peace: Liberty, Justice and Freedom

For if they aren't dead yet, they soon will be

OK - admittedly, I have been giving the media a pass in the last few days because I can't stomach the Palinoia, but I have been occasionally popping in on the major media sites. Not once did I see coverage of the St. Paul raids, which happened four days ago. Hats off to my blogmate for bringing my attention to the coverage outrage.

I was in tears watching the various video clips of the raids (I gotta wonder when our government will take a page out of Beijing's playbook and start mass blocking of sites). What rolled forward on my screen were scenes that most of us have seen only in news coverage from Romania, South Africa, Iraq, Kosovo, Beijing, and countless African or Latin American countries that have suffered under an oppressive government.

In other words, ordinary citizens roughed up, searched and detained simply because they disagree (peaceably!) with the current regime. And worse - these people were detained at home. Not on the streets protesting, engaging in rioting or throwing stuff or yelling things or carrying signs. Nope, they were home, minding their own business and here came the police a-pounding on their doors.

Fifty-two years ago my father fled ahead of the police in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution. He escaped because he heeded warnings that the police were coming for him, and because he was a strong swimmer - he swam the Danube to thwart the mined borders. He left not simply because he was a target of the secret police, but because he could not face living under a fascist regime.

Soviet tank & soldier, streets of Budapest, 1956

As a political exile, my father faced arrest if he tried to enter Hungary. My grandparents first saw me at two - when my dad held me aloft over the heads of border guards in the Viennese train station. Although my grandparents could take the train from Hungary to Austria, they could not pass through the border - so they stayed on one side of the iron bars, and my father stayed on the other. No touching, no speaking. Just a small child held aloft over the heads of armed guards. And like so many million others, a family torn asunder by a government run amok.

After the Wall fell, my father and I went back to Budapest together. We walked the route my father took when he ran out of his office and joined the crowds marching to face the Soviet tanks. He showed me the place where my uncle narrowly missed execution at the hands of a soldier simply because the gun jammed. He took me past the building used for secret interrogations (now a luxury hotel - imagine the ghosts and the lingering screams that haunt those finely appointed rooms) and to the recently erected monuments that list his fallen friends. I met cousins who spent 30 years in prison - captured as young men, released as old men broken by decades spent in soviet gulags.

True, we are not yet to the point of tanks rolling in our streets, but the scenes captured on camera in St. Paul are not so far off. Heavily armed men refusing to answer questions and strong arming people; police raiding homes of ordinary people wearing ordinary clothes (certainly not a hint of camo, a kaffiyeh, beret, or pakol among the detainees - only Lands End, LL Bean and perhaps Sears).

After eight years of Bush, the Iraqi war, Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA flights, the growing likelihood that McCain might win the election (I don't think I can weather four years of plastic Palin), and now these raids, I realize that the possibility is growing that I may have to re-enact my father's flight, albeit in the other direction.

And so the screw turns. A generation later, this country has evolved into the very thing my father sought political asylum from : an oppressive police state where civil liberties are curtailed and people are controlled by fear and force.


Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Patriot Act I and II pretty much took care of free speech and peaceful protest. You couldn't pay me enough to move back.

This was a very good post, BTW. I like the family story.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

I've been blogging about this too. Flic, would you be willing to let me publish this in the Ester Republic for the benefit of those who don't get on line much? I take pseudonyms if need be...

BAYMAN said...

I have been physically sick all day as I've watched the excitement about Palin, even though information about her lies and hypocrisy is available. I, too, watched the raids and wondered why there was no coverage, which wasn't strictly true; the New York Times, my hometown paper, buried a brief and misleading piece. Did you think this could happen a few years ago? Obviously not. So why not tanks in the streets? Vote Republican, watch it happen.