Posts tagged Eastern Europe

More Bleak Facts with KZ’s “Growing Pains”

As an American teacher of Kazakh teachers, I believe it is my duty to make them and others aware of what is REALLY happening in this great country of Kazakhstan.  I try to bring out all the wonderful qualities that are here but there are facts that cannot be ignored.  Such as the following:

Based on data in last 12 months from only one centre for people who are victims of trafficking:

  • almost every day in Astana at least one under 18 girl is identified as providing commercial sexual services (voluntarily or forcibly)
  • 45 victims of trafficking rescued and provided with shelters
  • there were 11 girls of age from 12-18 rescued from forced prostitution
  • 12 illegal and legal workers rescued from forced labor
  • reported at least 3 cases of pregnant women forced to provide sexual service up to a date of delivery and already 4 days after. They were denied medical treatment.
  • 4 girls were providing sexual services in presence of their babies and small children

I talked to an older and wiser Kazakh woman who knows there IS a problem and she said that she had seen a movie about a Ukrainian girl who had been used as a sex slave in Italy.  This movie got top prize in whatever film festival but she couldn’t remember the name of it, the young girl was played by a famous Russian actress.  Apparently as the story goes, whether it is true or not, it builds on the reality of many Eastern European girls who are used as prostitutes against their wishes.  They are told one thing, and they are forced to become prostitutes.  In this case the girl birthed nine children and never saw them.  She had a man she loved but he was killed and she found his remains in at a garbage dump.  If anyone knows what the name of this movie is, among my blog readership, please comment and let me know.

The following are comments made by my students about this terrible topic:

“It was terrible to read the information about sexual trafficking of women. How can people do it? How do they dare? Don’t they have their own mothers, daughters, sisters? How can this ever happen? How can somebody force another one to have sex when she doesn’t want? There are many girls who would do it with pleasure. Why not take those girls and leave alone those who don’t want to?”

Another student wrote this:  The story she gave in her presentation is like the ones that Marinka told us. This girl is very lucky to be escaped. What about the others who are still there? What about those who went missing or even died? “Don’t be afraid of bad people’ be afraid of those who are not afraid of God” once I heard an old man saying. I think the recruiters are never afraid of God as they do such things. So I think it is up to us, teachers, to make our students be aware of human trafficking and be careful.

Next sensitive student wrote the following:

This case have much in common with those Kyrgyz women’s ones. All of them underwent the hardship of being rescued once they get involved into the business of human trafficking. The thing that shocked me most off all is about the victims of trafficking in Astana, in the city, where we live. We used to think that such awful problems happen somewhere far away, far away from us, but it is not so. Who knows, perhaps, we meet those victims everyday in the streets of our capital city.

We say that world is getting better, but we do not always know what the real meaning of it is. Yes, I do not deny, the conditions for life is getting better, the amenities to live with comfort is improving. But! The most important creatures of the world – people – are dehumanizing themselves. That’s a big problem. It is the problem that causes a lot of them. The things that we create with hardships, we destroy at a glance.

Finally, this comment takes a different direction with those people who claim to help the poor and underprivileged but in fact pocket the money for themselves.  Here is an example of how greed of one person is corruption to the country’s detriment.  God bless those expats who are here in Kazakhstan from the outside who try to help rescue these vulnerable people.  Each person is valuable in God’s sight.

“As an educator I am aware of the situation with children`s rights in our country, but that knowledge painful for my heart. The government, NGO and of course UNICEF do much to improve the situation, but it is very common in our country that every good beginning will fade or ruined by corruption.

Remember the case with children infected with HIV in Chimkent several years ago, the fund was formed to gather money and donations to help families of those kids. A good idea! People could not stand aside and a big sum was gathered, but the money did not reach the point of destination. The head of the fund spent it on organizational needs such as a leather bag for 24,000 tenge, office equipment and transportation, he also invested money into some business for a year.

There is no law in our country about funds, so that man wasn`t afraid of it, but the moral law meant nothing for him also. You may argue saying that it was the only case, but people, it is a very example of our mentality, unfortunately.”

Leave a comment »

The Embrace of Stalinism

This paper was read at a conference on the History of Stalinism in Moscow on 5 December 2008, I have broken it down into three parts, I thought it was fitting after sharing for the past month stories from my Kazakh students’ grandparents.

The Embrace of Stalinism

Arseny Roginsky, 16 – 12 – 2008

Why is Russia romanticising the memory of Stalinism, enquires Memorial’s founder Arseny Roginsky, when its defining feature was the use of terror?

The memory of Stalinism in contemporary Russia raises problems which are painful and sensitive. There is a vast amount of pro-Stalinist literature on the bookstalls: fiction, journalism and pseudo-history. In sociological surveys Stalin invariably features among the first three “most prominent figures of all times”. In the new school history textbooks, Stalinist policy is interpreted in a spirit of justification.

There are also hundreds of crucial volumes of documents, scholarly articles and monographs on Stalinism. The achievements of these historians and archivists is unquestionable. But if they do have any influence on the mass consciousness, it is too weak. The means of disseminating the information have not been there, and nor in recent years has the political will. However, the deepest problem lies in the current state of our national historical memory of Stalinism.

I should explain what I mean here by historical memory, and Stalinism. Historical memory is the retrospective aspect of collective consciousness. It informs our collective identity through our selection of the past we find significant. The past, real or imaginary, is the material with which it works: it sorts through the facts and systemizes them,  selecting those which it is prepared to present as belonging to the genealogy of its identity.

Stalinism is a system of state rule, the totality of specific political practices of the Stalinist leadership. Throughout the duration of this system, a number of characteristic features were preserved. But its generic feature (which arose from the very beginning of Bolshevist rule and did not disappear with Stalin’s death) is terror as a universal instrument for solving any political and social tasks. It was state violence and terror that made possible the centralization of rule, the severing of regional ties, high vertical mobility; the harsh introduction of an ideology which could be easily modified, a large army of subjects of slave labor, and many other things.

Thus, the memory of Stalinism is primarily the memory of state terror as the defining feature of the age. It is also what links it in so many respects with today.

Victims, not crimes

Is that really what the memory of Stalinism means in today’s Russia? I’d like to say a few words about the key features of this memory today. Firstly, the memory of Stalinism in Russia is almost always the memory of victims. Victims, not crimes. As the memory of crimes it does not register, as there is no consensus on this.

To a great extent this is because popular consciousness has nothing to hold onto from a legal point of view. The state has produced no legal document which recognizes state terror as a crime. The two lines in the preamble to the 1991 law on the rehabilitation of victims is clearly insufficient. There are no legal decisions that inspire any confidence – and there have not been any trials against participants of the Stalinist terror in the new Russia, not a single one.

There are other reasons too.

We killed our own people

When popular consciousness has to come to terms with historical tragedies, it does so by assigning roles of Good and Evil. People identify themselves with one of the roles. It is easier to identify oneself with Good, i.e. with an innocent victim, or better still with a heroic battle against Evil.

Incidentally, this is why our Eastern European neighbors, from Ukraine to Poland and the Baltic States have no serious problems with coming to terms with the Soviet period of history, while in Russia, people identify themselves with victims or fighters, or with both at the same time. Whether or not this has anything to do with history is quite another matter – we’re talking about memory, not knowledge.

It is even possible to identify oneself with Evil, as the Germans did (not without help from the outside), in order to distance oneself from this evil: “Yes, unfortunately we did that, but we’re not like than anymore and we’ll never be like that again”.

But what can we do, living in Russia?

In the Soviet terror, it is very difficult to distinguish the executioners from the victims. For example, secretaries of regional committee in August 1937 all wrote death sentences by the bundle, but by November 1938 half of them had already been shot themselves.

In national, and particularly regional memory, the “executioners” – for example, the regional committee secretaries of 1937 – are not unambiguously evil: yes, they signed execution warrants, but they also organized the construction of kindergartens and hospitals, and went to workers’ cafeterias personally to test the food, while their subsequent fate is worthy of sympathy.

And one more thing: unlike the Nazis, who mainly killed “foreigners”: Poles, Russians, and German Jews (who were not quite their “own” people), we mainly killed our own people, and our consciousness refuses to accept this fact.

In remembering the terror, we are incapable of assigning the main roles, incapable of putting the pronouns “we” and “they” in their places. This inability to assign evil is the main thing that prevents us from being able to embrace the memory of the terror properly. This makes it far more traumatic. It is one of the main reasons why we push it to the edge of our historical memory.

(To be continued)

Comments (1) »