Nadine Gordimer’s key note speech – Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, Nelson Mandela

In the canon of human conscience Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is surely the most famously revered in the contemporary world. In the 20th Century he was one of the few who, in contrast with those who made it infamous for fascism, racism, dictatorship and war, marked the era as one that achieved some human advancement. That is the context in which his name will live in history, beyond the new millennium. Nelson Mandela belongs to the world.

We South Africans, who are fortunate enough to have him living with us in the present, feel he belongs to us and above all we belong to him, if on other and different levels of experience.

There are those who knew him in childhood at his home, the Transkei, and see, beneath the beautifully aged face formed by extraordinary experiences of Underground existence, long imprisonment, the soft contours of a lively youth soon to be aware of ominous demanding responsibilities calling within him beyond a personal appetite for life.

There are those – like George Bizos- who knew him as a fellow student with whom they shared food when he, as a black man, could not enter even a humble restaurant and as a young lawyer whose very presence in court was resented and challenged by white presiding magistrates. There are those who remember him practicising with great Oliver Tambo as the legal firm ‘Mandela & Tambo’ in an old building in Johannesburg.

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Gabriella Ambrosio, Author’s Note/ ‘Sticko’

Autorin: Gabriella Ambrosio Foto: Vieri Ciccarone Das Foto ist honorarfrei.‘Sticko’ is a short story distributed by the extremely innovative publisher, Novel Rights, which invites readers of fiction to take action.

This is a strange antinomy indeed. To access the world of imagination and come out of it ready to change the real world. What exactly happens to absorbed readers?

What do we expect that they will emerge from their journey through fiction filled with truth?  Or that the story will instil a new moral principle in them?

No, none of this happens. Ethics is not a static body of legal rules that we adhere to, and it is not established by god or men. Ethics is the view, the criterion, and the meaning of the world. As Italo Calvino, the famous 20th-century Italian writer, said: “An idea expressed poetically can never be meaningless. Meaning does not necessarily correspond to the truth. It identifies a crucial point, an issue, a warning.”

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The Anti-terror Virtual Country

Can literature prevent terrorism from spreading?

Vered Coehn Barzilay

Vered Cohen Barzilay

The recent terror attacks in Europe are another sign of the wearing away of the world’s morality.

Besides the absolute evil of taking innocent civilian lives—as we saw in the recent Paris attacks[1]—terror brings with it the wind of religious fundamentalism: dehumanizing the treatment of minorities; preventing education, particularly for women; damaging democracy; and preventing human rights. Usually, the wind of fundamentalism comes first, followed by murder.

The Guardian recently reported that, according to a landmark report by independent watchdog Freedom House, our democracy is at greater risk than it has been at any time in the past 25 years. People in nearly every part of the world are in danger of significant threats to their freedom, and the level of brutality under authoritarian regimes is at an all-time high.[2]

Terror has no borders—geographical or moral—and it is not exclusive to any religion, not Islam or any other religion in the world. Terror reaches into our neighborhoods, offices, streets, even our houses.

The Internet, together with the globalization process, has united the people of the world and blurred our geographical borders. We still live in countries, but we create different definitions for our borders and communities. We may live in Europe, for example, but still be part of a global community of organized terror.

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The Power of Literature V The Power of Hatred

Vered Cohen Barzilay 

The beginning of 2009 did not usher in the usual feeling of optimism. As the world was preparing for the New Year my home turf, Israel, was in the midst of intense fighting which brought about yet another heartbreak in the personal and national mood. Seconds before midnight I was still trying to remain positive, but the moment the clock struck twelve the black cloud which burdened my soul was quickly released into the new year, creating a horrifying vision of the future.  I stared at the clock’s hands and imagined Big Ben in London joyfully announcing the New Year to the crowd of people dancing in the street. Light, salty tears made their winding way down my face, washing away the morning’s make-up. The tears collected at my mouth and heavily dropped to the floor like Big Ben’s “ding dong” chime. The news anchor seemed serious and reserved. “Happy New Year,” he announced in a mechanical voice. He then moved right along to the military commentators who gave a brief report on the operation in Gaza. The number of Palestinian casualties had already reached a thousand, but in most Israeli homes that colossal number did not evoke any feelings of compassion. Even if any such feelings tried to emerge from under the reassuring promises of homeland security and the great sensation of fear, they were quickly muted by every Qassam or Grad rocket landing in the area.

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The Temperature of the Middle East

Vered Cohen Barzilay 

The story goes that one of the first things that Václav Havel did after becoming President of Czechoslovakia was to summon all of the ‘agents’ that followed him during the years when he was a dissident. When they assembled in front of him they were afraid that he would use his power and authority for revenge. But Havel immediately calmed them and said that since they were the people that knew him the best and were very familiar with his habits he wished to nominate them to become his presidential guards. This small story represents one of the most admirable characteristic of Vaclav Havel and this is the example he gave to his people and is one of the reasons that explain Czechoslovakia and later on the Czech Republic became a democratic country.

For many years Havel was harassed and persecuted by the authorities for his views and human rights advocacy. He was jailed several times over an extended period and was not able to enjoy a free life or even to practice his art, as he desired to do since he was a child. But he never resented these people for it, as he never resented the agents that followed and kept him under surveillance. Havel understood that the people were afraid and that it was the system that was forcing them to ‘live in a lie’. He believed that the only way to fight a lie is to tell the truth. Havel, a gifted playwright, essayist and a poet used his talent to “fight” these dark forces with his pen. He never stopped being hopeful and tried for years using nonviolence creative ways to bring the truth to the people. It was through his famous essays “The power of the powerless”, the publication of the Charter 77 manifesto and his plays that he was able to convince the Czechoslovakian people they had the power and means to achieve the change that eventually lead to the Velvet Revolution.

At the time of writing this column (November 29th) a very historical event took place in the U.N. – Palestine recognized as a ‘non member observer state’. This symbolic, but very important event, happen exactly 65 years after the UN countries supported the U.N. partition plan for Palestine that eventually lead to the creation of the state of Israel.

Havel believed in the ‘two state solution’ and in an interview he gave during one of his visits to Israel he expressed a deep sorrow for not being able to host the Oslo talks In Prague. He believed that the history of Prague would have influenced the two leaders and helped to find the way for a permanent agreement.

In a lecture given by one of the most famous Israeli authors, Amoz Oz, he shared a story about his first very secret meeting with Vaclav Havel in 1986 in Czechoslovakia. Oz remembered a very “strange refreshing lecture” about “the temperature of regimes”. Havel claimed, said Oz, that in totalitarian regimes the temperature is very cold.  It’s not the temperature outside but the coldness between people that trickles down from the authorities, from the power, the bureaucracy to the people. It is cold even when it is very warm outside; it is cold in the houses, between people and even between lovers. This coldness influences people’s behavior and they become more suspicious toward one another, more guarded and cautious.  This  theory lead him to believe in human warmth as the tool to melt the coldness of a totalitarian regime. People, said Havel, crave for human warmth because it is one of the basic urges just like they crave for love or food.

Those that personally knew or met Havel all agree that he was not just preaching these values, he himself was a very loving and warm man but more important he used this theory in his political campaigns. Above everything Havel was human and a humanist. For this reason he was able to touch many people in his county and outside the world and make magic as the Velvet Revolution.

Havel set an example for leaders around the world especially in the countries with long and deep conflicts such as Israel and Palestine. Even if he is not with us, able to spread his human warmth or inspire people by his writing talent, wisdom or bravery, we owe it to him to try and follow his way.

Less than a month ago a military operation cut off the calmness of life in Israel and in Palestine. The people in both Israel and Gaza got a clear message from the leaders in both sides that life in this area will never be safe and there is no place for calmness and therefore no place for hope for peace. It was very cold here and it was not because of bad weather. Not only totalitarian regimes suffer from coldness but also countries in a long bloody conflict that ‘live in a lie’ and that don’t allow human warmth to enter inside of them.

Havel understood that a strong civil society is important not only to fight the darkness of a current regime but for the days after the ‘revolution’ and regime change. For that reason it is essential that civil society will continue to act to defend human rights in both countries. It is essential that writers and intellectuals In Israel, as well as in the new Palestinian state and around the world, will continue with their daily efforts to defend human rights until it becomes a meaningful and popular word and not an excuse for hatred. We must continue to try and approach the people with messages of peace and human rights until the temperature will get warmer, which allow the ‘better angels’ of humanity to emerge and create the ‘revolution’ that can lead to peace and equality.

(Published in the Czech Republic newspaper online web “Hospodárske noviny” in honor for the memory of the leader, author and Human Rights advocate,  Václav Havel).

Click here to read more essays about Havel in English and Czech  

Marina Nemat, Author’s Note /”Leila”

Marina Nemat, Author's Note /"Leila"

“Knowledge brings responsibility. If we know that atrocities are being committed, we have to do something to stop   them. However, in the news, we read about arbitrary imprisonments, torture, executions, and genocides, yet we continue with our daily routines and turn our backs on reality. Why?

In the early 40s, if the silent majority had stood on the railroad tracks of Europe, millions of human beings would not have been murdered. But how can we compel the silent majority to stand on the railroad tracks of history?

The answer is literature. It is literature that carries the human experience, reaches our hearts, and makes us feel the pain of those who have been treated unjustly. Without literature and narrative, we would lose our identity as human beings and will dissolve in the darkness of time and our repeated mistakes that lead us from one preventable devastation to the next.

Our only hope is to tell our stories and to hear the ones of others. Atrocities leave their victims in a state of shock, so silence seems like a remedy when, in reality, it allows injustice to go on and even grow.

Literature allows the victim to become a survivor and stand up to the past to ensure a better future.”

The Tremendous Power of Literature/Foreword from “Freedom”

Vered Cohen Barzilay 

A very famous Israeli poem, written by Shmuel Hasfari, called ‘The Children of Winter 1973’ describes the process by which the children who were conceived during the 1973 Yom Kippur War become disillusioned with the promises of the old generation of a peaceful future with no wars.

One line in the poem says: ‘You promised to do everything for us, to turn an enemy into a loved one’; it remained the echoing unfulfilled promise for the following generations. This poem became the pledge taken by one of Israel’s most loved prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by an Israeli citizen fourteen years ago. Rabin, who maintained for most of his public life the image of a handsome, brave and much admired soldier, decided to abandon the path of hate and dedicated his later years to keeping the promise ‘to turn an enemy into a loved one’. He used Hasfari’s poem as a source of inspiration, and in times of great grief allowed its words to fill him with the patience, strength and hope necessary to shed off the heavy armour of a warrior and wear the uniform of peace.

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