Are you a sympathizer with the “resistencia” in Honduras? Then this is for you. Learning from the history you can avoid some costly mistakes.
We all know Honduras needs democratic reforms, rule of law, and an improved standard of living for the poor. If someone wants to make you believe that the rich in the country don’t want that, they are selling you snake oil. The only thing they object to are the false prophets who are preaching solidarity, while in reality they have a completely different agenda.
Let me take two examples from history, the French and the Russian revolutions, as examples to learn from.
A French journalist who writes about Honduras in US newspapers, wrote as follows: “Working in Central America, where journalists are often accused of conspiring against the status quo, can be daunting. Perched on the highest rungs of government, a crypto-fascist element continues to regard incorruptible and outspoken journalists as gadflies and muckrakers, meddlers, purveyors of social discontent, and blabbermouths who threaten the established order. People in positions of power and influence still equate popular aspirations — the quest for truth, justice, respect for human rights and calls for transparency by the governing elite with political agitation and left-wing subversion.”
Since the deposal of Zelaya last year, I have consistently tried to get the truth out, argued for justice and the respect for human rights, and called for transparency in government in Honduras. Have I been rejected by them? No. On the contrary, they have thanked me for doing exactly that. So why has this journalist such a different experience? Perhaps the real reason is revealed in a letter he sent me, in which he wrote: “… and the “Constituyente” of 1790 rid France of its parasitic gangrene — a bloated aristocracy and a corrupt, all-powerful clergy. It drafted and promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man, established a secular state and instituted a radical and absolute separation between Church and State — a mandate that is fiercely enforced to this day. A few heads in a basket is not too high a price to pay to purge a country from its feudal masters….”
“A few heads in a basket”? He is advocating political murder, and wonders why those he wants to murder don’t like him? Is he for real?
Lesson: You have to respect human rights yourself, if you want others to respect your human rights. The one who breaks the law becomes unprotected by the law. It is never, ever, justified to kill any person for any reason, nor to torture.
But what about the French Revolution, doesn’t he have a point? Keep in mind what happened next, before you declare it a success. A dictatorship under Napoleon, the self-declared emperor, who threw all of Europe in war, who killed millions through his wars. Is that a success? Not in my book. The French Revolution is an example of what NOT to do.
But let’s take another example, one that is more relevant to Honduras today: the Russian Revolution. In 1809 Russia conquered the part of Sweden known as Finland. They were allowed to continue using the Swedish laws and form of public administration, since it was more advanced than the Russian. Also the Congress was kept in place. By 1860 the Finnish language, spoken by the poor majority, was given official status.
The social gap in Finland at that time was perhaps the strongest one anywhere in the world. The Russian capital St. Petersburg was built to be the world’s most splendid capital, and it was close to the border to the Grand Duchy of Finland. Not far on the other side of the border Finns still lived in primitive huts in the forest, at about the same standard of living as the poor in Honduras today. The gradient was mind-boggling, and it was accompanied by an ethnic division; the swedish-speakers were the economic elite, the Russians had the power, and the finnish-speakers had nothing but growing ambitions based largely on socialist ideals.
However, by 1899 an intense Russification started, led by general governor Bobrikov. The oppression was intense, the “walls had ears” as my grandfather said. On one occasion his 10-year old classmate was to be sent to Siberia for calling a man who worked for the Russians a “traitor”, but luckily the boy’s father sent him abroad before the police came. Most time in school was taken up with learning Russian, and they used Russian officers as teachers. In 1904 Bobrikov was murdered, and in 1905 the first Russian Revolution came – including in Finland, where a general strike was held in late October.
At the general strike the White and Red united. The White demanded Rule of Law; that the Czar respect the agreement with the Finns, that he respect their Constitution, their Congress, their laws. The Red demanded a constitutional assembly, a “constituyente”. In distress, the Czar agreed to the demands of the White, and they ended the strike.
The Red, however, continued in their demands for a constituyente. What I am about to tell you does not appear in the Wikipedia article about this time, but the Red turned their anger against the White. They went around murdering businessmen and other swedish-speakers whom they considered to be with the White side, with the “oligarchy”. They came also to my great grandfather’s house, but his workers stopped them, saying that he was a good employer and pleaded with them to save him. But it was a terror at the time.
In 1906 the Constitution of Finland was changed to become more democratic still. They created a unicameral Congress with equal rights not just to vote, but also to be elected, regardless of land ownership and sex. It was the first place in the world where women could be elected, and the second, after New Zealand, where women could vote. It would seem that this should satisfy the Red, right?
It did, for a while. But then the oppression from Russia started again, World War I came, and in early 1917 a second Russian Revolution at which the Czar abdicated. After that, Finland started working to be more independent from Russia. The Finnish Congress, which had a socialist majority, passed a law that it, not the provisional government in Russia, was the head of state of Finland. The Russian prime minister Kerenskij did not accept that, dissolved the Finnish Congress and called for new elections. This time the liberals won. Shortly after, in late 1917, the third Russian Revolution occurred, the Bolsheviks took power, and Russia started its long period as the Soviet Union.
However, Finland declared itself independent when that happened. The socialists considered the dissolving of the Congress and subsequent election invalid. Russia acknowledged Finland’s independence on January 4th, 1918, and the liberals in Congress started preparing for converting Finland into a sovereign parliamentarian monarchy. The socialists terminated their cooperation, and an uprising started. This led to what the left has called the Finnish Revolution, the right has called the War of Liberation (since Russian troops helped the Red), but which is now neutrally called the Finnish Civil War. The White side won, but the loss of lives was great on both sides.
World War II also brought great hardship to Finland. Attacked by the Soviet Union, and abandoned by the western democracies that chose to cooperate with Stalin (even though he at the time was a much bigger murderer and dictator than Hitler), Finland fought, at one time or another, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. It was the only belligerent on mainland Europe to maintain democracy throughout the war. Together with London and Moscow, the Finnish capital Helsinki was the only one in Europe never to be occupied, of the countries taking part in the war.
The Finns got a rough deal after the war, and had to pay restitution to the Soviet Union – while Germany got the Marshall help from USA.
Today Finland is one of the richest and most successful countries in the world. Why?
They learned the lesson, and they learned it well. You are the master of your own destiny, you and nobody else. To the White and Red in Honduras the message is clear: You have to cooperate and find common ground. If you let others interfere in your country, they will not have your best interest in mind. Only you can have your best interest in mind. And that common interest is best served by a fair and just democracy, in which all have a stake, and in which no minority is oppressed, but the rights of everyone are assured.