Enablers of impunity (1)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer and dissident who wrote the widely read “The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation,” once said, “Evil people always support each other; that is their chief strength.” Originally published in 1970, the book had limited circulation in Russia but was published widely in the West in 1973.
A staunch critic of Joseph Stalin, Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned in one of the Gulag camps but managed to survive. Gulag was a system of forced-labor camps that was first established in 1919, during the dictatorship of Vladimir Lenin. Gulag is an acronym of the Russian phrase, Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, (English translation: Main Camp Administration).
Stalin succeeded Lenin and became a dictator himself. Originally, the Gulag had more than 80 prisons and had few prisoners then. But over the years of its existence under Stalin’s dictatorship, the Gulag incarcerated about 18 million people. Prisoners in the Gulag had to endure horrific, inhuman treatment that required each of them to work under harsh, sub-zero temperatures, without appropriate clothing, and deprived of adequate food.
The Gulag camp administration was a showcase of man’s cruelty to fellow human beings. It showed a highly organized structure of impunity, starting with Stalin as its main implementer and enabler, as he made decisions on who to be imprisoned there and on how they were to be treated. He was supported by his cronies of equally beastly henchmen, who carried out Stalin’s orders. Any violations of the camps’ rules can aggravate the punishment of the prisoners. Women prisoners were not spared the cruel treatment in the Gulag. Aside from doing heavy manual labor, they were also vulnerable to being raped—either by their fellow male prisoners or by the prison administrators.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, a new Russian leader rose to power, Nikita Khrushchev. While a member of the Russian communist party, Khrushchev criticized it fiercely, and upon his assumption of the Russian presidency, he ordered Gulag’s closing. Survivors who were released shortly were so traumatized—many of them refused to talk about their Gulag horrendous experiences even after years of living freely.
All these came to mind last week, as all freedom-loving peoples of the world commemorated two globally known historical events that became the tragic consequences of various acts of impunity at the highest levels of government bureaucracy. First is the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24, 2022. The second is our own democracy’s contribution to the growing consciousness, on a global level, of “people power”—the first “bloodless” revolution staged at the iconic Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, popularly known as Edsa, on Feb. 25, 1986.
The two events are quite disparate, in both space and time. But both are tragic events that could have been thwarted—if structures preventing acts of impunity committed by the most powerful individuals in the highest echelons of government have been put in place, and implemented strictly, without fear or favor.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is one that leaves us bereft of words to describe the authoritarian grip of its modern version of a Stalin—Vladimir Putin. On the first anniversary of his order to invade Ukraine, several talk shows on global television networks like CNN, Al Jazeera, and BBC have analyzed, and maybe, overanalyzed not only Putin’s dogged determination to destroy Ukraine at all costs but also about the enabling roles of countries that have either supported Russia or Ukraine.
The first Philippine people power revolution was the highlight of a long and persistent struggle against martial law among a mix of activists coming from different political orientations. While diverse, they all had a common agenda in mind—to boot out the Marcoses from Malacañang and to end the country’s dark period of martial law under President Marcos Sr. from 1972 to the early 1980s. Members of the clergy, and some former cronies of the “conjugal dictatorship” then banded together to end more than a decade of state-led acts of impunity, enabled by a despotic leader, and his coterie of highly sycophantic Cabinet members and private sector cronies.
(To be continued)
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