By Gavin Ashenden
Irina Ratushinskaya is dead. She died on July 5th. She was a Russian, Christian poet. We were the same age within a month or two. She died from cancer. I only met her once, after she had been released from prison in Russia. She was a physics graduate from Odessa university. She became a Christian, and then a poet. She wrote,
“We pass through all like ripples, – And each one disappears. – Which of us will recur? – Who will flow into whom? – What do we need in this world – To quench our thirst?”
She was sentenced to 7 years in a labour camp followed by five years of internal exile for writing poetry about God.
She wrote of her experience in the camps;-
“… you must not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to hate. Not because your tormentors have not earned it. But if you allow hatred to take root, it would flourish and spread during your years in the camps, driving out everything else, and ultimately corrode and warp your soul. You will no longer be yourself, your identity will be destroyed, all that will remain will be a hysterical, maddened and bedevilled husk of the human being that once was.”
Her warning about hate, whatever provokes it, is timeless.
It was because of Irina, and thousands, hundreds of thousands like her, that I was motivated to smuggle Bibles and Christian history books into the Soviet Union during 1980’s
For the authorities had re-written Soviet history. They had cut out the truth about faith. So, we were asked to smuggle in books that told the real story about history.
On one of my ‘trips’ in Prague, I was ‘detained’ as I was leaving with records of the courts sentencing Christians to imprisonment. The records were wrapped in thin tapes around my thighs. They searched me but miraculously missed them.
When I asked the Czech 19 year olds whom I taught at university in the ‘noughties’, twenty years later, what they knew about their Marxist totalitarian past, they looked blankly at me. ”Nothing, our parents never talk about it.”
History had been blanked out.
There are other places where history has attacked. One that leaves a particular bad taste in the mouth is the murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in 1915 by the Turkish Muslim state.
Turkey denies it happened, and attacks anyone or state that refers to it. It tried to send 5 journalists to jail for reporting on a conference about it.
So many people wanted to whitewash the Jewish holocaust out of history, Germany passed a law against it making it a criminal offence.
You would think that England might be free from this kind of whitewashing of history. (Come to think of it as a Caucasian, is that a phrase I should be offended by?)
At King’s College London, there are two busts of Dr Henry Maudsley and Sir Frederick Mott. Maudsley was a pioneering psychiatrist and Mott was a leading neurologist. The Dean of Education, Prof Leman, is getting rid of them. He has decided that busts of bearded white men are “intimidating” for ethnic minorities.
No one seems to have mentioned that Prof Patrick Leman is himself a bearded white man. He has yet to announce plans to get rid of himself in case he too is too intimidating to ethnic minorities.
Because it’s not really about intimidation. It’s about re-writing history. It’s about disguising that our culture was built on the work of intelligent white men with beards. It’s actually racism, ageism, and -hirsutism.
Of course, King’s London are free to hang as many multi-coloured, multi-gendered portraits of contemporary clever gifted people, without or without facial hair, as they want.
But it’s the getting rid of the founding men that is the sign that instead of celebrating diversity, they are really re-writing history. They stripped out a portrait of the recent Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, because his ethical views were too Christian for the present Dean. More suppression of history.
Sometimes what we have to do is to join the dots. In Soviet Russia, they started by re-writing history, and they ended by sending poets and Jews and Christians, to labour camp and even death.
If Irina had survived her cancer, she would still want to warn us against hate, in politics as much as in history. She would remind us that poetry tries to describe what is true. She would want to warn us that the people who silence history, if they ever get power, move on to silencing poets, and others who tell the truth;- with or without beards.
First published July 20th 2017.