Bahrain: Supporters of Bahrain's February 14 Revolution called for a mass demonstration in the village of Krana to demand that the regime meet the people's demands. The Bahraini government has become even more isolated as more political groups are boycotting the upcoming parliamentary elections. Al-Wefaq Islamic Society, the National Democratic Action, al-Menbar, and the Democratic National Rally are among the political group who have announced their boycott of the elections.
Syria: For the first time, US President Barack Obama has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, condemning the violent acts against citizens by the Syrian forces. Britain, France, and Germany have also called on Assad to step down. The international community believes that Assad has lost all legitimacy and can no longer rule the country. The Obama administration also imposed fresh sanctions on Syria's government, including freezing Syrian assets in the US and banning all Syrian fuel products.
Libya: Sources close to the Libyan revolutionaries have said they are advancing from Misurata toward the eastern city of Sirte, the birthplace of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The revolutionaries are continuing their advance toward Tripoli, where they hope to soon put an end to Gaddafi's regime after six months of intense fighting. The city of Brega is still witnessing seesaw battles between Gaddafi forces and the revolutionaries, who have achieved gains in parts of the city, especially the area of al-Arqub.
The culturally rich SONG FROM THE SOUTHERN SEAS, from Kazakh director Marat Sarulu, has absolutely nothing to do with Kazakhstan’s most famous fictional character, Borat. And that’s a very good thing. While the movie has elements of humor, it is the divisive and tragic consequences of racism that are the focus here. As you sort through the rough and tumble among the ethnic diversities depicted—Kazakhs, Cossacks, Russians, Germans and Kyrgyz —it’s hard to imagine how the distrust and prejudice that has existed for millenniums will ever abate.
I saw this movie just after writing my blog about LAILA’S BIRTHDAY, the quietly gripping film that captures the numbing chaos of life in Palestine. However, the scope of the cultural conflicts in Palestine seems dwarfed when compared to the more than 131 nationalities residing in Kazakhstan. Perhaps the most potent conflict is presented in the film’s opening moments when a dark skinned child is born to fair-skinned Russian farmers, Ivan and Marja, who just happen to have dark-skinned Kazakh neighbors. Tensions arise immediately.
But this movie is not actually about the identity of the real father. While Ivan initially rejects his newborn son, Sasha, there is no question about the parents’ love for him. Rather, it is Marja’s family, Russian Cossacks, who taunt the couple about Marja’s alleged infidelity. In one of the film’s especially well orchestrated sequences, Marja’s boorish brother inquires about Sasha and then summarily dismisses him: “he’s really not one of us”.
Meanwhile, Sasha is unaware of the snub since he has run away to live among Kazakh horse herders just beyond the family farm. The film doesn’t reveal why he has left, but the notion of escape is presented as an option that cuts across generations and cultures. And little wonder. The sweeping majesty of the mountains that border the vast Great Steppe is undeniably alluring.
This yearning for escape, however, is not without cost and sacrifice. As Ivan’s grandfather explains in a moving story about their family history, when one chooses to live among people who are culturally different, more is at stake than the wrenching sense of loss by the family left behind. There can be unanticipated challenges, some of them insurmountable. Ivan’s great grandfather, Alexander, who fell in love with a Kazakh woman, had to convert to Islam before her family would accept him. This involved shaving his head, becoming circumcised and adopting a Muslim identity. Not to mention a horse contest with a rival suitor. But that’s the least of it.
In the sequence below, Alexander seeks protection for his family when he learns that the Czar, with the help of Cossack regiments, is committing massacres to combat the Kazakh revolt of 1916. In this Kazakh version of SOPHIE’S CHOICE, a decision must be made about the fate of Alexander’s children—who will be saved and who will perish. The decision is based on the appearance of the child’s race. The scene, directed with considerable restraint, is a cinematic punch in the gut. Here is Alexander’s plea for his children’s safety as the Russian armies advance.
As he concludes the family history, Ivan’s grandfather remarks: “…what holds life together is not force, Ivan, but love…”. The comment comes as a surprise in the context of a culturally violent history. But it resonates strongly with Ivan and you sense that he has come upon a turning point in his life.
While it is not long before we see Ivan and Marja running after one another in perceived animosity, they ultimately collapse in each other’s arms after exhausting themselves. This time, however, there are no consequential bruises or black eyes. What may look like domestic violence through the prism of a Eurocentric culture is more accurately an interaction that is farcical and slapstick. The physical engagement is no longer intended to harm; it is an expression of frustration among a people who have been raised accordingly. The director intends that you laugh when they’re done fighting and surprisingly you do.
Interwoven throughout the film are shadow puppets that comment indirectly on the film’s narrative. They tell the story of a young man’s search for peace. It is a wish to be freed from grief and painful memories. Life may be tough on Ivan’s farm, but he and Marja are resilient, affectionate in their way, and sometimes even joyous. And Ivan’s grandfather certainly knows what he’s talking about when he shares his life lessons on love and war.
In the latest episode of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker looks at global media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!
I remember a talk I had with Danuta Pawlowska, the Polish grandmother of a good friend of mine, in her Warsaw apartment several years ago. A member of the Warsaw resistance during the Nazi occupation, Danuta was closely monitored after the communists took over in the mid 1940s.
She recalled a long gossip-filled phone conversation with a close friend. Two hours into the conversation, a booming male voice suddenly burst through the receiver. "Would you just shut up already?" the man groaned. "How much more of this must I listen to?!"
I had laughed at the time. For a young American with roots in Warsaw, the idea of a government agent listening to a banal chat with a friend was amusing – something fit for a dime store spy thriller. In Warsaw's meticulously reconstructed Old Town, today's foreign tourists purchase T-shirts and shot glasses; bursts of bad American pop music filter out of the same fashion chain stores that line Paris' Rue de Rennes or Copenhagen's Strøget. The stylish, boisterous students crowding the bars and cafes have no memory of life in pre-1989 Warsaw.
Yet, if you venture outside of the city center, the medieval architecture gives way to monotonous tenements, the color of diesel exhaust. Passing by some of these buildings at dusk is an unnerving, somewhat melancholy experience, and I'll admit that I glanced over my shoulder more than once. For Danuta and millions of others, that reality was life.
I was a child when the Berlin Wall came down. I remember the now-iconic images of jubilant Berliners rushing the wall with pickaxes, but I was too young to grasp the larger significance of the event and what it meant to Germany, Europe and the world.
I would like to say that I left Poland with a greater understanding of what day-to-day life must have been like for Europeans, such as Danuta, who had lived under the Soviet regime. Like Warsaw's younger generation, however, that second-hand knowledge can only resonate so much. The generation gap in Poland has resulted in a new type of barrier, between those who remember and those who came of age in a different time.
In the flood of anniversary coverage this week, the most telling, perhaps, is a BBC special report. Amidst the frenzy of anniversary festivities, Walls Around the World is a sobering reminder of the barriers, from North Korea to Botswana, that have yet to topple.
I think of Danuta and of the magnitude of what she witnessed. I wonder which other walls will come down over the course of my lifetime.