3.4.11

Suomenlinna - war and kings

Suomenlinna Island was the destination of yesterday’s Finnish language and culture class. We spent the afternoon shrouded in mist surrounded by memorabilia of three hundred years of history.

The history of the fort and of Finland is a history of war, of occupation and reoccupation, of being pawns of the greater powers of Europe. It is the story of indentured workers, of how the little people dug the foundations and died like flies in the process, how their wellbeing depended on the generosity of their masters. In the meantime the elite travelled across Europe, their wives spoke French and wore the fashions of foreign cities.  

The island and the country passed to Russian hands and after a process of national awakening, the Finns won their independence from a country that had tried to Russify it – to subordinate its culture and autonomy to that of Russia.

Of course, when one listens to the news, these are the stories that are still being lived in many parts of the world – the stories of the subordination of the masses by ruling elite, the stories of repressed ethnicities trying to assert themselves and the stories of war. The 21st century still looks like the 19th in terms of war. These days the rewards are much bigger, wars are not fought by gentlemen and the scale of barbarity belongs in the darkest of ages.

 The rulers of Cote d’Ivoire and Libya have treated their land and citizens as if the discourse on human rights and democracy has never happened. Their actions are that of kings and conquerors throughout history – men (and some women) who have thought nothing of sacrificing their civilians as if they exist only to fight and to be ruled.

How little has changed in this 21st century. Ages of Enlightenment and Renaissances have come and gone. But the decades of warfare and the cruel kings still remain. 

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