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A man on the moon and a woman in prison
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-07-20 10:54:37
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It was a small step for him and a giant leap for mankind. But unfortunately, mankind didn’t follow, because 40 years after Neil Armstrong said those words as he made his first steps on the moon, it is 20 years since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned for her ideas!

It was Asa’s idea to make an Ovi special for the man on the moon. After all, this year we celebrate 40 years since this day, and one way or another it was a remarkable event in human history. Asa has often complained that his generation, and in general younger generations, can’t experience the same kind of global events which will excite the imagination. But Asa looks at it from a few decades of distance, and the past always looks different and sometimes a bit better when you look at it like that.

moon03_400When man walked on the moon, things were not all rock & roll, romance and exploration. These things were big excuses for the whole adventure, but not the motivation. At the end of the 60s, times were a bit scary. Yes, the Beatles were there and rock & roll was playing all around the clock; in USA a young president had filled the people with hope, and the high school graduation parties were shiny and fun. For the first time, things looked better. In Europe the reconstruction was getting there fast, and the industry was strong with Lotus, Lamborghini and Porsche coming with new and faster models. But that was one side of the reality; the other side was a bit darker. In USA, the new president was assassinated, and with him hope suddenly died. The new president gave a new dimension to the Vietnam War, and the ones that followed made reality of the anti-communist witch hunt that a senator had started a decade before. Russia threatened the world with a nuclear holocaust, and the Americans learnt the dangers of a nuclear war, the Big Bear was as big as it gets. And while graduate high school pupils were getting ready for their proms, Berkley University was drowning in blood. Racism was there, stronger than ever, with the south still having schools for blacks and schools for white, hate crimes were there while equality was still an unknown word.

In Europe, the wounds were still wide open and countries like Spain, Portugal, and Greece were under the boot of fascist regimes. Coming out of a devastating war, the Europeans were realizing what it was like to be the battlefield between two giants. Everybody used you as an excuse, while on the same time the European people got a taste of capitalism, gradually losing the welfare state. In May ’68 in Paris, the students started something that would romantically stamp the decade, and would become a reference, but on the same time it was the beginning of the end for the youth’s innocent.

At the time, Africa, Asia and South America were nothing more than a game board for the American and Russian geopolitical games. This was where people meant absolutely nothing for both sides, no matter how people friendly they both said they were. Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Rhodesia, Chile, Nicaragua, Philippines, Persia and South Africa are just some countries I can remember now.

Information was another unknown word; there was no CNN or BBC, no internet, no blogs, no mobile telephones. NGOs? What’s that? Back in the 60’s, less people were educated and it wasn’t only that they didn’t have the money to pay for the necessary expenses, but every member of the family counted as another working hand. My father had a PhD and he was a rare animal who had spent too much time studying, because even studying was a long process.

Without wanting to be provocative or insulting, if I could take Asa or anybody of his generation back to the 60’s - they wouldn’t have survived a day. That doesn’t mean that we were better off or anything. We were just a product of our times, and we were forced to deal with the reality as it was then. And the reality then was far from the romantic picture films give us today, and it had nothing to do with the happy and naïve times people think of today.

Perhaps this takes me back to what I mentioned in the beginning. When man landed on the moon, of course there was curiosity and a feeling of adventure to explore space, but the motivation wasn’t there. The motivation was once again far more cynical than what people want to believe. It was a war and it was us or them - ‘them’ being communist Russia and the eastern bloc. These were the monsters that conspired against us behind the Berlin Wall. It was a fear that they would get there first; Gagarin had already been in space and this was a serious problem. They were going to put nuclear missiles on the moon, targeting our houses, so we had to get there first. The American flag had to be the first one there. If you read history carefully, this was the moment the Russians lost the game. It was the beginning of the end for the mighty Soviet nation.

I watched the moment the first man walked on the moon, in a small black and white television. I watched the moment Armstrong did his funny first steps. But in the next room my father was worrying about a country that was suffering, and he was worrying about us being in exile abroad. Because he believed in what our ancestors taught us: that democracy is the perfect system. Man walked on the moon and hundreds of coffins were returning from Vietnam. Man walked on the moon and nuclear missiles were targeting us from the other side of the wall.

Forty years later, mankind is now planning to return to the moon, and they are scheduling a trip to Mars. And yes, there is a woman who has been imprisoned for the last twenty years because she believes in democracy! Perhaps it is just me; perhaps I have always been sensitive to certain things and perhaps I’m weird. Perhaps I have lived through things I shouldn’t have lived through, but I can’t see anything glamorous about man walking on the moon when there is this woman still in prison for her ideas. I’m sorry, but I see friends I lost in her face, people that died, and unknown people in every corner of this earth that were raped, tortured and killed. All of a sudden, Armstrong’s little step seems so small, and forty years later, mankind has taken some gigantic steps backwards. So let’s hope that in the next few years, mankind will start stepping forward again, even with tiny small steps. Let’s hope mankind will free all these tortured and raped spirits, because as long as all the Daw Aung San Suu Kyis are imprisoned, nothing really matters.

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