Saturday, February 25, 2006

Idenity Crises of Transplanted Dissidents

For a long time on earth we have had several opposing camps- Communist vs. Capitalist, Materialism vs. Spirituality, Fundamentalism vs. Secular or Christian- based democracy, etc.

In each of such camps there were dissidents- people who disagreed with the mainstream political or spiritual philosophy of their country, and who would leave for places where they could finally practice their own way of thinking unhindered by the tyrannical forces of their own countries. Soviet and Chinese dissidents, as well as Iranian anti-ayatollah thinkers found refuge in the West. Even some Westerners defected to the Soviets, the Chinese or countries of non-Christian religions- yes, that is true- you can see quite a few American converts in very far flung places- these are not fundamentalists, but they enjoy a place where religion and state are one. Particularly, some Black Americans were attracted to certain foreign states because of a, supposedly, much lesser degree of racism, and a far greater acceptance of Blacks in their societies.

What happens with many dissidents when they relocate can be rather baffling. Many end up very confused and begin to experience an identity crisis.

Let’s take Soviet dissidents, for example. Or Cuban ones. When in Cuba or the USSR, the state of affairs is clear- the regime is ultra-left and evil; the dissidents, on the other hand, are usually pro-right, thinking intellectuals who believe in democracy and freedom; and finally, after a long struggle, they escape to the West ready and hopeful to be among other freedom loving individuals of the same intellectual make-up, who, like themselves, love and treasure democratic capitalism and believe in the ideals of the West.

When they arrive in the West, they are in for a shock. Many Western intellectuals are not pro-right at all, but are, actually, very left-leaning. These are pro-gay, pro-socialist, pro-so many ‘evils’ that these dissidents have fought against to begin with. The pro-right people in the West are actually found among the not-so-educated working classes with whom these dissidents and the local thinkers have nothing in common. Because the dissidents come from a Communist country, some Western pro-rightists, who are usually not very bright to begin with, declare them to be “commie, foreign immigrants”, give them no support whatsoever, and shun them, while the left-leaning ‘intellectual’ classes also have nothing in common with them as they are busy promoting socialist ideals that the dissidents have devoted their entire lives struggling against.

They are also shocked to see refugees from fascist dictatorship in Latin America who are living in the US, while, at the same time, holding meetings of Communist and Socialist committees and talking about the US Imperialism in their countries. This comes as a big shock, and a personal identity crisis sets in. “Hey, you guys, socialism does not work! I’ve been there, I know!” In one ear, out the other. The Communist meetings continue.

The main question that these dissidents ask the Western Leftists is always this: “if you are so much to the left, why don’t you go and live in Cuba?” Or “How do you know what life under socialism is like? I have lived under it, and I know what it is all about. You are here, enjoying all the fruits of Capitalism, a nice car, a nice apartment, fully stocked supermarkets, while, at the same time, promoting a social idea that you have not experienced in practice”. Needless to say, angry debates explode, the formerly progressive dissident is now labeled reactionary, redneck, fascist, and other bad names and eventually he remains alone, baffled and unsure of his identity anymore.

A Russian proverb reads “One with a full stomach does not believe one who is hungry”.

At the same time, the dissident continues being called a “pinko bastard” by the less enlightened elements of society. Many working classes in the West do not even know the difference between Communism and Fascism. Many cannot even find communist countries on the world map.

“He is from a Communist country, hence, he is a Commie operative”. He is asked daily questions such as “Why are you here? Are you a KGB agent? Are you a spy? Do they allow you people to be here?” Refugees from Communist Vietnam sometimes get harassed by the poorer elements of veteran Americans who call them Viet Congs and other unflattering names.

A Nicaraguan refugee from Communism whom I once knew ended up in Guatemala, and he often complained that he took a great deal of flak from both sides- the progressive, thinking leftists (it seems that a huge part of Latin American intellectuals is) who declared him a traitor, and the common people who called him ‘Comunista’ and refused him friendship and means of livelihood. ‘Nicaragua is a communist country. You are from Nicaragua. Hence, you are a Communist! ‘ Hard to argue with that. How can you? Especially, if the reasoning comes from a potential job-giver.

He eventually ended up in the US where he was, at least, able to establish himself as a human being, even though his pro-right views only found true sympathy among other refugees from his homeland.

The same thing happened with those not many Westerners who ended up in the East because they believed in the rosy ideals of Marx and Lenin. The thinkers and the people with any kind of brain there were virulent anti-Communists, while the left wingers were the lazy and corrupt bureaucrats who these new idealist immigrants had nothing in common with. It was again, a big disappointment, aggravated by the severe realities of trying to live in the under-supplied and inefficient societies that did not seem to work even in the most basic aspects of daily life.

In extreme cases, such idealists got arrested by the leftist governments on trumped up spying charges and sent to the Gulag or its equivalent. “They are from the West. Hence, they are enemy agents. Capitalists”. Logical, isn’t it? A communist peasant KGB officer does not usually have too high an IQ to figure out that while the person is from the West, he is in fact not a spy but a socialist sympathizer. Many thus ended up dying of starvation and exposure in the Gulag labor camp complex.

Many Americans who converted to a foreign faith and ended up in some parts of the world where it is practiced, were also appalled by the corruption and how so many people there do not follow the religion as ardently as these very sincere American believers of it do.

What is the conclusion? There are two:

1) Most people are not travelers and they do not really know what it is like in other countries. They have not lived there. They may sound intellectual, but they simply lack hands-on experience of someone who has actually lived under the system. They think grass is greener on the other side. Some may have degrees, but they are still very naïve. The only sure way to enlighten them is to forcibly transport them by planes onto such countries and let them live there for a few years on the local economy. A nice idea, but almost a logistical impossibility. Hence, a blank, unbelieving stare is all you get from such people.

2) As much as it goes against one’s often altruistic ideals, creating one’s personal philosophy from the good parts of every philosophy available on earth and applying it to one’s daily life to the best of one’s ability seems to be the only way. Winning by being stubborn, but at the same time sneaky and discreet, seems to work best. Once you relocate to another country, get ready to face ignorance coming from everywhere and try your best not to be affected by it. I have known Cubans and Nicaraguans who have given up on arguing about ideologies when in the US, and, instead, concentrated on making money and just taking care of themselves. Sometimes, rugged individualism seems to be the best cure for identity crises of the transplanted dissidents.

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