On Some Political Causes of this Newspaper: An Addenda to Editorial No. 82 (English Translation)

Image: Survivors of the Armenian Genocide that were rescued and sent to Jerusalem in April 1918. Photograph belonging to the archives of the Armenian General Benevolent Union.

Text of the Editorial Team of Os Fazedores de Letras. Translated by Tomás Ferreira and revised by João N. S. Almeida

Following up on what we stated in our Editorial no. 82 about what will be, from now on, the main international social and political causes upheld by this newspaper, we thought we owed our readers a few more words about the topic. Summing up what we said before, the four causes mentioned were the following: (1) to fight for the acknowledgement, by the Portuguese State and other states who have not done so yet, of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 and, on par with that, to give visibility and a forum to the culture, language and history of Armenia, in cooperation with FLUL and its lecturers in Armenian Language and Culture, Lia Khachikyan, and also with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and other institutions; (2) to fight for the acknowledgement of the right of Tibet and the Tibetan people to independence and self-determination and for the implementation of that selfsame independence; (3) work towards healing the tensions and divisions generated by the Cold War, privileging the dialogue with students, intellectuals and artists from Eastern Europe and Russia, conscious that those countries are an inalienable part of the greater Europe of a Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian matrix, to which we belong and take pride in belonging; (4) to fight for the respect for human dignity and human rights, most of all in geographical and socio-political contexts in which these are most frequently and implacably attacked, such as is the case of the People’s Republic of China.

Let us start by the first of these. The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 is a horrible and shameful page of the history of Mankind, in the process of which 1.5 million to 2 million Armenian men, women and children, died, in an array of horrors which ranged from summary executions to forced labour camps and death marches, a tragedy only comparable, in its dimension and in the obstinacy of a government in eliminating a minority inside its borders, to the Holocaust of Nazi Germany and the great purges, progroms and labour camps of the Soviet Union. However, economic interests, cowardice and hypocrisy have caused the great majority of countries, even in the West, to not yet recognise the Genocide, nor the role of the Ottoman-Turkish governments that presided to and architected it. Let us remember that we had to wait until 2019 for the United States to formally acknowledge this tragedy, in decrees passed by the House of Representatives and by the Senate between the 29th October and the 12th December (in this regard, it is noteworthy that, for example, President Obama pledged during his campaign in 2008 to acknowledge the Genocide if elected, but once elected quickly and characteristically renegated upon his word). We intend, therefore, in a spirit of continuity with the tradition of Os Fazedores of protest in favour of human rights and peoples’ autonomy, to fight for its acknowledgement by the Portuguese State, in such a way that our State may be an example for other countries to follow suit. Towards this goal, besides highlighting of the historical facts and supporting a thriving cultural exchange between Armenia and Portugal, we propose to address letters – including an open letter to be signed by all those who wish to do so – to His Excellency the President of the Republic, His Excellency the Prime-Minister, His Excellency the Minister for Foreign Affairs and His Excellency the President of the National Assembly, as well as any other political or civilian personalities we deem necessary.

The question of Tibet is more easily explained given its similarity with the case of Timor, the cause for which Os Fazedores de Letras historically fought ever since its foundation in 1993. Up until 1950, when China invaded Tibet, forcing its spiritual and political leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, to flee after a few years, seeking refuge in India, the Tibet was an independent country with its own language, culture and history. No great historical literacy is needed to recognise the fairness and legitimacy of the cause of its independence. In 1989, the Dalai Lama, who set up his government-in-exile in Dharamsala (as well as a centre for the study of Tibetan culture), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and since them the Tibetan cause has received more attention. But China’s position as a global economic power, as well as its influence and ability to blackmail foreign governments, has led to little to no progress effectively being made. The Chinese Communist Party, which governs the county in a way that has nothing to do with a democracy – and no trace of respect for human rights, as we shall see below -, has long exherted pressure to make Western governments close their doors to the Dalai Lama. However, the situation now seems worse, especially thanks to two Western public actors who have, during the last 11 years, been consecrated as ‘public and political heroes’: President Obama and Pope Francis. Let us remember a mostly fugitive news in the press – and, even so, only in non-American press[i]: four days before it was announced that Obama was going to be the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, it came to be known, after the arrival in Washington DC of the Tibetan delegation, that the White House had cancelled the scheduled audience of the Dalai Lama with President Obama[ii] (even though, we must say it, this same president did indeed later meet the Tibetan spiritual leader). More recently, in 2014, Pope Francis, who, according to a generalised opinion, is typically characterised as a kind of heroic defender of the poor and the oppressed, refused to receive the exiled Tibetan leader so as not to displease the Chinese government and, by so doing, to compromise the negotiations then under way between the Holy See and that same government about the acknowledgement of the Pope’s authority and the situation of the Church in China; this according to declarations to the press from the Holy See[iii] and the Dalai Lama[iv]. Later, in 2015, the Pope himself, in his own words, going against the declarations of his spokesman, the Jesuit Federico Lombardi, and of the Dalai Lama, denied having refused to meet the Dalai Lama for fear of offending China[v], excusing himself with the inevitable appeal to protocol. But only fear of displeasing China would explain why, after having made the declarations reported by The Telegraph, among others, Pope Francis did not invite him for the meeting of religious leaders organised by the Vatican in Assisi in 2016[vi] – unless we admit that the Pope has something against Buddhists. Such moral cowardice from those who are probably the two most respected Western leaders should, in our opinion, consign them to the opprobrium that their actions rightly deserve; if our governments or our leaders fail – even those of the Church, as Saint Thomas Aquinas noted –, it falls to the people to bring them to account and to the press to give those complaints a voice, which is a responsibility that this newspaper accepts and takes very seriously. Of course that, given the state of global politics, it is unlikely that there will be in the near future significant improvements for the situation of the Tibetan people, as the theologian, philosopher, literary critics and commentator David Bentley Hart sombrely reflects in the already quoted article. Even so, la noblesse oblige – and so does honesty – that those of us who in conscience see the justice of this and other causes don’t remain silent, no matter how little hope there may be; as the title of a book soon to be reviewed by us affirms, ‘for love of my people I will not remain silent’[vii]!

Regarding our third point, it will not have been missed by anyone that, officially, the Cold War ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall or, if we want to stretch it, two years alter, in 1991, with the desintegration of the Soviet Union. And yet, for various reasons (only a few of which we can touch upon here), the West often continues to treat post-Communist Russia as if it were the enemy and to behave as if the countries of Eastern Europe were not really Europe. None of this makes any sense. Europe goes from Cape Roca, in Portugal, to the Ural Mountains in Russia, from Cape North, in Norway, to Malta and Crete and from Ireland to the Caucasus. As we said above, Russia and the other countries of Eastern Europe are a fundamental part of the millennial civilisation to which we belong, both of Greco-Roman and of Judaeo-Christian matrixes, as George Steiner, doctor honoris causa from the University of Lisbon[viii] and former member of Churchill College, Cambridge, so eloquently states in his 2004 book, The Idea of Europe. The East was driven away from the Western half of us, first, by belonging to the Greek-speaking oikoumene (by contrast to Latin sphere of influence), which eminently found political expression in the Byzantine Empire; then by Schism of 1054, in which Eastern Christendom took a stand against the ambitions of the Roman Pope; subject, in many cases, to Ottoman dominion for several centuries and, finally, separated from Western Europe by the Iron Curtain, these countries are, nonetheless, our cultural and spiritual brothers. To reject dialogue with them and what they have to teach us would be to reject a part of what makes us what we are and would result in the disfiguration of the whole of memory, history and culture that, together, we represent. As such, it is urgent to rehearse a dialogue between all these voices waiting to meet and be heard, towards which Os Fazedores de Letras will seek to work, so as to heal the wounds of the past so that we may build a better future for the whole of us.

Finally, let us now pay attention to our fourth point. We pledge to fight for human dignity and the inalienable rights of every human person. We live in a time in which frequently (and paraphrasing Fr. António Vieira [1608-1697]) we are given words when we need acts. A newspaper is, of course, made up of words and our sword is the pen (or the keyboard), but words can, sometimes, bear fruit by speaking to the hearts of people, and people, in their turn, can, together, transform the world, just like it is said in the Gospel (Mt 13) of the seed that falls on good soil. Let us think of what is there to do, of the problems whose resolution the governments of the world have postponed (or those they have themselves caused); let us think, por example, in the privations of the African continent, subject to theft not only from governments of other countries but also from their own governments, many of them stemming from guerrilla movements without any legitimacy to rule, such as is the case of Angola and so many others. Africa is but the obvious example, but there are many more. Let us think to about Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, a country of so many natural resources, but also of so much corruption and so much poverty. These examples could be supplemented by others, such as that of Saudi Arabia, where luxury and wealth coexist with the oppression of women and the extreme cruelty of their pseudo-judicial system. Equally pressing and worrying is the case of China, whose government combines the worst of Communism and Capitalism in a totalitarian regime with complete disregard for human rights and freedoms: we need only remember its treatment of the Falun Gong[ix], of Uighur Muslims[x], of Catholics[xi] – not to mention journalists and pro-democracy activists. The developments of the last few months, during which time it was drafted, approved and implemented a new security law[xii] given by the Beijing government to the autonomous region of Hong Kong are also alarming, in that they threaten to extinguish one of the last – if not the last – havens of freedom of speech in China[xiii]. Confronted with all of this, it is imperative that we create quality journalism that defends humanitarian causes and truly gives a voice to oppressed minorities and peoples. This is, these are, the missions of Os Fazedores de Letras in what concerns international questions.

[i] Cf. David Bentley Hart, “Obama and the Lama”, an article first published in the journal First Things on the 14th October 2009 (which can be consulted online at: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2009/10/obama-and-the-lama [consulted on the 2nd July 2020]) and republished, with minor alterations in David Benley Hart, The Dream-Child’s Progress & Other Essays (Angelico Press, 2017).

[ii] Cf., for example, the British newspaper The Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/6262938/Barack-Obama-cancels-meeting-with-Dalai-Lama-to-keep-China-happy.html (consulted on the 2nd July 2020).

[iii] Cf., for example, BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30455187 and also The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/12/pope-francis-denies-dalai-lama-audience-china-concerns (both were consulted on the 2nd July 2020).

[iv] Cf. The National Catholic Reporter: https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/dalai-lama-says-pope-francis-unwilling-meet-it-could-cause-problems (consulted on the 2nd July 2020).

[v] Cf. The Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/the-pope/11357141/Pope-Francis-leaves-door-open-to-Dalai-Lama-meeting.html (consulted on the 2nd July 2020).

[vi] Cf. The Italian Insider: http://www.italianinsider.it/?q=node/4356 (consulted on the 2nd July 2020).

[vii] The book, reminiscent in its title and its spirit of Tolstoy’s 1908 writing against capital punishment (“I Cannot Remain Silent”) is called, in its orginal Italian-language edition, Per amore del mio popolo non tacerò (Hong Kong: Chorabooks, 2018) and, in its English-language American edition, For Love Of My People I Will Not Remain Silent (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019) and is by the Chinese bishop and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and is a translated version of a series of eight lectures delivered in Chinese in the summer of 2017.

[viii] In 2009.

[ix] Cf., for example, Health Europa: https://www.healtheuropa.eu/forced-organ-harvesting-one-of-the-worst-mass-atrocities-of-this-century/97035/ as well as Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-china-rights/china-is-harvesting-organs-from-falun-gong-members-finds-expert-panel-idUSKCN1TI236 and The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/17/china-is-harvesting-organs-from-detainees-uk-tribunal-concludes (all were consulted on the 8th July 2020).

[x] Cf., for example, (in Portuguese) Público: https://www.publico.pt/2019/11/25/mundo/noticia/documentos-revelam-china-faz-transformacao-ideologica-uigures-xinjiang-1895053 (consulted on the 8th July 2020); and (in English) The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/08/world/asia/china-uighur-muslim-detention-camp.html as well as BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-50511063 (the last two were consulted on the 1st October 2020).

[xi] Cf., for example, Catholic News Agency: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/cardinal-zen-to-congressmen-china-wants-vatican-surrender-40990 (consulted on the 8th July 2020).

[xii] Cf., for example, (in Portuguese) BBC Brasil: https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-53236726 and (in English) The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/30/china-passes-controversial-hong-kong-national-security-law as well as Aljazeera: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/china-warns-uk-citizenship-offer-hong-kong-people-200702112103293.html (all were consulted on the 8th July 2020).

[xiii] To this list we could add its repression of the ethnic Mongolians in the province of Inner Mongolia, news of which has since emerged. Cf. The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinese-authorities-face-widespread-anger-in-inner-mongolia-after-requiring-mandarin-language-classes/2020/08/31/3ba5a938-eb5b-11ea-bd08-1b10132b458f_story.html and https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/students-in-inner-mongolia-protest-chinese-language-policy/2020/09/02/8e67e362-ed0d-11ea-bd08-1b10132b458f_story.html as well as: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-detains-23-in-crackdown-on-inner-mongolia-protests/2020/09/08/09a18b22-f1b0-11ea-8025-5d3489768ac8_story.html (all consulted on the 1st October 2020).