Sometimes we can all descend into darkness. If, like me, you are subject to bouts of depression anyway, this is all the more profound. And let’s face it, things have not been good. Here in the UK we’ve had heated and distressing debate about whether our troops should or should not remain in Afghanistan and what that might mean for the Afghan people. In America, they’ve had the terrible Fort Hood shootings, all sorts of madness continues to happen off the coast of Somalia and, of course, the debate about whether or not Iran should have nuclear power rumbles on. I don’t know the rights and wrongs of any of this but what I am very aware of is our need, as human beings, to be able to get up in the morning with a modicum of hope.
This week beginning 9th November is significant for two reasons. Firstly the 9th itself is the 20th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Wall. On the 9th November 1989 the East German government stated that all citizens of the GDR could, from that day on, cross over to West Berlin. This declaration came after weeks and weeks of protest by the people of the GDR and, as soon as it was issued, they and many West Germans, rushed to the wall. Scenes of great joy as German hugged German took place on top of the wall and it was at this point that unification became a possibility. At a stroke, years of tyranny and oppression came to an end.
The second notable date this week is the 10th November. This date marks the 71st anniversary of the death of one of the most influential and enlightened politicians of the 20th century, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Not only was Turkey’s first republican president one of the few intelligent military strategists (on any side) of the First World War, he was also a person of vision and humanity. It was Atatürk who, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War 1, roused the Turks to fight for their independence against the occupying forces of Britain, France and Greece. Victorious in what is called the War of Independence, he then set out to modernise the country and equip it to compete and survive in the modern world. He devised and implemented a Roman style alphabet to make the Turkish language more accessible, he introduced primary education for all children, he emancipated women and he pursued a not always easy foreign policy of non-intervention. Atatürk’s great maxim, ‘Peace at home and peace in the world’ summed up his belief that war, unless pursued because one is attacked, is a crime. After doing all this as well as setting up numerous cultural, historical and technological projects Atatürk died on the 10th November 1938 aged only 57. But his legacy continues. I have been in Turkey many times on the 10th November when at 9.05am, the exact moment of his death, the whole nation grinds to a halt as everyone remembers him and silently honours who he was and what he did.
These two events have much in common in that they both represent triumph over adversity and in the face of over-whelming odds. The people of the GDR had had enough of that wall and so, the repressive state not withstanding, they got rid of it. Atatürk took a country defeated in war and changed it into a nation with pride in itself and hope for the future. In the year when an African-American man swept to power in the USA on the back of a slogan which told people that ‘Yes, we can!’ perhaps we should all just take a moment to, if necessary, manufacture some hope. Because yes, we can, if we do really want to.