common ground

World Racism/Latvia

Program 0216 April 16, 2002

Related links:

External sites are not endorsed by Common Ground or the Stanley Foundation

(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

NOAHA JEHAB: The racism, it’s in all the world. It’s not only in Palestine. It’s in the US. It’s in England, in Europe, in Africa. Everywhere in the world there is racism.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, fighting racism around the globe. Plus, rediscovering religion in Latvia.

GUNTIS DISLERS: So many pastors were murdered, sent over to Siberia, and many of them also tried to find refuge in Western countries.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Racism is truly a global problem. Taken as a whole it may seem insurmountable.

MCHUGH: But efforts are underway around the world to attack the problem. As Common Ground’s Helene Rosenbluth reports, many of the approaches are aimed at breaking down racism bit by bit.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN FROM RUSSIA: Russia is actually one of the countries with racism. Not the black and white one. Sure not. But everybody is aware of problem of Chechnya and that’s also bad racism. And we have lots of minorities. Over a hundred peoples living in Russia. And some are discriminated. For example, they cannot register their property, their cars. They can’t go into the normal secondary school. Very often beaten by Cossacks. And that’s the face of racism in Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN FROM CUBA: In Cuba the problem, I think, is the, in the mentality of racism of some people. In Cuba was a lot of, of element of discrimination. After Revolution, we carry out a process to eliminate institutionally all form of racism. A campaign of all people, it’s mean they accept all people everywhere. No, because we have a Latin culture, yeah? Latin culture is very machist, yes? So, I think in this moment their minds are opening. We accept better than five years, ten years ago. Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN FROM AFRICA: And it’s not only white against the black. The black also, between us. Got a problem. You coming from Congo to here looking for job. Maybe from education he didn’t know what happen to Congo. So we need to get the information to the people, to teach the people who are in Africa. We want to be united.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN FROM INDIA: Racism has to be interpreted in different ways when you talk of different countries and the way it’s not necessarily color that we talk of in India. It’s a whole host of other issues. And then you have the whole issue of discrimination against gays and lesbians. It’s just, there is, just seems to be so much. And there are very many different ways that discrimination occurs, which very often most of us don’t look at. Because it’s, we tend not to see what is, what we would like not to see.

NOAHA JEHAB: The racism, it’s in all the world. It’s not only in Palestine. It’s in the US. It’s in England, in Europe, in Africa. Everywhere in the world there is racism.

HELENE ROSENBLUTH: When I think of how to begin working on overcoming racism, it seems like a huge task. I’m drawn to practical approaches that seem to be working on a day-to-day level in different countries. For instance, in post-apartheid South Africa. Clearly a role model after having dismantled the program which epitomized institutional racism for decades. But even here change doesn’t happen overnight. The effects of racism cut deep into the psyche, and rebuilding a society means rebuilding a self image that has been systemically eroded. So how does a society overcome a major shift?

LINDA MAKATINI: We had many years of being made to believe that you cannot do anything successful as a person.

ROSENBLUTH:  Linda Makatini works within the new South African government in Capetown to bring creative programs to the devastated townships that surround the cities. Programs that bring respect and dignity to people living in substandard conditions. She says that under the old government there was little physical space available for young people to learn important developmental skills.

MAKATINI: Townships were never built by the apartheid state to be homes. They were built basically as labor reserves. So you have a situation where the houses, if you can call them that, are so close to each other that you’ve got a township congested that is called “mas towle sani.” Now that means “let’s shake hands.” And the joke is from the lounge you could shake your neighbor’s hand who is sitting in, in the other lounge. So, with that close proximity and tightness of space there was never any parks built, there was never any entertainment areas built. All they had to do was have a, this labor reserve called a township, have one school, and have a cemetery. So, now that is coming back to haunt us. And our government has been trying over the last six, seven years to expand and identify areas that are parks, where soccer could be played. Areas where people could live as human beings with respect and dignity.

ROSENBLUTH: Creating parks takes money. Money the new South Africa doesn’t have. In the meantime young people often travel half a day to come to public areas like the Marketplace; a downtown mall in Durban, designed mostly for tourists, where you can buy anything from hand-carved tiki walking sticks to elaborately beaded dashikis. But it’s not the shopping that draws the disenfranchised youth—it’s the chess.

Just outside an empty arcade, on the second level, I found a group of young men huddled around the life-sized chessboard painted on the floor. They were deeply engrossed in every move of the four-foot plastic pieces. This was an unofficial match between a local player and a visitor who had come all the way from Colombia, South America. His name: Bismarck Chareirra. And he is the first black man ever to win a world chess championship. What Tiger Woods has done for golf, Bismarck Chareirra is doing for chess: taking a game that has traditionally been associated with a highly educated affluent white intelligentsia and bringing it to the marginalized youth of South Africa.

BISMARCK CHAREIRRA [via a translator] Chess is considered a scientific game. Children, it is important to practice not only at the competitive level but at the recreational level, to develop that intelligent capacity, their capacity for analysis, strategic and tactical vision, and their discipline. He considers it very important to carry it to the schools. It has been his luck as a person of African descent to teach or to show or demonstrate to his own people that it is important for those students to know an African who plays this game and perhaps they can win at this game.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN FROM SOUTH AFRICA: Okay, just, just tell us in brief, what did he do? What type of mistake did he make? So that we all come into an understanding? What happened?

[Chareirra speaks in Spanish and then laughs. There is no translation.]

ROSENBLUTH: Learning from a master can offer wonderful tips to people who have little access to chess clubs or computer games, or even after school centers. The young men lining the sides of the checkered floor were either students or unemployed, intent on picking up any pointers just by watching. No one could understand Spanish and only one spoke English. Shedrick, the managing director of Independent Executive Protection Services, a local company partnering with the government to provide 100 chess sets to schools in disadvantaged areas. Linda Makatini sees this as one creative cost effective way to raise the self confidence of black youth—both boys and girls.

MAKATINI: This program that we have now of getting youth to focus on being themselves, knowing that after school you don’t have to go sit by the road corner and wait for somebody else to mock. You could actually engage psychologically, mentally, with another person. And we’ve been making it clear that this sport is the one sport that can also include girls. Because, of course, as long as the girl doesn’t compete against the boy, girls will always believe that they’re not as good as boys. And this doesn’t cost a lot of money. But it’s just not a sport that we’ve always had access to as black people. And remember, the mentality has always been black person equals thick. Chess equals intelligent person. Now, what we then have now is developing this program to get our youth to have the self confidence of knowing that, “yes, I can do it. And I can actually compete with anybody.” Because of the strategy that is needed in playing chess.

ROSENBLUTH: Building self confidence is a crucial factor in overcoming the harmful effects of racism—something that Noaha Jehab knows firsthand. As a Palestinian living in Jerusalem she works with a group called United to End Racism, an international organization that works in 92 countries teaching counseling techniques to people to use with their peers. She believes that Palestinians, like other disenfranchised people around the world, have unintentionally internalized negative views of themselves. Noaha sees these counseling sessions as a useful tool to help break down some of the stereotypes.

NOAHA JEHAB: No one in the world have been born to be an oppressor. And no one in the world have been born to be an oppressed person. We have been taught how to do that. We are working with both the oppressor and with the oppressed person. Me as a Palestinian, I work with my community to tell them that they are good, to make them make about how bad the message is that they got from the racism about themselves, about their culture, about their roots, about being Palestinian. And the other side, the Jewish people are working on their racism.

ROSENBLUTH: If racism is a belief in negative stereotypes, then it’s something we’ve clearly all been exposed to, no matter where we live. In Israel, groups are set up for Jews and Palestinians to meet separately, to provide safe places where they can listen to each other and provide emotional support. Noaha Jehab is a key person for the Palestinian community, offering these skills as a means of coping with the experience of being confined and having little control over one’s daily life.

JEHAB: I have a community in the West Bank, Palestinian people. I cannot go to them. I’m forbidden. Not only me. All the Palestinian people. You know, there is a big, you know, wall around them. Indeed, they cannot go out. We cannot get in. So all this separating, all this isolation make us feel so angry. And we need someone to listen to. And I go to my people and offer this listening. Some were inviting me. I’m sitting with him. “Tell me, how do you feel? How your day go?” If we’re listening to the news, someone cries, someone—they have the feel, they have that now, here, in my house, it’s legal to cry, you know.

We need it to work. We need it. It’s not easy. We get then frightened so much these months. We felt very much that we are threatened. Me, myself, at October, when I’ve heard that the Jewish from the Nazareth attacked the Arab, I was scared when someone knocked on the door that maybe this Jew is gonna attack me. You know, my thinking took me back to the past of my family, that the, how was the ‘48, the Jewish attacked them and pushed them out of their houses. All this thinking come into my mind. Only by the help of the co-counselors, that they listened to me. They make me express my feeling. And by the sessions I just could behave and go on my daily life. With this work—only by this work—I mean it—I really, I can deal with the Jewish as a friend.

ROSENBLUTH: Noah sees her goal as being able to work collaboratively with Jewish Israelis who are also working on their racism. By breaking down stereotypes on both sides she believes people will be able to finally see each other as individuals; individuals who each deserve to live in safety and peace.

JEHAB: I’m doing this hard job because I don’t want my children and no one Palestinian to suffer what he is suffering now and what, what our, all people and families suffered. And also I don’t want the Jewish to continue taking all this damage from the patterns. So maybe you will say that, that you’re working with the individuals. That’s true. I’m working with one individual Jewish person. And he’s having a group. So I’m changing the group. And that group, each one of them have another group. This is how I’m changing. It’s not only me. It’s hand by hand, me and a Jewish woman. This is it. I believe we all have the hope. We all have the main goal and the same thing, that we hope for, for peace.

ROSENBLUTH: Ending racism doesn’t have to be a huge overwhelming task. It could be a number of creative programs initiated to counter stereotypes in small towns throughout the world. The heartening thing is knowing that people are working in all kinds of ways to chip away at this insidious problem, step by step. For Common Ground, I’m Helene Rosenbluth.

PORTER: Building a religious college in a former communist country, next on Common Ground.

REBECCA GUTMANE: We have developed programs specially for our country people to understand the Judeo-Christian values.

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Latvia gained its independence 10 years ago following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

MCHUGH: Under 50 years of communist rule, organized religion in Latvia essentially died. Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman recently talked with a Latvian couple who are helping restore their country’s religious roots and rebuilding their nation.

GUNTIS DISLERS: When the communists came into Latvia it was in 1944. So many pastors were murdered, sent over to Siberia, and many of them also tried to find refuge in Western countries, especially in Germany. And then they, from Germany went out to the world.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: Reverend Guntis Dislers is a Lutheran pastor and college professor in Latvia.

GUNTIS DISLERS: Officially the church was allowed in our country. But once you attend the service you get severe problems and persecutions from the state, from the KGB. And therefore churches were destroyed. Out of 300 congregations which were in use, let’s say, before Second World War, some 100, only 100, survived during persecutions. And the congregations consisted mainly of elderly people who were not active anymore in life. Sunday Schools were forbidden. Any Christian education was forbidden. So it was big gap between the society and the church. So it was practically nonexistent, nonoperating church during those 50 years. It was very hard. And when the independent was given back—or taken back, actually—11, 12 years ago in our country, we practically had to start from, from scratch, from zero, from nothing.

REBECCA GUTMANE: It’s many reasons what has happened.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Rebecca Gutmane is the Rector of the Latvian Christian Academy. She says church attendance exploded after the fall of communism, then quickly dropped off.

GUTMANE: Our people are educated on a Marxist basis. And that is so deep in our middle-aged people and also elderly people. They think that Christianity and church matters, it doesn’t help in life. This is when you are intellectually weak, then you go to church. But if you are a wise and intellectually strong person then you don’t need the church. And then they say, also very often they say, “Oh, this is a fashion, to go to the church, now. I will be out of the fashion. I will not go to the church.” And then the third thing is, which is very strongly in our people minds that, you know, they think that Christianity is like Jewish sophistication, to make again people to be slaves.

And that’s why it’s very, very important to have right education for our people. Because when the communist revolution used to happen, all these people who were sent out to Siberia or who left our country for other countries, became refugees, they blame the communists. They say, “They were Jews.” And that’s very deep in our people hearts. And so we have to educate them, what is the right thing, historically and biblically. What was happening at that time? So many reasons why people are leaving church.

And also, I have to say that church must start to work, so to say, from, from the people attitude. The changed attitude. Not just the proclaim, the proclamation from above doesn’t work. You have to go closer to the people. That’s why academy college, we are leaders of the college. Because we want to build the bridge from the church to the society, to the people. And make people’s hearts softer towards church. And towards their, their value system.

BROCKMAN: You mentioned the college. Let’s talk about that. You founded the—well it’s now called the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Christian Academy—in ‘93.

GUTMANE: Yeah, back in ‘93.

BROCKMAN: Tell us a little bit about the college.

GUTMANE: At that time I was working at the Latvian State University. And maybe everyone, many knows, that in Latvia women are not ordained. And not allowed to be ordained. Many girls were dreaming for theological studies but where they will work after they will graduate? And that’s why we got the idea, I think from God, that we have to start the new institution for academical education for girls, to be come a lay, lay ministers, for, to help churches to develop. Deacons and maybe psychologists, Christian psychologists, and Christian social work was at zero level in our state. So we, we got this idea to develop this integration of biblical values into our people hearts, and minds, and deeply into our society. So we have started back in ‘93 with 25 students. And now in academy we have more than 1,000 students.

We have developed programs specially for our country people to understand the Judeo-Christian values and continuity of these values. We are providing 30 programs which are not copied from other countries. Like States, you have very deep traditions in religious or biblical education. Or from other countries. But we developed our study programs so that they can fit for our post-totalitarian state. To understand and to teach people how to help others and how to help themselves to not be dependent on government or, or some leader, like Lenin. But to depend, to be dependent on the values which, which makes you real personality free in Christ and, and loving other people. And not hate—not, you know—so it’s made people full of hatred. Full of lies and different heavy things, you know. And we have to make, help people to make free.

BROCKMAN: So, you’re involved, as you said, not just in church building but in nation building.

GUTMANE: Right. Our government is very supportive for our, our work. Our ex-President, Guntis Ulmanis is, he was at the first graduation party. And he gave us special paper of appreciation. And he wrote in this paper that, that we need the real ethical basis for our country development. And that’s what a Christian academy is doing. And that we appreciate very much.

The second thing is that government gave us this property for future development, what Guntis was speaking about. And in our country this is like great step from government position. And our government people are studying at the academy. In different programs. Minister of Economics. And four of them already graduated. Why? Because they say that we teach Christianity and Bible in a way so that it is socially understandable. Why it is of great value. How you have, you can develop many modern social issues on biblical basis. That’s why they are coming to our academy.

And the third thing is that we have students from all over the country. They create the social structure, the new, different social structure, from the previous one: being social workers, but Christian basis. And our students are state paid for their work. This is very important. They are members of the church but they are, after their graduation, they spread all over the country. And they create the new system of understanding. And they are working for creating the new social structure for development of our country.

BROCKMAN: I’ve read that Latvians are 100 percent literate. Pastor Dislers, can you tell us about education in general in Latvia? Specifically since the fall of the Soviet Union.

DISLERS: We are proud being 100 percent literate. It does have something to do with history. Because when Germans came into our country something like 12th century, they baptized Latvians formally. And it didn’t reach their souls. And we survived partially because we were keeping our Latvian language and traditions and culture so to say, underground. The German politics in Baltic states was that they, they were keeping themselves apart. Because they didn’t mix with Latvians. And in 17th century only, when Swedish rule came into our country, first Latvian schools were opened. That was the beginning of Latvian schooling in our own Latvian language.

But living in crossroads situation between East and West, you know, South and North, the objective situation demands knowing at least two languages. So we all are bilingual or trilingual. We can speak of course, Latvian is our native tongue. And we can speak Russian, we can speak English—with some mistakes as you hear [laughs]. And so many people speak German as well, and Swedish or Polish or whatever. So we are having that tradition which is very rich.

Immediately when political freedom was given to our country at the beginning of 20th century, when we were fighting against both Germans and Russians, during the First World War, immediately Russian, Latvian culture was flourishing. You know, we have rich literacy. We have beautiful poems. We have beautiful dramas. We have theaters. We have, you know, writers, everything. So, so we are thirsty of knowledge. And we enjoy having it in our college. Because it has to do something with our tradition—Christianity being integrated. And this is the best part of…

GUTMANE: …not separated but integrated.

DISLERS: This is the best part of our culture. Our best writers, they have been Christians.

BROCKMAN: You were talking about the East and the West. How would you say that Latvians view themselves now? Are they part of the—are they becoming part of the West? Or want to become part of the West? Or are they still, see themselves as a former state of the Soviet Union?

GUTMANE: Our country is very poor now. And these, those people who are in, who lost jobs and whose education doesn’t fit in for the new situation, they are longing for previous times to come back. Like, you know, like chosen nation in desert. Say, “Oh, we have to go back. That was better.” Young generation is very eager for education and now the system of values I am worrying about this, because many things, many people think that most important things in the world are things. Which is not right. And they are rallying for this materialism and, and then Western people are like an example for them.

And this is why many people become desperate. Because they couldn’t afford this system of, you know, material welfare, like you do have. And then we teach that there is not the most, this is not the goal. The, only material welfare. That everything must be based on the personality’s development. And we are working very hard to develop the proper value system—balanced value system. Where people’s souls were so destructed during Soviet time. You know, it—people are happy to go to jobs but not to work.

And I, as a leader, now I can feel that they want to have jobs but they don’t want to work. And this is big difference from you. Because when you are working, then you are working hard and money is not falling from the heaven. This is what we have to teach our people to do, also. To work hard first. And then only long for something to have. Young generation is like trying to do their best in this way. But middle-aged people and elderly people, they are very, very unhappy now.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Rebecca Gutmane and Reverend Guntis Dislers are husband and wife and co-founders of the Latvian Christian Academy. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0216. That’s Program Number 02-16 To order by credit card you could call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

Related links:

sponsored by
The Stanley Foundation
209 Iowa Avenue
Muscatine, Iowa 52761  USA
563-264-0864 fax