Posted by: rusch | June 3, 2007

Freedom and Rights

My vacation this year has been one of contrasts. Greece and Russia are two very different places. One is very open and free while the other is closed and forbidding. Russia was great. Being there made me appreciate every last freedom that I enjoy as an American citizen.

I learned a lot about how the cold war is not really over, just on hiatus as people such as Vladimir Putin try to slowly roll back the freedoms that Russians enjoy under their constitution. One thing that he has been able to curtail is the relative freedom of the press by passing an amendment that allows for any Russian journalist writing disparaging things about the Russian government to be jailed. What scares me is that Putin is also seeking to amend the constitution such that he will be able to serve more terms as he is currently limited only two under the current constitution.

I never realized how hard it is for Russians, especially for those who are members of the Church as joining has cost them family, friends, and even employment. But those that I have spoken to have not regretted their decision and are fixed in their determination to be true to what they know to be right. The thing that I admire about the Russians the most, especially the members of the Church, is their iron will.

Russians, sixty years after the fact, still celebrate their victory over the Germans in World War two or as they know it, The Great Patriotic War in ways that we Americans would not understand.

In operation Barbarossa, Hitler sent an invasion force of about one-million troops into the Soviet Union. During the battles that ensued therefrom, at least twenty million Russians died. That number is on the low side as some estimate that upwards of forty million Russians died. Twenty though remains the number that is confirm-able. Though the Russians lacked technology, and even enough weapons to arm their soldiers that consisted of every able bodied man, woman, and child, they were willing to do whatever necessary in order to defeat and expel the “Hitlerists”, as the Russians call them, from their country.

They celebrate their victory and if anyone in Russia knows anything, they know that Russia won the war.

But even though Russia is less then two decades removed from the fall communism and a fledgling democracy, you can still sense repression and frustration as the same leaders who took advantage of the common Russian under Soviet Socialism now take advantage of them under the guise of capitalism and democracy. If anything it makes me sad that countries like the former Czechoslovakia, Kazakhstan, and various other former Soviet states are doing relatively well while Russia struggles.

I must admit that after our Aeroflot flight to Greece lifted off I was relieved that I would be back in familiar territory and in my mind, a free land.

But on the other hand I wonder about the people that I have met in Athens.

In Russia I interacted with members of the Church who instantly loved me, and the members of my family, even though we were only in their town for such a short period of time. Some in my family have commented that the Russians are cold. I think that those we came in contact with in Russia were generally cold towards us because they had no reason to be otherwise. While here, Athens, the people are warm because they want my money. In the shops, on the street, those that seem warm are those that would like to see my Euros in their pockets in exchange for whatever they are selling be it tours, pornography, taxi rides and so forth.

What I have gleaned is that neither system is perfect. Communism saps optimism and hope, while capitalism robs of genuineness and breeds materialism. But if forced to choose, I would choose capitalism because it seems to be the system that encourages freedom. And freedom is something that I am definitely for though sometimes I am convinced that there is a better way. In fact the D&C teaches that there is.

Russia has made me grateful for every freedom that is guaranteed to me, and every other American, under the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. And it has only made me believe that those rights are not only those that belong to those who call themselves Americans, but are universal rights necessary for making complete human beings.

There are two books that I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading about the spirituality that is inherit in those documents and those who wrote them and have sought to defend them. They are American Gospel, by Jon Meecham and The American Soul by Jacob Needleman. They are fascinating looks at why America, or the ideas on which America was founded are always essential.


  1. “Communism saps optimism and hope, while capitalism robs of genuineness and breeds materialism. But if forced to choose, I would choose capitalism because it seems to be the system that encourages freedom.”

    I think you are very right. I often think of this when I reflect on the general attitudes of people in Ukraine. It’s so interesting to see the effect that freedom has on people, and I think you’re right. Make people free and let them choose to be good, choose to be happy, choose to be kind, choose to help the poor, and so on and so forth.

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