‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).
Introduced by Roberta Bacic: Letters as a way of non-violent action Readings in Nonviolence takes this month a letter by Isabel Lipthay, Chilean woman journalist who fled Chile during the Pinochet era and landed in Germany in the early 80's. She lives in Munster with her family and makes her living as a Spanish teacher, poet, musician and member of duo Contraviento (see http://www.contraviento.de ). She and her partner perform in different venues and have permanently been active and have contributed with their art to peace groups in Germany.
She has used the medium of writing letters to address concerns on current issues and as a tool to act and appeal to others to use non-violence. In 2001 she wrote an open letter to General Pinochet which was never answered, though it has been widely disseminated and debated when wanting to address the impact of Chile's dictatorship in private, social and public life. In 2004 she wrote an open letter to Susan Sontag who had just passed away.
In her letter to general Pinochet, she exposes and denounces the pain inflicted by him and his dictatorship and appeals to him as a human being. When she writes to Susan, she unveils and points out the efforts she did all through her life to expose wars and its impacts in human life. Both letters invite us to join her in her reflections and, if at all possible, act in front of what is going on.
For this month's Readings in Nonviolence I have chosen and translated her letter addressed to Berthold Brecht written by her while lecturing on Latin American Folklore in Atlanta, USA, in March of this year.
Fire and words
(open letter to Berthold Brecht)
by Isabel Lipthay
Dear Berthold Brecht:
That day in Santiago, can you remember it? While those, the same ones as always, performed their job as burners of papers and writings (a girl carries another girl in her arms while they came out from a window, and she distracts me from talking to you); while they piled our books with their guns in the bonfires of my back garden; that day in 1973 curled up with fear in a corner I thought about you.
The backs of the books burned intensively in that sinister spring, the pages crackled, the photos got distorted, and the smoke became unbearably blue and black
. . .
Them and us, us and them, we shouted in different tones, we screamed and the fires burned in the garden, flared up by their boots, their guns, our books, our documents, our love letters . . . Even the Marx Brothers were burning.
The soldiers yelled insults and swearing. We with our infinite fear of falling into the bonfires, the labyrinths of the secret prisons, torture, disappearance, madness. . .I could not order them to burn my books as you did it Berthold, as I had not yet written any. I was just a journalism student who was sharpening her pen faced with the horror we were experiencing.
Under Alcibiades's bed they found the huge volumes of "Das Kapital". I did not hear about him after that. The last trace of his life were his books burning in the bonfire in the garden of my home in that September hell.
Months after, as a survivor of the fire of our lives, I met Alcibiades with his usual ample smile under his moustache in some street of Buenos Aires. I had arrived there hidden on a lorry. I believed him dead, the same way they had killed and disappeared so many of us.
Buenos Aires was still a free territory in those days. Berthold, three years later the books and free spirits would be burning again with the same brutality as they had done in Chile and your Germany of those times.
Videla would argue on TV, when referring to the disappeared: "it is an incognito, he/she is a disappeared, has no identity, he/she is nor dead nor alive, he/she is a disappeared.". I write to you this letter from California in 2008, while Bush and his followers burn the words and soul of Iraq. That fire that never, never ends in the history of ignominy. What a fear those assassins have in front of words of any happiness!
Dear Old Viejo, thanks for reminding us of that! Till we meet in the Words' Paradise, some day, some day.