LETTERS: Vote accordingly

I’m just reminding citizens to remember that the freedoms we enjoy can be quickly lost, and to vote accordingly.

I am very concerned about Stephen Harper’s recently stated intention to bring in a “police tip line” whereby citizens can report incidents of “barbaric cultural practices.” This, I suggest, is intended to “augment” our system of law and order by fomenting vigilantism based on neighbours and friends spying on each other. As history demonstrates, this is not a as far-fetched as it sounds.

An example of how such initiatives can go awry occurred in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. One of Stalin’s techniques of building fear and distrust in Soviet society was to encourage “whisper campaigns” in which neighbours spied on neighbours, friends reported suspicious activity of friends and family members denounced family members. The result was wide-spread paranoia, alienation, and treachery. Repressions, banishments, and millions of innocent deaths followed.

For a comprehensive account of this terrible part of Soviet history, I recommend a highly regarded book called The Whisperers, by Orlando Figes.

I have been to Russia many times and have visited one of Stalin’s many mass graves where some 70,000 souls are buried. To those folks who will say “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” I ask them consider how many millions of innocent people rest in unquiet slumber in Stalin’s mass graves.

And, I have witnessed in contemporary Russian society how fear and distrust still linger. Ask an older lady at a transit stop for directions and she will say “nyet, nyet” and turn away. Knock on a neighbour’s door in an  Irkutsk apartment building, knowing that they are home, and no one will answer. Enter this same apartment building and go through no less than five steel doors to get to your flat. Wake up in the middle of the night to the sounds of clanging steel doors and feel shivers going up your spine knowing this is how it must have sounded to folks wondering who was to “disappear” next as a result of “whisper campaigns” and Stalin’s repressions.

Now I am not suggesting the Stephen Harper is another Joseph Stalin. To achieve this level of infamy Harper would have to grow a moustache.

I’m just reminding citizens to remember that the freedoms we enjoy can be quickly lost, and to vote accordingly.

Allan Markin

Penticton