The first two lessons in Timothy Snyder’s best-selling book: On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century read:
- “DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE.
Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”
- “DEFEND INSTITUTIONS.
It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So, choose an institution you care about – a court, a newspaper, a law, a labour union – and take its side. “
I highly recommend the full reading of Snyder’s book. South Africa and the world-over need reminding.
Regarding Lesson 2: On Tyranny
I wrote a while ago warning how the Constitution of SA was being used as a scapegoat to cover for the governing party’s failings. The truth is the Constitution has not failed us. We have failed the Constitution. Going forward, it will need attentive defending. Similarly, just this past week the government embarrassingly resigned, then retracted its resignation, from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Again, scapegoating the ICC to cover its own desire not to be held accountable by it. SA’s participation in the ICC requires defending.
Regarding Lesson 1: On Tyranny
A recent example concerns the Russian school girl Masha Moskaleva. She was 12 years at the time when she drew a Ukrainian flag in April last year with the words “Glory to Ukraine”, rockets and a Russian flag with the phrase “No to war!”
As missiles fly in from the direction of Russia, a mother and her child stand defiantly in their path.
Her teacher informed the school director, who then informed the authorities about Masha’s schoolwork. The police were called and her father, Alexey Moskaleva, was put under watch for “poor parenting”. Alexey Moskaleva, who was raising Masha alone, was given a two-year prison sentence in absentia on 28 March for discrediting the army. The authorities say he fled from house arrest the night before he was due to appear.
Yelena Tarbayeva, an activist present outside the court, was arrested for holding a placard with a version of Masha’s drawing and the words “Putin eats children”. Masha is now with her estranged mother.
A regime that is afraid of a child’s drawing is a clear definition of a tyrannical regime. Notice how the teacher and the school director “obeyed in advance”. They broke Lesson 1 on Tyranny.
Today we reflect on the beloved 23rd Psalm – The Lord’s My Shepherd. If for a moment we release this psalm from its funeral home and hear it speak from its original context, we will hear it bravely honouring Snyder’s Lessons 1 and 2. We will hear a psalm against tyranny.