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THE SLOW DANCE TO FREEDOM


I started writing the column 'Manufacturing Dissent' with an allusion to the women of Chile whom Sting sings about in a song entitled "They Dance Alone". With the pictures of their loved ones pinned to their chests, the mourning women dance (under military surveillance) the Gueco Solo - a symbolic slow dance of protest. Their dance expresses an unsaid anguish for those who have "disappeared" during the dictatorial regime of President Pinochet.

Well, the women of Chile still dance the Gueco Solo and probably will do for a long time to come. A year of activism in our small corner of the world at Victoria University has changed nothing tangible. And Chile isn't the only place in the world where gross abuses of human rights are taking place. Dr John McKinnon, in his moving account on Burma, told us first hand at a club meeting about the plight of the people who oppose the despotic forces of the 'State Law and Order Restoration Committee' (SLORC), an Orwellian-named cohort of the Burmese government. His story left a scar somewhere inside of me. The Burmese people still endure.

And then there are the Timorese, and the many Indonesians themselves who have and do suffer in genocidal proportions under the policies and armies of President Suharto. Our final speaker of the year gave an epilogue to the events surrounding the invasion and occupation of East Timor.

These incidents of suffering around the world demonstrate the obvious reality that people, whatever their race or creed, are fragile things. Our bodies and spirits can only withstand so much electric current, so much beating, so much humiliation. The horrible reality about human rights abuses today is made even more frightening when placed in a historical perspective. History can be read as a catalogue of inhumanity despite the outcry which has sometimes followed in response. The specific instances of abuse may have disappeared, but it appears certain that for all eternity, people will always be abusing the rights of others.

Why struggle then for the rights of others who are often separated from us across thousands of miles of land and sea? This question I ask myself often - the response usually has something to do with a sense of ultimate justice, a common humanity, and a spirituality that values all of creation. While the extremes of human rights abuses do seem remote from our experience, it was not too long ago in New Zealand's history where they were commonplace. However, even now, full gender equity remains unrealised, along with many other articles set out in the UN Charter, like the entitlement to work or to a decent student allowance. Human rights conflicts continue, even in our society, and require a continual effort just to maintain. While conflict itself may be an inevitable part of our existence in a diverse society, violent resolution of conflict need not be. The values of peace, humility, honesty, and love need to be fostered on a grand scale in both the private and public spheres for a truly everlasting revolution to take place. Some part of this vision is within everybody's reach, so join the revolution.

One day soon, we'll sing and dance the dance of freedom. One day we'll live in peace and unity. One day." (Sting)

Robert Bentz Ashe

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