Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

An Inauguration After a Demonstration

Posted by Stephen Lewis on January 20, 2009

Over the decades, while working in Eastern and Western Europe and the Balkans, I’ve learned to hesitate before replying to inquiries as to my ethnicity or religion. (Oddly or not so oddly, in most countries, it is only Roma (Gypsies) who are able to guess who and what I am.)  Each time I am faced with such questions, I calculate anew whether a truthful answer will be worth the hostility or know-nothing remarks it as often as not will bring.  Sadly, here in Turkey these past weeks, I’ve also learned to calculate before replying.

Likewise, during my life abroad, I’ve also learned to hesitate before replying to questions about my nationality/citizenship. My stock answers, depending on circumstances: “I am a New Yorker” or “I carry a Dutch passport.” In terms of my American citizenship, I am unwilling to be the focus of unwarranted condescension or justified or unjustified rage for wars, foreign policies and domestic injustices that I myself have opposed and have paid a price for opposing.  And, I remember all too clearly having been told over and again during the civil rights, labor, and anti-war struggles in the US during 1960s and 70s that I should “love my country or leave it” or simply “go back to Russia.” Luckily, because I carry more than one passport it has always been easy for me to prevaricate.

Yesterday, in the shadows of police water cannons and circling helicopters at the terminus of a memorial march here in Istanbul commemorating the murder two years ago of Armenian-Turkish newspaper editor Hrant Dink, two fellow marchers amongst the thousands present asked me what country I am from.  This time, rather than dodge the question, I answered indirectly but with a smile and pride: “Tomorrow, Barack Obama will be my president!”

Here’s hoping that Obama will help inspire and lead America and, for that matter, the rest of the world to “change” in the best and most appropriate ways that any and all of us can.

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