The Privilege of Voting

Whenever I meet with a line-up, I would just change my mind, leave, or select some other item, unless it concerned an unavoidable queue at the airport.

I once tried to advance through a security check by asking people in front of me if they would let me pass ahead of them, as my plane was boarding–and it had been. Then, to my grief, the security staff, a grumpy and drab looking, solidly built, elderly woman, made me undo everything possible, belt, shoes, watch, the contents of my purse and carry-on bag, thrown out in separate bins, each separate item for all to see.

The security woman made me pass through the security gate twice, on purpose slowing me down. I then realized that I must have fit the profile of someone up to no good in the eyes of security staff: in hurry, nervous, sweaty brow, counting on skipping the usual safety procedures for an acceptable reason–a plane leaving without her.

Security did not fall for it. Since then, I do not try to hurry things at airports anymore. If I miss a plane, so be it. I just have to suppress my fears and try to pacify my anxieties on my frequent flights across the Atlantic. My little iPad had helped on my last flight and was a welcome distraction.

I knew from my sister, Ria, who had worked in the industry, that a plane seldom leaves without the passenger. The absent person’s luggage would have to be taken off the plane in that case.

The reason for the policy change was that a bomb in a suitcase in transit, unloaded from a flight of Canadian Airlines, went off on June 23, 1985 in a baggage terminal, accidentally and prematurely, killing two baggage handlers in Tokyo’s Narita airport.

Two suitcases traveled without their passengers, who had “missed their plane”. An hour later, another plane got blown up by another bomb exploding in midair, this time an Air India plane, flight 182. It killed all 329 passengers on the plane, including 279 Canadians on their way to India.

The airplane had disappeared from the radar and was later retrieved in pieces, near the coast of Ireland. It had been inconceivable to me that it took from 1985 to 2003 to find and convict the guilty party. Only one person, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian with dual Indian citizenship, was eventually convicted in 2003 for aiding and abetting to the crime, as a member of the Babbar Khalsa terrorist group. This was the largest terrorist attack in Canadian history.

Another perpetrator apparently got assassinated in India in the meantime. I read in the newspaper not long ago that a new legal action was in the works to charge the man in jail with perjury. It was a notoriously bungled, criminal case.

Since those event took place, new regulations prevent unaccompanied luggage to remain on the plane and efforts are now always made to find the suitcase and remove it from the hold if the passenger does not show up.

Of course, this causes as much, if not more, delays than simply trying to hurry up the passenger and get them to board the plane with one fast track line, instead of making everybody wait.

I had been traveling back to Canada in the fall of 2009 through London, England. The queues were exceptionally long, the departure hall completely filled with people standing in long serpentines of rows.

I noticed that all movement had stopped. In spite of it, people were just standing in line, subdued and annoyed, but quiet, enduring it. Security staff looked bored to death and hung around the conveyor belts that had stopped as well. Some staff were quietly chatting with each other.

The suppressed anxiety of the travellers contrasted with the air of nonchalant authority of the uniformed security staff, authority unused as of yet, but latent and potentially nasty.

The situation, especially the atmosphere, reminded me of the old black and white photos of people in the Second World War lining up for much more sinister fates.

The people in the photos and old movies already had been stripped of their luggage and of anything of value, would be shedding their clothes and shoes pretty soon, were waiting to be led to the gas chambers.

These images were shown to students in my grade school, in black and white, grainy, amateurish looking now. The people in it were mostly Jewish people, but also mentally challenged, and mentally ill people, whether Jewish or non-Jewish did not matter; groups of gipsies, also called Roma; homosexuals; Mormons who did not want to make the Heil Hitler sign; anybody who was profiled for the gas chambers in one way or another.

I have come to understand that these images are part of my collective memory as a European, true for all members of my generation, and older, who originated from the European mainland.

The British may have been an exception to that cohort for most part, as their nation had never been actually occupied, as the rest of Europe had been. They had missed the direct experience of feeling impotent, feelings of disgust with themselves for standing by, feelings of suppressed rage at the occupiers for dragging their neighbours out of their homes in nightly raids known as razzias, to never return to their neighbourhoods.

I had chosen the subject of the extermination of gypsies in World War II for my grade seven social geography class assignment. I had found that an estimated million Roma had been sent to die in the camps as well.

The terrible irony in the situation was that Roma were historically thought to be part of the Aryans (from the Sanskrit word Arya, meaning honourable, noble) and were the founders of the Indo-European languages that including the Kurds, Albanians, Iranians, Armenians, Greeks, Latin peoples and Germans.

One group of Roma had moved east, invaded and settled in India. From there, they moved back and forth between their homelands in the Western parts and the Eastern boundaries. This history made them no less Aryan than the German group, which in the pre WWII area named themselves the Ubermensch—superman.

Hitler idolized and assigned a (hypothetical) racial purity to this German, that he called Aryan nation, although he himself was an Austrian. A Nazi theorist of that time, professor Hans Gunther, reconciled the tension between these two opposing, but historic facts with the explanation that the Gypsies were from the lower classes that had inbred with locals, so they were not a ‘pure’ Aryan race anymore.

However, in my research about racism in Europe, I found that extreme racism was not the exclusive territory of the Nazi-German political movement and its modern-day equivalent, a fundamentalist Christian group that calls itself the Aryan Nation.

The British also have been known to discriminate quite extensively in their treatment of people “from the colonies”. Many people from the British isle in my experience, especially in middle and upper classes, seem to feel that non-Caucasians are not as classy or valuable as Caucasian, no offence and apologies for the blanket statement to those that aren’t.

I have observed that the media last summer reported in the European Community the rise of renewed anti-Roma sentiments in France. The French government deported large groups Roma, identified as illegal immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, under the guise these residents had not met the French residency requirements. The official deportation ordinance was phrased as:

“Three hundred illegal camps or settlements must be evacuated within three months; Roma camps are a priority.”

This document, dated August 5, 2010 was leaked to the press, and it revealed, that the explanation for deportation was described as:

“Free movement in the European area does not mean free settlement. Each country is responsible for its own national citizens.”

I followed the continuing discussion last year and ongoing investigations are taking place in Europe to determine whether the ordinance and France’s actions are legal within the EU structures and the UN.

After the fist deportations started, the EU parliament passed a resolution calling on France to immediately suspend all expulsions of Roma, as it amounts to discrimination, very much like the Jewish expulsions. Free movement is guaranteed within the European Community as a principle for all  its residents. In the meantime, deportations continue.

Pride comes before the fall. I am beginning to understand what that means. Factors that are out of people’s control, such as economic disasters and stock market crashes, will exert its influence and destabilize the status quo. Governments  ignore at great peril the suffering of its citizens.

In France, street demonstrations are increasing. Anti-immigrant political groups gained a lot of strength in the last decade in France. It is frightening to me that the newcomers, immigrants, Roma, were targeted as the cause of the economic troubles, just like in pre war times in Germany, leading up to WWII. A new scapegoat has been found.

I see that again, oppression seemed a universal response across nations, even across continents. The disparities between rich and poor, between industrial and developing nations, unrestrained greed by deregulation of the banking world lead to fraud on large scale, with global economic downturn and increased desperation as a result.

I wrote the above last year, when it was impossible to anticipate how the oppression in the Middle East and North Africa by local rulers would explode into rebellions and uprising of the masses against their despotic and exploitative local rulers.

Food shortages, climate changes and failing crops, made the price of everyday food too high, people are not getting their daily basic needs met for nutrition, and are not participating in the growth of their nation. They compare their own fate to the few autocrats in power who accumulated vast wealth, and with the global access to electronic means of communications, the bomb ignited.

The fall of these regimes really is a post colonial, developmental stage, a coming of age, somewhat retarded in its start, due to the support of industrialized nations that have propped up the power hungry tyrants for the last forty years. They rose to power after decolonization, with US and European support with an eye towards access to the (oil) resources.

Those nations now have egg on their face; the one-eighty turnaround is a bit embarrassing, don’t you think? Lucky there was some improvement in the decision making process since the invasion of Iraq: the United Nations security council was the final, legitimate, decision maker, not the US, or the UK.

I see that all tribal nations–family clans that rule, because they can–will fall and will have to be followed by some form of government where a broader basis of citizens will be allowed to participate in the process of government.

For all those Canadians who complain about having to go to the election booth and vote for a new federal government, I would like to say: fall on your knees and be grateful you can. Millions do not have that luxury and are currently fighting at the cost of life for that privilege.


I would love to hear your comments or additions, objections; let me know by posting a comment, or email me.


About BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten

My name is Johanna van Zanten. I am a baby boomer, interested in writing and connecting with other writers and readers to engage in discussions and information sharing, to share a point of view about current global issues, writing, and publishing, diversity, immigration, travel, music, life, specific baby boomer issues, and dating/relationship issues. I have written a novella, ON THIN ICE about baby-boomer Adrienne and will link this blog with the information website for this novella. Right now, I am trying out the blog.
This entry was posted in Creative fiction, Diversity issues, EU, Immigration, Uncategorized, world issues, Writing life. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Privilege of Voting

  1. Lisa says:

    I would fall on my knees and be grateful if the government that was available could support the working poor. or the injured…after a car accident , the insuranc ei pay to ICBC for the past 20 years or more of accident free driving- has not been there for me.
    I can’t bend on my knees to kiss anyones feet, let alone clip my own toenails, or scrub behind the tiolet…Born in BC, raised a bit below middle class to hard working parenst, I feel that yesw, lucky me I can vote, I also feel…no one listens. What i want:
    support and breaks for the working poor.
    Death penalty for convivted and rightfully guilty rapists, killers.
    Wealthy to support the environment and the poor
    familes to help eachother
    community gardens
    more vacation time for social workers
    Its not that I am not grateful to be an employee of a provinical outfit, I just feel that as a single mother, working , it is ever impossible to get out of poverty. And I know, if I was in Egypt, i would be grateful for even a night of security. But i am not there.

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