Politics and Social Justice Archive

Coalition Government

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Four days in London after the recent election of David Cameron, the Conservative, and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat, and every taxi driver in London was eager to talk about it.

What was astonishing was not only that they knew every nook and cranny of the city (taxi drivers train for four years before they take a rigorous exam) but they knew every detail of the political landscape.

"What did you think of Gordon Brown?", the recently defeated Labor Prime Minister, was my most frequent question. They were all in agreement. One driver put it this way: "He's intelligent, thoughtful, and a total disaster."

Another was bit more subtle. "He's a radio man." "What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"Never should have gotten in front of a TV," he exclaimed. "We're getting too much like the Americans," he complained.

There was little doubt that the televised debates had influenced the election outcome. "No one knew who Clegg was before."

As for the coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, several were pleased with the idea of having two very different parties working together. It's almost as dramatic as the coalition between Democrats and Republicans in the US Clinton got in bed together. I give it 18 months.

What do you think of Obama?" I ventured.

"We like him over here. Bush alienated the American people all over the world. Obama has reversed that."

Naturally, I agreed.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

Verdi’s Requiem

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Sixty-six years ago, Verdi’s Requiem was performed in the Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp outside of Prague, Czechoslovakia. On May 1, it was performed by the Vermont Symphony orchestra and chorus, directed by Robert De Cormier at the Flynn theatre in Burlington, Vermont.

Two Theresienstadt survivors spoke before the concert. One had sung in the chorus, the other had been in the audience, along with members of the visiting Red Cross and the Gestapo elite, including the architect of the Holocaust, Adolph Eichman.

“When you are starving, the only thing that remains is what goes on in your head,” Frederick Terna explained.

“We became part of the Requiem, it was life giving,” said Marianka Zadilow May. Theresienstadt was a Potemkin village, designed to give the Red Cross and the world the impression that Jews were being well treated. A propaganda film was made, entitled “We have given the Jews the gift of this city.”

Like all propaganda, some of it was true. This camp was unique in that it permitted the prisoners—largely comprised of artists, writers, composers and musicians, the freedom of artistic expression, after they worked twelve hours a day, and experienced starvation. What was not evident at the performance in Theresienstadt was that the chorus members had to continually be replaced as they were shipped off to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Almost all—including extraordinarily talented composers—were exterminated in the last transport, a few months before liberation.

The irony that this powerful religious work was written by Verdi, an agnostic, as a Catholic mass, performed by Jews, in a Nazi concentration camp was not lost. The Nazi’s thought, one of the survivors said,” These dumb Jews, they do not know they are singing their own requiem.” The Jews, thought, “We were singing their requiem, and they did not know it.”

When prisoners sang, “When the wicked have been confounded, doomed to the devouring flames,” they must have felt that justice would one day triumph.

And it did. The redemptive power of music has rarely been portrayed with such terror and beauty as with the performance of Verdi’s Requiem, both then and now. As I sat transfixed in the audience, my mind skipped back and forth from Theresienstadt to the Flynn theatre. Sixty six years ago, the chorus was hungry, sick and dressed in rags. This night they were healthy and strong. Sixty six years ago, there was only a rickety piano. Today, the Vermont Symphony was in full splendor. Then, the singers and the audience were momentarily transformed by the performance, forgetting their fate. Now, the singers, the orchestra and the audience were transformed once again by the music. As the pictures in my mind kept going back and forth, I imagined my Aunt and Uncle Augusta and Sigmund, listening, before they died at Theresienstadt. The final lines sung by a splendid soprano brought me back: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Listen to this commentary on VPR.net.