Spirit Quest on justice

Spirit Quest

Those in the free world must be heard on the side of justice

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

The audience was on its feet applauding and cheering wildly as the curtain came down on the last act of Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio. It is without a doubt my favourite opera not only for the beautiful music but because in it the well known German composer expresses  his  great passion for freedom for the oppressed.

The beautiful baroque opera house in my home town where I first saw Fidelio performed managed to survive the war intact while all around it buildings lay in ruins.

It was 1937. I was only eight and my parents, who were ardent human rights activists as well as opera buffs, took me to see this opera. Even at that age I was well aware of the threat that hovered on the other side of the border not far from home. Concentration Camp or KZ, the German acronym, was not strange for me.

The setting of the opera is a political prison. Among the prisoners is Floristan an activist who was held in the deepest part of the dungeon awaiting execution. His brave wife Fidelio disguised as a man managed to get a job in the prison which gave her access to her husband. Having concealed a pistol, she is able to hold off the executioner until the prison is liberated from outside and all the inmates are set free.

Many of those in attendance at the performance recognized the hope held out by this musical masterpiece. Some would also become familiar with Hitler’s concentration camps when he took over Czechoslovakia in 1939. My father would have been one of them had he not escaped to Britain. It would take until 1945 when the country was liberated and the prisoners set free. Unfortunately, the end of the war was not the end of dictatorships and oppression in many other parts of the world.

On May 10 thousands of Guatemalans cheered as the curtain came down on another drama, the trial of Rios Montt, a former dictator of that country. The judge found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. History was made on that day inasmuch as this was the first time that a former head of state had been found guilty of those horrendous crimes in his own country.

His troops had massacred 250,000 indigenous people and burnt down their villages. He had accused them of helping left wing rebels. Amnesty International hailed it as the trial of the decade. Unfortunately many Americans, including President Ronald Reagan, sided with the dictator calling Montt “a man of personal integrity”. Later President  Bill Clinton apologized to the people for American support of the dictator.

Rios Montt believed himself to be a Christian and was highly regarded by the likes of Pat Robertson and other super evangelicals in the United States. Montt believed that a Christian should “carry a Bible in one hand and a machine gun in the other.” How far that is from the image of the humble teacher and healer of Nazareth who himself experienced imprisonment, torture and death, who counselled his followers to put away the sword!

Montt, 86 years of age, will not see freedom again much as he had consigned his enemies to prison and death.

As I read the news reports I could not help but recall Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. It carries a message of hope and freedom that is much needed in our world where dictatorships and injustice still flourish in many countries. We can only hope that despots are terminal and that liberation is on the way. But it doesn’t happen automatically, it requires the support of freedom loving people everywhere to bring it about.

War should be avoided at all costs, but there are many examples where non military intervention such as trade boycotts and financial restriction, cultural and sports  embargoes brought changes in hardline regimes such as South Africa where they finally made an end to years of apartheid.

One now wonders whether the owners of the clothing factories in Bangladesh where workers toil under horrendous conditions and for a pittiful wage, where they are virtual prisoners in their places of employment, can be made to change. Can those very wealthy businessmen be persuaded to liberalize their ways if threatened by the retailers from  abroad? It all depends on how united the opposition can be. Or are we still too interested in cheap T shirts to care about the working conditions of sweat labourers.

Item:  NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The whole world is outraged over the deadly Bangladesh building collapse, but US companies are dragging their feet when it comes to changing safety protocols.

There are many the world over who are imprisoned not only in so called jails but in systems of poverty and hardship that await a liberator. The opera Fidelio carries a powerful message to our time. Those in the “free world” need to heed it and strive to be on the side of justice, to take on the role of a Fidelio, as the Bible says, “to liberate the captives... to set free the oppressed.”  (Luke 4: 8)