Happy 4th of July and the miracle of democracy
June 24, 2023
In the late '50s, the Fourth of July in my hometown in Minnesota was a big deal. The town's businesses closed, and we had a Main Street parade where every child seemed to be dressed in red, white and blue. We each got a silver dollar for participating.
There were American flags, hot dogs, Kool-Aid, apple pies and lots of beer. It was a time when men of the town had been soldiers in WWII. They would gather to speak about their experiences. Being in a Finnish community, talk would inevitably lead from WWII to the 1939 Finnish/Russian Winter War. In WWII the Allies, population 690 million, fought against the Axis, population 259 million. The Finns, at 3.7 million population, had an unprovoked war declared on them by the Soviet Union with 171 million population. Our Finnish American GIs were proud of having served in a just war and they were equally proud of their relatives who had bravely fought in the Winter War. In both cases democracies prevailed but at a very high cost. Celebrating our democracy every 4th of July is a way to recommit to the miracle of our United States of America democracy and to encourage democracies around the world.
After WWII Russia, at times, seemed to try to join the nations of the world. The year 1985 was the time of Gorbachev's glasnost. Gorbachev wanted the people of Russia to experience some freedom and capitalism. It was the time when Reagan asked Gorbachev to tear down the wall. The era of Glasnost, and the power struggle that resulted, caused many territories of Russia to become independent of the USSR. When Yeltsin took power, he was ill-suited for the task and his lackey, Putin, a staunch Stalin fan, took over to mold Russia into the mafia-state that is the reality of Russia today. Putin is trying to regain the territories of the old USSR again with brute force. The latest is against the democracy of Ukraine.
I believe the history of brutal serfdom in Russia and how serfs were treated and confined to the land explains the complacency of the Russian people. In contrast the people in Russia's neighbor, Finland, were never tied to the land. Even though Russia ruled over the Duchy of Finland, Russia never tamed it. Finns had independence of thought and the ability to roam their country without restraint and the first democratic election in Finland was in 1907.
On the other side, Russians didn't understand freedom of thought and movement was possible. Their thoughts were for safety, not freedom. In Russia speaking out leads to personal threats and peril for their families. Assassinations by poison, car accidents and falling out of windows are common events. Dissent is quashed. Putin and his oligarchs have stolen their country's resources which resulted in their ruined and inept military readiness. Putin's answer is to impress more men into the military and throw these untrained and ill-equipped recruits into slaughter in Ukraine without the resources or strategy. Ukraine, a democracy, is showing the same sisu the Finns of 1939 showed. Ukrainians are employing some of the same tactics used by the Finns in the Winter War to good effect. The world cannot let a mafia style rogue nation win. Democracy must prevail.
This year the 4th of July is a time to reflect on what it means to be in the oldest democracy in the world at 245 years. Most democracies have not lasted over 200 years but have fallen apart due to economic issues and resulted in dictatorships. We must continue to keep our eyes on what is important in a democracy-one person, one vote and working together. Keeping our democracy sound for our children and grandchildren is not an easy task. We must renew our efforts to protect our democracy. July 4th is a very good time to reflect on what we as individuals can do. After all, democracy is a miracle, but it is fragile.