The Pardon Letter and what it portrays – Waltenegus Dargie
When Tolstoy first saw Nikolai Nikolaevich Gay’s “Quod Est Veritas ?”, he was so shaken and agitated that for days after he could hardly speak of anything else. (more…)
When Tolstoy first saw Nikolai Nikolaevich Gay’s “Quod Est Veritas ?”, he was so shaken and agitated that for days after he could hardly speak of anything else. Previous European paintings on the same subject had tried to portrait Pontius Pilate as one who was impatient with Jesus’ Philosophy of Truth and this had been regarded as a commonly accepted interpretation of the encounter. Gay, on the other hand, expressed with his painting something entirely different – when Christ says he has come into the world as a witness to the truth, Pilate, with a laugh and a contemptuous gesture, throws the statement carelessly at Him:
“Truth, you say? But truth is relative!”
But what impressed Tolstoy very much in the painting was not the originality of the message as such, though that too was a great revelation indeed. What impressed him very strongly and occupied his mind for many days was Gay’s ability to capture in Pilate’s face the hidden internal turmoil of emotions. While he thinks that he is making a great statement before a great personality, he was involuntarily betraying helplessness that he had hitherto refused to admit to himself.
This is how I.B Feinermann expresses Tolstoy’s mind: “The fat, shaven neck of the Roman Governor, that half turned, well-fed, sensual body, that outstretched arm with its gesture of contempt are all splendid – it is alive. It breathes and impresses itself on the memory forever. And the face! … Along with all the dignity of that Roman figure, there goes … anxiety about him. …he is afraid he may be denounced at Rome… and this smallness of soul is wonderfully caught by Gay; notwithstanding the toga and his height, and his majestic pose, Pilate appears so petty before the worn-our sufferer who has undergone during the night, arrest, judgement, and insults.”
It was this very same impression I had when I read the pardon letter that was allegedly written by Birtukan to the Prime Minster of Ethiopia. Anyone who has followed the case for the past two years, no matter from what distance or corner or whether with or without sympathy to her cause, cannot believe that she wrote the pardon letter herself. It was drafted either by the Prime Minster himself or someone closer to him. I adopted a Freudian approach to analyse the character of this person.
Firstly, I consider the person to be of mean character. The letter was so commonplace, demeaning, and downright vulgar; it lacked subtlety and sense of reconciliation. This letter could have not been written by someone with a sense of honour or magnanimity, for honour and magnanimity are not virtues one produces as a result of the contriteness or humility of an adversary, but what one freely gives according to his own dignity.
Secondly, I consider the person to have no regard to the recipient of the letter. Obviously, when a pardon letter is written, accepted and publicly made known, there are intended recipients. I believe these are the Ethiopian People. Now when such a message is carefully crafted, one should, in fact, must, have made one of the following assumptions: (1) since the recipients do not understand or comprehend the real issue, by writing a false and demeaning letter, I can demonstrate that I was in the right all this time; (2) I don’t know for certain the comprehension capability of my recipients; they may or may not know the real issues; but I can’t afford to take a risk; or, (3) I know very well that no one will believe me whatever I say; I will write a false letter anyway.
All of these assumptions do not favourably speak for a person who has been in power for more than seventeen years. If the people are so ignorant and unintelligent or unwilling to comprehend what takes place around them regardless of the abundance of evidence, then it is disturbing! Indeed that means their imagination and commonsense have systematically and deliberately been blinded; or the government has not invested on quality education and the dissemination of information to make them self sufficient in matters of intelligent decision making. If the person was doubtful of how the message would be received, then it means he did not really know the recipient; that there is a big chasm between his deceiving imagination and the mind of the recipients (for example, to examine how the message is being received by Ethiopians around the world, it suffices to consider the outpouring of compassionate comments in almost all available Ethiopian websites; it is very educational). The third assumption does not need further explanation.
Third, I consider the person irredeemably stubborn. Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean was a victim of a wrong system; perpetual persecution and miscarriage of justice turned him into a vicious criminal and made him incapable of love. One day he met Bishop Myriel, who not only showed him great kindness but also defended him from his timeless enemy, even when he was apparently wrong. After the meeting, Valjean went his way, but he could not be able to refuse the light he had been shown. Of course, he cannot be like the Bishop, but he cannot be like his old self either.
When the Prime Minster came to power, I was teaching Electricity at Teppi High Scholl and I was twenty-three years old. Those were uncertain times. There was dissatisfaction with the departed regime and fear with the new one. Great and sudden changes were taking place in the country and the generation was left on its own to figure out how to reconcile with them. Amazingly, no word of comfort, compassion, reassurance, and hope came from the Throne. On the contrary. It will be a waste of time to speak about the innumerable killings and beatings and jailing…which have been carried out unceasingly and relentlessly.
On the other hand, we are told that the Prime Minster has managed to establish friendship with British and American diplomats as well as some known academicians abroad. I have heard that he has been dining with Ambassador Donald Yamamoto once every week, until the end of the term of the latter. Moreover, it is common knowledge that he has obtained two Degrees from universities in which ideas are cherished. Is it then possible to remain unchanged in character despite closely observing how these people think and feel? Or was the friendship utterly superficial and inconsequential? Can it really be possible to meet great people, converse and crack a jock with them and then admit the old self once they are gone? Or are all these friends deceptive, masquerading their true self while pretending to have no character? More troubling yet, can one never be able to really know and imitate those who walk about with the suit of Diplomacy and Consultancy?