transportation, travel

One more reason to avoid air travel… the pen is mightier than the sword.

A couple of days ago, I read about how  “Europe’s last dictator”, Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, ordered the grounding of a Ryanair aircraft carrying 26 year old Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. The plane, which had been in Belarusian airspace, but was about to land at its original destination of Vilnius, Lithuania, was actually closer to Vilnius than Minsk, but because it was in Belarusian airspace, the pilots were forced to divert.

Supposedly, there had been a bomb aboard the plane, which had originated in Athens, Greece. That was the excuse given as the aircraft was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and forced to make a sudden U-turn, heading back to Minsk. But no bomb was ever found on the airplane. Aleksandr Lukashenko, a brutal strongman who has been in power in Belarus since 1994, simply wanted to arrest Roman Protasevich. Protasevich, who is Belarusian, but has been living in Lithuania in exile since 2019, is accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder. As the airplane was about to land in Minsk, Protasevich told fellow passengers that the death penalty faces him. Or, he could spent over twelve years in prison. In Belarus, Protasevich is considered a terrorist, and has been put on a terrorist list maintained by the country’s security service, which is still called the K.G.B.

I have never been to Belarus. I do know someone who went there, back when I was in the Peace Corps in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet country. I have always been fascinated by the former Soviet Union, since I grew up at a time when Americans were taught that the Soviets– especially the Russians– were people to be feared and hated. Having spent time in the former Soviet Union, I know that there are many good people there. Still, there are obviously problems with leaders who are corrupt and want to remain in power indefinitely… and perhaps even reclaim territories that had declared independence in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart.

The whole COVID-19 pandemic and all of the hassles surrounding air travel nowadays has already made me leery of traveling by air. I know I’ll eventually have to at some point, but for now, I’m definitely wanting to avoid it. After reading about this situation, I’m even less inclined to fly. There were 170 people on that flight, all of whom were completely innocent. They were forced to be a part of Lukashenko’s audacious nabbing of Protasevich. I’m sure many of them were terrified during that situation… or at least annoyed by the forced delay.

Airlines, noting that this incident might be bad for public relations and their bottom lines, are taking action against this attack. Both Greece and Lithuania are part of the European Union. Belarus is not. And the powers that be do not take kindly to aircrafts being “hijacked” by a wannabe dictator. European leaders are taking action by imposing sanctions against Belarusian authorities “violent repression and intimidation of peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists.” Airlines, for their part, are now reassessing traveling over Belarusian airspace or flying into or out of the country. That will have an effect on the country’s economy.

I realize that an event like this is pretty unusual. I doubt it will ever happen to me on a flight… although you never know what will happen, these days. I think I would rather stick to driving. Although it’s slower and statistically less safe than flying is, at least I have some control over where I might be forced to go.

I still think I would be interested in seeing Belarus someday, although I kind of doubt I’ll ever be able to. I think Russia is interesting, too, but I don’t like to reward countries with tourism dollars if they have policies that are inconvenient or unwelcoming. I doubt they miss my dollars, anyway. Besides, there are so many places to see where I can drive and they’re happy to see me and my money.

Bill just told me that he might be able to get his second Moderna shot a day early. In Wiesbaden, there’s going to be a walk in clinic for second vaccines. He’s due to get his on Thursday, but if he can do it a day earlier, that’s all the more chance that any side effects he might suffer will be over by the weekend. Meanwhile, I keep waiting for June 9th. Last night, I was looking at our favorite Stuttgart hotel. Maybe if we manage to get down there to see the dentist, I’ll go whole hog and book the suite. Sure, it’s expensive and decadent, but we’ve been locked down for ages… and since we haven’t been spending money on travel or restaurants, there’s a lot in the till. Of course, it might be better to sock it away for our old age… but I was reminded last week that old age is not guaranteed for anyone.

Anyway… I wish Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega well. I’m sure they must be terrified. As a fellow blogger who sometimes pisses people off, I can understand the fear. But the world needs people who aren’t afraid to write the truth… or even their truths. Writers are powerful people. That’s why there’s that old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” On a much smaller scale, I’ve been pressured not to share things on my space… I know how that felt for me.

Nothing I have ever written was dangerous to the point at which I could wind up in prison or be killed, but there have been people who have not liked it when I’ve written my opinions. However, I have learned that there’s great value in sharing things, even if people do get pissed off… especially when the truth is being shared. I have never read anything Roman Protasevich has written, but his situation is chilling for anyone who expresses themselves. And we can’t abide leaders doing things like hijacking planes from other countries, simply because they want to silence someone who is aboard.

I see that now, Protasevich has appeared in a video, stating that he has been treated “fairly” by Belarusian authorities. I can’t help but wonder if that statement was coerced, especially given the reputation of Belarus’s leader, and the unorthodox and illegal way they forced a commercial airplane to land so they could detain Protasevich. My guess is that he was to either make that positive statement about Belarus, or face dire consequences. Indeed, Protasevich’s father, Dmitry, has been stripped of his military rank. He and his wife, who is also Roman’s mother, left Belarus as of last August. They feared being pursued and potentially held hostage due to their son’s activities. Dmitry Protasevich describes Aleksandr Lukashenko as a “vengeful” person who does not want his activities broadcast on the world stage. Realizing that the government would “stop at nothing” to silence their son, Roman’s parents fled their homeland. But they still regard him as a hero.

Anyway… while I, too, admire Roman Protasevich for fighting the power, I don’t want to deal with being detained. Writing is brave, and I try to be brave… but I don’t like the idea of being hijacked by a wannabe dictator. So I’m going to stick to the E.U. for now… and drive.

Mood music for this post.
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book reviews

Repost: Red Horizons, a book about the fall of the Ceausescus…

This as/is book review of Red Horizons was first written for Epinions.com on October 3, 2010. It was reposted on my original blog on June 16, 2014. It goes well with Ken Alibek’s book, Biohazard, which I also reposted today.

Comments from 2014

I’m reposting this review of Ion Mihai Pacepa’s Red Horizons because I found it as interesting as I did Ken Alibek’s Biohazard.  Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were the extremely corrupt leaders of Romania until they were publicly executed on Christmas Day in 1989.  Of course, in Romania, it might not have been Christmas.  Maybe they celebrate on a different day…  I might be persuaded to look it up if I weren’t feeling so icky today.  Anyway, if you like reading about kooky, paranoid, and tyrannical leaders, you might find General Pacepa’s book as much of a page turner as I did.  I love reading about former Communist nations.

Review from 2010

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books about totalitarian regimes. A few months ago, I was on a North Korea kick, but soon found my attention turning to Europe. Somehow, I was alerted to Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa’s fascinating 1987 book, Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescus’ Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption. I ordered the 1990 reprint of this book in July and just now got around to reading it. Now that I’m finished with it, I’m left feeling somewhat stunned. It’s not so much that I’m surprised by the level of corruption and crimes committed by the Ceausescus. It’s more that General Pacepa has provided such a detailed, fascinating, and ultimately revealing image of the dictator and his wife and the tragedies they committed against their country and its people.

Who is Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa?

Ion Mihai Pacepa was born October 28, 1928 in Bucharest, Romania. Currently 81 years old, his father once worked in General Motors’ Bucharest factory and, through his work, developed a great love for America. According to Red Horizons, Pacepa grew up instilled with respect for the United States, yet he ended up becoming one of the highest ranking members of the Securitate, the secret service of Communist era Romania. At the time of his defection to the United States on July 28, 1978, Pacepa was a two-star Romanian general who held both the rank of advisor to former President Nicolae Ceausescu, acting chief of Romania’s foreign intelligence service, and state secretary of Romania’s Ministry of the Interior.

What qualifies Pacepa to write this expose of Communist era Romania?

Because Pacepa held so many roles in Ceausescu’s regime, he was in a rare position to observe the president and his wife, Elena. And in his book, Red Horizons, Pacepa doesn’t hold back. In captivating prose, Pacepa vividly describes what it was like to be Nicolae Ceausescu’s right hand man. He also offers an unflattering look at Elena Ceausescu, a selfish, contemptible, disdainful woman who fancied herself a scientist, but never quite delivered the goods to be a legitimate scholar.

What’s in the book…

With the literary grace of a novelist, Pacepa writes a lot about the Ceausescus’ oppressive leadership style, but he also reveals a lot about their limitations as people. The mighty former president, who demanded absolute loyalty from his people and had absolutely no qualms about executing anyone who dared to speak out about him (even if they were living abroad), was an unusually short man who stuttered whenever he got upset or nervous. He was so crippled with paranoia that whenever he traveled, he brought an entourage of staff and trunks of linens, towels, dishes, and food with him. He never ate any food that wasn’t prepared and seved by his own trusted personal chef and waiter.  Even when he stayed at fancy hotels in Washington, DC or New York, Ceausescu never relied on the services of hotel employees.  It was too risky.

Ceausescu’s clothes were made by a special Romanian staff. He wore a set of clothes exactly once, then had the whole set burned.  Every year, he wore and then destroyed 365 sets of clothes and shoes.   Elena occasionally cheated with the clothing rule; occasionally, she found clothes in Paris or London that she liked and would wear repeatedly.  These measures were taken in an effort to avoid being poisoned by anyone who would, quite understandably, want to see him dead.

Pacepa writes about how much the Ceausescus especially hated Jews and Hungarians and worked especially hard to see that they were especially oppressed in Romanian society.  His hatred for Jews extended to every Jew, according to Pacepa, who writes an almost comical account of a meeting Ceausescu had in New York City with former Mayor Ed Koch.  I won’t spoil the story by revealing it in this review; suffice it to say that by Pacepa’s account, if hard feelings could kill, Koch would have been a dead man.  In fact, any Romanian who threatened or angered Ceausescu was liable to end up the victim of an “unfortunate accident” or a severe beating, even if they no longer lived in Romania.  By Pacepa’s account in Red Horizons, it was not at all hard to make Ceausescu angry.

While the Romanian people suffered long lines for basic necessities, had one black and white television for every fifty houses, and were at one time legally required to have at least four children, the Ceausescus were demanding Rolls Royces, expensive jewelry, private jets and yachts, and even their own private hospital.  The Ceausescus were relentless in their attempts to suppress any dissent whatsoever within Romania.  At one point, typewriters were outlawed and anyone who had a typewriter had to register it.  Every citizen, even children, had to submit handwriting samples to the secret police.  And forget about privacy.  While the Ceausescus shamelessly bugged the homes of private citizens, even going so far as to listen in on one hapless couple’s late morning lovemaking session, Nicolae Ceausescu was famously paranoid about his own homes and offices being bugged and zealously guarded his privacy. The Ceausescus demanded accountability from every citizen, yet until they were tried for their crimes against Romania, refused to ever be held accountable themselves.

Pacepa’s account of all of this is written in shades of several different emotions.  He alternately writes with airs of disbelief, anger, sarcasm, derision, and even humor.  I don’t know if General Pacepa had any help from a ghostwriter. None are credited in my edition of this book. He writes as though he spent his whole life in America, with astonishing fluency. And while it’s impossible to know how much influence, if any at all, the Central Intelligence Agency had in the making of this book, I think this book will be very revealing to the average American reader, many of whom likely know next to nothing about the Ceausescus.

Pacepa includes a brief photo section. Pictures are in black and white and a few are a bit grainy. They’re still fascinating to look at. In the 1990 edition, there’s also a new preface as well as a transcript of the closed court hearings of the Ceausescus’ trial.

One possible drawback…

Although Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were executed on December 25, 1989, this book doesn’t really have much information about that event. In fact, since Pacepa defected in 1978, there’s not much information about the society beyond that time. From what I understand, the 1980s are when things really went south in Romanian society. Those who want to know about that portion of Romanian history will need to consult a different source.

On the other hand, the day after the Ceausescus were executed, Truth, the Romanian daily newspaper, began printing excerpts from Red Horizons for all Romanians to read. I can only imagine how the Romanian people must have felt to have this sudden truth illuminated for them after so many years of oppression.  This is one book in which the truth may well be stranger and scarier than fiction.

Overall

I found Red Horizons enormously interesting reading. After finishing the book this morning, I found myself wanting to learn more about this particular chapter in history and read more of Pacepa’s writing. Fortunately, over the years, he has contributed a number of articles to The Wall Street JournalNational Review Online, and The Washington Times.

The very last speech.

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