Blog Archive

"Fear has nearly always been more powerful than the desire for freedom: humans are not born free. However, the Emperor Maurice of Byzantium (582-602) discovered an exception. He was amazed by three Slavs he captured, who carried no arms. All they had with them were guitars or zithers, and they wandered around singing the joys of liberty, of being in the open fields and the fresh breezes. They told him, 'it is normal for people who are strangers to war to devote themselves with fervour to music.' Their songs were about free will, and they were known as the free will people. In 1700 there were still such people, when Peter the Great decreed that there should be no more of them: everyone must be part of a legal estate, with fixed duties. But 150 years later Tara Sevcenko, a liberated Ukrainian serf, was singing poems in the same tradition, lamenting that 'liberty has been put to sleep by the drunken Tsar', insisting that hope could be found in nature:
    Listen to what the sea says, Ask the black mountains.
There was slavery, first of all, because those who wished to be left alone could not keep out of the way of those who enjoyed violence. The violent have been victorious for most of history because they kindled the fear with which everyone is born.

The conclusion I draw from the history of slavery is that freedom is not just a matter of rights, to be enshrined in law. The right to express yourself still leaves you with the need to decide what to say, to find someone to listen, and to make your words sound beautiful; these are skills which need to be acquired.
Just as important have been encounters with others, with people or with places, which have provided the inspiration and courage to escape from dull routines. There has been a waste of an opportunity every time a meeting has taken place and nothing has happened... In most meetings, pride or caution still forbids one to say what one feels most deeply. The noise of the world is made out of silences."

An Intimate History of Humanity
Theodore Zeldin