For a nation not to disappear, it must be proud of itself.
Belarusian opposition leader and political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich has sent an article from prison. Charter97.org publishes the full text.
The moral evolution of mankind, civilizations and states is guided by selfless altruistic deeds of individuals who find themselves in a situation of moral choice. These Deeds (that's how we are going to refer to them further on) have created the world's religions, nations, ideologies. They are at the heart of art. In fact, the Deeds are the first and original works of art. Let us consider their content, motives, types, mechanism of influence and role.
1. The Essence and Prerequisites of the Deed.
A Deed is a selfless, altruistic and voluntary act of a human being who finds himself in a situation of moral choice between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. The Deed is aimed at affirming certain idealistic values and defending a certain human community.
The presence of the following qualities of the performer is a prerequisite of the Deed:
a strong sense of self-worth and dignity;
moral standards and worldview beliefs;
a sense of responsibility for a particular human community;
a strong will.
2. Motives for the Deed.
The impetus for the Deed is a threat to the individual's ideals and the rights or existence of the human community for which he or she feels responsible. If such a threat offends a person's moral sense, if the inaction becomes unacceptable to his honour and dignity, if the person has sufficient willpower, he chooses to perform a Deed.
3. Types of Deeds.
Deeds are distinguished by:
the degree of sacrifice of their performers - welfare, freedom, life;
the degree of preparedness - from spontaneous ("driven by adrenaline") to the one that has been prepared for a long time;
duration - from momentary to long term (for example, the indomitability of a prisoner);
the scale of the impact - from local to global.
4. The Stages of Impact of the Deed on Society.
1) The Deed evokes an emotional response from like-minded people. The example of the Deed encourages those who have previously hesitated to make moral choices to follow it. A "chain reaction" of such deeds begins.
2) To people, everything is worth as much as you are willing to pay for it. If someone sacrifices themselves for their beliefs, these are very important and true beliefs. It's not for nothing that Schiller said, "The truth is where there's blood flowing underneath it".
According to this logic, selfless and altruistic deeds increase the credibility of the beliefs and aims of their performers amongst previously indifferent people. The number of supporters of those beliefs and goals grows.
3) The values of the Deed, if they do not contradict the basic needs of the majority, become the recognised moral ideal of the community for which the Deed was performed.
5. Passive Support of the Deed.
The situations of moral choice that caused the Deed may not exist at all for the passive majority of the community as long as their personal material interests are not affected. If the Deed is repeated by different people when it becomes known to the majority and its goals coincide with their interests, the majority begins to support the goals of the Deed passively.
6. Evasion of the Deed.
Often active members of society, even if they share the aims of the Deed, cannot become outspoken supporters of it for fear of the negative consequences for themselves. They usually use the following evasion strategies to maintain their self-esteem:
1) Ignoring the Deed - "I don't care right now".
2) Discrediting the performer of the Deed - "Everything has been faked", "They are agents of the authorities", "They work for money for external forces", "Both are the same", "The current ones have already stolen enough, and the new ones will start stealing again".
3) Discrediting the Deed - "It does nothing", "It only swaps people", "It causes repression", "It can be used by external enemy forces", etc.
4) Searching for objective reasons - "Who will feed my children", "Without me my business will die", etc.
Usually the first ones who discredit the Deed and its performers directly or indirectly are the opponents of its values and goals.
7. The Deed and Art.
Heroes of real or imaginary Deeds are at the center of prominent works of art. I think that the first works of art - the drawings on the walls of caves or the first songs - were devoted to the Deeds of heroes who saved their fellow countrymen from a fearsome predator or, thanks to a large animal caught in a dangerous hunt, from starvation.
In essence, the Deed itself is a work of art - it has its own plot, protagonist and dramaturgy. But the dramatic impact of the Deed is greater than that of a work of art on a similar theme. And its performer, unlike the character actor in a work of art, really possesses the qualities necessary for the Deed, rather than imitate them. The original is always better than the copy.
8. The Deed and Religion.
Each of the world's religions began with the Deed of its founder. It is Abraham's attempt to sacrifice his beloved son, the Buddha's refusal of a rich and secure life, the fatal expulsion of the prophet Mohammed from Medina, Jesus Christ's conscious choice of martyrdom on the cross. A choice repeated many times by his followers, whose public martyrdom in the Roman arena elevated Christianity above the religions of the day. It was Christianity that shaped the moral standards of modern civilisation.
Without the Deed of Christ, the world would not be the same. I don't think it would be better.
9. The Deed and the Nation.
The number of nations formed in the world is ten times less than the number of human communities with their own distinctive language and territory of settlement. The creation and sustainable existence of a nation requires its ideology, which is based on ancient national history and Deeds for the sake of the nation in that history. National feeling is based on our hereditary instincts to belong to a clan or tribe. But these instincts can lead a person to a different nation, more authoritative and successful than his native one.
For a nation not to disappear, it must be proud of itself. It must always have its heroes, its Deeds for its own sake.
After last year, I am less worried about the future of the Belarusian nation.
10. The Deed and the Ideology.
The success of ideologies begins with the Deeds of their adherents. This also applies to the ideologies of capitalism and communism, which in their initial extreme forms may have been based on strong human instincts of greed (capitalism) or envy (communism). And also on the material interests of the influential or other social strata. However, in order to consolidate supporters, they still needed the Deeds of idealists at the start to defend the "sacred right of property" and freedom of economic activity, or for the sake of justice and "equality of all human beings".
The idea of freedom cannot be equally based on human instincts or the interests of powerful or mass social strata. Its success therefore depends more on the Deeds of those who need freedom like air. Those who "water the tree of freedom".
I hope that this text will help the reader to understand better the meaning of Deeds and the motives of those who commit them. And perhaps encourage the performers of Deeds to make statements about it. Such statements will help Belarusians and the whole world to understand better the essence of the processes taking place in our country and in us.
I almost did not use examples from our time. Yet the readers can fill this gap better than I.
Mikalai Statkevich, Homel, pre-trial detention facility no. 3, December 3-7, 2021.