The Gift of Normality

By Jay Nordlinger

Today I conclude my series on Belarus. (For this third and final part, go here.) I have found that, in talking with Belarusian democrats and dissidents, they want perhaps one thing above all: normality. It is such a high goal, often seeming far-off. I have found this with other democrats and dissidents too: in Cuba, China, Syria, and elsewhere. They are aware that the life they are leading, or forced to lead, is not normal. They just want normality.

In my piece today, I quote Stanislau Shushkevich, the first president of the post-Soviet Belarus, and a great democratic hero. (He was president from 1991 to 1994. Lech Walesa told me that Shushkevich should have won the Nobel peace prize.) A few months ago, he said, "When I am asked how my life is, I always answer: normal, in the conditions of our abnormality." He hailed the stated national aspiration of one of the presidential candidates, his fellow democrat Andrei Sannikov: "a normal Belarus!" Shushkevich also said, "We are now living in an abnormal country, and we should do everything possible to start living well."

A few more words from him: "Look in what abnormality we are living. In a lie, amorality, ostentation, primitiveness. Don't you think it's about time to start living as human beings?"

Not long ago, I read the Nobel lecture of David Trimble, one of the men who forged the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. (His lecture is one of the smartest, wittiest, nimblest, and best in Nobel history: here.) He said, "What we democratic politicians want in Northern Ireland is not some utopian society but a normal society."

Here in the U.S., we have our problems - political problems. But they are all normal. Normality: It can be a higher goal, and a higher condition, than one might think.


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