June 15, 2005

NOT SO DIFFERENT

NOT SO DIFFERENT Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike CrapoFrequently we define ourselves in terms of what makes us unique as individuals or a group: men/ women, liberal/conservative, rural/urban, Idahoan, American. In a world of dichotomies, itâ??s easy to lose sight of what unifies us. The terror attacks on New York and Washington and subsequent events call to mind what unites us as a human raceâ??the natural inclination of the human spirit to reach for freedom.Since September 11, discussions about freedom and the human spirit permeate public and private conversations. We were presented with the possibility of losing something which we tended to take for granted. Imploding towers of dust and fire were a terrifying and horrific reminder that there are places in this world where the human spirit is devalued, debased and destroyedâ??freedom, simply a heart-breaking illusion in a desert of tyranny. My recent visits to Latvia, Ukraine, Russia, Jordan and Iraq clarified my thoughts on this subject. I could define the people I met by their differences from meâ??language, nationality or political party. Yet, the similarities were far more compellingâ??people motivated by a desire for freedom and dignity. Latvia is similar to Idaho but smaller in size; one-third is covered in pine forests and it has many lakes. Latviaâ??s past century has been stormy, from independent nation to annexation by the Soviet Union, deportations, social and ethnic reorganizations by the Soviets, and finally independence again in 1991. Latviaâ??s outspoken President Vaira Vike-Freiberga spent many years in Canada, but returned when Latvia regained its independence. In a country still bearing the scars of divided alliances, she talked confidently and enthusiastically about leading Latvia in economic and political reforms in an emerging free-market economy. President Vike-Freiberga and her colleagues represent an energetic and vibrant movement for freedom in the Baltics. Ukraine experienced a similar history to Latvia, also re-achieving independence in 1991. Sitting across the table from Victor Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko who overcame party differences to unite against a pro-Russian government, I was awed by their bravery and strength of belief in freedom and democracy. They courageously led a revolution late last year; bloodless, but one that could have taken a fatal turn (pro-Russian military forces had orders to shoot them). Old habits die hard and in the midst of reform, shadows of former policies linger. I witnessed trepidation and resignation on the faces of young Russians as they searched for passports to show a police officer as they left Red Square. Russians must carry proof of their citizenship with them at all times.From Baltic forests to Middle Eastern deserts, the human spirit turns toward freedom. Remarkable leaders such as Oxford and Georgetown-educated King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein II of Jordan risk their lives to perform their duties. A former Special Forces officer, he spoke eloquently and honestly about peace and democratic reforms. In this ancient part of the world, I found a clear recognition of individual rights and a vision for a strong and free future for the Middle East.My visit to Iraq reinforced my belief that our actions were justified. The Idaho Marines I met were proud of their mission and accomplishments. One expressed dismay that the American media was presenting only part of the picture of the situation in Iraq. We also met with a few members of the Iraqi parliament and encountered evidence of the animated debate and wrangling that indicates a democracy in action. As the human spirit reaches for freedom in the face of danger and death, we must support these friends as they strive for dignity and opportunity. WORD COUNT: 594