There is an article in today’s New York Times covering the ancient Lenten tradition of “pelting one’s neighbors with oranges” found in Ivrea, Italy.
The carnival is a bizarre and messy affair and, like most everything in Italy, has a long story behind it. One version has it that feudal lords gave pots of beans to the poor, who began throwing the beans back into the streets out of disrespect for such meager charity.
But a far more interesting account tells of a population incited to rebellion by the violent act of a woman who, as the yarn goes, was only protecting her honor. That woman was Violetta, a young commoner who presented the head of the local tyrant â€” Marquis Raineri de Biandrate â€” to her fellow citizens from the castle balcony after he tried to steal her virginity on the eve of her wedding.
This practice of noblemen claiming a right to enjoy a betrothed woman before her husband did was certainly not exclusive to this place. But it is said to have been exercised quite regularly by that marquis, much to the chagrin of the women and their families. The citizens, empowered by Violettaâ€™s defiance, stormed the castle and burned it to the ground.
The carnival is rich in costumes, music and symbolism. The oranges of the Ivrea battles represent the head of the marquis. The pulp and juice are his blood.
â€œItâ€™s a festival that represents the people against any type of oppressive power,â€ said Roberto Vola, 43, as he tried to speak over the roll of kettle-drums and the blare of techno music.
Now, this may be a stretch, but it got me thinking about “nation building” and our attempts to establish democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Admittedly, both efforts are still in effect and the end results will not be realized for a while yet. So, there yet may be success as defined by the U.S. administration.
This story of throwing oranges points to a consideration: freedom must be won by those who will experience or live within such freedom. These Italian towns people of antiquity rose up and fought the marquis and rebelled against the status quo of oppression. Most examples of the establishment of democracy show that the local populations rose up against the oppressors and forged a new social and political world for themselves.
Now, I’ve heard it said that places like Japan and Germany are examples of nation states where democracy was “imposed” upon the populous for their own benefit. Well, that may be true as it goes, but these places were utterly destroyed during WWII. Germany already had some experience with democratic processes. Japan was an extremely hierarchical social system and if the emperor said this is how it was going to be, then that is how it was. The emperor surrendered to the Allies, and the American’s institute a new democratic system quite contrary to the people’s experience.
This has not happened in Afghanistan or Iraq. For these two regions to move into democratic systems, they will have to win it by their own initiative. We cannot impose it upon them because of their own cultural realities. They have never known democratic processes. The Taliban will probably take back control of much of Afghanistan, regrettably. I heard last night that the Taliban are now bombing girls schools in an attempt to stop the education of females (which was official policy when they ruled the country). Iraqis needed to rebel against Hussein themselves.
They need to start throwing their own oranges.
This may mean many more years of oppression and there are things we can do to help the locals, but we cannot do it for them.