‘I Spent All Day At The Meeting’ by Olga Berggolts

I spent all day at the meeting,

either lying or voting.

I’m surprised I didn’t go grey

or die of shame.

I wandered about the streets,

where I could be myself again.

I had a smoke with a yardman –

then a drink in a cheap kiosk

along with two amputees,

who had fought at Krasny Bor.

Their complaints were something else –

their conversation was real.

One memory led to abother,

as we stirred the ash in our hearts:

penal battalions sent on reconnaissance

straight across minefields.

One man would return bemedalled;

others would lie down for ever,

their trumped-up sins now redeemed

with daredevil blood.

And I said in a drunken rage,

barely able to string thoughts together,

‘Oh how I hate our righteous ones,

Oh how I love our sinners!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1948-9)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The reference to Kransy Bor refers to the military action during the Seige of Leningrad of the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ to Russians): “The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day, but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the 250th (Spanish) Infantry Division led by General Emilio Esteban Infantes and the 4th SS Police Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector. In Spain, February 10 became known as “Black Wednesday”, due to the heavy losses of the Spanish Division, which lost over 70% of the men engaged in the action. It was the most costly battle for the Spanish volunteers during their time on the Eastern Front.”

To put the poem in context: remember that the men served in a penal battallion during the Stalinist era and therefore were probably falsely accussed of something or other by the authorities of the time. As the two men were in a penal battallion they were made to take part in more risky military manoeuvres in, what we would call, a suicide squad. Hence Olga’s reaction, after attending a Party meeting, where she had to lie about her real opinions or voted the entire time, drunkenly decrying the ‘righteous’, who were corrupt bureaucrats and staunch members of the Party, abusing their authoritive power to crush anything but complete compliance to their will, instead of practising any humanity towards their fellow man and those left behind broken by their leadership.

The British General Election Process 2015

So it’s that time again…

This year Facebook lets you put a thing on your page to say ‘yes I’m a voter’. That just seems like such a needlessly arrogant thing to have. Not because you have exercised your civic right, if not duty, but that in posting this are you not casting judgement on those who have not? Some are not eligible and it seems damning to demean them with your morally onanistic self-regard.

But then again there are those who could have voted but chose not to often for ridiculous reasons including, but not exclusively: Someone told me not to as a protest e.g. Russell Brand which is no different than political apathy as an act due to the same result; ‘they’re all the same’ – which leads to extreme far right parties getting power as they did in France; ‘couldn’t be bothered’ – deserve whatever the socio-political results are for them due to their apathy. Yet no doubt these self declared vox populi are the same people who will be down the pub later loudly condemning the government for their actions and having an opinion on everything declaring ‘if I ran things it would be different!’ But they don’t because they couldn’t even take the most basic political step of voting let alone running for political positions. The only way they would have power is through force and is the practise of tyranny so perhaps its best these people stay away from politics and accept what more, hopefully, level headed people have voted for.

The British voting process in brief step-by-step:

  1. Walk to the Scout’s Hall nearby… There are a lot of polling stations around the county and you could have voted by post if you notified them with enough warning. (You should look up some of the odd places they use due to a lack of suitable public places available).
  2. Give the card with my voting details on it to a staff member… I don’t have to – It says so on the card you don’t have to present it. They don’t check your ID. You could be anyone as long as you had a name of a local resident and got there before them. I took the card and they took it from me… so is it required or not? They check it. Still no proof you are who you say you are… well except I know one of the polling staff so they may acknowledge the name and face don’t match.
  3. (Take a moment to note the badly dog-eared doorstop sized novels lying next to a selection of gossip magazines and a few half eaten packets of biscuits.)
  4. They cross my name off the register… with a pen and ruler. It doesn’t seem the most sophisticated way of marking off who has voted.
  5. They give me a piece of paper with the candidates listed and say cross one box only… lest you spoil your vote and it is discarded.
  6. Go to the voting booth… i.e. a high table you stand at which has screens on it so no one can see what you are doing.
  7. Cross a box with a stubby pencil that really should be given a bit of a sharpening during the day… There must have been injuries in the past. Maybe they should replace it with a stamp or that ‘dented paper’ system that caused a lot of spoiled papers during USA elections when Dubya was given the presidency.
    Fold the paper… It feels pointless but I suppose it keeps anyone in the immediate vicinity seeing/guessing who you voted for.
  8. Put it in the ballot box… Probably need to shove it in a bit later on in the day as all the folded sheets will have unfurled inside thus filing the potential space.
  9. Leave… They say thanks, you say thanks, we all thank each other on participating in the political process (look at some of the children’s artwork which adorns the walls as I leave bright luminous things mixed with felt pvc glue stuck collages).
  10. (Back into the car park of the red brick Scouts Hall and a short walk back home…
  11. Bask in the self-righteous glow of having done your civic duty once more. Maybe watch the election night tv including channel 4’s alternative converage i.e. satirical comedy while BBC is serious and everyone else… are a mystery.

In the end the Conservative party won a majority which surprised many, Ed Balls quit as Labour leader, Nick Clegg quit as Lib Dem Leader in results which could easily make you think its the end of the Lib Dem party as they lost so many seats, Nigel Farrage stepped down as UKIP leader, the SNP dominated Scotland and took many seats and it was close run but there were no coalitions which seemed inevitable to commentators.

But of course what you want isn’t analysis but fun! You want interactivity!

Here is the Political Compass quiz to go do. It’s been around ten years now! It is lots of fun! Available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and German… you would think they would do at least one new language per year. Waste of potential market potential there unless other nations have their own version…
http://www.politicalcompass.org/

Here is Political Compass’ assessment of the parties for the UK’s 2015 General Election.
http://www.politicalcompass.org/uk2015

Get your friends to do it too and compare notes! Maybe (i.e. more than likely) you’ll have similar views but maybe, MAYBE, you will have completely contrasting views and get into a very heated debate a.k.a the stuff of dinner parties that started off oh so well until someone had one too many drinks. Oh the thrill of it is palpable… or not. At least it wouldn’t be as bad as this…


As for my own political views… well that is my business and not something that affects this blog 🙂

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