By Sheli DeNola
The onset of the 20th century birthed a time of great turmoil. World War I marked the beginning of a new age of conflict on a truly global scale. Conflicts that began in the 20th century have become both the burden and legacy for the succeeding generation.
John Updike, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, wrote that the modern mindset, as quantified by the timeless writer Franz Kafka is “a sensation of anxiety and shame whose center cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated … a sensitivity acute beyond usefulness, as if the nervous system, flayed of its old hide of social usage and religious belief, must accord every touch as pain.”
Conflict inevitably denotes the modern mindset. In the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on as both sides suffer from the brutality of war. In Eastern Europe, Russia and its former states, among them Latvia, struggle to rebuild after the complete collapse of their ideological bond, the Soviet Union. In Ireland, the country struggles to recover from the rift left by the English. In Switzerland, the people struggle to fill their multicultural identity. China struggles with preserving its culture in rapidly industrializing times. This is the story of those caught in the crossfire of conflict and their struggle to emancipate themselves.
*China* Xing Situ has lived in the U.S. for over seven years. The transition from China to the U.S. wasn’t easy, but at the age of 19 she’s come a long way. As a pre-med student at UC Santa Cruz, she’s on the path to achieving her goals.
Situ was born in the small town of Canton. For the majority of her youth she lived a rather sheltered life, but rapid industrialization brought a wave of new people. Soon the town lost its small feel and became polluted with filth, overcrowding, and corruption. It became a natural decision for Situ’s family to move to the U.S.
1912 marked the end of the Chinese dynasty, but not the end of conflict. The country changed hands several times before a civil war broke out in 1927 and lasted until 1950. In 1950 Mao Zedong, the leader of the Communist Party of China, assumed power. The country continued to suffer political instability, and the flux caused a social and economic insecurity which cost many lives. Economic reforms became the prerogative of the government. To date, the government retains almost absolute control of Chinese politics and society.
“People don’t have freedom,” Situ said of the lack of free speech in China. “You can’t say the chairman’s bad; they’ll put you in prison.”
When asked how living in China shaped her future, Situ said “What I experience in China makes me want more out of life, because I can’t have more right now.”
*Israel* Anat Turkot has lived in the U.S. for a year. She studies advertising and marketing communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. At the age of 24, she feels like she got a late start in life. After serving her mandatory two years in the Israeli army, she came to the U.S. in search of an education.
“I ran away from the army and fell in love with New York,” Turkot said.
Turkot’s time in the army was both rewarding and devastating. She feels that it greatly contributed to her independence, but it took a lot of perseverance. It wasn’t easy for a 19-year-old to step into such a strict framework.
“In Israel it’s about survival, but when I lived there I felt safe, you don’t think fatalistically,” Turkot said, in answer to whether the frequent violence made her afraid.
With no end in sight to the current conflict, it appears that many more generations of Israelis will have to serve their country in the military.
“It’s a matter of acknowledging reality, everything is breakable,” Turkot said, explaining her philosophy of life. “I don’t know if it’s an Israeli perspective. I think it’s the 21st century.” Turkot has set out two specific goals for her future: a successful career and a family.
When asked how she will accomplish her goals, she said, “I’m a gold digger, but I’m going to dig my own gold.”
For now, Turkot seeks to gain the tools for mining her goals, and an education is top priority. Living in Israel has ensured that Turkot seeks out stability; as such, her future will be marked with a drive for both permanence and achievement.
*Palestine* Jouhaina Muaaddi has lived in the U.S. for 16 years. Until the age of 19 she lived in Israel, and as a Palestinian she has a first-hand perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For now she works as a manager at her mother’s deli, which she hopes to own one day.
“I love my culture,” Muaaddi said. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about Palestinian culture. But [Palestinians] are very genuine, family plays a big role. Even the neighbors are families. They’re very generous when they have a guest they cook for, and treat you with such respect.”
History plays a large part in the Israel-Palestine conflict, as both nationalities have a deeply rooted history within the country.
After Israel became independent, the majority of Palestinians became refugees relegated to live on the outskirts of Israel. In the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Jordan maintained control of the West Bank, where most of the refugees lived, but since the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has controlled the area while the Palestinians gained and lost different levels of control as the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority waxed and waned. The conflict continues to escalate, with both physical and mental casualties on both sides.
“I’m pro-peace,” she said. “There are a lot of Arabs that are pro-peace. The fanatics destroy everything; they give you no peace of mind. You’re restricted where you can go, because you can get hurt.”
“It’s always on my mind, there’s just so much bloodshed,” Muaaddi continued. “A lot of anger, [and Palestinian] families have been ripped apart. When someone sees a family member die they’re never the same. It creates a new generation of anger.”
When asked about her future Muaaddi responded that she now has great hopes for her children. “I want them to have a great [future] — better than mine — peaceful, healthy, happy, and successful and having a lot of opportunities.”
*Russia* Eugene Aronoff has lived in the U.S. for over 25 years, and he now works as a news editor in the U.S. However, for the first 28 years of his life he lived in Russia.
“Russian political culture forced my family to leave; the government does not share individual liberty,” Aronoff said. “They don’t value individual life.”
“Most people don’t, the exception is those who do,” Aronoff continued. “I can value how unique western culture is. Historically, individuals have rarely been free. This is the thing that needs to be explained. The rest are just regular folks, what requires explanation is the exceptions.”
The Russian Revolution of 1917 not only overthrew the imperial dynasty, it catapulted Russia into an age of socialism. The civil war gave birth to the Soviet Union, which did not lose power until 1991. The end of the Cold War marked a new era for Russia as it shed its Soviet sentiments and embarked on an era of industrialization.
“Industrialization is draconian and inhuman,” Aronoff said. “On the other hand, it made extraordinary breakthroughs in a very short period of time.”
The Russian people are “long-suffering, patient people, who can endure a lot,” Aronoff said. He added that he felt lucky to have grown up in the relatively peaceful time of the 1960s, which were referred to as the “vegetarian years.” In comparison, sardonically, were the ‘30s, which were named “the cannibal years” for the high number of deaths.
“I appreciate the precariousness of life; it can be easily be distinguished,” Aronoff said. “I understand the brittleness of human liberty. I’ve carried it with me to this day.”
*Latvia* Alina Bogdanovica has lived in the U.S. for four years, having moved from Latvia at the
age of 14. Bogdanovica grew up in the capital of Latvia, Riga. She loves the old Latvia, but finds it hard to believe how much has changed in the recent years.
“It was beautiful when I left, [now] it’s polluted, dirty,” Bogdanovica said. “There’s a lot of homeless — ten-year-olds are smoking on the streets.”
The Republic of Latvia, formally a Soviet Union state, lies in Northern Europe. At the beginning of World War II the Soviet Union invaded Latvia. The Soviet Union forcibly deported over 27,000 people from Latvia. Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, but only after several tumultuous years were they truly able to reach independence. Today Latvia struggles with its efforts to industrialize.
“No matter how much money you get, you will never be able to buy anything,” Bogdanovica said. “A melon can cost 22 dollars, who can afford that? Even though my parents had good jobs, we are still middle-class. If I had stayed in Latvia I definitely wouldn’t be going to college. I’d probably be a grocery store clerk.”
The old Latvia “used to be traditional,” Bogdanovica said, “but over the years they went to in the modern direction. Even our culture is probably dead.”
As for her future aspirations, Bogdanovica said that she hopes to become a fashion designer, “because I think that beauty is art.” Bogdanovica feels that she has gained her love for fashion from Latvia, but also her drive to have a better future.
*Switzerland* Angela Kutz has lived in the U.S. for over 10 years. Until the age of 25 she lived in Basel, Switzerland. The experience marked her for life.
Kutz’s time in Switzerland was bittersweet. “I loved my friends, but the people were hard to deal with,” Kutz said in reference to the Swiss people. “They’re a very closed-off people, uptight. They’re so correct, you could set a clock to their public transportation, it’s that exact. I don’t feel they’re happy people — they feel they are — they feel they have to uphold such a standard of correctness.”
Owing to its central European location, Switzerland’s population is made up of a combination of nationalities. Compositionally it is 63 percent German, 20.4 percent French, 6.5 percent Italian, and a small minority of the indigenous Swiss. Tensions abound in a country with such distinctive nationalities.
When I asked about the Swiss’s notorious neutrality, Kutz replied, “They’re so patriotic they don’t want to be part of anything else. That’s why they never joined the European Union.”
Kutz now lives in San Francisco with her boyfriend. Almost in rebellion of her Swiss upbringing, Kutz’s house is an eclectic mix of thrift store bargains. And at the heart of her philosophy is the desire for happiness.
*Ireland* After moving to the U.S. 10 years ago, Patrick Wehellan became a U.S. citizen at the age of 37. He works as a bartender in a New York City Irish bar, where the accent comes in handy. At the age of 18, Wehellan began working as a bartender, and the occupation has followed him around the world.
When asked about the conditions in Ireland, Wehellan replied, “The weather made it very hard to get around. When I was young it was very difficult to get along. It was difficult times; we could only shower on Friday because we couldn’t afford the hot water, we had no telephone and a black and white TV.”
Tension built up between Protestants and Catholics over British rule. In 1921 it exploded into a civil war. The war resulted in a partitioning of Ireland into the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland in the North. Tensions have persisted to this day.
“I grew up in Dublin’s north side; it was hard for a soft little lad such as me. But it put a strong head on my shoulders,” Wehellan said.
Wehellan lived the immigrant story, showing up in New York with only one bag and a thousand dollars in his pocket. Although he feels like he let some of his opportunities go by because he drank so much, he knows the future has a lot to offer him and hopes to pursue all his options.
*The Connective Thread* Franz Kafka once wrote, “anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate … but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins.” Kafka foresaw a future mired in ruins, but full of untold possibility. As the world faces rapid globalization, it must confront the conflicts it has inherited from its history. Whether it be the conflict of neutrality or the debate of peace, all must explore the devastation in hopes of achieving a better tomorrow.