Letters to the President, a documentary by Petr Lom
Among the great deal of information reproduced on USB flash memory sticks, lately there has been a certain tendency towards documentaries that demystify dictatorships. I received an excellent one about letters written by Iranians to President Ahmadinejad. Millions of people express their needs, doubts, disappointments and miseries on a piece of paper, hoping that this super powerful man will give them a moment and deal with their problems.
The letters end up in a kind of ministry, called “The Center for Processing Presidential Letters,” the ultimate bureaucracy. They are divided into two large groups by the processors: letters written by women and those written by men. Far from trying to create a governmental infrastructure that would improve the quality of life for citizens, an insufficient ministry swallows millions of pieces of paper to strengthen people’s illusion of the Savior-Leader and to continue reinforcing the foundation of a personality cult. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad does not read the letters and people don’t believe the answers: some thousands of young people took to the streets of Teheran to pressure their supposed benefactor to recognize that he didn’t win the election and should resign as president.
The grand Messiahs of political power believe in nothing but themselves: we, “the masses”, cannot be the masters of our own fate, we don’t have the capacity to build our own lives, we must wait for the brilliant future they promise us, which unfortunately never comes. “Letters to the President” reminded me of the letters my neighbors would write, when I was a little girl, with their demands to the Party Central Committee. It’s been a long time since anyone has written anything,; it seems that here in Cuba we have stopped believing in our “Processing Center.”
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.