Class Struggle, 1776 to 1979
Smack in the center of the complex encompassing the John Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, was a students' hostel called 'Heim Berg'. The name Berg being of someone whom none of the students residing there bothered to know about to any detail. This hostel provided a temporary but very cheap and very convenient accommodation for new arrivals, who would otherwise find it extremely difficult getting by in a university campus, which two hundred years previously, had served as 'lazarettos' for Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers. So, the turnover was extremely high.
This successfully improvised living space was for male students only. I got a room which I had to share with an Iranian student, roughly my age then, and I had left what Ghanaian students knew as 'The Sixth Form' about eighteen months previously to study in Germany. My room-mate turned out to be very gregarious and kind. His level of German was slightly higher than mine, and I was shortly to learn that he had attended a preparatory school in Mainz, and that was a full year's course of very intensive drill. He was called Niknejad. When I wrote down my full name for him, the one he liked to remember was 'Augustine', which he quickly, but unintentionally, corrupted into 'Agistone.'
Weeks of trying to correct him brought no progress, so I remained Agistone, and he 'Nik'. He hadn't entered for medicine, so when we left the very convenient hostel to mix with the masses three months later to fend for ourselves, I did not any longer meet him as often, even though, whenever we met, we were always such friends. One day, after a tedious tutorial which had drilled me until my nerves were almost totally paralyzed, I pulled myself into a popular Italian fast-food corner in the basement of the main university cafeteria.
I looked for a corner I had thought was a bit free, and would remain so, and quiet as well. Other than myself, there was a pair that sat almost at the end of a long table, leaving about six chairs in-between us. Just as I finished placing my order, I spotted a boy walking towards me. 'Agistone,' he yelled, but with a wide smile, which later turned into laughter of joy, which I joined too. He asked the four boys on the other table, about four metres away, who were his compatriots and friends, whether he could bring them over to join 'my table.' 'Sure,' I replied, joyously. It wasn't long thereafter, and we almost had a full-table.
My German wasn't still as advanced as his yet, but German was the language we communicated in (it was encouraged everywhere to do so, drop our vernaculars, drop English, and stick to German only). Easier said than done, but 'it was encouraged' and would pay off as we would soon register. It was such that we could get the gist of what we said to each other, Nik and I. He introduced all the others as Iranian students and close associates. One was a medical student. They were all of them Muslims, but they had all ordered their beer, which they seemed to enjoy just as I did, a non-Muslim. I must add that we entered Germany at a time when 'drinking water' was neither popular nor readily available. Besides, 'Nik' would always jocularly add that Allah wasn't resident in Germany, the way he would be in Teheran.
He just enjoyed his beer. Beer was both cheap and very, very much available. Whilst we started eating that evening, Nik gave a hint that after the meal they would be meeting in the home of an Iranian carpet dealer in town, and I was invited. The meeting was expected in about three hours from the time we incidentally met at the Taberna Academica. Somehow, and almost suddenly, I didn't feel as tired anymore, and I was eager to go with Nik's group to the carpets dealer.
Finally, we found ourselves in a plush large living room in a huge house not so far away from the Rhone River. Persian carpets of every description were around, spread out in 'every available space.' Whilst my attention was such drawn, as would be betrayed by anyone among us in that large hall, Nik must have recognised I was a novice. He walked near where I was squatted and said gently, 'Agistone, I will one day take you to the shop, and you will see more of the stuff.'
He added, 'Most of them are insured against theft.' He told me some of them went for as high as fifty thousand Deutschmarks a piece. I thought he was bluffing until the next day I got confirmation from a Danish colleague, who was in his third year in medicine. The Dane added that some of them are almost as expensive as the house on whose floor they had been spread. There was no room for disbelief anymore, assessed by a novice like me. It was late in the night when I had to go home. The hostel I resided in was some five bus stops away, but Nik and two of his friends offered to take me home. One of them had a very nice private car.
It was a month later that I met Nik again. It was a period post-world war two, when even in Germany, twenty-five years after the Marshall-plan had pumped money into the economy, but telephone sets were not so ubiquitous. The hostel had one telephone at the reception, and you 'got paged' in your room to come down to receive your call at the caretaker's office. The 'caretaker job' was much coveted. The applicant apparently had to prove he had enough know-how in carpentry, masonry, function as an electrician, and in addition, show tolerance to young students, a large number of whom were foreigners.
One did not receive those days, an excessive number of phone calls. Telephone apparatuses were not as many, and connections even fewer. One was told it was America that had as many telephone sets as there were citizens. America's population was then about 200 million people. West Germany, where both 'Nick' and I studied, had around 67 million people. Germany, during the 3rd Reich, was over 92 million. Twenty-two million had been listed as killed in the bombardment by the allies, or simply gone missing. Missing! One day, Nik paid me an unexpected visit with two of his friends.
It was about 8:00 p.m., and on the Continent you called it '20 hours.' He told me they were going to have that night, a typical Iranian meal, and he thought I would enjoy it. The invitation was 'automatic,' he added. It was in a countryside club house owned by a businessman, whom the carpet vendor knew very well too. There was plenty of mutton, roasted or grilled, and a type of bread that Nik told me was Pakistani, but they in Persia enjoyed just as well. 'Chapatti' was the name, and it seemed when you tasted it once, you would keep the name and the taste ever after. It has stayed true with me. Nik told me that day their 'Shah was not a good man for their country, and they thought he ought to go.'
Without pondering much about it, I asked, 'You mean, go where?' He loosely replied, 'be removed, Agistone. Just be removed by the people.' I did not know whether he expected me to take him serious. He was telling me in a gathering where both Iranians, and non-Iranians were around, and one did not know what the other held in his head. Suppose there were spies around that day! Nik kept talking loosely that night, and some among his own compatriots did show some element of 'surprise', so I thought. The night, however, passed uneventfully, and everybody went home 'uneventfully.'
Months later, I learned from among Nik's friends that 'some Iranian students had been reported missing from their students' hostels, and it was rumored they had been kidnapped.' But, who would kidnap them? 'The Shah of Persia, or course,' said he, unabashedly. The German periodicals would be writing prolifically about the economic indices from Iran, and they stood almost neck-to-neck to those of Western nations like Japan, England, West Germany, and Britain. The oil-based economy of Iran was doing well, but the people were apparently unhappy with the Shah's style of ruling. 'He was a despot' I was told me one day by an Iranian little girl studying languages at the John Gutenberg University.
Then came word that Iranian students disappearing from their hostels overnight were strongly believed to be kidnapped by the Shah's agents, and they were thrown into jail in Iran, and at times, executed without trial. The same was happening to Korean students in Germany, who uttered criticism over the dictatorship by the military back home in South Korea, many a time organising 'peaceful demonstrations', as permitted by the constitution of the 'brand new FRG.' Critics saw a hand of the 'notorious' CIA aiding and abetting. (There were present in the Federal Republic, agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA).
The said clandestine AGENCY had many tools in the 'bag'. Tension between the two blocks, the Soviets versus the United States of America (USA), did not help the situation. But the students did not give in. Nik's colleagues (Iranians) were well versed on the American War of Independence (1776), 'The March on 'Bastille' (1789), the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), and Mao Tse Tung winning over the Quo Ming Tang in 1949.
Agitating analysts summed it all up this way. 'It was the oppressed European who escaped to America after 1492.' The freedom forever he hoped to have obtained came under threat with colonisation by the British. So, does it sound strange that some elements, which effected change in America, did the same in France? (Lafayette?). Katarina the Great of Russia was unhappy with the events in France in 1789, and thereafter. She must have foreseen the possible ripples on the rest of Europe. I
t was a hundred years later that the Bolsheviks turned their guns on 'The last of the Romanovs.' Nor was it all! Do we forget that 800 million people had seen the effect of destroying despotism in Moscow and St.Petersburg. Dr. Sun Yet Sen and Generalissimo Hsiang Kai Sheik were waiting for their turn. Was it the same class that would move forward in Versailles that would demolish the Bastille, destroy the icons, but save the Summer Palaces in Russia? The working class!
Dr. Kofi Dankyi Beeko, MD
E-mail: [email protected]
For the 31st August, 2012vv