Today Canadians are voting in our federal election. Voter turnout was the lowest in history in our last federal election in 2008, and while there seems to be an increased level of interest this time around, I’m skeptical that it will be anywhere near as high as I think it should be. I just can’t understand why people don’t exercise their right to be a part of the decision, because I feel so darn lucky that I live somewhere where I can have my very little say in the big picture.
A little context…
At the beginning of the last century, the family of my paternal grandmother was living in Alexanderkrone, a town in the Mennonite settlement of Molotschna in what is now the Ukraine. They belonged to a wealthy class of farmers called “Kulaks” which the Marxist-Leninists considered enemies of the poorer peasants and of socialism generally. (I’ve always found this particularly ironic considering that Mennonites are extremely community oriented and are known for their tendency to work collectively, and because they were actually encouraged to settle in the Ukraine because of their farming skills.) They were successful and wealthy farmers; they were well educated because the colonies had elementary and secondary schools long before such things were generally mandatory in the rest of Europe.
The Great Purge began in 1936. Stalin began by removing dissenters from the Communist Party, but it wasn’t long before his paranoia resulted in the execution hundreds of thousands (some think close to a million), including party members, the intelligentsia, peasants, professionals and the kulaks, who were considered too wealthy.
One evening, in the autumn of 1937, the Soviet secret police came to my family’s farm and arrested my great-grandfather (that’s him, second from the right at the top, next to my Omama), and my great-grandmother’s brothers. They were taken away and executed a few days later, although we didn’t learn that until some Red Cross documents surfaced in the early ’90s. By then my great-grandmother was senile, so she never knew what happened to her husband.
All this is to say that it’s not that long ago that my family lived somewhere where people didn’t have the right to their own opinion, to express their views in public, to stand up and have their vote counted. There are people fighting, DYING, for that right in Libya and Egypt and Syria and Tunisia. I know it might sound cheesy, but my Thanksgiving is election day. I can’t help but reflect upon the fate of my family only a few short generations ago, and be thankful that I live somewhere where I have a voice, however small.
Next time you feel like politicians aren’t listening (sometimes they really don’t!), or that your vote doesn’t matter, just remember how lucky you are to have one at all. And get your butt to a polling station!