Glasnost and the new breed of reluctant rebel

SOMEHOW you feel you've seen the movie before: the agitated crowds in the city streets, the angry shouts from the provinces that shake the windows in the palace - all the surging sights and sounds of citizens in rebellion, crying, ``Enough!'' The Soviets no sooner finished celebrating the 70th anniversary of the 1917 revolution than this mocking replay started, only now it is the old rebels who are rebelled against - the Bolsheviks are being treated like the czars in the last days of Nicholas II.

Who could have foreseen the Pandora's box Mikhail Gorbachev opened up from the Baltic to the Black Sea when first he pronounced the seductive word glasnost? What hopes flew upward at this invitation to ``speak out!'' - an invitation that can never be taken back.

There are rebels who are born to be rebels - who are rebels almost by profession. Rebellion is what they are suited for, what they are good at. Without a rebellion they are as undefined as an athlete without a playing field. How their eyes burn out of the pages of history books - Danton, Garibaldi, Parnell!

Then there are the reluctant rebels - the rebels who might never ``speak out'' if special invitation or particular circumstance had not pushed them, like the Estonians, for instance, prompted by glasnost to demand all the self-sovereignty they can get.

Perhaps it is the Baltic winter, but the placard-carriers in Estonia look miscast as rebels. Bundled up in their heavy clothes outside their solidly middle-class municipal buildings, they resemble slightly disgruntled parents picketing a PTA meeting.

The Kremlin must fear the perennial young bomb-throwers who can spark a rebellion like a match in a dry forest. But they must be truly perplexed - and perhaps even more troubled - by the ordinary people brought into the streets by glasnost who are not really ``the type.''

In turn, the reluctant rebel, astonished to find himself or herself playing a part not prepared for or chosen, must conclude that rebellion - far from being an aberrant act - is a natural and normal part of life, else why would he be here?

The reluctant rebel feels like a restorer of balance rather than an overthrower. In fact, the primary passion of the reluctant rebel may be to break silence - to reinstitute dialogue where only a monologue has existed, ``dictated from the top of a lonely mountain,'' as Albert Camus wrote in ``The Rebel.''

The reluctant rebel pays those in power the supreme compliment of assuming they wish to listen, to heed - that they are open to conversation.

Neither a fighter on the barricades nor a Gandhi but something in between, the reluctant rebel satisfies Camus's paradox of rebellion-in-moderation. People ``must rebel,'' he wrote, ``but rebellion must respect the limit it discovers in itself.'' For the social and moral purpose of the rebel confronting the figure of authority is for ``each to tell the other that he is not God.''

Perhaps Camus was being romantic in seeing the rebel as a man of reason whose impulse is not for less order but for more and better order. Still, after centuries of stereotyping as a figure of violence and hatred, the rebel - particularly the reluctant rebel - needs to be distinguished from the terrorist, and Camus did this by daring to say: ``Rebellion cannot exist without a strange form of love.''

May glasnost - conversation in the shadow of the nuclear stockpile - prove him right.

A Wednesday and Friday column

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.