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The witches of Warsaw


A kaleidoscope of experiences
Uri Avnery Social activist
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There was another incident, also in Moscow, where we saw a group of Gypsies sitting underneath a bridge on one of the main streets. Maybe I should say Roma, but I think the Hebrew word Gypsy is certainly right, like 'blacks'. I've never understood why one cannot say 'blacks'. Being a Gypsy in Moscow is a profession. The woman usually has ten kids with her and they fall upon the tourists, all ten of these children pulling at their clothes, begging, and so on. So Rachel, what can Rachel do? She filmed them. Wow, an old Gypsy woman attacked her! We managed to get out of there while we were still alive.

Of course, I talked with writers and politicians. I was in the Kremlin, I spoke with the secretary of Yeltsin who was then in power. It was the same in Hungary, Budapest. I was very excited by all these countries. I saw a lot of beautiful things and everything was still in a state of ferment because the Soviet regime, which everyone hated, had only just collapsed. Where was it? Budapest or Prague, I always get them confused, although they are two completely different peoples, these two cities are very similar: a river in the middle, a hill, and on the hill the palaces of the rulers and the town below − there are many similarities. And in one of them, the Czech Republic − the Czechs are known as being very moderate and do not like to take risks, cautious – they told us there on the river in Prague at the bottom of the hill stood a huge statue of Stalin, and the city fathers struggled to know what to do with it. Blow it up? Stalin could come back tomorrow, or his followers, and they would exact a terrible revenge. On the other hand, it was impossible to keep Stalin. So they decided to paint it black and say it is [Patrice] Lumumba. Lumumba was an independence leader in the Congo who was executed. We collected a lot of jokes, especially in Hungary. Hungary had a lot of comedians, for instance Ephraim Kishon. They did not specifically consider Kishon – that is, he was not one of their first rate comedians, second rate, perhaps.

מקרה אחר במוסקבה גם, תחת איזשהו גשר באחד הרחובות הראשיים יושבת חבורה של צוענים, או שאני אגיד רומא, אבל לדעתי בעברית צוענים זה מילה בהחלט הגונה, כמו “כושים". לא הבנתי אף פעם מדוע אסור להגיד “כושים". וצועני במוסקבה זה מקצוע. אישה בדרך כלל היא אישה עם איזה עשרה ילדים והם היו מתנפלים על תיירים, כל העשרה ילדים האלה, מושכים להם בבגדים, דורשים, וכו'. אז רחל, מה רחל יכולה לעשות? צילמה אותם. וואו, איזה זקנה צוענייה, התנפלו עליה, וברחנו משם כל עוד נפשנו בנו. וכמובן דיברתי עם סופרים, פוליטיקאים, הייתי בקרמלין, דיברתי עם מזכירו של ילצין. ילצין היה אז בשלטון. וכנ"ל בהונגריה, בודפשט. אני מאוד התלהבתי מכל הארצות האלה. ראיתי המון דברים יפים וזה הכל היה במצב של תסיסה הם בקושי עזבו את המשטר הסובייטי שכולם שנאו. איפה זה היה? בודפשט או פראג, אני תמיד מחליף, למרות שזה שני עמים לגמרי שונים שתי הערים האלה מאוד דומות, נהר באמצע והגבעה, ועל הגבעה ארמונות השלטון ולמטה העיר, יש הרבה דמיון. ובאחת מהם, בצ'כיה, הצ'כים ידועים בתור עם מאוד מתון, מאוד לא אוהב להסתכן, זהיר כזה, סיפרו לנו שמה, על הנהר בפראג במורד של הגבעה עמד פסל ענק של סטלין, ואבות העיר התחבטו מה לעשות עם זה. מה לפוצץ אותו? מחר סטלין יחזור, או האוהדים שלו, יעשו להם נקמה נוראה. מצד שני אי-אפשר להישאר עם סטלין. אז הם החליטו לצבוע אותו בשחור ולהגיד שזה לומומבה. לומומבה היה המנהיג של קונגו שרצחו אותו. אספנו המון בדיחות, בייחוד בהונגריה. בהונגריה היו המון הומוריסטים כמו אפרים קישון. והם לא במיוחד החשיבו את קישון, זאת אומרת הוא לא היה אצלם בשורה הראשונה של ההומוריסטים, בשורה השנייה.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Moscow, Kremlin, Budapest, Prague, Congo, Joseph Stalin, Patrice Lumumba

Duration: 4 minutes

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017