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Ósip Mandelstam was persecuted, imprisoned and humiliated until his death by Stalin, due to the following verses: “We live without feeling the country at our feet, / our words are not heard ten steps away. / The briefest of talks / gravitates, complaining, to the mountaineer of the Kremlin. / His fingers thick as worms, greasy, / and his words like heavy hammers, accurate./ His cockroach whiskers seem to laugh/ and the tops of his boots shine”. The verses are hard, and accurate. They were also incumbent on the bloodiest of dictators, who to top it off had a stupid gang of courtiers who were also shot from time to time. Boris Pasternak, the Nobel laureate for literature, interceded on Mandelstam’s behalf, first he succeeded, then he failed, in the end the recommendations that the regime get rid of the supposedly dangerous Mandelstam, whom I imagine, and perhaps I have even read, were worth more , weak and extremely sensitive. Nadezhda, his wife, and Akhmatova, his friend, should have been stronger.

He wasn’t the only one. Many writers were harassed, exiled and even killed by the Bolshevik regime. The same happened in other countries with authoritarian and violent regimes. The Nazis burned books, prohibited the circulation or publication of others, and silenced writers, if not murdered them, and not always for racial reasons. They banned and burned, for example, the magic mountain Y death in venice by Thomas Mann.

Lorca was shot by the Spanish Falangists. His body is still being sought on the road from Viznar to Alfacar. His work is made up of poems, plays and some prose of memories and travels. He was not a political essayist and his opinions, although emphatic, were hardly those of a committed neighbor. Nor can it be said that Mandelstam was a political writer, instead, in a certain way, Thomas Mann was, especially under pressure from his brother Heinrich. In any case, the opinions of the first two were hardly general, sympathetic or sensible. However, they were enough for the regime and the despots on duty to decide to assassinate them. Terrible without a doubt. But such persecutions entail an assessment of his works, negative of course, but an assessment nonetheless. It implies a conscious and probably deeper reading than what others could have done, perhaps lost in the traps of direct and apparently more telling language. Literature, regardless of whether it is prose or poetry, is riskier than political essays. It will always be more dangerous who barely alludes than who directly warns. That allusion, subtle, settles deeply in the mind of the being and undermines, or exalts, the thought and feelings. That is why the most seasoned politicians fear literature more than political essays, that is why they can come to consider the painting of a nude or an apparently inoffensive poem more subversive than the most telling of propaganda murals.

The Ukrainian soldiers put inside their trenches an image of the national poet Taras Shevchenko, an insurgent Cossack serf, who in his free hours as a servant painted rather bad pictures of the Ukrainian steppes, and wrote regular verses, which nevertheless ended up becoming the patriotic songs that the Ukrainian people recite today. Recently, in front of German television cameras and reporters, Ukrainian soldiers proudly displayed what they consider their greatest weapon, more lethal than the missiles supplied by Western governments: the image of the poet, enthroned amidst the quagmire and the safe smell of gunpowder and blood. The shots, although made in the third decade of the 21st century, seemed, except for certain weapons, from the First War, and it was inevitable to remember the poets Georg Trakl and Edward Thomas, who were surely like those young people who were seen in the report, among which, without a doubt, there will be someone who writes verses. Later I have imagined several times, moved, young people fleeing or advancing, carrying in their hands or between their backpacks that image of the poet Shevchenko; who would believe, the main and most feared enemy of Putin.

I don’t think something like this can happen in Colombia, nor do I think it has happened in recent decades. For that, politicians need to know how to read, and ordinary people do too, and neither one nor the other. In Colombia no writer is really dangerous, that’s why those scandals that just a few years ago were formulated by those who felt supposedly persecuted or ignored always sound excessive. No way. The regime, if it can be called that, doesn’t even know when they write something, much less will it have wanted to silence them.

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