Pacifica Forum's affording Valdas Anelauskas a platform for eight lectures on "Zionism and Russia" has renewed ferment in Eugene and on its campus about racism, the "ugly claw of anti-Semitism," "hate," bigotry and freedom of speech. Who is mainly, even solely, responsible for this?
I. In my second childhood at 91, l'enfant terrible, l'ogre, c'est moi.
Why? To test Eugene's commitment to freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech in this town has a checkered past. The nadir probably came in 1917, when Allan Eaton, later a celebrity in art circles, was literally run out of town for questioning the U.S. war against Germany. Another nadir came 10 years ago, when a neo-Nazi was invited to address a forum on racism and members of the audience shouted him down.
The pinnacle of free speech came in 1963, when Arthur Flemming, the president of the University of Oregon and a well-known Republican, facing opposition from a broad spectrum of governmental and civic leaders, provided Gus Hall, head of the Communist Party USA, a platform to address a university convocation.
My personal high came 40 years earlier, on Sept. 26, 1943, when the managing editor of The Register-Guard devoted a full Sunday editorial to a 13-page letter that I had written him in defense of my commitment not to "participate in war or sanction military preparations." The letter did not convert him to pacifism, but he commented on it respectfully and made no effort to have me run out of town. Contrary to a remonstrance from one of his readers, he afforded a pacifist a platform during the height of World War II.
Fast-forward 60 years. I founded Pacifica Forum in the mid-1990s and was its usual chairman and its main program planner. It was a program more than an organization. It was remarkably anarchic. It had no constitution, no bylaws, no membership, no dues, no treasury, no elected or appointed officers.
It had three sponsors, all more or less pacifistic, but it was not intended to convert attendants to pacifism. Its statement of purpose asserted that it would "provide information and points of view" regarding "war and peace, militarism and pacifism, violence and nonviolence."
Its objective was not so much to persuade as to inform. After it encountered efforts in 2003-04 to shut it down, it added, under the sponsorship of the Campus Civil Liberties Circle, another main objective: to exercise and defend freedom of speech.
Fast forward to 2006. At a talk on David Irving's recent imprisonment in Austria, his having been denied a platform in Portland during the 1990s, I met Valdas Anelauskas, a Lithuanian writer who had lived in the Soviet Union. I invited him to speak to Pacifica Forum on "Zionism in Russia." Finding his lectures well enough documented to deserve follow-ups, I invited him, over some resistance, to deliver what would turn out to be eight lectures on his general theme.
Jewish and other monitors attended the lectures and took a dim view of them. Some voiced the view, widespread in Eugene, that certain topics are so reprehensible that they should not be offered a public platform.
That view I cannot accept.
All the while, no Pacifica Forum attendant, including me, seemed to agree totally with Anelauskas, and one regular attendant and I delivered talks expressing points of view contrary to his.
Among attendants, I now encountered more resistance to booking him further.
By now, however, his appearances had become so intertwined with the basic issue of free speech that I decided to put that issue to an acid test: He would be invited to address Pacifica Forum, even though no attendant, particularly me, was likely to agree with everything he said.
The community passed the test: No one, not even the Anti-Hate Task Force, barred Anelauskas from entering the room. No one tried to shout him down. Campus security was not alerted. The campus newspaper carried a report the next day. The UO administration, perhaps remembering its president 43 years earlier, did not intervene.
Unfortunately, Anelauskas talked so long that he could not be questioned on the spot. Pacifica Forum will afford opportunity for questioning him to all who request it, and he can be reached at email@example.com.
The Anelauskas test is hardly comparable with the Gus Hall test. The former was in macrocosm, the latter has been in microcosm.
Both, however, have the same essentials: unfettered opportunity to deliver a message not politically correct in much of the community, or even totally agreeable to the provider of the platform.
Stay tuned. Pacifica Forum will continue to meet on the ground floor in McKenzie Hall at 4 p.m. on Fridays. Members of the Anti-Hate Task Force, particularly, always will be welcome.
Orval Etter of Eugene (orvaletter @netscape.net) is the founder of Pacifica Forum.