Ryszard Kapuściński on power

Entering the Soviet Union by train from China in 1958:  Everywhere, red banners joyfully welcome us to the Soviet Union. Beneath the banners, in a row, customs inspectors, men and women, without exception fierce looking, severe, almost as though they were bearing some sort of grudge, yes, very clearly a grudge. I search among them for a face with even slightly more gentle, relaxed, open features, for by this time I myself would like to relax a little, to forget for a moment that I am surrounded by barbed wire and lookouts, fierce dogs, sentries stiff as stone; I would like to establish any kind of contact, exchange a courtesy, talk a little; it’s something I always need very much. 

“You, what are you grinning at?” A customs inspector inquires sharply and suspiciously. 

A chill goes through me. Power is seriousness: in an encounter with power, a smile is tactless, it demonstrates a lack of respect. –  Ryszard Kapuściński, Imperium (1993, tr. Klara Glowczewska 1994): 

(I do not think this is always true. Charm can also be power.)

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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