The Origin of Democracy

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Aristocracy or the rule of the elite is in term the antonym of democracy. But while theoretically these definitions are in opposition, in practice the distinction has been blurred historically. Ancient Greece is perhaps viewed as the epithet of the origin of democracy; a form of governance where the mastership of the people is an absolute authority. And this authority consists in the people's right to choose their leaders and legislate whatever laws they want. But is it really that simple? The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to an elite class of free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation. This documentary takes a look at the not so benign origins of democracy and compares it to the government of Greece’s Easter neighbor: the Great Persia Empire.

TIME CODE:00:00_05:00

Narration:

Rome, the sacred Christian empire, the land of war and glory, the land of great churches and hidden Mithraism temples, a land built on the remains of Greece, Greek gods, Greek memories, with colonies in three continents and a great eastern enemy: Iran.

The land of Persia, the land of Ahura; a land stretching from Indus to Nile, with rulers chosen by Ahura Mazda and soldiers adorned in steel to the teeth; a land that went down on its knees by Alexander's attack, but was not destroyed.

And Greece, the ancient Greece; the glorious Mediterranean civilization and its gods, theatres, and philosophers; ancient civilization that dates back two thousand years with unique methods of ruling over people; people who built those governments and their methods of governance over themselves.

Athens, 392 BC. Socrates is accused of impiety and corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens. The jury at his trial found Socrates guilty and sentenced him to drinking poison hemlock.

Socrates says,"People do not like to have their knowledge questioned, but I know that I do not know."

This sentence led Socrates to death in Athens. As Plato puts it, Socrates was the first victim of democracy.

Karim Mojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

This is a betrayal of our gods. We're giving the reins of affairs to a bunch of people who are thirsty for fame, position and money. They are destroying the main role of traditions.

Narration:

Socrates believed that just as a shoemaker or mason needed skills to do his job, a governor needed to be skilled too; to have the political knowledge to rule. Socrates made fun of Greece's democracy, and believed that competence and eligibility were needed for a government.

The biggest claimants to that eligibility were Athenian noblemen and wealthy people who thought their origin and pedigree already provided them with that competence. But Socrates believed that this competence and knowledge could be achieved by training and education.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Karim Mojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

None of them wanted to have anything to do with morality or justice. They wanted to have nothing to do with intelligence or knowledge. They just wanted power and a system based on the fight for political survival, and even lies and deception. Let me put it this way. You can fully realize the meaning of democracy if you compare it to other political systems. Demagogism is the opposite form of democracy. Socrates believed that their version of democracy was in fact another form of demagogism.

Narration:

Socrates said, if you kill a man like me, you will hurt yourself more than you hurt me. But he didn't mean the court, he meant the people of Athens.

We remember the Athenians for their democracy today. But this is not their reality. Athens had three social groups; the rich and nobles, craftsmen and traders, and farmers. The rulers of Athens were called Archon. Archon was a chosen ruler who held permanent tenure at first. In 752 BC it turned into a 10-year position, and then in, 683 BC it became a 1-year position. But even that did not change anything. The social inequality and class differences of the Athenians brought about the first sparks of change. The considerable growth in the number of non-Athenians and slaves was a serious threat to the Athenians, and in fact their lives depended on it.

The nobility and land owners almost did not do anything, and it was by the labor of the slaves that Athens stood standing.

Karim Mojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

400 thousand people lived in Athens. 200 thousand of them were slaves. These slaves were either war prisoners or sold into slavery somehow or transported to Athens from North Africa or other places such as Phrygia or north of Greece, and set to difficult works. They did not enjoy the same rights as other people of Athens, and even their life was in the hands of the eunuch or the person who owned them. 70 thousand out of these 200 thousand people were Meteks. Metek is a Greek term which means "stranger" or "foreigner". They were not slaves. Those foreigners were not slaves, but they were not considered ordinary citizens either.

Dr. Amir Maziar, Philosophy and History Researcher:

There was a parliament that consisted of citizens, citizens who had already been purges, selected, and chosen. They did not include all the city residents.

Narration:

The difference between smallholders and big land owners fanned the first flames of protests into life. The coalition of the Athenian farmers and craftsmen led the famous poet Solon to become the Archon, and he managed to pass laws with his great authority.

Solon's reforms divided the Athenians into four groups. Under Solon's laws, the sale of debtors who could not pay their debts was forbidden, and slaves who had already been sold were returned to the country. The most important part of Solon's law was the creation of a Council of Four Hundred for selecting Archons, in which everyone, except women and slaves, could vote and choose an Archon from among nobles or traders. That was the first election in the world, the father of today's democracy.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

An 18-year-old youth could join the crowd that had gathered in Athens in the place called Agora, the city's public square. He could express his opinion and criticize the government and judges, he could get people excited, to incite that crowd. He could argue about his opinions with other youths and older people, anyone in general. He could meet influential government officials. It was something very exceptional.

Dr. ShervinVakili,Writer and Researcher:

There were 12 tribes in Athens. Each one of them lived in a certain neighborhood in the city. Each one of these neighborhoods was called "Dameh" which means a place where a tribe or ethnic group lived. They were all related to each other. They were the free people of the city. Democracy meant their representatives had to rule.

Mohammadzaman Dariabiari ,Law History Expert :

Not anyone was allowed to take part. Who could take part? Noblemen, those who had Athenian origin. So women and slaves were excluded from decision-makings and taking part in determining their own political, social, economic and cultural fate.

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

They comprised one eighth of the whole population of the city. The Athenian democracy belonged to one eighth of the people.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

So democracy at that time bore no relationship to our modern concept of democracy. It can be said that the only similarity found was that the people who were members of this tribe… there was no centralized political authority at one point in time and they kept fighting each other and making decisions.

Narration:

Perhaps it was because of Solon's reforms that Plato put poets behind the walls in his Utopia or ideal city. Perhaps it was because he believed that it was poets who sentenced Socrates, his master, to death.

Dr. Amir Maziar, Philosophy and History Researcher:

We should listen to our reason. Plato's utopia was based upon that rule, not what poets wanted or poetic thinking wished for.

Narration:

In The Apology, Plato compares Socrates to a gadfly that disturbs the lazy horse of Athens' politics. But the reason Plato saw Athens as a lazy horse can be found in the contradicting relationship between Athens and Sparta. In ancient Greece, two Greek governments of Athens and Sparta were constantly at war, both with their swords and their beliefs.

Just like the good and bad guys of old stories, they were always at loggerheads; from the method of governance to their treatment of people. The Spartans were soldiers. Sparta had a great military regime that had a government to rule over people. Boys who were underwent military training under the care of the governmentat the age of 6, received a soldier's rations till the age of 30, and then had to eat at garrisons till the age of 60.A Spartan man would be exempted from the life of a soldier at the age of 60.

Karim Mojtahedi ,Western Philosophy Teacher:

A true Spartan citizen was a military man till the age of 30. There were no exceptions. All their trainings were of the military kind, and they were not allowed to marry before 30. During that time, he was always ready to serve the government. He had to be ready to serve his city every minute of the day, and once that time was over, he had to get married. It was an governmental, aggressive and power-hungry system.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

"Women fought. Men fought. Children underwent military training at an early age. Many of them died during the training, because it was very tough and grueling. What you have heard about them leaving disabled children to die is probably because of this. They only wanted children who could fight.

Narration:

This military state was governed by two kings;a king for war and a king for peace. One ran people's daily affairs and the other planned war strategies. But the structure of the government was based on consultation.

The two Spartan kings were part of a council of elders known as the Gerousia, which consisted of 28 aristocrats over the age of 60. The votes of both kings held equal authority as others.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

They had two kings who were in fact the leaders of their two main tribes. They had a council of elders called Gerousia. They were like a consulting board who decided whether to go to war or not. Those two were the military officials. We have the same in Rome, the Senate and the Emperor.

Narration:

There was another council called the general council of Apella, which accepted or rejected Gerousia's rulings without discussing their content. Something like the modern Senate.But all these councils were active at the time of peace. Whenever war started, the military was the main leader.

Maziyar:

We don’t know much about the Spartans' philosophical thinking to deduce what their thoughts and attitudes were rooted in. Aristotle and Plato always talked with respect about the Spartans and their government, saying that a strict system of order existed there, an order that it seems was undermined in the Athenian city-states.

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

Theoretical teachings in Sparta were sacrificed for practical and applied teachings. You may be able to compare it to some fascist regimes and even communist ones. You can compare it to them. Everything was governmental. There was no private sector.

Karim Mojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

The governments of Sparta and Athens were always at war. Because a bigger power was waiting for their weakening and fall at their doors: Iran.

Iran was a vast country; it wasn't a city-state like Athens and Sparta. Iran's borders extended from Indus to Egypt during the Achaemenid Empire. Establishing an integrated government of such a vast expanse to rule different clans and tribes looks impossible even today.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

Every region had a different king who belonged to a similar ethnic orientation or political system; for example they are Persian. And they all obeyed a king of kings. And this pattern is what defines the Iranian political structure by the late pre-Islamic period and a little afterwards, during the Islamic period.

Narrattion:

The Iranians had a federal government at that time. When Darius said, "I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, the king of countries," he was implicitly talking about a federal country.

All these regions had their own governments and kings, but they all paid tribute to a central government at Anshan and Persia.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

When Darius is talking about his subordinate regions in Behistun Inscription, he says he has 23 Dakhiums, which can be translated into province or state. One of these states was Assyria, which used to be a kingdom state. Another one was Elam,which used to be a kingdom state. At that time, they all came together and united and this united country had one ruler, who is called ….which can be translated as governor, better known by its Greek translation "satrap". Satrap is a governor who plays the role of a king, like in old kingdoms. For example, Cambyses, the satrap of Babylon, was the ruler of Babylon for a brief period,its king.

Mohammadzaman Dariabiari, Law History Expert :

But this centralized structure did not allow the king's rulers in different parts of the country, who wielded a certain authority, be unable to make decisions. It is true that they were like the king's eyes and ears, but they always acted in accordance with Darius' Petition.

Narration:

But becoming the ruler of such a vast kingdom was not an easy feat. The King had to be chosen by gods and loved by his people. The combination of these two was called "Divine Splendor".

BehroozFarno, Philosophy and History Researcher:

This public participation in creating a government, civilization and culture was rooted in the spiritual power that the ruler held. And where did he get that spiritual power from? From the divine revelations that were granted to him by divine splendor and goodness.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

The policy I'm talking about is based on a concept called Kiten. Kiten means something like splendor. It was assumed that among all those kings that ruled different parts of the country and were united, one was chosen by gods; one was stronger than the others and held a power called Ketin. One of these kings was called KitenInshushinak. Inshushinak is the name of a king, the king of Susa; his name literally meant "The Splendor of Susa's king".

Narration:

The concept of Divine Splendor was rooted in power. Anyone who became the king had this splendor. Siting on the throne entailed having this splendor, and everyone who was pulled down his throne had lost his splendor. No one could become the king without Divine Splendor. In Iran, when someone became the king, he had the gods' approval without a doubt, and people obeyed god's bidding. People bowed to gods, not to any kings.

BehroozFarno, Philosophy and History Researcher:

Those who deserved to rule were supposed to have certain features and experiences, and be devoid of any suspicion of passions or worldly desires because of these divine teachings and secret revelations.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

In other Achaemenid inscriptions, you can find direct references to keywords that show this policy. Ahura Mazda is the god who created the earth, people, and happiness. A serious question is, why these three? That's what was said in the past, for example, Marduk is a great god that created the king of Babylon; Ashur is the great god that granted victory toAshuri soldiers. Why Earth? Why people? This is the first time people are mentioned. Why happiness? It's very odd. People's happiness.

Narration:

In order to rule beyond its old territory, Iran used to bribe the Athnians and try to use them to win against the Spartans who were tough soldiers. But in the end, Spartans got away with their lives.

In 480 BC Iranians plundered Athens and left nothing of its democracy. Spartans barely managed to keep their ruling traditions. In fact, at the time of war and hardship, what remained from Greece's thinking was the rule of soldiers, not the rule of democracy. Later on, the Romans who built their civilization on the ruins of Greek traditions remembered that.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

The Athenians left a cultural influence. The Spartans turned into that great Roman army later on. This tradition travels to Italy. Don't forget this: the main principles of Romans' great army were taken from the Spartans. We're talking about the great army that took Rome to its heights of splendor and later on fought with Iran during the Sasanian and Parthian empires and other periods. The Roman empire is very different from Greece's democratic system.

Narration:

The Roman Empire had a Spartan nature; it was a military state. However, it had a senate like that of Athens, and was divided into eastern and western states;a small example of Iran's federal government underthe Achaemenid rule.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

The Romans had a republic in the third or fourth century BC, and started to expand and occupy the surrounding area. They occupied Etroska in Northern Italy, thus uniting Italy.

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

All the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea were occupied by the Roman in a short time; from the Middle East to the vicinity of Persia; Egypt at the time of Cleopatra, Northern Europe, Carthage and others, Strait of Gibraltar, Spain,France, Germany, Northern Italy, part of the Germanic territories, etc.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

They created a great government around the Mediterranean Sea.

KarimMojtahedi,Western Philosophy Teacher:

It's no wonder that the Arabs call the Mediterranean Sea the Sea of Rome in Arabic. It was really the Sea of Rome.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

The Romans' government was a maritime one. They travelled a lot by ship. Unlike the Persian government which put great emphasis on land.

Rome experienced three ruling stages: Kingdom, democracy, and empire. But all three of them are called the Roman Republic. These three periods were starkly different from each other. In the kingdom stage, Patricians were the ruling class. Patricians were heads of families that had inhabited ancient Rome since its establishment, and the Roman kings were representatives that served the Patricians' interests.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

In other words, there were a few powerful families related to each other who exchanged power among themselves, consulted each other, and took possession of administrative offices. They called that Republic. However, the head of the state was changed every two years.

Narration:

During the kingdom stage, Rome had three governmental bodies; the King or head of state, the Senate, and the national parliament. The king who ruled people believed himself to be chosen by the nation and gods. After a while, just like in Athens, social class conflicts started. Conquests and occupying the Mediterranean shores fanned this flame, and most of the people rose against the Patricians. The Senators who had seen Athens' fate backed off and gave more freedom to people, and later on passed rules for running the ancient Rome.

According to these rules, people had the right to choose their own king. For the first time, the aristocrats and ordinary people were equal, and everyone could be approved by the Senate, that consisted of people's representative, to become king. This rule and the fact that people had a hand in choosing their king created the great Rome.

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

Rome's power, unlike Greece, was not centralized at a certain city, either for its protection or for defending it.

Narration:

But Rome had a big problem at its eastern doors: Persia.

In 313, Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan and announced Christianity the official religion of Rome. Before that, the Romans lived with the gods borrowed from the Greeks and changed. Before that, Christianity was always considered a threat for Rome. Rome needed a factor to unite against the disagreeing domestic forces, i.e., the vanquished European nations, and a great external power, the Sasanid Persia.

Christianity was that uniting factor.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

In 313, the Roman Empire, ruled by Constantine who was a very powerful emperor, suddenly announced that Christianity should be the official religion of the Romans, while he himself was not a Christian.

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

Don't forget that Christianity is not the faith of slaveholder. It was forcefully transferred to Europe in Romans' culture. The slavery system and movement.They finally succeeded in the third century. It took them 3 centuries.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

It might be interesting to know that when Constantine was on his deathbed, he converted to Christianity, which was a completely political move. Most of the population was not Christians at that time. We have different estimations. An acceptable estimation is to say 20 percent of the population was Christian, one fifth of them. So 80 percent of them were not Christians yet. But Christians had several characteristics. They had to obey the church, were bigoted, and were like a secret army. And there were many Christians in Iran.

Narration:

Constantine ordered the establishment of …..religious communities to create a united Christianity at first. He gathered Christian leaders to talk about Christian beliefs and choose a credible bible from among all the different ones that existed. All this time, the threat of Persians could be felt in the East.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

The Romans had to make some changes to their policies. One of these changes was conversion to Christianity and getting united. The Christianity of that period was of the spiritual kind. Everyone followed one leader. This political and religious concentration that you see in Rome was a reaction to certain social and political crises of that time, leading to the Romans' claiming of the Persian Christians. Constantine sent a message to the Sasanid King, claiming that the Christians in Persia were under his protection, thus associating them with himself. That was a trick for getting the attention of the Persian Christians, and he succeeded. A Christian fifth column in favor of Rome was created in Persia.

Narration:

Persia had survived the destructions wreaked by the Macedonians, and was under the rule of the Sasanid Empire. They, too, used religion as an ideological factor against their enemies.

Unlike what we see during the Achaemenidrule, a religious government ruled in the Sasanid period. The Sasanid Persia had a central government with a state religion.

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

MahmoodGhane' ,Writer:

The Achaemenidperiod was the time of religious transit. The Mazdean religion was just beginning to take shape. The Mithraism.The remainder of older religions.The fact that no religion had become dominant had created a more open setting. But with the start of the Sasanid rule and its religious government………..created a desire for change of religion among the Iranians.

Narration:

In the Sasanid Persia, Zoroastrianism was compulsory all over Iran as the state religion, and all the followers of other religions were suppressed. The followers of Manabi, Mazdak and Buddha were executed. Christians were considered the spies of the Roman Empire. The conflict between the two great empires of that time had turned religious.

MahmoodGhane' ,writer:

The Mobads put so much pressure on people that the Persians started to turn to religion in great numbers, especially to Christianity. The problem of the Sasanid rulers was that their soldiers refused to fight if they converted to Christianity. That's why they killed anyone who converted. The Sasanid rulers were lucky, because a priest called Nesturius was called an atheist by an Orthodox church in Byzantium, and he found refuge in Persia, and the Persian Christians started to follow him and fight against Rome. So they were not killed anymore, because they believed that Rome was their enemy. They considered Byzantium their enemy. These intense wars began to weaken the Persian society, and some of the thinkers and intellectuals of that time started to look for a solution. They were divided into two groups. The members of one group, like Mazdak and Mani, sought religious reforms, and the members of the second group sought a new prophet, like Salman. Salman finds Prophet Mohammad in Medina and becomes one of his followers.

Narration:

It was no longer the ruling priorities and conflict of interests that turned Persia and Rome against each other. Christianity was put against Zoroastrianism, and a new era in the history of the world had started.

Orientalists call this period the era of Eastern Dictatorship, but that's a western point of view. What history has remembered about that period is the skin of democracy in the West and dictatorship in the East. This is a part of a Western religious historiography that disqualifies anything that is pitted against Christianity. What is called Eastern Dictatorship in Western texts is in fact the religious conflict between the Persian and Roman Empires.

Mohammadzaman Dariabiari, Law History Expert :

Ignoring the rights of the Easterners was something that existed in the West and Europe since a long time ago. You can see in Greek works that many Greek authors do not mention many important parts of history or presented a distorted version of it.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

This is a constant phenomenon in Europe, and you can see some traces of it during the Crusades. You can also see its traces before the time of the Roman Empire. It continues during the colonizing activities in the 17th and 18th centuries, and its peak in the 19th century. It turns into an official ideology in Europe, so that they can occupy and plunder different countries and to practice slavery. One of the things that justify slavery is this backward attitude of the native people of other countries. Easterners have always had a dictator ruling them. They never had democracy. Power was always centralized. Their king was always a dictator.

MohammadzamanDariabiari, Law History Expert :

The most important concept of democracyis the freedom of human beings, equal rights for humans to decide their own destiny in social,economic, cultural and political affairs. We can find such a thing in ancient Persia, but we can't see that in ancient Greece, which was the main claimant to such a concept.

BehroozFarno, Philosophy and History Researcher:

Even when you look at Rome and Greece, the problem of power, slavery, social advantages, slave exploitation, arrogance and dictatorship was more prominent in the West, rather than the East.

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

There were almost no cases of deposition in Rome. There're a rival organization, the Senate, which doesn't do much and is suppressed. There was just once incident at the very beginning, when there was no empire yet, when the Czar was killed. Otherwise, it didn't do much. The emperors that were supposed to be deposed were killed, almost always by their own guards. I mean there were no organizations to support and protect them. The kings died by conspiracies. In Persia kings were deposed when they misbehaved, or suffered a defeat in a war, or were not very successful.

TIME CODE:40:00_45:00

BehroozFarno, Philosophy and History Researcher:

The story of Julius Caesar and his conflict with the Senate and Caesar's murder and the transfer of power to his deputies, which has been turned into a play,could not have been far from the truth.

Narratoion:

Greece's democracy established the pillars of a kind of government in which people ruled people, without divine approval. The main criteria for Athens' democracy was cutting people's relationship to the gods, rather than considering people's wishes. But Persia had a government connected to heavens both in the Achaemenidand Sasanid periods. Kings needed gods' approval in order to be able to rule over people. They also had to be fair so that people did not leave them. They had to build an army to protect their divine-approving government against invaders.

The Romans are considered the first Christian rulers, but they were in fact opportunistic rulers that used religious ideology to unite different nations in their empire against Persia. They were the first religious empires in the world. All these methods set the theoretical pillars of democracy in future.

Karim Mojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

Some thinkers, like Plato and Aristotle who had a different opinion, believed that systems such as democracy, dictatorship, the rule of aristocrats, the rule ofcapitalist, etc. were not self-sufficient, and automatically cultivated their opposing systems inside themselves. It means this kind of democracy is ephemeral. It lasts for some time and then breeds another system inside itself.

BehroozFarno, Philosophy and History Researcher:

Even in newer periods, in spite of the fact that people are supposedly involved in choosing their government, this public opinion is always inclined in favor of rich and powerful people, and it is power and wealth that defines public votes.

Dr. Amir Maziar, Philosophy and History Researcher:

If we are supposed to give the reins of governance to a great number of people, by what criteria can these people choose the right way of thinking? The right way of thinking can be known by only one person, a person who is wise and intelligent. He's the one who can lead the society with his knowledge. A group of people have no criteria that can lead us to the truth. A government is supposed to prompt us into being a good society, to make us healthy and prosperous.

KarimMojtahedi, Western Philosophy Teacher:

Here's a question: can we really say that this system in the 5th century BC, known as the Greek democracy, was really a democracy?

Mohammadzaman Dariabiari, Law History Expert :

Well, what can be the signs of democracy? Everyone having their own way of thinking or constantly living with the fear of losing his life, wealth and, other belongings?

Dr. ShervinVakili, Writer and Researcher:

In the Behistun Inscription and Naqsh-e Rustam, Darius tells his children, "If you want to live in peace in your country, keep an eye on the Persian people." By keeping an eye on people, he meant supporting and taking care of them.

Narration:

Democracy underwent many ups and downs after that, and was interpreted in different ways. Even at certain points in time, it adopted the opposite of its original meaning. These changes were part of the concept of democracy since the beginning, since its Athenian days;at the time when Socrates gathered young people in the Athens' bazaar and encouraged them to doubt their gods, values, and themselves. But the Athenian democracy could not tolerate any doubts in its principles and sentences Socrates to death.

If democracy had let Socrates' voice be heard at that time, perhaps we had a different world today.

   

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