27 May 2007

Edward Lucas -- An Interview

The third subject of my interview series is the esteemed British journalist Edward Lucas, the central and east European correspondent of The Economist.

You amaze some people in the Baltics because you seem to have a much deeper understanding of the situation here than most foreign journalists do. Do you think that's so? If so, how did that come about?

I have been covering the CEE region pretty much continuously since 1987.

I can't judge my level of understanding but I think I probably do have an advantage in being able to compare eg Moldova and Estonia. Fairly few journalists know Russian, German and Polish which are all useful languages.

You're highly opinionated, it seems to me. How do you balance that with "objectivity"? As I asked Aleksejs -- "do you believe in objectivity"?

Economist is a "viewspaper" so we try to explain what is going on, not just describe it. I have the luxury of a weekly column where I can opine in a way that I would not do in the Europe section.

Though you obviously sympathize with the Baltic states (at least I think you do), you seem to have little sympathy for nationalists.... okay, okay, this is a leading question and "nationalism" has a definition that is funky, at best? Let me rephrase this! What is "Baltic nationalism" to you?

I sympathise with all sides to differing degrees. I think ethno-centric nationalism is not likely to make the Baltic states safe, free and prosperous. But as an outsider I have to be cautious in telling people what they "ought" to think.

How is Estonia different from Latvia (and/or Lithuania)?

Estonia is smaller, more Nordic, more protestant, more reserved but also more innovative than its counterparts.

You know a lot about all of Eastern and Central Europe. How are the Baltics similar to the satellites, and how are they different, in your view? Then and now?

Soviet rule has left a distinctive legacy in the Baltic but this is fading over time. It is much more visible in, say, Moldova or Ukraine

You're now writing what you yourself call "rants" for The Daily Mail -- what's the difference between a rant and an analysis? Why rant?

I have been writing for the
Daily Mail and other papers for years. It is a way of reaching a different audience. And it helps pay for my children's education.

You've suggested that moving the Bronze "Soldier-Liberator" was a bad idea. Why?

The soldier was a policing/public order problem. Moving it created a national-security problem. That was a big practical minus for a modest symbolic plus.

If you still think it was a bad idea, why and how can you so vociferously defend Estonia afterwards?

The Estonian government made a questionable decision. Russia's response was outrageous. Countries have the right to make mistakes.

A timid young journalist friend of mine was amazed by your blog, and even by its very existence -- to him, a journalist must avoid such things. What would you say to that?

The Economist
pays me to have authoritative views. If I was working for Reuters it would be different.

What can we look forward to in the next decade? Will you stay in journalism? What can we hope for from Edward Lucas?

Russia will get scarier. So long as I can, I will keep writing about the region.

Knowing what you do -- what can the Baltics hope for?

For the first time since 1993, I no longer feel confident that the Baltic states will survive: the potentially lethal combination is Russian money and western weakness.

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17 May 2007

Borderlands (IV)

Protesti pie Saeimas pret Abrenes iztirgošanu 2007.05.17. from Kursis LV on Vimeo

A protest against the ratification of the Border Agreement at the Saeima, Latvia's Parliament, this morning, organized by the far-right "Visu Latvijai!" ("All for Latvia!") party. The Border Agreement was ratified (70:25) despite the fact that its constitutionality is being challenged in the Constitutional Court -- the President has said she will sign it into law, which means that the Satversme, Latvia's Constitution, may have to be amended. If a referendum to amend it fails, Latvia will be stuck with an unconstitutional Agreement, because Russia will almost certainly have ratified it and international law would require the consent of both countries to renounce it. My previous posts on the issue are here -- I, II, III.

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16 May 2007

Aleksejs Tapiņš -- An Interview

This is the second of a series of interviews inspired by the series at Siberian Light. My victim this time is Aleksejs Tapiņš, who runs the most prominent English-language Latvian blog, All About Latvia.

Unlike with Pēters Jānis Vecrumba, who has his history at his site, we don't know much about you. Tell us who you are.

I'm a 30-year-old Latvian citizen, a product of a mixed marriage
between a Russian woman and a Latvian man. I came to the U.S. to study
back in 1997. Graduated. Got married. Went to do some graduate work at
Michigan State University in 2001. Graduated. Got divorced. The
marriage resulted in a beautiful son, so I moved closer to her and my
son in the state of Indiana, where I currently live. Until very
recently, I worked at a local newspaper as a reporter.

Aleksej, when we spoke on Skype, my Transylvanian friend said that you sounded very American. One of the interesting things about you is that you now have three identities -- Latvian, Russian, American. How do you deal with that?

It's a constant fight. Depending where I am or what the question is,
each of these identities rears its head.

I consider myself a Latvian, but not in a sense of pure ethnicity. I
think you, Peteris, use the word Lett to describe the ethnicity. My
father is a Latvian, but I've never learned any folk songs when
growing up. Since my family life has been dominated by my Russian
mother, it's the Russian language that became my native language. I
consider myself a Latvian in the sense that I love my country and I
want life there to improve.

The Russian identity appears to be separated from Russia proper. I've
been to Russia twice in my entire life, both times on schools trips as
the Soviet Union was falling apart. My Russian identity may show
itself through the language or the accent, battling with my Latvian
identity for world domination.

The American identity shows up when it comes to solving problems and
identifying solutions to those problems.

Why do you blog?

I started blogging in March 2003. At that time, there were very few
sites devoted to Latvia in English. And I was tired of explaining to
people that Latvia was not part of Russia. You have to understand that
in 2003, Latvia was not a member of the European Union or Nato.

Since then, of course, motivation for blogging has evolved. At one
point, it's become a search for my own identity. Who am I? Am I
Russian/Latvian/American? I tried answering my own questions in hopes
to show what some Russian-speaking people in Latvia may be going

Now, the main goal is to inform English-speaking people about what's
going on in Latvia through my eyes, but, once I arrive to Latvia after
10 years, it will become an eye-witness account of Latvian life.

You're "coming home" soon. Does it feel like you're coming home?

I'm feeling the whole spectrum of emotions: from anticipation to fear.
This period will be the longest period I will spend in Latvia since I
left the country in 1997. It's exciting and frightening at the same
time. I realize that things have changed; places have changed; people
have changed. And in a way, home the way I remember will remain only
in my memory. However, I feel a strong connection to the country. So
in a way, yes, it is like coming home.

When you write about Estonia, you obviously support Estonia. Is there any conflict with your "Russian side"?

No, none really. Even if I don't consider that it was mostly
Russian-speaking teens looting, I would condemn any kind of
hooliganism, especially in a country like Estonia. I don't care about
the causes, I don't care about the motivation. It doesn't justify the
public disorder we've seen a couple of weeks ago.

What became visible more and more is how the Russian government
operates the propaganda machine; how hearsay is presented as facts;
how wrong key elements of previous stories get repeated again and
again; how most journalists from Russia absolutely have no integrity
to stand on.

So, no. No conflict with my Russian side. I only had a couple of
typical heated arguments with some of my Russian speaking friends, who
don't get it. But that's nothing new.

You're a journalist. Do you believe in objectivity?

Absolutely. I believe in objectivity. I believe all voices are
important in the marketplace of ideas. Of course, some ideas get there
through twisted or exaggerated facts.

I also believe in a thing called truth. For example, if someone had
said the earth was flat, but the other person said the earth was
round, the latter view would get most coverage because it's the truth
based on evidence. Now there are some things we cannot know, but it
doesn't hurt to question. So objectivity to me doesn't mean pure
stenography; it means analysis and presentation of evidence to the

With Estonia one can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that majority
of those young people on the streets of Tallinn were ethnic Russians:
the police numbers suggest that. One can hear them chanting "Russia,
Russia" on the streets of Estonian capital. And one can draw the
conclusions of their allegiance. No pretext of discriminated Russian
minorities, no public relations shtick can cover that truth.

What are your hopes and fears with regard to Latvian-Russian relations, within Latvia?

The hope is that Russia will treat its neighbors not as a sphere of
influence through natural resources or propaganda, but rather as an
equal partner. That will include Latvia. And I also hope that Latvian
politicians will be able to stand up to Russia. In other words, I hope
for peaceful co-existence, pipe-dream though it may be.

What can we expect from All About Latvia this year?

Plans are many, but there's never enough time and resources. Either at
the end of this year, or probably in the beginning of the next year,
I'm hoping to start a weekly podcast with news about Latvia with some
guests and music.

I'm also planning to start a Russian-language blog on livejournal.com
to debunk the myths about Latvia in the Russian press both inside and
outside of Latvia, but that's really like putting a stick into the
beehive. So for now, it's just an idea.

Since I'm moving from Midwestern United States to Latvia, I hope
readers, who continue to visit the blog, will find more revealing
reportages about life in Latvia.

Welcome home, Aleks!

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14 May 2007

The Fifteenth of May

The first fortnight of the merry month of May is rife with red-letter days. Having blogged about May Day, the Fourth of May, Europe Day and Victory Day, I may as well end this bout of calendrical focus by writing about the Fifteenth of May.

Seventy-three years ago, slightly over six years before Stalin destroyed our Republic, the gentleman in the waxwork pictured at left destroyed our democracy.

Kārlis Ulmanis is a figure Latvia has not yet come to terms with. He still has his hagiographers. In 2003 a statue of him was unveiled in Rīga, paid for with contributions from admirers -- not a few of the donors were Western Latvians, especially Australian Latvians. Raivis Dzintars' young radicals and nostalgic elderly people gather there for a candlelight vigil to celebrate the 1934 coup. I'm with those who wonder why a democracy needs to erect a monument to a dictator, but the nostalgia of those who remember "the Latvia of 15 May" is understandable -- he is styled as a "benevolent dictator," and by comparison to Hitler, Stalin, Antonescu, et al., he certainly was; he didn't snuff anybody, and that's a rather admirable characteristic. His earlier career, which included study and dairy farming in the United States, was positively noteworthy -- as the first Prime Minister of Latvia, from 1918, his faith in the Republic and strength of resolve were peerless; not too many people could so determinedly run a state without a territory (for a while, he governed from a ship, the Saratov).

Nonetheless, as the great poet Knuts Skujenieks pointed out not long ago ago, his dictatorship was a prelude to Soviet totalitarianism -- the Vadonis ("the leader") was the nation, though he never received the nation's consent. Even local government was dependent upon him. Even bus schedules were censored (to remove Slavicized toponyms). Classic plays that depicted the evils of peasants had to be reworked before being staged -- the peasant was to be exalted. "A Latvian Latvia" was supplemented with the slogan "in Latvia, the sun shines upon everyone."

There are a multitude of takes and sidelights -- this one, for instance. It's skewed. From the most recent book on Latvian history available in English (this is not a plug -- though I'm one of the translators, I'm not too fond of the book) --

p. 151: “the coup of 15 May was not a preventative action but an illegal act consciously directed against Latvian democracy.” See also p. 149: “Ulmanis informed the President of what happened [on 16 May 1934]; according to the Satversme, Kviesis was to defend democracy with all his powers. Without the slightest formal protest, he accepted the coup and betrayed democracy. Nothing threatened Latvia at the time that could have justified killing democracy. Neither a political nor an economic crisis encouraged the coup; to the contrary—the approaching end of the economic crisis would have prevented Ulmanis from accusing democracy of weakness.”

p. 153: “Latvia in the time of Ulmanis was characterized by a distinctly anti-democratic government. The May 15th régime was the most authoritarian in the Baltics and possibly in all of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it was virtually the only dictatorship in Europe that retained no formal elected representation whatsoever.” p. 159: “The idea of the unity of the people was closely allied with an idea of leadership opposed to parliamentary democracy—an idea of leadership practiced by Ulmanis in making decisions as a dictator with practically unlimited powers. Official propaganda attempted to portray him as a leader given to the Latvian people by God himself. [...] The praise and flattery accorded him very quickly developed into an exaggerated and ridiculous cult of personality—the Vadonis was dubbed ‘the greatest statesman in Europe’; he was ‘the Great Sower’ and the ‘Double Genius’. This worship of Ulmanis was interwoven with an uncritical assessment of authoritarian rule devoid of any objectivity. Latvia’s monolithic press usually lauded even the least achievement with the words, ‘we’re headed straight up’.”

For people who grew up under Ulmanis, criticism of the Vadonis is often seen as heresy (unless they came of Social Democratic "stock," perhaps...). I've made at least three elders cry, and the reason is simple -- no matter how noxious "the Latvia of 15 May" was, what came after was incomparably worse. I highly recommend this study of minority policy for some insight -- "The Price of Free Lunches: Making the Frontier Latvian in the Interwar Years." The difference between free lunches and Siberia is vast, and most Latvians understand the difference most intimately.

The political scientist Jānis Peniķis asks, rhetorically, what it means "to be ready for democracy." Were we? Are we? One of the most interesting things about that period is that nothing indicates that democracy was failing in 1934. On the other hand, other than a Social Democrat firing his pistol into the ceiling of his villa whilst being arrested on 15 May, there was never any real opposition to Ulmanis' dictatorship.

To today -- where are we in time? 1993/1939 -- these transposed digits were well nigh mystical, Guntis Ulmanis becoming President on the strength of his surname. We restored the Republic of 18 November 1918 -- but the elder generation remembers only the May 15th régime. 54% of those surveyed in Latvia yearn for "a strong hand." That's not as bad as it is in Russia -- but it ain't pretty. Other stats explain why -- people feel powerless, basically. We choose between indifference and the lesser evil. This country, or imagined community (pace Benedict Anderson) being small (tiny, my Transylvanian friend would say -- if you open the newspaper in one Baltic state, it shades a neighbor), we all "know everybody." The standard line is "they're all thieves (robbers, bandits, good-for-nothings...) -- you vote for your good-for-nothing, I'll vote for mine."

Only 44% of the population feels that it's possible to influence anything by protesting. Is it 1934 again? Nah, 'cause we're comfortably ensconced in various structures of elastic strength -- no strong hand is rising to try to clean out the Augean stables.

I take some small solace in the number of people turning out to sign for the referendum.

I'll close with the words of Bļodnieks, the last PM before Ulmanis' last election to the post he sullied so. In The Undefeated Nation, Bļodnieks includes a chapter entitled “Unjustified Coup d’État.” He writes how the events of 15 May “filled me and all other true democrats with deep indignation.” Bļodnieks said “that never and under no condition would I renounce the ideals I had formed in my youth and for which I had shed my blood--my determination to go with the people and work for the people, to defend its right to shape its government and life in freedom. I also stressed that any dictatorship, in its essence, was alien and irreconcilable to the Latvian people and the sense of justice and legality and should therefore be inacceptable and combatible.”

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07 May 2007

"Glory to the Imperial Behemoth!"

Darkness at Noon ran some photographs and descriptions of an anti-Estonian demonstration in Moscow, whence the slogan I am taking for the title of this post. Like most of Europe, Latvia marks the defeat of Nazism on 8 May. Russia celebrates the Soviet victory over fascism a day later, on 9 May (a day that is marked as Europe Day in Latvia, celebrating the Schuman Declaration of 1950 and not Stalin's victory five years before). The difference in dates is not trivial -- rather, the difference is part of what Oleg Ken of the European University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, describes as "un lourd héritage":
Stalin's strategy of political technology was that of designing the historical memory of this and next generations by a preventive purge of the history itself. [...] By cutting corners and patching up some lapses, he established control over the memory of future generations. Of course, this could not be attained without the collaboration of Russian society, a willing hostage of its own superiority complex.
Following the events in neighboring Estonia in the media and the blogosphere, one cannot help but be struck by the accuracy of Dr. Hist. Ken's analysis if we're to apply it to the flood of propaganda being poured upon Tallinn. Ken writes of "the theocratic dimension of the Soviet system." In Russia, the language never changed. Vladimir Socor, writing at Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov denounces Estonia for “spitting on these values” [evidently Soviet ones] and behaving “disgustingly.” The Duma’s International Affairs Committee chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, accuses Estonia of “barbarism” and “lying.” These and other Russian officials mix the bullying language with the familiar neo-Soviet mysticism that defends “sacred” objects [the Bronze Soldier as a substitute icon] against “blasphemy” [by Estonian unbelievers in this case]. Those two key words are recurrent in Russian officials’ statements during this crisis.
Though the dependably insightful Socor and some others (especially Shawn Macomber at The American Spectator) sympathize with the Estonian position, it's not only the homines sovietici and their offspring, primarily Russophones (whether extremists, nationalists, or even liberals like Yevgenia Albats [link in Russian]) who perpetuate a false view of history -- a falsified view, to be exact. The attempt to "balance" Stalinist distortions with historical fact, for instance in the style of Deutsche Welle, doesn't lead to balance at all, and the typical Western European (please forgive me for still using that term -- unfortunately, for Latvia [but less so for Estonia], "Eastern European" still fits) reaction to recent events tends to include a nod to "respect" for "the Russians' view," despite the fact that said view is very often infected with said lamentable, perverse, and intentional distortions.

Again, look at the language that's once again
au courant. Not only did Estonia "desecrate" a tomb (by moving unmarked graves from a well-trodden bus stop to a cemetery following identification of the bodies and a church service?) -- Estonia is "rehabilitating fascism." Just for fun, I perused my collection of old Soviet history books this morning. I'm afraid that many of those who lacked the sacred privilege of indoctrination don't realize that "fascist" in the Soviet lexicon, and in the Russian lexicon today, is practically a synonym for "Balt." It might be difficult for the uninitiated Western European to distinguish between the broad terms that make Soviet historiography unreadable in their density -- "bourgeois," "anti-Soviet," "enemy of the people," "fascist." Maybe that's because the definitions are indeed indistinct. Let's move to verbs -- "rewriting" history. "Revising" the outcome of the War. Excuse me, but should we, in some perverse allegiance to the "theocratic dimension of the Soviet system," stick to Stalin's scriptures? The outcome of the War has been revised, Gott sei dank. The outcome of the War was the enslavement of half of Europe by forces directed from the Kremlin, where Lt. Col. Putin, a proud KGBeshnik who thinks the collapse of the USSR was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th C" rules today -- perhaps we should also pretend to see the fall of the Soviet Union as a catastrophe, here in the Baltics?

On 8 May, I always read Pēteris Ērmanis' poem about the rejoicing when the War ended -- driven into exile (like my parents -- my mother studied under him in a displaced persons camp), he wept; he saw and felt how happy everyone in Prague and The Hague and Paris was that the horrors brought about by Hitler and Stalin had ended, but he knew all too well that the horrors had only begun for his nation.

Many of the Russian propaganda sites, e.g.,
Komsomolskaya Pravda, stick to the scriptures -- indeed, scripture says that "the Great Patriotic War" started in 1941. Most of the monuments foisted upon us, like one of the memorials here in Daugavpils, bear that date as a beginning, graven in granite -- after all, according to that view, we were "bourgeois" and/or "fascists" until we "voluntarily" joined the Soviet Union. In reality (yes, reality) the Baltic states went to hell when Stalin colluded with his friend Hitler, 22 months before. The gruesome photographs I chose to illustrate this post are from Masļenki -- details here.

Unlike Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia was never defeated. It fell apart due to rot, and so Russia has never faced its history -- unlike Germany, it wasn't forced to. Most of the ethnic Russians in Latvia, like Russia the state, deny the occupation. The idea that we could "let bygones be bygones" doesn't hold water -- Giustino, when he wrote "How do they not know that their former prime minister Jaan Tõnisson was most likely executed by NKVD in 1941?" was sadly prophetic -- rioting Russophones in Estonia tried to torch a
Tõnisson statue last week. The feeble crucifix erected at Masļenki was also set afire some time ago -- the location is now in Russia, and Latvia is about to legitimize that theft.

The illustrious analyst Atis Lejiņš called the day when the Latvian Parliament failed to produce a resolution supporting Estonia the darkest day in the history of our restored independence. It didn't stop there -- even the Writers' Union, once a cradle of the Awakening, failed to adopt such a declaration -- the poetess submitting the resolution, Margita Gūtmane (who heavily influenced me by her writing from adolescence), was derided as "a foreigner" (though she repatriated long ago), and Estonians were called, derisively, "Scandinavians" (this is, I suppose, what Ilves gets back for the nasty comments he made anent Baltic unity some time ago). I guess we're too busy selling out to care about our northern neighbor. Or -- not we but our Government. The film director Laila Pakalniņa read our Prime Minister's words over and over again -- we would like to be as sovereign as, asking whether this was a complex Fenno-Ugric grammatical form or recognition of the fact that we really aren't sovereign... her conclusion was that we could at least support Estonia's sovereignty, though we lack it and though Russia is displeased with its breadth and depth.

So here we are. Some are predicting a televized rebellion on "Victory Day." I think it deeply regrettable that there's so much blasphemy around -- do please forgive me for blaspheming the blasphemers! Russians, and the many others (many Balts included) whose loved ones died in the fight against Nazism, have every right -- and indeed the obligation -- to mourn and respect the sacrifices of their soldiers. The same rights and obligations that Balts (some Russians included) have to mourn the sacrifices of those who served in the Latvian and Estonian Legions in their fight against Bolshevism. What nobody has a right to do is to glorify the murderous imperial behemoth, be it Hitlerite or Stalinist. There is nothing sacred about the falsification of history.

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04 May 2007

The Fourth of May

Seventeen years ago today, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the declaration restoring our independence -- biographies of the 138 persons who voted in favor of freedom are available here (in Latvian). The text of the declaration in English is here. In Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, Dainis Īvāns reflects on the past and present -- then the young and charismatic leader of the Popular Front, he resigned when the Law on Citizenship did not grant automatic citizenship to those who settled here during the occupation. In the interview, he reiterates his belief that this was a breach of promise and a betrayal of those non-citizens who supported the Popular Front. Īvāns recalls being part of the delegation that visited the Kremlin prior to adopting the Fourth of May Declaration, meeting with an "aggressive" Gorbachev and Ryzhkov -- the latter observed that Landsbergis could be crushed in a couple of weeks, whilst Gorbachev warned the young Īvāns to think about his future. "I know what you say abroad, I have it all on the table."

Dainis Īvāns stresses the absence of structures at that time -- Latvia had no army, no police, no courts. These structures were constructed, and Īvāns emphasizes the importance of Western Latvians' contributions and advice. Egils Levits, who drafted the declaration, went on to become a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and today is a judge at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Īvāns: "It has always been easier for people to believe than to think. But we had to make use of the phenomenon of faith. We are what we are, yet in the period of the Awakening we gathered the nation's intellectual potential and were worthy of the trust people placed in it. The people itself chose who would lead the movement. Then came another time, when a different team emerged from the bushes, with different goals. In essence, to grab what it could for itself." Īvāns observes that no real traditions for celebrating this holiday have yet developed (in fact, this only became an official holiday a few years ago). "Shoot fireworks? We do that on the Eighteenth of November." (18 November is the day Latvia's independence was proclaimed in 1918, and it is our national day.) He notes that a military parade would be unutterably absurd -- non-violence was at the very heart of the Fourth of May.

This year some of us have reason for serious celebration -- I reported on May Day that rumor had it that the signature drive for a referendum on the security legislation had succeeded. It did indeed, and nearly as many people signed in the last week as signed in the preceding three. Ben Nimmo of Deutsche Presse-Agentur writes:

In 30 days of polling, provisional results showed that over 212,000
voters signed the call for a referendum on two amendments to laws
governing the security services - far more than the 149,064 needed,
the Latvian central election commission announced.

The provisional result is a major blow to Latvia's ruling coalition,
which had always opposed the demand for a popular vote on the
amendments - going so far as to cancel the amendments before the
process of gathering signatures even began.
Despite the withdrawal of the legislation, the referendum will not be a useless exercise, because a successful referendum would mean that no similar legislation could be introduced for the remainder of this Parliament's term (if it is, it can be taken to court and found to be in violation of the popular will, then invalidated). With this remarkably cynical Government, which will agitate for people to stay home because 453 730 people must participate if the referendum is to be valid, one wouldn't be at all surprised if they waited for "their" President to take office and reintroduced the offensive parts of the legislation then.

The photograph is of a massive demonstration of support for the restoration of independence on 4 May 1990, on the right bank of the Daugava in Rīga.

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02 May 2007

"The European Union is under attack..."

I've not written anything about the situation in Estonia, though it's of grave concern to me and most Latvians, because many others can do it much better than I can -- see Itching for Eestimaa and, for a Latvian view, All About Latvia, as well as the Eurasia Daily Monitor for some of the better coverage. The above photograph is from Publius Pundit.

Here is last night's statement from the Republic of Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Paet. It was published by Eesti Päevaleht at 23.23. Posted verbatim.

The European Union is under attack, because Russia is attacking Estonia.

The Bronze Soldier and the vandalism in Tallinn was Estonian domestic matter, but Russia’s coordinated actions against Estonia are a European Union problem. Thus, European Union-Russia relations have entered a very complicated situation.

The attacks are virtual, psychological and real.

Before the riots, representatives of the Russian Embassy met with the main organisers of the riots in Tallinn and other Estonian cities. The meetings took place in very strange locations such as the Tallinn Botanical Garden.

It has been established that cyber terrorist attacks against Estonian governmental institution websites and that of the President’s Office’s have been made from IP addresses of concrete computers and by concrete individuals from Russian government organs including the administration of the President of the Russian Federation.

The Russian State Duma delegation, which visited Estonia through the intermediation of the European Union’s Presidency, has demanded the resignation of the government and refuses to cooperate or enter into dialogue with Estonian officials. The visiting delegation only made demands and false allegations. This is interference in Estonian internal matters.

The youth organisation Nashi has surrounded the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, which also is the residence for all the employees. In essence, the employees are being held hostage. Today, Russian parliamentarians indicated that if there was a desire on Russian side, the special police would be able to free the Embassy in three minutes – however, the special police have said that their orders are to ensure only the minimum of security. Today, the Estonian flag was torn from the Embassy building. These actions are all in breach of the Vienna Convention.

The direct links of hostile Russian youth organisations like Nashi and Molodaja Gvardija to the Kremlin are well known. Just as well known is the fact that each person holding Estonian Embassy in Moscow under siege is being paid 550-1000 roubles per day by the Kremlin.

Russian television channels, whose “freedom” is well known throughout the world, do not show clips of rioters in the streets, but rather of “innocent” citizens of Russian decent being “terrorised” by police officers. They also broadcast news of Estonian police killing detainees and that the Estonian Defence Forces have been given the command to shoot Russians. These are gross lies.

I affirm to you that we have sufficient material to prove our accusations.

This all clearly shows that the future of people of Russian decent in the Estonian Republic is only being used as a rhetorical pretext for “active measures” and our compatriots are being used for greater political gains.

On Thursday, I will make a proposal to the Estonian Government as to which measures Estonia believes that the European Union should apply to Russia. These measures have to influence Russia so that it ends the attacks and its interference in internal matters of Estonia as well force Russia to fulfil its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The measures should affect EU-Russia relations in its entirety.

We believe it to be essential that the European Union react in full strength against the behaviour of Russia. This might result in the suspension or cancellation of negotiations between the European Union and Russia. The postponement of the European Union-Russia Summit must be seriously considered.

If the situation at the Estonian Embassy in Moscow has not normalised by nine o’clock tomorrow morning, Estonia will end all consular services except for consular assitance to Estonian citizens in its Moscow consulate. The services will be resumed once the situation has returned to normal. We will continue to monitor the security of our other representations in Russia.

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01 May 2007

May Day

I finally got off my duff and went to the Chemists' Palace of Culture in the Chemistry District (very Soviet, those old names for what is basically a bleak neighborhood of Socialist housing) to sign in favor of a referendum on the ill-conceived security legislation our President refused to sign into law, invoking Article 72 of the Satversme, Latvia's constitution (my previous post on the matter is here). It was an appropriate day to do so -- Labor Day is also the Day of the Convocation of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Latvia. On a similarly sunny May Day in 1920, the freely elected representatives of a free Latvian nation gathered for the first time to make decisions about the present and the future of the newborn state, as Fēlikss Cielēns, one of the delegates, described it.

Walking towards what was then the "Daugavpils Desert," where the Chemistry is today, flags fluttering
in the chill breeze, it felt good to participate in a process those representatives included in the constitution they drafted and adopted. I've since heard a reliable rumor that the required number of signatures, 149 064, was recently reached -- in the nick of time, as tomorrow's the last day to sign (though I understand that in my city, only a few hundred people did so). The governing coalition hastily withdrew the legislation to avoid a referendum, since a referendum will be seen as a vote of confidence, or lack thereof, in this Cabinet -- they've therefore tried to paint the process as a costly "referendum about nothing." The film director Laila Pakalniņa, writing in Diena, observed how she felt when the French visitors attending an event in Rīga excused themselves to fly home and vote, seeing it as their duty -- when most Latvians cannot be bothered to go and sign for a referendum that is crucial to whether our democracy functions or not.

Fēlikss Cielēns, in exile after the 1905 Revolution, marveled at French democracy. He once found a page from a young child's notebook -- notes on the Declaration of the Rights of Man. He kept it all his life and held it, nearly blind, when he dictated his memoirs, including such high points as striding into that May Day assembly eighty-seven years ago. We still have a long way to go before democracy is so ingrained in us -- but reaching the required number of signatures will at least demonstrate that not everybody is apathetic.

The photograph of May Day 1920 is from Wikipedia.

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