05 December 2007

The Horizontal Time Code

After three years and three days at the helm of Latvia's Government, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis (left) at long last submitted his resignation. This length of time in office may not seem so long to some in other countries -- but it's actually the longest term ever served in that office in the history of the Republic of Latvia (with the exception of Ulmanis' fourth and last term... but that was lengthened only by a coup less than two months into the "Leader's" fatal administration, which became a dictatorship in 1934). Kalvītis liked to call himself "the guarantor of stability," so let's call it an era... in the hope that it's over.

The symbol of the era, besides the bloated face of the man himself, will probably be etched into historical memory by Lagzdiņa žests -- "Lagzdiņš's gesture" (right); MP Jānis Lagzdiņš of Kalvītis' ruling People's Pa
rty showed the people what the political élite thinks of them after Parliament chose the new President (originally picked at a secret meeting in the Rīga Zoo), gesturing from the windows at the crowd gathered below (he later explained that the gesture was directed at an old army buddy). We're not a trusting people, and there has been a widening gap between the rulers and the ruled ever since independence was restored (one recalls another "gesture" -- Birkavs' use of reņģēdāji, "eaters of pilchard," to refer to the poor and powerless -- I think of that one often because not a few old women are lined up for the stinking, rotten variety at the market, and it's not for their cats)... but Kalvītis' three years in power have been marked by a nihilistic cynicism unmatched even by the most extreme Latvian standards. Trust in every institution, from the courts to the post office, has collapsed. Easy credit, inflation, and emigration to greener pastures have soared.

The Prime Minister's departure is accompanied by one of the saddest and most revealing scandals ever -- the sudden postponement by LTV, national television, of a documentary about Vladimir Putin, the guarantor of stability next door. "The cassette broke" -- or, to be specific, there was a problem with the horizontal taimkods. Or there was a problem with the translation. Well, the obvious truth will out -- surprise, surprise: the documentary was pulled because it was offensive to the realm of Lt. Col. Putin, and therefore potentially threatening to the successful completion of the very last phase of the Border Agreement (the exchange of documents, tentatively scheduled for December 18th).

Kalvītis' misrule has led to the "moderate" "Russian party," Harmony Center, becoming the most popular grouping in the opinion polls (which doesn't mean that much -- with our sixty-odd parties [none of them with real grass-roots support except perhaps for the aging Fatherlanders /part of Kalvītis' coalition/, who showed their truly patriotic wing who's boss a week ago by rejecting the decent candidate for leadership] -- "popularity" in Latvia is measured in the teens even for the most popular list, if that). Harmony Center has given us Ābrams Kleckins, Chair of the National Radio and Television Council. "There is no propaganda in Russia," quoth Kleckins. According to this august expert in journalism (who trained many of our journalists at the University), pulling the movie wasn't censorship -- after all, there are many Russian voters here, so we ought to avoid influencing Vova's campaign.

We would then become a guberniya, I guess. The trumpets of Russian joy are everywhere these days -- H.E. Ambassador Kalyuzhny, known for his Soviet delight in trying to order a free press around (and for his Stalinist distortions of history), has even been talking about free gas for Latvia!

Aleks at All About Latvia writes more of our betweenness. The trouble is, of course, that you can't be between real democracy and managed democracy. A coalition run from the shadows by shadowy oligarchs, like Kalvītis', prevents us from knowing where our country is going (other than to Ireland).

Kleckins has announced a new "analytical" program for LTV -- like Globuss was in occupied oops I mean Soviet Latvia (wouldn't want to offend the neighbors or lower turnout in flourishing Chechnya, where it was a very democratic 99,5%). The aim would be to reduce the pesky sensationalism of Latvian journalists, it seems. Positivism, anyone? Ulmanis loved Dale Carnegie...

What's positive? Well, we're not in Russia yet. There was an outcry. Kalvītis is leaving. People go sing songs to defend the rule of law, despite the snow. Kalvītis is leaving. Long live Kalvītis! Voter turnout is still very high. (The era is not over.) Kalvītis is leaving. Ardievu, Cūkmen!

The title is taken from an editorial by the filmmaker Laila Pakalniņa. The photos, of unknown provenance, are from this site, devoted to cynical Lettish humor (it's better in Latvian).

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