W(h)ither the Nation? (III)
As the diabolus and fouteur de merde in me expected, I've received a lot of responses to the last installment in this series of musings, some privately. Not surprisingly, parts of the last post rubbed some of my more rightist friends the wrong way.
Snork, Vidas, and Giustino, among others, also provided ample reason for further ruminations in their comments, so here are some scattered thoughts.
Vidas wrote: The Baltics are not healthy thriving democracies. We are not success stories yet. That work needs to be done before the Baltic experience is applied to places on other continents. The Baltic experience isn't finished - and its not really a success story yet.
I certainly agree that we're a work in progress (and as the first epistle suggested -- there are days when the Castle of Light seems out of sight, not only a few decades' climb ahead, and nights when it seems we're stumbling in the opposite direction [Denk' ich an Lettland in der Nacht...]) -- but the Baltic experience won't ever be finished, at least not till we're extinct. Pace Fukuyama, but I don't see history ending anytime soon.
In the meantime -- we can't exist in a no-man's-land, jiving to provisional measures as though we weren't in the here and now; that was part of my point in asking how long can one be in transition in the post. Later, in the comments, I said that we are part of the world, and part of the global economy, and part of the European Union... and it's time we realized it. The Baltic experience is applied to places on other continents. We were strong supporters of the American invasion of Iraq, which is not in Europe. We have troops in Afghanistan, which is not in Europe. We have voices in the UN, where we vote on measures that affect people in East Timor and the ice packs at the poles.
We are, no matter how you slice it, playing in the big leagues -- and we play on a team, the one led by liberal democracies. We're not great players, to be sure -- but we can't and don't sit on the sidelines. We're full members of the EU and NATO -- according to their standards, we are democracies that are at least healthy enough to have met the entrance requirements. Are we thriving? Nope.
When I wrote it's time we realized it, I was thinking of something somewhat tangential -- of the moment of silence for the victims of the massive terrorist attack in Madrid. LTV showed how it was observed in various European capitals -- cars coming to a halt... okay, I'm sure a lot of cars just kept going even in civilized Europe. But -- in Rīga? Nobody noticed, except perhaps LTV. We don't feel like we're part of Europe. That lack of feeling (or is it lack of communion?) exists elsewhere, to some extent -- I remember signs at Victoria Station saying "Trains to Europe," for example. But we aren't islands, and we're definitely not islands with strong parliamentary traditions that cradled liberalism. Tallinn feels closer to "Europe" than Latvia does -- 'cause it is... always was, whether one looks at the watching of Finnish TV during the occupation or the behavior of Estonians at the time of our liberation ninety years ago. Lithuania has its vaunted ties to Central Europe -- how real those are, I sometimes wonder. (Andrius makes me wonder even more.) In Latvia, one often still hears phrases like "he's in Europe." The bus companies advertise "buses to Europe." Europe is elsewhere.
In my post, I included this parenthetical remark on our (current) independence and should have underscored it: (And I am not trying to detract from what we do have to show for it -- I just wouldn't paint the overall picture in bright colors.) I really mean that. Really, really. Because we do have a lot to show for our independence. Latvia slipped slightly in the RSF Press Freedom Index, for instance -- to 12th place -- but all three Baltic states are very highly ranked. We rank higher than beacons and bastions of democracy like the USA and the UK. Does that matter? You'd better believe it does! I spend a lot of time being critical -- because I think that's crucial -- but if we are talking about human rights... with all of our problems, Russia (ranked 144th, below Yemen) and China, which occupies Tibet (ranked 163rd, just above Burma/Myanmar) are night to our day.
I feel compelled to retell one of my favorite stories -- true story, told by someone close to me, A. A is asked by an Australian about her hard labor in the colder climes of Soviet Russia, and because it's an in-depth question gets a rather detached, clinical earful about how A ended up in the Gulag, how this house was confiscated, what the camps were like, in detail. Australian pauses. "Why didn't you call a lawyer [solicitor]?"
I find, talking to people from countries that haven't suffered what this one has, that many people just can't grok what totalitarianism was and is. If you talk about the abrogation of personal freedom in the occupied Baltics, you're liable to hear comparisons to the Patriot Act. And then there are the willfully blind, like your compatriot Andrius, who refuse to recognize the differences between flawed democracy and wholesale oppression. There's little you can do for them. One of the most popular throwaways here, even among some friends I otherwise respect, is that "democracy is bogus." This is where the critique comes in -- I am quite willing to acknowledge that the experience has not been happy so far... it was even unhappier in Russia in the 1990s. One cannot expect people who've seen their social fabric torn apart to be gung-ho about this here and now -- I intended to hint at that with those potatoes and salt. The solution, though, is better democracy -- not a return to hell. Even the great democracies, the ones we vote with, often without question, are entering a period of intense self-doubt. I have no truck with the doubters on basic principles. Certainly, it's easier for me than it is for people who are having trouble surviving to be so arrogant, and I fully recognize that. But I think it insane to abandon our democratic values for some quasi-Belarusian or Cuban comfort. I think it perverse to try to go back to our cages. We're free, and the element that prefers the prison to figuring out how to act at this time is the same element that served as dead weight for decades.
A week ago I read the IHT on the bus. Had a great article. Closing line: "They tend to be very individualistic," she said. "They think they survived communist efforts to collectivize them, so they will survive this. They don't realize the European Union and the global market are even harder." Yeah, they are. Acting out under the monkey bars of a sick nostalgia won't make them easier or softer. The Luddites lost.
The video is of the Prayer at the Sea, 1989.