Extracts from two obliquely related missives I wrote today, slightly altered, posted here as part of what I hope will be a response to Giustino's question about the national malaise.IAccording to the Lettish Europhobes at nato.lv, a study showed that ca. 37% of Lithuanians think independence since 1991 has been the worst period in the entire history of Lithuania. Whatever one thinks of surveys, lies, damned lies, etc. -- I don't think Andrius [a Lithuanian in Ireland devoted to singing the praises of the USSR] is a ghostie, primarily because I've met innumerable people who think like him, more or less. In Latvia, too, there are people who simply detest the direction we've taken (or is it the lack of direction). Most of these people wouldn't take the radical tack Andrius takes -- it'd usually be more like "yes the deportations were awful and so was __ and __... but now we have nothing." And one can easily step into their shoes -- health care is catastrophic, education is in the pits, the scientific base was destroyed, manufacturing is dead, prices are astronomical, corruption is rampant, etc., etc.Direct experience does affect the view in a very deep way; I have only a very slight familiarity with not being able to make ends meet, but it only takes a few months for psychological devastation to set in. A little more time, and you learn to live with it. A teacher here said "in 1992 we ate potatoes and cream, in 1993, potatoes and oil, in 1994, potatoes and salt..." Meanwhile, you'd see the odd Maserati streaking down the street. You know who sat in it. I will never forget being on the beach at Majori, a purple topless jeep roaring down the water line for sheer pleasure -- make them sunbathers jump. Meanwhile, PM Birkavs was dissing the pilchard-eaters (his term). If anyone will decide anything, it'll be the elite. Who loves the elite? Does this elite deserve love? And "time, time, time, in a sort of Runic rhyme" -- how long can one be in transition? To what? The noble ideals of the Singing Revolution included an understanding of "we don't do this for ourselves as much as we do it for our children" -- but some of the people forced by this economy (and even more so -- by this society) to seek sustenance in the Emerald Isle or elsewhere have grown up in independent Latvia. We already passed the mark of how long democracy lasted (1920-1934)... soon we'll pass the mark of our entire period of independence between the wars. What do we have to show for 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.)When I was in Rīga on Friday, I had a meeting with a millionaire. He's a hardworking guy who produces real value and does a lot of things because of what they are -- substance, not easy money. His impression of where we are, the state of the nation? That people who work hard and have capabilities and talents, like himself, are totally screwed, pushed to the edges of the stage. Screwed by people with no conception of real value. We live in a credit bubble blown by thieving abstractionists who could care less about this country. And this is not a ne'er-do-well or a whiner -- he's a successful workaholic with assets galore. II
(In response to remarks on how the Baltics and Tibet are apples and bathtubs.)
What we need is a principled foreign policy -- not only because of what we can do for Tibet, but because of what the lack of decent policies does to us. In Rīga some years ago, the Dalai Lama remarked that independence without a spiritual component is hollow. In my view, to turn around and ignore the strivings of others after basing our own strivings on principles we supposedly hold calls our grasp of these principles into question. It's crying "let me go, let me go" to a captor and the world, all the while appealing to moral right... and then, as soon as we are let go, pretending that the girl down the street isn't being gripped by a rapist -- her situation is different, we don't have the strength or resources to stand up for what's right, etc., etc. ...those are excuses, and bad ones. Part of the reason we lack strength is that we don't adhere to the principles we espouse. That's what makes the "oh you are just American lackeys" litany one hears so often so painful -- it's close to the mark. What we really don't have the strength for is Realpolitik. There are also real benefits to taking a moral stand -- Denmark's determination re the caricatures, for example, resulted in a boycott by the Arab world... but admiration for Denmark in the West actually caused a rise in Danish exports. We seem never to pursue many of our actual strengths -- ecology, devotion to liberty, the sympathies that exist between small nations. C (whatever happened to him?) had the right idea with his stork branding, basically -- besides our environment (Latvia is mostly forest) we could become known for our decency. That would mean taking a risk and taking the lead, though -- something we can't seem to do in anything. Oh my, Edward Lucas wrote an article, so PM Godmanis has suddenly discovered that Latvia has things in common with Tibet... or is it that Angela Merkel spoke? The main effect is on us. One of the roots of apathy and nihilism here is that most people realize that we're dissembling about everything. High-minded speeches about freedom ring hollow if they're so selectively conditional -- Adamkus and VVF could wax eloquent about liberating Iraq, but couldn't muster clear condemnations of other criminal regimes. We suck up to lovely democracies like those in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Lithuania bends over for lucre with regard to Kosovo, too -- see Ruslanas at Lituanica.
I took the photograph of the neighbors' house a few years ago.
Labels: baltic states, estonia, history, latvia, lithuania, politics, tibet