The Populist Firing Squad
Arguments on whether or not there should be a death penalty are one thing (as you might guess, I am strongly opposed). The core of the sly imbecility here, however, is another matter entirely—capital punishment is outlawed in Europe (except in Belarus, which is “the last outpost of tyranny,” and Kazakhstan, which is mostly in Central Asia). Abolitionism is not just fundamental to the EU, it is also a basic principle and a principal priority of the Council of Europe, to which we’ve belonged for over thirteen years. The CoE is a much larger and broader structure than the EU is, with 47 members. Even Russia, that beacon of brutality, has instituted a moratorium on capital punishment. The European Convention on Human Rights requires its complete abolition, even for crimes committed in wartime.
The idea of reinstating the death penalty is thus completely out of the question. These politicians (one a law professor!), speaking as cabinet ministers and not as private individuals, have deliberately chosen to inflame Latvians’ baser instincts and disregard reality. The world-view of Jānis Šmits, the proudly intolerant human rights guru quoted in the Deutsche Presse-Agentur article—that tolerance is “a new secular paradigm” artificially forced upon us by Europe—is part and parcel of this. Trawling the scuzzy bottoms of Latvian Internet fora, what’s striking is how unutterably uneducated in civics Letts are (one study showed that we are about as enlightened as Bulgarians in this regard). The typical reactions often include the mantra “Brussels is telling us what to do.” For most, Europe is still elsewhere… and that is, of course, a self-fulfilling belief. Many people don’t see Latvia as part of this legal system and a contributor to it— which Latvia is, legal scholars like Ziemele, Levits and Ušacka being significant at a European level—but instead think and act like boorish, brain-dead dwarfs in some dispossessed chukhnya.
And the wardens of this chukhnya, our ever so sparkling political elite, continue to lead us off into a politics that recalls the title of Ferlinghetti’s book of verse, Unfair Arguments with Existence. Let’s all indulge in a national debate about something that’s totally impossible! But why not? It works in everything else in our politics—instead of working constructively to integrate Russophones, we get the "nationalist" tirades of the bigots Dobelis and Tabūns. In place of badly needed education reform, we prefer to traipse about mouthing piffle about our imminent “knowledge-based society.” Nary an opportunity goes by in which we don’t tell the world about our “shared democratic values”—our lack thereof nearly fully externalized by now (we’d be Scandinavia if it wasn’t for them Russkies!).
Messrs. Segliņš and Bērziņš choose to pander to tumsonība ("obscurantism," benighted ignorance). Since there’s not an election coming up, this desire must run really deep. What’s especially revolting to me is the waste of time. We’ll soon have had two decades of independence, but it seems that we’ve become “more European” mainly by replacing our Žiguļi with BMWs—second-hand for the pilchard-eaters, nice and shiny for the elite. We haven’t even learned to drive, what with the fewest cars and most road accidents per capita in Europe.
The photograph of a 1913 execution in Mexico is from the Library of Congress.