30 March 2007

On Exporting Excrement (II)

Pastor Ken Hutcherson's visit to Latvia as a self-described "special envoy" who came here "representing the White House" has attracted considerable attention abroad, notably from the Seattle Times' chief political reporter, David Postman, the Stranger's Eli Sanders, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and the Q-Seattle blog, which also ran a comment of mine about religion in Latvia. Hutcherson was accompanied by Scott Lively, the author of a book that blames "homosexualism" for Nazism (debunked here). Lively called Latvia "a zone of intense confrontation between Christians and homosexuals." He went on to say: "This nation will be our main battlefield against this counter Christian [sic] culture. God gave Kenneth Hutcherson and me to see that Alexei [Ledyaev] is the very man God placed to direct this battle, and church [sic] should support him in all respects." The visitors' meetings with Latvian religious leaders like Cardinal Pujats is described from their Christianist point of view at New Generation's website.

Since this is increasingly a case of, er, burgeoning bilateral trade in excrement rather than merely its export, I thought I would add some notes on what I call "the party of the cloth," that is, Latvia's First Party (LPP,
Latvijas Pirmā Partija), which holds ten seats in the hundred-seat Saeima and is part of the governing coalition.

In some sense LPP could be described as post-Communist, in that it stinks of the same type of populism we've lately seen rising in Poland and other Eastern European countries. Many of its machinations seem to be inspired and oiled by a rather American
polittekhnologiya; the slick ad campaigns promoting "family values," the "marriage amendment" to the Constitution that it sponsored, the fusion of televangelism, nationalism, and big bucks. The founder of LPP lived in the US after being forced to leave occupied Latvia in 1989, becoming a dual citizen, studying theology at a Lutheran seminary, and operating a boxing school and gym in Chicago -- he returned in 2001 to head a "spiritual revival" and renounced his American citizenship to enter politics.

I say "nationalism" because it's integral to LPP despite their utter disinterest in what normally get called "national questions" here -- their nationalism isn't ethnic or linguistic but derived from Hobbes, as Marija Golubeva describes it (in Latvian). What they want is a
moralische Überwachungsstaat, as she says -- a Big Brother state. To get there, they want to create a new "centrist" party that is blind to ethnicity and language. In this they are being quite clever, because one of the major problems with Latvian politics is its ethnocentric structure. I will not be at all surprised if Harmony Center (SC, Saskaņas Centrs -- the [quite questionably] "moderate" pro-Russian alliance that includes, in addition to "real" moderates, unrepentant Soviet dinosaurs) and "the biznismeny of the cloth" eventually fuse. As Ledyaev says in the interview I quoted in my last post on this subject (which was originally published by DDD -- a kooky extreme right-wing paper by the so-called "Garda girls," young followers of the radical Aivars Garda who urge the expulsion of Russians from Latvia, occasionally comparing them to cockroaches), Šlesers and his cronies are the men who "strive to forget the past." Claiming to be anti-nationalist, he says that the men in the LPP are "the only ones who understand that we have to put all of these history books aside."

Jānis Šmits, the LPP homophobe Parliament installed as human rights guru at year's end, sees tolerance as "a new secular paradigm" artificially forced upon us by Europe. He has also spoken of how Latvia's being compared to Russia with regard to gay-bashing is a good thing -- Russia, you see, protects the values that the degenerate West has lost. LPP, which besides being populist is also a party that belongs to major business interests, like most every party in Latvia, is desperately interested in what could be called "ye olde bridge" idea -- Latvia must be the bridge that joins Russia to the EU (consider, for instance, Šlesers' speech in the grand debate on the Border Agreement).

Under the veneer of their Christianist ideology, they're probably willing to work with anybody (in the Dome in Rīga, they just signed a new coalition agreement with TB/LNNK, TP, and LSDSP... politics may make for strange bedfellows everywhere, but in Latvia, with its sixty-plus parties -- it's an orgy!). The fact is that "ye olde bridge" is exactly what the Kremlin wants to see -- it would like to make Latvia its proxy in the EU, basically. I'd say its chances are getting better every day -- witness the conclusion of the border deal.

I would not try to make a futile attempt to see politics in Latvia as left/right in the archaic manner. That never really worked here, not from day one (when Diena, when it was still "the newspaper of the Republic of Latvia," published cross graphs in which one axis was "national questions" and the other economic; some of the more "Lettish" parties were also statist, for example). Many of the party programmes, almost all of which consist mostly of hot air, are a hodgepodge of populism, leftism, rightism, "patriotism," and general weirdness. "Centrism" doesn't prevent SC from dancing with Rubiks (the leader of the reactionary forces that would have coordinated repression had the coup against Gorbachev not failed), the Greens are in cahoots with an oligarch devoted to oil and ammonia (Lembergs, finally under arrest), the Fatherlanders have danced with the "pink-red" russophiles... and the sole programme that seems perennially consistent is a simple one -- filthy lucre.

The photograph of the "high profile meeting" between Hutcherson, Lively, and Latvian religious leaders (which meeting went pretty much unnoticed here in Latvia) is from the New Generation website.

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Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

I should note that Hutcherson's visit finally got some attention in the Latvian media yesterday -- in Diena, the main newspaper (it's not the most read newspaper, but has the highest standards) and at delfi.lv, the main Internet portal. It's curious that a report on what is happening in Latvia would bounce back so slowly from a German news agency rather than originate here, but such is life, I guess... Kārlis Streips, an openly gay journalist, also wrote about the visit at his blog, under the amusing title "Homophobes of the world, unite!"

31 March, 2007 11:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the first English language reports of Hutcherson's visit in March to Riga was on the UK Gay News website a few days after the visit. It was contained in a report on the signing of the agreement between Pride London and Mozaika, the organisers of "Friendship Days" (Gay Pride) in Riga. UK Gay News subsequently followed this up when the "special White House envoy" aspect came to light. And the website last week posted in English the Karlis Streips article on the Diena blog website - http://www.ukgaynews.org.uk/Archive/07/March/3001.htm. It is worth a read if you don't understand Latvian. Aparantly Mr. Streips did the translation himself.

Nerva, England

05 April, 2007 03:35  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks, Nerva.

06 April, 2007 12:33  
Blogger Frank Partisan said...

Latvia as a gay Mecca, is an interesting concept. Not the first thing that came into my mind.

07 April, 2007 09:24  

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