12 April 2008

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.

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Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

One of the largest budgets of the EU went to agriculture. The whole business sucks. I lived not far from a place were most pigs and chickens are raised per square meter worldwide. If you deal with millions of animals you do not need imagination. I remember visitng Poland in 1988 it was a kind of time travel. Small fields,landscape that vanished in Germany already years before. Though there is a strong wave of eco-agriculture nowadays. It will be interesting how the EU will deal with this in the long run.

12 April, 2008 17:33  
Blogger Unknown said...

I know you're dedicated Peteri and I dont apply this to you... but...

How are the Balts supposed to organize honest support for an independence/democratic movement in Tibet when many have given up on exactly that at home ?

I argue this with you simply because I'm hoping you can convince me that there's a greater purpose that my cynicism has blinded me from.

A woman driving a Saab with an EST emblem on her car cut me off today. As a proper Lithuanian - the appropriate response would have been to chop back and launch her car into the roadside trees - but I'm trying. I'm trying to be a good neighbor...

13 April, 2008 05:32  
Blogger Giustino said...

How are the Balts supposed to organize honest support for an independence/democratic movement in Tibet when many have given up on exactly that at home?

I don't think people have given up on democracy in Estonia, at all. Like I wrote, most political elites are self-interested. That being said, they know that if they don't spread some of the benefits of power to their voters, then their meal ticket gets yanked.

But you know what, if Reform Party loses its appeal, there's always Isamaa and the Social Democrats and, of course, the Center Party. Savisaar is Estonia's Kekkonen in waiting, but, guess what -- Finland survived 26 years of a Kekkonen presidency with its democracy intact.

And what is the antithesis of this? Communism, as Andrius puts it? Give me a break. Nobody voted for 18 years of Brezhnev stagnation. Could you imagine 18 years of Kalvitis? See, if you had that system you would be stuck with a guy like Kalvitis for a long, painful time.
And that, my friend, would suck even worse that the uncertainty of the present.

13 April, 2008 10:52  
Blogger Veiko Spolitis said...

" Acting out under the monkey bars of a sick nostalgia won't make them easier or softer. The Luddites lost."

On the opposite, I guess that Luddites are STILL ON THE WINNING STREAK!! To put it simply Luddites were those early 19th traditionalists who similarly to today's CEE countries traditional peasants/farmers, office and factory workers are afraid from the globalized world with not just geographical but also mental borders open. Instead of braking tools, their ideological relatives today listen to "fairytales" of populist knights, who tempt them with nostalgia of their youth.

Populist politicanos KNOW it thus, where do you think Kalvitis, Utspatskihas, Zigerists, Sustauskas, Dobelis's get they appeal from - LUDDITES!!!

You see, in the previous list there was no Estonian, and to do justice could probably name only Villu Reiljan here:) But he is too small entity to talk about, and Estonian pol. system is the most mature in Baltics due to several factors Pēteris wrote, and I have done my researh about it as well.

Anyay, there is NO BETTER answer than democracy, just res publica is being stolen from us (look on the rate of inequality and Giny index in Baltics). Thus, to paraphrase Maximus in "Gladiator" "we gotta fight and get our res publica back"!! And that is a fight worth dying for:)

13 April, 2008 11:29  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well of course Giustino. Political maladies could never exist in Estonia. The Estonian nation apparently has few complicating factors.

Politicians are self interested by nature - sure. No stretch there - although it speaks to my point. When their interests are largely singular - then who exactly do they represent beyond themselves ?

Thats not much of a democracy - but I'm sure that this is not a problem in Estonia. As long as Helsinki is there then its all good...

14 April, 2008 05:45  
Blogger Veiko Spolitis said...


There are MANY problems in Estonia. FYI, there is fierce debate in EST now about the size and functions of the parliament as well as the fact that EST is having an unexpeted budget deficit:)

But to answer your question to Giustino - in REPRESENTATIVE democracy MP's represent their voters! Liberal democracies are mostly plural societies and thus different from JJ Rousseau' iam volonte general, the theory propagated by Karl Schmidt and also faschist/soviet ideologues.

IT means that if voters have problems (in family, lack of education etc), and do not comprehend how the SYSTEM works, then its the task of the political elite. Here ESTonian elite has been the most successful whilst managing its educationl system. Look on LIThuanian system and you know the answer yourself, and I know that LATvian education system has literally collapsed and works only due to enthusiasts (including myself):)

14 April, 2008 09:51  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks to everyone commenting. Have at it -- I'm enjoying this!

Veiko -- did you ever get to translate any of your article in Estonian on Latvia and Estonia?

14 April, 2008 16:03  
Blogger Veiko Spolitis said...


Busy right at this moment, but perhaps we could have a deal:) I'll make a rough translation, send it to your address and you as native English speaker finish the upgrade, thus I would post it under your editor's name?

14 April, 2008 18:25  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Davai! cedrins@gmail.com

14 April, 2008 18:38  
Blogger Giustino said...

But to answer your question to Giustino - in REPRESENTATIVE democracy MP's represent their voters!

Estonia is small and has an active party system. That means that lots of people are -- in one way or another -- glued into that system.

My wife, for example, was a dependable signature when the Green Party started up. Her cousin is very active in the Pärnumaa Isamaa-Res Publica Party. I bump into MPs at the supermarket. To me it's kind of hard to be mad at "them" when "them" is "us."

Thats not much of a democracy - but I'm sure that this is not a problem in Estonia. As long as Helsinki is there then its all good..

What other democracies are you trying to emulate? Italian democracy, where the prime minister owns most of the media? Or how about German democracy where the chancellor leaves office to sit on the board of Gazprom?

14 April, 2008 20:48  
Blogger Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

I am not sure what this was about, but it was written with passion.

03 May, 2008 18:50  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

03 August, 2008 17:15  

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