12 December 2008

Under the Latvian Yoke

Under the weather and still struggling with my history text, I haven't had the time or strength to blog in these most blogospherical of days-- but I can't let the latest nails in the coffin of the Latvian nation pass without brief comment.

The Saeima ("the strongest Parliament in Europe" -- so our PM dares to call this completely discredited assembly) was in session for ca. 20 hours, until 4.30 this morning, mostly debating the rescue package upon which IMF and other neighborly help is contingent ("the fiscal restructuring program is one of the most credible that we have seen," Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said).

The photo is of a newsstand yesterday; the front pages of Latvia's major papers were identical -- obsequies for the Latvian press, 1822-2009. Having done all it could to weaken public television (commercial TV is now suffused with dreck direct from Russia, in Russian -- even fresh films about the glorious Red Army), the Government decided to deliver a few more death blows to Latvian culture: quadrupling the VAT on books and newspapers and slashing the budget for state radio and TV to the point where only skeletons could remain. (Unlike book publishers, the press has since been given a slight reprieve -- VAT will only be doubled, like for baby food... yes, baby food; VAT will also be doubled on medicine).

A capital gains tax? Can't have that until 2010 -- businesses have business plans, you see, and our brilliant minigarchs and biznismeny have already worked things out through next year. Publishers don't have business plans, it seems -- not in the eyes of the ruling gang (the PM was compared to the leader of a brigade of racketeers last night... our comically inept Min. of Finance Atis Slakteris got compared to Mr. Bean [the Bloomberg interview has mostly disappeared from the 'Net, but the second link at Wiki still works...]; the politesse of our Parliament appears to be slipping...).

No other Parliament in Europe could have passed such a package, PM Godmanis proudly said. Former FM Pabriks agrees, but without the pride -- where else in Europe do you stay up all night to adopt plans you haven't discussed with business, labor, or society at large and end up forcing the poor and the middle class to shoulder the entire burden of a high-flying fake economy you smashed into the ground?

Māris Matrevics has written an article in Diena about how the massive VAT increase on books means quite literally taking an axe to the Latvian language. The realities of publishing in Latvia are simple. Maybe a million and a half potential readers (the rest of the Latvian population doesn't read in Latvian). An average printing of only 1200. I could add a lot of detail to this, for instance on how readership shrank because the people who read books were pauperized -- but the point is that the margins in the book biz are tiny and few are in it for the money.

The VAT increase, from 5% to 21%, would bring in maybe half a million lats. Only maybe -- because some publishers are certain to go under and book sales are certain to drop. Is it worth snuffing Latvian for half a million? You couldn't tax Maseratis and Hummers instead? (No, but we are doubling the tax on public transportation...)

I'll leave Saprge in her original Latgallian: Dreiž ar latvīšu volūdu byus taipat kai ar latgalīšu volūdu - bez raidiejumu latgaliski radejā i televizejā, bez regularys informacejis latgaliski presē, bez raksteibys vuiceišonuos školā i bez latgalīšu gruomotu skaiteituoju. Kod vysi latvīši byus sovys volūdys analfabeti, navajadzēs ni latvīšu avīžu, ni latvīšu radejis, ni latvīšu televizejis. That is not what this nation-state is supposed to be.

It's time to stop pretending or hoping that this coalition and its shadowy masters aren't intentionally choking off essential communication in this country, whether by absurdist means or more sinister censorship, as in the case of the horizontal time code (Tovarishch Kleckins continues to head the National Radio and Television Council, delighted by the Russian programming).

When I first got here and taught at the University in Rīga (winter 1991/92), a colleague told me she had gotten the impression that the destruction of the education system in Latvia was purposeful. It's easier to manage "democracy" that way.

Some years ago a wag came up with this condensation of Latvian history: "Latvia -- under the German yoke... Latvia -- under the Polish yoke... Latvia -- under the Russian yoke... Latvia -- under the Latvian yoke..."

When the famed theater director Alvis Hermanis refused to attend the ceremony where he was to receive the Order of Three Stars a year ago, he noted that he didn't doubt that Latvia would one day be as rich as Western Europe, sooner rather than later. But we've gone morally bankrupt in the meantime, ruining the window of opportunity we've had. Accepting the Diena annual award, Hermanis observed that nothing is left of Latvia other than the Latvian language... or what's left of it.

It seems the regime is hell-bent on killing that, too -- it's not part of their business project, and can even hinder it. In the meantime, the underbelly Matrevics alludes to swells. Without books, we will end up with nothing but a degraded, degrading Russo-Anglo-Latvian pidgin tongue spoken by functionally illiterate mankurts. Many already don't know what free speech is -- simply because they have nothing to say.

The folklorist Janīna Kursīte said last night that dark deeds are done in the dark. She and others in the Civic Union began to sing ("Bēdu manu, lielu bēdu...") to keep the Government from pushing the administrative reform through at three in the morning. The Singing Revolution brought down the Soviet Union here -- but singing won't be enough to bring down the remarkable array of gravediggers running this country today, I'm afraid. They lie to our faces, and nothing matters to them but power and lucre.

, speaking on the tenth anniversary of independence, in 1928: "Latvieši, sargājiet demokrātisko valsts iekārtu, jo līdz ar to bojā ies neatkarīgā nacionālā valsts!" ("Latvians, guard your democratic system, for if you lose it the independent nation-state will also be lost.") Six years later Ulmanis destroyed our democracy -- and six years after that, Rainis' prophecy came true. The Fatherlanders and other "patriotic" scoundrels helping to murder our nation can twist and shout and whine about Russkies all they like -- Latvians are actually experts at killing themselves.

Photo: Kristians Putniņš, Diena.

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Blogger Giustino said...

I am not sure if your attitude toward your state is sincere or just a product of some national disdain for authority figures, but thank for this eloquently written post!

I have stood in the same room with Mr. Riekstins and Mr. Pabriks. I am sure you have too. What creates this gulf, in your opinion, between the Latvian leadership and regular history book-writing fellows like yourself?

12 December, 2008 21:39  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Pabriks is a decent guy, which is why he left the ruling party (the over-the-top Baiba Sipeniece asking the squirming coalition how they could look people in the eye or look at themselves in the mirror made him ill after the coalition sent him to the Domburšovs, I guess...) -- I tried to clarify what Pabriks said because maybe it wasn't clear in my post. He wasn't agreeing with Godmanis -- he was saying that our Parliament is unlike any other in Europe in a negative sense.

What creates the gulf? Let me count the ways... Well, I really can't right now 'cause I have to finish my text. But the main reason for the gulf is that these guys have no shame at all -- they are the most cynical operators I have ever seen (Rod Blagojevich lookalikes, except that Rod wouldn't go to jail here...).

And I suppose that goes back a ways -- from being called "eaters of pilchard" by PM Birkavs to being told the elite will decide whether we join the EU or not. The policy -- esp. foreign policy -- isn't always wrong (I'm a strong supporter of EU membership and an Atlanticist with regard to defense, etc). The problem is that politicians in power are not at all responsive to the electorate. They don't even pretend to be. They stand about smirking, like Mareks Segliņš, and do whatever they want, for their benefit.

There may be a Latvian national disdain for authority -- but the trouble we are in right now involves authority's disdain for us. If elections were held today, no party in power except the "Green Peasants" would get in. Leading the polls? Harmony Center, the "moderate" "Russian party." Not a few people seem willing to send Latvia down the Russkie tubes now that misrule has brought us this far... down, and as the PM just said, we don't even know what suffering is -- the real suffering will start in March.

Personally, I've no innate disdain for authority and am not beneath pragmatic political compromise -- I wouldn't have worked for the Prez (pl.) for the last couple of years if I did. There comes a point where you have to say STOP, though -- that point was reached a few times since this Parliament was elected, depending how high your threshold for pain and nausea is.

12 December, 2008 23:11  
Blogger Veiko Spolitis said...


Just returned from a long trip taking me to Glasgow, then Stockholm and finally to my second home in Istanbul. While seeing the anarchists demolishing shops all over Yunanistan I shrugged while thinking about the recklessness of the Greek youth. In the same time I thought that in small doses that is exactly what Latvain youth needs now in our valley of sorrows (bedu ieleja) (LAT secret police, pliiz do understand that I am implying only an academic probability)... .

Should write more, but I FEEL ALMOST EMPTY BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS BEING SAID AND TO NO AVAIL. Those cynics do not know how to listen, and without simultaneous pressure from the IMF+EU+Nordic governments in conjunction with civil society on streets THEY WONT GIVE UP THEIR PERKS THAT THEY THINK THEY HAVE EARNED FOR LIFE...(just read Godmanis thoughts about those stupid pilchard eaters who took credits in banks in February Rigas Laiks)




13 December, 2008 00:35  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Paldies par piebildi, Veiko! Gustavs Strenga took note of the Thai method. I think we could effectively combine this with our devotion to choral protest."Kur tu skriesi, vanadziņ" would work well on Šlesers' new runway. Then again, I suspect that Gustavs is right re "citur vara var rīkoties daudz enerģiskāk un brutālāk"... I can see Mareks with a machine gun, smirking...

13 December, 2008 09:31  
Blogger Unknown said...

"the Bloomberg interview has mostly disappeared from the 'Net, but the second link at Wiki still works"

I couldn't quite figure out where that was, but then again, of all places, there's Apollo on 8 decembris, around noon, which still works, if someone hasn't heard it, yet.

14 December, 2008 14:06  
Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

14 December, 2008 15:02  
Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

If you are right, Peteris, with your analysis about the current situation then it shows what benefits one has to be a member of the European Union. I've studied for a long time the regulations about environment inside the EU, the disciplining role it has on the member states if they are not up to date with the legislation. And it was not just about regulation all the time. Often the governments were forced towards transparency. If this is still working in other parts of the EU, it will has a positive effect even on Latvija.

14 December, 2008 15:05  
Blogger Veiko Spolitis said...

Jens Olaf:

``Often the governments were forced towards transparency. If this is still working in other parts of the EU, it will has a positive effect even on Latvija.``

Dream on:) According to Schimmelfennig, Börzel, Radaelli there is evidence that EU regulations and structure has a positive impact on the member state´s governance indeed. None of them research former USSR constitutive state however!

LAT is different, and my student´s research amonf ministries officialdome proves reasons for that - lack of education (educated in a closed USSR system) and subsequent slave mentality (Moscow is being replaced by Brussels), non-existence of rational legal authority (accordin to Max Webber) and thus embedded eurasian values in Latvija:)

14 December, 2008 16:11  
Blogger Luīze R. said...

It is so wrong that I, citizen of supposingly democratic country and memberstate of EU, cry reading news concerning it.

And unfortunately I do not believe that critical mass could build up to popular manifestations. Not yet. We are muffeld and it´s not bad enough. Yet.

15 December, 2008 15:18  
Blogger Doris said...

ehm... Rainis? really?

but maybe my perception is skewed, i read the Comparty-approved version of his biography, trying to worm the grains of truth out of that muck and I seem to remember him as rather a "rebel without a cause" for most of the time.

16 December, 2008 17:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very funny!

17 December, 2008 14:50  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Rainis' politics are distorted by both the Soviets and Latvian nationalists, the Soviets trying to pretend he wasn't a nationalist and the nationalists trying to pretend he wasn't a dedicated social democrat -- but I would never call him a rebel without a cause, especially with regard to his commitment to democracy, which was unstinting. Though most would say he had little talent for real world politics, he was elected to the Constituent Assembly and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Saeimas, and served as Minister of Education in the Skujenieks Government.

20 December, 2008 02:21  
Blogger Doris said...

well, maybe not a rebel without a cause then. Come to think of it, he did have a cause, much too many of them, really - to promote culture, the Latvian nationalist sentiment, but then in a social manner. I think he's best described by the saying "[I/he/we] wanted the best, but it turned out as always" - kind of running around being "against" or "for" this or that but not really... getting anywhere.

22 December, 2008 14:17  

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