Friday, January 2, 2009

52. Latvia’s Profound vs Shallow Traditions [2]
The following series (not exactly serials) concern the importance of self-sacrifice in the creation and maintenance of a community. Do not be put off by the name "Latvia", the name of the country where I live, because you can probably replace the name with that of your own country. I believe self-sacrifice is "religion" without you or me necessarily having to believe in God.

We may want to remember that the so-called “First Awakening” of Latvians coincided with the “New Current” (Jaunā strāva) movement, the latter an ambitious effort (1850-1905) involving much of tsardom’s Russia to secure social justice. The efforts of the New Current movement ended with the 1905 Revolution, which ended in the repression of the movement.

Both the demands for social justice and the national liberation movement were by their nature radical movements and developed in tandem. It does not seem that Latvia would be today an independent nation if one of these movements had been absent. In any case, following the Cossack repression of the 1905 revolutionaries , there followed another incubation period, the “Second Awakening”. After the outbreak of World War 1 (1914), the incubation ended with the tsar’s loss of control over Russia due to military defeat at the hands of the Germans; which was followed by the outbreak of the 1917 Revolution and Lenin’s decision to sue for peace. Following Latvian liberation battles with the Germans (critically weakened by their battles on the Western front), Latvia declared independence (1918), which resulted in international recognition (1920), and membership in the League of Nations (1921).

I list this sequence of events to point to the dangers to body and life of the individuals who were engaged in the struggle to create Latvia. These dangers are in sharp contrast to the “Third Awakening”, the so-called "Singing Revolution” of 1987–1991, when Latvia regained independence from the Soviet occupation (1945-1991) with minor incidents of bloodshed. Independence came to Latvians due to the uncertainty of the Soviet government whether violence would in fact keep it from dissolution. Therefore, Latvians regained independence with their resolve untested. Therein is Latvia’s problem: without forethought or analysis, it had joined a West that had discovered its authoritarian and princely “high” culture unsustainable, and had traded it in for a “pop” democracy, also known as a consumer society. Given such a cultural environment—and having had little to do with the creation of either—Latvians now find it difficult to orient themselves and rediscover a tradition that transcends the merely human. Worse, intimidated by accusations of a fascist and/or communist past, the Latvian intellectual elite have no idea of how to (to paraphrase Heidegger) restructure the beginning, the myth at origin of the community, without it becoming a poor imitation of what was, but to create what is wholly new, yet the same.

Sociologist Māris Brants points out that the absence of bloodshed acts on Latvians as a factor that inhibits action. To quote: “[For the political elite to manipulate the masses] is not so difficult, because the masses do not distinguish themselves by being blood thirsty. If someone wished to involve the masses in social unrest, it would not be easy. This is not to say that we do not have such traditions, but for the most part these manifested themselves during the first half of the 20th century. If Latvia had regained its independence with bloodshed, it is likely the present situation would be different.” (My italics and translation.)

In other words, at this time the political system (“hockey patriotism” ) in Latvia is not associated with the sacred either in depth or breadth and, therefore, lacks charisma. This is not to confuse the sacred as necessarily associated with God or the Gods. I am using the word as one that embodies a profound emotion inherent in the being of Being. Some may say that the sacred is that Other being without whom we cannot exist, re, our mother and/or father, our home and/or country. Through the self-sacrifice of life by the founder of a community, and the charismatic memory of said founder inspiring a continuity of self-sacrifice, we bind ourselves,_Death_of_a_Loyalist_Soldier.jpg to our community. Thus bound, we experience profound sense of responsibility that exercises self-sacrificial acts in times of need in its turn.

(More to follow.)

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