Monday, January 5, 2009

59. Latvia’s Profound vs Shallow Traditions [9]

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.

The Financial Times (FT) recently had an article from its correspondent in Moscow about a police raid on the offices at Memorial, a Russioan human rights group based in St. Petersburg. What interests this blogger about the raid is the anxieties of the Russian authorities as perceived by the FT correspondent.

According to the correspondent: “Gleb Pavlovsky , a Kremlin-backed political scientist, [recently] attacked Memorial as ‘an [organization that had made an] unsuccessful attempt at political memory’ and complained that Russia was vulnerable to ‘foreign’ conceptions of its history.” Pavlovsky reportedly also said: “Russia, not having a memory policy, has become defenseless before defamatory projections and aggressive phobias. Not having become a subject with its own memory, Russian society stands before the threat of becoming an object of foreign projections.”

Regardless of Pavlovsky ultra-right political reputation, his phrasing, re “…not having a memory policy, [Russia] has become defenseless….” is of use also to Latvia.

Let us rewrite the last sentence and put the name of “Latvia” in place of “Russia”: Not having become a subject with its own memory, Latvian society stands before the threat of becoming an object of foreign projections. In the case of Latvia, however, the “foreign” projections (Mr. Pavlovsky’s including) are less an external threat, but more a threat from internal sources.

As pointed out in blog 55, even the president of Latvia has little idea of the real history of Latvia, especially when it comes to the remnants of the relics of its folk religion. Instead, President Zatlers presumes to proselytize on behalf of the neo-Christian church. In short, the policy of the Latvian government appears to aim to facilitate its citizens to forget their past. I am particularly thinking of the past that arrived in Latvia centuries before by way of the terror of the Teutonic knights, who forced Latvians to accept neo-Christian ideas and to dismiss John, their native God, from Earth and send him away to heaven. If Russians still kiss their icons , the Latvians would not think of kissing their first unofficial flag and icon of John the Vaidelotis . That custom has long been undone in Latvia. Instead, the President of Latvia V. Zatlers proselytizes on behalf of neo-Christians. This is not the job of the president of a presumed democratic country.

By not becoming a subject to its own memory, Latvians are at risk of losing their identity even more than Russia is, because of its people’s ever so smaller numbers (about 1.5 million out of Latvia’s total population of 2.5 million). The 1.5 million Latvians are in danger because of not only their government’s failure to subject them to the memory of their history, but also a failure in terms of not informing its non-ethnic population of the history of the nation they live in.

The FT correspondent reports the director of Memorial to have said (with regard to the police raid on the offices of the organization): “It is a war over memory”. Indeed, so it is, and may it ever remain a non-violent war, but one in which people use their wits. We can only wish that the people at Memorial (yes, a Memorial with regard to the victims of Stalin) win over the Kremlin’s fears that criticizing Stalin’s violence somehow, to quote Russia’s PM Putin, “impose[s] a sense of guilt on us”. If I remember right, it is the Russian Orthodox Church, which is among Stalin’s severest critics. Is PM Putin and his allie, the political ideologist Pavlovsky, picking a fight with the heir to the icon of Ivan?

[More to follow.]

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