Monday, January 19, 2009

The End of “The 3rd Asleep” in Latvia (2)

The image to the right is of Melnays Jānis (Black John) at my countryside home. The image stands not only for Jānis (John), a figure of long tradition in Latvia, but also Latvia itself. The image is made of the base of an oak tree and painted black. Its foreshortened limbs can only be made well again by wreaths of oak leaves and flowers. The image was photographed in January, 2009.

If we agree—if only for argument’s sake—that the Latvian people have entered on their 4th Awakening, we must take a closer look at the 3rd Asleep which preceded it. Why was the 3rd Awakening so short lived and so quickly followed by another Asleep period? Why did the great expectations of Latvia’s population in the late 1980s and early 1990s die with the self-sacrificial death of Adolfs Buķis in 1993?

Anyone who looks back at the 3rd Awakening with a critical eye will notice that it was a dream which expressed itself in rhetoric. While I did not make my first visit to Latvia until December of 1991, I remember the pleasure I experienced when I saw in my Arlington, Virginia mailbox a copy of Padomju Jaunatne. The name of the weekly newspaper translates in English as Soviet Youth, but it too, so it appeared, had joined the Awakening.

This is not to deny the reality of The Baltic Way , people of the Baltic countries linking their arms in peaceful demonstration of solidarity across their borders. Nor is it to belittle the Singing Revolution, a name coined by the Estonians , which revived the voice of song throughout the Baltics. Nor is it to ignore the fact that on January 13, 1991, the Popular Front (Tautas fronte) issued a call for the people of Latvia to gather in Riga and build barricades against possible attacks by OMON (Special Purpose Police Squad). Tens of thousands of people from all over the country, women and children including, participated in building the barricades, and providing food and shelter to those who had come from the countryside. In the ensuing days, OMON killed seven people and a number were severely beaten.

Still, the fact that the Soviet Union was falling apart of its own weight (the Baltics in and of themselves are not responsible for bringing it down), and because the rhetoric (and song) saw the Soviet Union fall dead before its eyes in return for relatively little effort, the 3rd Awakening never broke into an open flame. To be even blunter, it never bore the blood sacrifice that would have tested the people’s commitment and mettle.

What followed the gradual and nonviolent collapse of the Soviet Union was a mysterious time, a real enough time, but one that held a vacuum in the place of history. Some historians have called this time “a time when the Soviet regime reigned without Latvians”. The responsibility for this vacuum of history rests squarely on the shoulders of the Latvian government, which never revealed to the public the names of those who served the Soviet Union as KGB agents or who collaborated with the KGB. While the revealing of such names would have been relatively easy in the early days of reinstatement of “independence”, it became progressively more difficult to do. For one, those very agents burrowed ever deeper into the fabric of the renewed Latvian nation. Secondly, all presidents of Latvia—notably Vaira Viķe-Freiberga, because she was president during the years of Latvia’s financial and economic “bubble”—were against making the names public (such as the Soviets failed to take with them to Moscow), because they believed that it would result in more divisiveness than good.

Be that as it may, the 3rd Awakening was still-born because of this unusual alignment of various factors or, if you will, the stars. Which raises the question of whether the current economic crisis in Latvia is the result of this conjunction of forces?

I believe that the answer is both no and yes. It is no, because the financial and economic crisis is almost universal. It is yes, because corruption in the Latvian government is, at least to a significant degree, the result of—as mentioned above—“the Soviet regime without Latvians” or Latvians who collaborated with the Soviet regime who as if by magic have disappeared and made themselves well to do and sometimes wealthy.

Thus, if it was not the Latvian people who were asleep (they were too busy trying to survive on below survival level incomes), it was their government that did its best to avoid looking history in the eye and thereby begged disaster.

(More to follow.)

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