Thursday, January 22, 2009

The End of “The 3rd Asleep” in Latvia (4)

The image to the right is of Melnays Jānis (Black John). John has a profound connection with Latvian mythology and religion. He is also a symbol of Latvia.

How does one build a nation? How does one build a nation that was asleep or, better, anesthetized by its leadership? To try answer the questions let us first take a quick look at the first two Asleeps.

One may argue that the first Asleep occurred after President Ulmanis coup in 1934. Ulmanis promised to rewrite of the obviously sputtering Constitution and new elections, but neither occurred. One may argue that the economic recovery took longer than Ulmanis had originally thought it would take and, thus, delayed fulfilling his promises. After all, the Soviet army entered Latvia in 1940, only five years after Ulmanis had seized the reins of power, which is not an abnormally long time to try bring order to a political system that permitted an almost unlimited number of political parties in the Saeima. Thus, the argument of what caused the first Asleep may tilt on the censorship the regime imposed on the media, which put the public asleep by inadequately informing it of the dangers from the Soviet Union.

The second Asleep followed the reoccupation of Latvia at the end of WW2 (1945) by the Soviet Union. By the end of the 1950s, there was a notable movement among a broad segment of Latvian society for an “adjustment [to the Soviet Union] from below”. There is debate of whether this “adjustment” meant collaboration with the occupant of Latvia or the final succumbing of the populace to fate. As the events from the mid-1980s on show, there were plenty of sparks left among the ashes to cause a third Awakening.

However, the splintering of the broad-based movement of the Peoples Front into numerous political fractions did not only result in political chaos that paralleled the 1920s and early 1930s. The lapsed experience of the Latvian people in political action permitted the political parties to be taken over by economic interests, which furthermore were aided by the ways of a parliamentary democracy. That is, the independence of the parties from the electorate once elections are over enabled a blossoming of corruption and a neglect of political responsibility.

The Latvian version of parliamentary “democracy” was yeast to Latvians-at-large. By the late 1990s there began to appear newspaper articles arguing that corruption had “stolen the nation” (or state). The dough, the population, grew increasingly cynical and, not least, demoralized. The example of behavior filtering down from the Saeima was a near total disregard of the interests of the community of Latvia. Distrust of their neighbors in the community became a phenomenon said to be specific to Latvians. The media furthered this disgust by not laying to rest the argument that “we are who we elect”, meaning that “the fault, dear Latvians, is not with Saeima, but with you”.

Not surprisingly, the rising yeast popped its first bubble on January 13, 2009. What the people discovered was that while they were coming awake, the politicians and the media slept. The politicians blamed the unrest that followed the demonstration on hooligans. The media opined that throwing eggs and snowballs was as aggressive an act as throwing cobble stones. The politicians and the media, both, claimed the demonstration to have been violent, but neither bothered to define violence. In the end, proof of violence was not forthcoming, unless one includes inert objects thrown against buildings and windows. No government ministers resigned, and parliamentary democracy turned into a virtual dictatorship continued on. Incidentally, the only serious injury at the demonstration came to a youth, whose eye was destroyed by a police rubber bullet.

On the Wednesday evening (January 21) news show “What is happening in Latvia?”, the invited guests were not politicians, but a selection of individuals from various public organizations, including private citizens. The hour and a half show debated inconclusively over what should be done to about the Saeima and the economic crisis. Interestingly, none of the debaters suggested an authoritarian figure as an admissible solution. Nevertheless, at least one participant suggested that the current PM Godmanis by his tendency not to delegate power, but study all matters at hand in detail for himself, and give answers to questions that seemed endless had already made the first step toward a de facto dictatorship.

(More to follow.)

No comments:

Post a Comment