Monday, September 28, 2009

Copyright Eso Benjamins, aka Jaņdžs

31 Not-Violent Populism (III)

The most rejected word among Latvian politicians, media people, sociologists, political experts who call themselves politologues, and even the public at large (due to the influence of the afore mentioned) is not communism as the country’s history would make think, but “populism” and “populist”. One arrives to this conclusion when one discovers that the only context the word is used is a negative one.

While populism has many meanings to many people, the reason for the Latvian slant is that its elites (of which the media consciously or unconsciously have made themselves part) do not care to analyze the country’s past except in a very narrow range of political clichés written by outsiders from “developed” countries. Even in the face of an economic and financial scrubbing that is presently polishing Latvia to its bones, no scrutiny of deeper causes of the whyfores of its troubles has occurred.

One of the reasons for the universal negative attitude toward populism in Latvia has much to do with the fact that for a half century Latvia was occupied by the Soviet communist regime. Under the communist regime, the communist party—at least in theory—was the representative of the working people, i.e., the party presumed itself to be the working people’s populist bastion. This is why in some ways, the communist party was the parliamentary representative of the presumably homogeneous people of the Soviet Union. Of course, the people saw through the charade.

When the Soviet regime collapsed (1991), a very real populist movement took advantage of the turmoil.  With support from the West, Latvia, along with other central European countries, became a sovereign nation again. However, the parliamentary democracy, which took over from the communist party, was democratic only in a formal sense—elections notwithstanding. In fact, being “parliamentary” in Latvia means to be elitist, which is why the word “populism”—from the Latvian president (Zatlers) down—has come to be used to beat down any notions of a populist democracy and to equate populism with irresponsibility and worst social elements in the nation.

No doubt, one may find a wholly negative definition of populism. However, the definition of populism used by this author borrows that of Albertazzi, Daniele and Duncan McDonnell (see: Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, 2008, New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.3.). Re: [Populism is] "an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice.”
In any event, the Latvia parliamentary democracy is no less elitist than the communist party ever was. The people once again see through the charade, but are kept from exercising their powers by having their brains washed by a negative attitude of elites and the media toward their solidarity. However, even with distrust of government reaching 80% plus, the people remain passive. No matter how much they are in solidarity about the current situation, the people are prevented from gathering and forming a protest movement, for want of ability to name the movement for what it is: populist. In other words, a populist reaction against the theft of the Latvian government by the elites for the elites does not take place because the people do not dare use the name “populist”. If a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it falling, it falls nevertheless; but when human resistance is prevented from naming itself, it fails to resist.

Another set of circumstances preventing a populist democratic revolt against the Latvian parliamentary democracy has to do with past existential experiences of the Latvian people. There are two main events that define these experiences.

The first is the coup of 1933 by Karlis Ulmanis. Ulmanis, one of the founding fathers of Latvia (1918), staged a coup to check the anarchy prevailing in the Latvian Saeima (parliament), which kept the country from economic development. Ulmanis promised to rewrite the Latvian constitution and—at a later date—to hold new elections. Neither took place, because of the invasion of Latvia by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The second event has to do with the fact that K. Ulmanis offered no resistance to the Soviets. It is true that resistance by the tiny Latvian military forces could not result in prevention of the invasion and occupation and would have caused the loss of many lives. However, instead of sacrificing his life for the country through a selfless sacrificial act, Ulmanis told the people: “You stay in your places and I will stay in mine”. Because the order came from a man whose word had been law for seven years, it meant that the people obeyed and did nothing. Of course, Ulmanis’ order caused profound communal unease and sense guilt.

When in 1941 the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, the sense of guilt resulted in an overcompensating event. Since the German attack coincided with mass deportations by the Soviets of the cream of Latvian society, Latvians greeted the Germans as liberators. The anger and guilt of Latvians was ready and waiting to take advantage of the situation without any deeper analysis of it or its consequences. Many Latvians joined the war against the Soviet Union. Ever since, outsiders (for their own unprincipled political reasons) have interpreted this populist act as an act by fascists.

The above xperiences have left Latvians with great aversion to violence. At the same time, they are unable to discover a compensatory outlet for their rage against the return of a parliamentary government not only as government by anarchy, but as government of outright theft of the nation’s wealth and, if you will, honor. The thievery by government involves, no less, a de facto bankruptcy of the nation, which has brought upon the Latvians not only suffering among its sick and old, but a dumbing down of the young by way of offering them no adequate facilities or motivation to seek higher education. The situation is existential. Whatever sense of community remains among the people, the abandonment of communal events for lack of money (and lack of elitist motivation to encourage such events), is yet another obstacle that keeps this small nation (2.5 million) from taking charge of their community.

The Latvians are reacting to their helplessness and passivity in two ways. At the present either amounts to hitting one’s head against a wall in hopes it will fall.

I. Latvians have a sense that their state is disintegrating. The great number of people who are leaving Latvia illustrates this feeling best.

II. Many Latvians are enraged. Under normal circumstances, they or any other people for that matter would want blood. However, the Latvian experience with violence and their small numbers (indeed, Latvians are in demographic death spiral) prevents them from effecting action. Even so, the anger and frustration linger, and since these have no vent, the result is a sense of defeat, which manifests itself as passivity. In short, the majority of Latvians feel (and hope they do not believe it) that it is but a matter of time before Latvia no longer matters.

If you copy this blog for your own files, or to be forwarded, or its content is otherwise mentioned, please credit the author and

No comments:

Post a Comment