Friday, October 2, 2009

© Eso Anton Benjamins

34 Not-Violent Populism (VI)

In 1993, Adolfs Bukhis (Buķis), a tool maker from Jelgava, a middle aged man, made himself a pencil-like gun. He was disgusted with the corruption in the Latvian government that was just two years into independence from the former Soviet Union. He discussed his plan with his elder brother, who tried to talk him out of it, but apparently failed. The next morning Bukhis went to Riga, the capital city of Latvia, approached the Monument of Freedom, which is located in the centre of the city, sat down on the cold stone in front of the monument and shot himself. His blood was covered with sand, which acted as a blotter and soaked up the blood. The sand and the blood was dumped in the canal that runs under a bridge next to the monument.

The newspapers reported that Bukhis had with him a sign and a note explaining his cause. The police promised an investigation, but it never happened. The contents of the note (if not “lost” and destroyed) are still an official secret. “Official looking men with some sort of pin in their lapels” according to Bukhis younger brother, came to visit him and warn to make no public outcry, else the government would see to it that his children received no education. Possibly all Bukhis relatives received such visits and warnings. Such a ploy was used by the Soviets in hindering the protests of Latvians against the Soviet government. The Latvian government, knowing that the people did not know this was unacceptable government behavior in the West, was playing on this ignorance and threatening to act the same as the Soviets did.

Today, 2009, following sixteen years of further descent into corruption and decomposition of democracy, Adolf Bukhis self-sacrifice is forgotten. The government and media continue to defend a “democracy” that serves a plutocracy. The Latvians have a saying: “Šķel un šķēlē (Skhel un skhehleh)”, meaning “divide and keep slicing [the pie]”. Populists, such as Bukhis, are belittled by all levels of “responsible” institutions, from the presidential office and Latvian oligarchs, by way of political commentators, to the lowest rung journalist. Indeed, the Latvian government and media have joined the oligarchs in “…underwriting oligarchic power while confusing democracy in the public mind with the largely symbolic right to vote in general elections.”*

The author of the above quote, Adrian Kuzminski, Hartwick College, NY, is writing about the United States of America. I am quoting him, because in my opinion his observation is doubly apropriate to Latvia. Kuzminski also writes: “It is not unreasonable… to describe early-twenty-first century-America as a corporate-plutocratic society, driven above-all by the profit motive, predicated on a presumption of endless ‘growth’ driven by the obligation to service debt burdens, and justified by what is in fact an antidemocratic version of misrepresentative government.”** The last, too, applies to Latvia.

Given that the post-Soviet Latvian parliamentary democracy has no tradition (to speak of) as a government of the people, but does have a tradition of sowing confusion among the people as to the meaning of democracy, one cannot help thinking that its—so far—not-violent actions (by way of bringing high levels of anxiety and driving many of Latvia’s citizens to suicide) are an open invitation to reciprocator action. The police have apparently silenced one such not-violent reciprocal act by Adofs Bukhis. The recent repression of protests on the bridges of Bauska by special police units (clearly on a training mission) point to similar police response in the future. On the other hand, not-violent populist acts during the Soviet era were lauded as exemplary and patriotic. One has to only remember the Lithuanian student Romas Kalanta , who self-sacrificed himself in 1972 in an act of protest against the Soviet Union. In the instance of Bukhis, one has to regret that the police made no investigation. The failure very likely advanced corruption that his self-sacrificial act meant to block.

Before anyone resorts to such a not-violent charismatic act as that of Bukhis—one that brings not only death, but also possibly social oblivion—there are plenty of other things one may do. The doing of course depends on analysis, that is, who or what one sees to be the enemy of a true democracy. As pointed out by the above-mentioned Kuzminski, populism in the United States was brought to a halt “By the 1890s, through a series of legislative and judicial acts, [because of which] corporate power in the United States broke free of effective public accountability.”*** As mentioned, parliamentary democracy in Latvia has developed its own traditions of public unaccountability, and some of the cruder tactics of U.S. corporations, destruction of small businesses including, are not only admired by the oligarchs and would be oligarchs in Latvia, but also believed to be the norm for today and tomorrow.

The current financial and economic shocks in Latvia, which has largely been brought on the Latvians by Swedish banks and their government (a similar chaos and systems collapse in the rest of the world notwithstanding), has no easy solution. Still, some solutions may be less painful than others.

One of the solutions offered (not in so many words, but by innuendo and action) is devaluation of the currency. The oligarchs favor devaluation, because it may “stimulate” the economy back to life again through more artificial “growth”. The oligarchs, like their good supporter and our good doctor as president at the helm of Latvia, know that if the patient on his deathbed raises his head, this does not necessarily mean recovery. Nevertheless, it gives the parliamentary class an opportunity to catch their breath before the patient’s body-system starts its death rattle. The Saeima rattles on: “Look, the country is alive”.

Indeed, the people are antagonistic toward the Latvian Saeima, their President, the ministers, and of course the oligarchs and their corporations, the latter a farce of individual rights with money to spare. Thus, until the political system returns to an economy that works toward equalization of sovereignty, with the people more equal in sovereignty than the corporation and the state, populism will and must prevail.

One of the steps that we need to take is a reduction of taxes of people who live at some distance of the city and its suburbs. It does not take much to realize that one source of the worldwide systems failure is the city. The cities of the world absorb 50% and more of the world’s population. The city dweller lives in a mostly virtual world and depends on the government’s ability to lie and oppress the country people. This enables the government to provide city dwellers with cheap bread, goods, and other resources. It is time to reverse this trend. In technical terms, this is easy to do.

All that the government has to do to accommodate populist sovereignty is tax city and suburban dwellers more than the country dwellers. Adjustments should be made to encourage ever greater distancing from the city. This will reverse the flow of people back to the countryside. Not only the people (populists), but the environment, too, will win.

*Adrian Kuzminski, Fixing the System, Continuum, 2008, p. 154. The subtitle of Kuzminski’s book reads: A History of Populism, Ancient and Modern. The author is a research scholar in philosophy at Hartwick College, NY.
**Ibid., p. 11
***Ibid., p. 10
A relevant discussion on populism in Ernesto Laclau’s “On Populist Reason” and many other books, not to mention Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers.

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