One increasingly used concept is that of the urla. I am not sure where the word comes from, but it describes a kind of uniformly stupid, dissolute,sometimes shave-headed or short-haired, largely-substance abusing youth whose uniform is shabby counterfeit-brand jogging outfits. Most often the term urla is applied to Russian speakers, but there are those who argue that there are Latvian urlas as well. I definitely think there are, but since the society as a whole is ethnically mixed, the urla percentage is useful in defining what one could consider the social degeneration of the society as a whole.
Fellow blogger Aleks Tapinsh wrote a few years back that urlas are a dying-breed, but I would dispute this, because it sometimes seems that the proportion of urlas is increasing (if not their absolute numbers). This could be because a large number of “normal” young people have emigrated, the urlazation of the social environment being one of the contributing factors. A related English slang term might be mook.
Above and beyond the urlas, I think that the proportion of what I would call seriously strange individuals is increasing. This perception may result from living downtown and working just across from the central train station. Train stations are magnets for the strange and deviant. In Frankfurt, Germany, I worked a block from the train station and once I passed a person lying in a large cardboard box several days in a row.
Mind you, this is not a pleasant strangeness, rather, it is a disturbing aura of expressionless defeat, surliness, depression, empty despair. This plays out not only on the faces of the babuska-beggers one sometimes encounters (for them, having some kind of expression is a useful misery marketing tool), but on many young people. In another context (maybe it was the LatviansOnline forum) I described these as “thin, lizardine young men in baseball caps”. I coined the phrase “lizardine” to describe a lizard-like behavior of expressionless, motionlessness broken by a short dash to another position, there, to reassume the “lizardine” stance. Dark urla or semi-urla wardrobe goes with this type of creature (I am wondering if these are not grown-up “booze babies”, like the developmentally disrupted crack babies produced in American ghettos).
I had noticed all of this long before the economic crisis set in, so that is not the cause of these sights. The urlas and others were already there. They add to the ghetto-street-life atmosphere that I already described back in 2000 in an essay I circulated on the internet (pre-blogosphere days) and excerpts from which I reprinted in an earlier post. I also used the term mutt to describe such people, although in terms of a total lack of ethics, parts of the educated and “upper class” Latvian elite could be described as mutts
To the urlas and the generally strange I should add the regular encounters one has with staggering drunks at inappropriate hours. After midnight on Friday, one understands, but Wednesday mornings at 9 AM?
The overall picture one gets is of a society that, perhaps, has passed a tipping point and with the added pressure of the economic crisis, will suffer the lethal drag (to any rapid recovery or normalization)of this social substrate. In more prosperous societies, it is possible to reallocate social services and education resources to pull some of the mutts and mooks out of their condition, but this is unlikely in Latvia.
There is a website in Russian with photos of urlas.