Sunday, June 12, 2011

A political weathervane and a fine, bland little gathering

The first organized public reaction to the dismissal of the Saeima and subsequent “merriment” was a rally called by TV personality Viesturs Dūle and others on an isolated, semi-artificial island in the river Daugava. The idea was to protest against the oligarchs allegedly running Latvian politics and also to “bury the oligarch within each of us”.

The latter part very much put me off from the whole undertaking, because I don't feel a bit like wanting to make a great fortune by skimming tax funds and using other advantages derived from state capture. I have nothing against a great fortune, but please, let it come to me by my own efforts on a law-governed, free market.

If the message was that the citizenry of Latvia is also responsible for the dismal state of politics, then it has nothing to do with any oligarch in any of us. Instead, it is the inability to learn from past mistakes in voting, to hold politicians to their promises (at least the executable promises), and to be ready to organize a democratic, non-parliamentary opposition/resistance movement when one realizes that the whole system here in Latvia is, to put it precisely, fucked.

Aside from that and the fact that the whole event on June 8 can probably be best described by the Slavic-derived Latvian word balagāns, (a kind of cheapo, shallow but still entertaining little carnival), it was a weathervane event, since as many as 8 000 mostly young people gathered to listen to a few speeches and watch a huge wooden symbol of “corruption” set afire. The thought crossed my mind that something like that would have more impact if a real symbol of the oligarchs were burned, like a barn or toolshed belonging to one of them (naturally, harming no physical person, in the spirit of the 1960s German Gewalt gegen Sachen /Violence against objects/ debate within the Ausserparlamentarische Opposition/APO). But we are still a few steps away from something like that, which, for various reasons, I doubt would have any desirable effect.

Anyway, I hope that many of those on the AB Dambis island went away from the event committed to doing something more than just shooing away the oligarch within them and voting on hypothetical and real issues on an internet website. Heck, with a little help from some experts, I (or anyone else) could put up a website where we could vote on the merits of intergalactic flight or anything else. As far as the real oligarchs in Latvia are concerned, I am afraid that they best fit in with a bizarre Facebook event scheduled for exactly 10 days later, on June 18, National I Don't Give A Fuck Day. That is how the powers behind this country's bozo parliamentarians look at public opinion in Latvia, like it or not.

On an everyday basis, the social degeneration continues apace. I had to take a bus to the airport to retrieve the family car, since my wife had flown away to Sweden for a few days and left it in a long-term lot for me to pick up and use over the weekend. The first thing that happened on the good old No. 22 bus was that the traffic wardens or whatever you call them boarded the bus and checked everyone's electronic tickets. Then, knowing almost no English on the one bus route most frequented by foreigners, they hassled an air Baltic pilot (I think he did register his e-ticket) and got a LVL 5 pay-off from him. It was either that or delay his flight to Baku.

Next on board was a shirtless junkie who spent the whole trip up to the next to last stop before the airport nodding (actually bowing at times, almost to the floor) and leaning as he rocked back and forth on a young mother and her kid, or almost bumping into the already fleeced pilot standing across from him. The junkie was joined by two or three criminal looking friends at one of the last few stops before the airport, but then the whole lot proceeded to hop off at a stop in the middle of nowhere just before the airport. To what purpose, I don't know. Driving back in my car, I saw Joe the Junkie waiting for the bus back to town, still in his own quadrant of outer space.

Personally, I think you have to be pretty much a degenerate fuckwit to develop a heroin habit. Politically, I think they should legalize the stuff, register addicts, give them prescriptions, clean needles, shooting areas and decrease the crime rate from addiction related thefts, burglaries and robberies. None of this will happen in Latvia this century...

Another thing brought back to me at the anti-oligarch (but nice, please!) rally was the fact that even Latvians with some sense of purpose are unable to think through any issues that concern them. I don't think I am breaching any confidences by writing about someone who approached me as the rally was breaking up (a man of around 60, roughly my age) and wanted to talk abut some things. The core of it was that he wanted to set up an NGO for Latvian families. So I asked – fine, to what exact purpose? One of things bothering him was that ethnic Latvians had been given fewer opportunities to privatize their apartments than ethnic Russians (post-war migrants) who mainly lived in Soviet-era housing. Many Latvians lived in older buildings that were denationalized.

Assuming we cannot turn back the privatization or denationalization process, I then said that the issue was one of building housing. That didn't move the discussion ahead, as the person believes that there are ex-KGB and Communists everywhere whose specific purpose was to derail any such initiatives. I asked whether, perhaps, the former KGB, if still under control of Russian intelligence, might have other missions under present-day circumstances. Sabotaging initiatives to build housing for Latvian families did not seem to be at the top of the global priority list for anyone running stay-behind networks out of the Kremlin, IMHO. Neither did that move things anywhere.

I then suggested that some people could solve their family housing problems by working abroad, but then the person said that the people he was concerned about didn't even have 5 LVL to buy a cheap Ryanair tickets out of here. Well then, said I, the problem is really extreme poverty, which can have a number of personal and structural causes – lack of education, addiction/alcoholism, lack of jobs, etc. But that also didn't focus things. I am still not sure what this proposed NGO will do, how it will affect anything and how it will define the root problems that it wants society or the government to deal with. There seems to be a total lack of education in problem solving and the critical thought (what are the issues? what are the causes?) needed for it. To be sure, the person was sincere and not really a crackpot (not that public gatherings lack for those). But this is the level of things here. The ones who can get their heads around issues have already done the socio-economic math and are out of here. On that note, please look again at my video CV and spread it around, as I have serious doubts, very serious doubts, about staying on here:


Anonymous said...

Failed State Latvia????

More like Failed Blog entries.

Latvia is great country and if you don`t like it then move out,

I live in Latvia :)

Juris Kaža said...

You either don't see what is going on or maybe you have a radically different interpretation of events. Perhaps you don't speak Latvian. Anyway, I can't agree with a love it or leave it attitude. It is rather simplistic.

Anonymous said...

Hi Juri, all you say is true. For myself I solved this problem by establishing a company in another country (I still have one also here, in Latvia, but not much sense with recent taxes, so it's not VERY active :) ).

But I with you have one thing in common- we both can work from whatever place on Earth, provided there is Internet connection there. Nobody cares if he receives my (or your) job from Antarctica, Namibia or Arctic IP address, as long as he receives it.

I have found a way to survive for myself, but cannot provide any solutions for Latvia as a whole.

BTW, my son already for 1,5 years, after finishing a University here, is in UK, has risen from conveyor belt to computer department in the same company (the only non-Englishman there). Telling story- when I visited him one of several times at his place, we went to a shop for another wine. He crossed the street diagonally without even looking either side. I shouted to him "what the hell are you thinking you are doing", he turned back and calmly said to me: "Nomierinies, šeit ir Anglija, te neviens nevienam *virsū nebrauc*". Hard to express it in English, but I'll try: "Calm down, this is England, here nobody *drives over you* (*Doesn't offend you*, *Doesn't make himself better at the expense of you*).

So it goes, as Vonnegut said.