Saturday, August 20, 2011

20 years of freedom – and?

OK, I will join the great chorus in saying how great it is that Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and nothing could have been worse that continuing to stagnate under the Soviets. The Soviet occupation was a truly horrible time, especially the beginning of it all, with deportations, war, deportations again and repression and fear that only eased very gradually toward the end of the 1980s. Add to that the bizarre economic deprivation, queues, shoddy products, blat-level corruption, dismal everyday life with little or nothing changed, no freedom to travel, etc. etc.
The occupation left indelible marks on the Latvian nation, and those are the reason that, at the end of the day, we are happy to have our freedom, we say we cherish our freedom (and we probably do), and we should never, never lose that freedom again. Of course!
But what have we made of that freedom? What did those of us who lived outside Latvia expect? We grew up as “refugee/emigres” wherever we were, a status that kept important, vital parts of our lives focussed on Latvia and on the impossible dream of Latvian independence. The dream came true, but we who grew up in freedom knew that freedom was the most important kind of opportunity, often the first step. Freedom is to be used, filled out with a vision, a path chosen together with other free citizens.
Yes, Latvia used its freedom. The country made its way into the European Union and NATO, two visions that it automatically adopted once free. But after that? There is no realistic, coherent vision for the future.
To be frank, Latvia achieved freedom from the Soviet Union, but is still far from free from being a nation of far too many homo post-sovieticus. It has lost up to 300 000 inhabitants to emigration, a good part of them, perhaps, for largely economic reasons, but also because what the political and economic elite of this country has done and failed to do has broken any trust they had in the government and any faith in the future.
I put myself among those who have lost this trust and faith – for reasons that I have argued many times over in this blog. Latvia could have done a lot better with its freedom over the last 20 years by making many choices not made. Many of these choice not taken involved actions and changes of behavior that would have cost very little money. It is not case of failing to do as old rich countries did with their wealth, but failing, with few exceptions, to behave as old rich countries did in order to become both rich and reasonably civilized.
Much of this I have described in earlier posts. There is really nothing new to say on the 20th anniversary of the Soviet coup and independence. I don't regret spending much of my life growing up in the US, living and working in Germany and Sweden, while always trying to “be Latvian” and do things for “the Latvian cause”, even as a journalist. I can say, too, that I have also “served my time” here in Latvia, for better or for worse. We have what we have. Been there, done that, yet again. But I've had enough, too, in one sense. I want to be somewhere else and do something else next, before going even further into “advanced youth” where my options will shrink.

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