The outrage against the harsh sentencing of the Russian musicians and performance artists Pussy Riot seems to have passed by many Latvians (to be fair, there have not been mass gatherings or riots in the streets in any other countries). What disturbs me is not the passivity on this issue, but the fact that a significant number of Latvians in social networks seem to support the punishment of the three Russian women, who have already been jailed for five months.
Latvia has been exposed to democratic values for more than 20 years. One could even say that the whole freedom movement of the late 1980s was based on a hope to once again be a free, democratic nation. But it apparently came at a time when the social fabric of Latvia was damaged beyond some critical breaking point, leaving an almost indelible Soviet mentality of “ it is right to repress what I dislike” fixed in the personalities of many Latvians. I judge that by the response of people on Twitter and other social networks, where I suggested that the arrest and anticipated sentencing of Pussy Riot was a violation of the freedom of expression.
I was shocked – though knowing Latvia, only slightly shocked – how people who are knee-jerk anti-Russian on other issues (Russian language, Russian schools, the New Wave music festival) were so quick to align with the authoritarian Kremlin when it came to three young women causing less than a minute of disturbance in a largely empty Orthodox church. People carried on about how it was right to punish those who had “desecrated” a holy place (where, apparently, other non-religious events had taken place), how the behavior of the women was somehow despicable. There were also claims that Pussy Riot members had made a pornographic video and had participated in group sex (as if either of these actions lessened their freedom of expression with regard to the incident at the Orthodox Church). But mainly, there was a general belief that it was right to repress and punish those who do not agree with one’s own beliefs or some ill defined public morality and order. The authoritarian personality lives on in Latvia, it is one of the most persistent legacies of the Soviet occupation and, perhaps, also the authoritarian regime from 1934 – 1940.