20 years ago, on 4th May 1990, Latvia re-declared its independence. Technically. There was still more than a year to go to actually get the new country running independently. Nevertheless, that is the date Latvians celebrate.
I am young enough to remember much of the 1990s events. Nevertheless, I do remember the spirit that was in the air. Even though poor, people were all fired-up, anticipating the new beginning which did eventually come. Perhaps even faster than most people thought. Yet, I don’t think it was the kind of change these people were looking forward to. Whilst personal liberties increased, security and wealth of the general population plummeted. The country was being transformed into a “modern democracy” which means “free-market” economy coupled with participatory democracy. Or ‘participatory’ I should say.
Either way, here is where we are now: about 25% decline of GDP in two years and no light at the end of the tunnel. Latvians’ dearest ‘friend’ IMF projects that even by 2015 Latvia’s output won’t match that of 2006.
More striking still is the fact that people are accepting things as they are. Back then, in early 1990s, people were willing to organize, express solidarity, resist and argue whilst now no-one is up for anything. Everybody just keeps whining about the situation, alone, and there has been no real protest since our re-declaration of independence. Although I hate to do this, I cannot help comparing Greece to Latvia. Whilst former’s people are trying to resist the IMF burden and are willing to unite and protest, the latter’s people are collectively doing absolutely nothing.
One could, of course, argue that it is hard to change the mindset of people who have lived their whole lives under military and political occupation. To those I can reply: what about the new generation? Those born from around 1986 onwards did not experience any oppression, they’ve always been allowed to express their opinion and think freely. Yet, this generation is no different than that of their parents or grandparents. Indeed, I believe their grandparents were more active fighters than they are.
Most shockingly, what I hear from some of my friends is their willingness to be ruled by a “strict leader”, i.e., a dictator. Why? “Because there is chaos in the government” and “nothing constructive is being done.” Whilst I can agree with the latter -- that our political ‘elite’ is useless -- I cannot comprehend the fact that people, whose parents have fought for their liberty, are willing to give it away to the very kind of political ‘system’ Latvians fought against 20 years ago. Instead of uniting and trying to make some meaningful decisions or simply actively participating in political life, these young people rather want to be left alone and are happy to delegate their destiny to the “strict leader”.
I guess Latvia’s education system deserves a fair share of criticism. Its spoon-feeding approach and cult for the master -- teacher, professor, supervisor -- ends up producing relatively clever yet super-obedient clerks who are taught to be servants of their master. And if the master is not there, the bewildered herd doesn’t know what to do. This applies to job market where it is a national pride to be a clerk of some big Swedish bank or an international accounting or PR firm as well as to political life where we need the ‘strong hand’.
Obviously, there are exceptions. Yet, I have genuine worries about the parliamentary election this fall. I do realize that economy-wise no political party will be able to influence much as we have ‘entrusted’ that to the IMF. However, I would not be surprised that between the two evils Latvians would choose the biggest one -- one that is headed by the “strict leader”.
I also realize that it is more important for people to realize that the ultimate power lies on them not on politicians. 20 years ago Latvians realized that; Politicians who did the paperwork and re-declared Latvia’s independence were only there because they had support from hundreds of thousands of people. It is important that the Latvian people -- especially the young generation -- recall this notion once again. Ultimately it is the people that have the real power.