The Baltic Course  

Cowards' revenge

by Dainis Lemesonoks, columnist, Neatkariga Rita Avize, Latvian daily, January 27, 2004

 It would probably be more convenient for Neatkariga Rita Avize's editors and me personally to pretend that there is no such problem. But we do not want to live being aware of our civic cowardice, i.e. tacitly supporting political provocation just being afraid to offend the most radical part of our readers.  

All Russian-language mass media in Latvia are writing about Russian-language education problems. It has become known to the whole world that thousands of pupils and students organized massive rallies against the discriminatory education reform, but the country's rulers have turned a deaf ear to all these protests.

 The school reform is not the underlying reason for current ethnic tension in Latvia, it is rather a consequence. Additional remark: we have to remember the notorious decree "On restitution of citizens' rights and basic conditions for naturalization" passed on October 15, 1991, by the national parliament at that time still called the Supreme Council. According to this decree, one-third of population has been deprived of their political rights.

Today, when it seems that all the damage has already been done, more and more people among Latvian community fearlessly make dissenting public statements. For now there aren't as many of them as one would wish for. But their words are very dear for the cause of protecting democracy in a country that claims to posses this status.

Photo: sS.Romin

What do we really want?

The amendments to the law-reform package about Russian-language schools drafted by Latvian Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis and the ruling (Latvian) majority in the parliament would not have been passed without the assumption that a rather wide population group might loudly, maybe not so loudly or even with barely moving lips (God forbid if a neighbor would hear!) rejoice at this "Latvianization" process. 

Therefore not only political leaders but the entire Latvian people as a majority holder of power in the country has finally to come up with a clear and definite answer to the question: what is it that we, who represent the highest pursuits in Latvia, really want to achieve by reforming Russian-language schools? Is it true integration of Russian and Russian-speaking youngsters or petty revenge for moral and physical humiliation suffered during the years of Soviet occupation? Let us be straight, just for once, and at last drop the "national hide-and-seek game" with ourselves. So far only Latvian MP Silva Golde in her naive self-justification attempt from the People's Party ranks could afford to admit from the parliament rostrum that politicians were guided by thirst for revenge.

She deserves merit at least for being honest. Of course, a fire doesn't start from just one log, according to a Latvian saying, which suggests that no party to a conflict can be absolutely innocent. It is most likely that protection of Russian schools is a similarly profitable business with guaranteed audience of voters also for those, who organise youth protests and pay for T-shirts painted with slogans that the demonstrators had on (and, who knows, may be even for beer they took as a spirit-lifting measure). Today these people are euphoric because their opponents (I cannot call them the representatives of 'the enemy camp', it's too much) are doing their job for them.

We say "reform", and mean "revenge"

But we are not going to talk about protesters, nor about the school reform which is actually impossible without a nation-wide debate about its purpose and methods of implementation, neither about integration, assimilation or de-occupation. We have to talk about our generosity. It is not by chance that we, the Latvians, today have run into contradiction with our own slogans back at the time of the Awakening [the period in the late 1980s and early 1990s which culminated in restoration of Latvia's independence from the Soviet Union]: for the mother tongue, for desire not to become unaware of our identity and original roots. Now we have to provide an answer to the question: what was it that we were fighting for when we shouted them? Was it for freedom or that we just wanted to have the whip in our hands? The fire set up at the ministry door by National Bolsheviks was no justification to the minister and lawmakers for breaking earlier promises.

The whole situation has become so tragic because the political rulers do not keep their word and at the same time citizens, actively or passively, approve this ignominious behaviour. We say "reform" but think in reality about "revenge". Politicians presumably can do it, and the public supports it. Are we, the Latvians, really more "Machiavellian" type than the legendary political scientist of the Renaissance times himself; are we convinced that a small dishonesty can help to make our national interests come true? How can this revenge over children of different ethnic origin and their parents make Latvia stronger?

Moreover, this is a cowardly revenge because part of its supporters does not have the guts to let out the demons tearing their brain apart. I say "just part", because other proponents of the reform are downright provocateurs, but there's still time to do something about it. No decision about Latvia's admission to NATO has been made yet, and there are still few months left until May 1 when we will step over the threshold and into the European common market [The article was published late January 2004 – editor].

A purely personal remark: isn't it strange that the minister so full of belligerent national zeal is supported by the premier with a number of people with non-Latvian education among his close associates. I feel compelled to ask a question that reeks of old times: whose mill are you pouring your water on, mister minister?

Presidential mission

Of course, it is very likely that the country's president once again won't let us bring harm on ourselves or would keep politicians from breaking their word. Because, thank God, she is no longer worried whether she loses a couple of points of her rating or not. Maybe this is why her true mission as the head of the state is based on the obligation to develop among people understanding that fears of the past may not be used to justify dishonest actions. And that we, the Latvians, will never take revenge for our humiliation. But should we try, we will not only sweep ourselves off the stage of history but also leave by far not the best impression about ourselves.