Yesterday we started working through this essay by Vyacheslav Vishnevsky. We discussed the political ideology of fascism, and how, in order to come to power, fascists always need a hate-able “Other” within their own society. In the Latvian case, it’s Russians, mostly. Russians are the ethnic minority du jour who don’t fit into the New Order within this tiny titular nation.
We started talking about a notable Latvian politician named Alfrēds Rubiks. Rubiks is an ethnic Latvian who doesn’t hate Russians. But then he is also a socialist, and socialists are not supposed to hate anybody except capitalists. In fact Rubiks is the former leader of the Communist Party of Latvia. Even so, his lack of hatred is an achievement, because many former Communist Party officials showed their true colors and became Latvian nationalists the moment they were able to. In other words, their supposed devotion to socialist ideals was just a big lie, and their membership in the Communist Party just crass careerism – shame on them – tsk tsk!
Anyhow Rubiks proved his chops back in the day. He opposed Latvia’s secession from the Soviet Union and served 6 years in a Latvian prison, in effect being Latvia’s first political prisoner under independence. Emerging from jail still feisty and more popular than before, Rubiks founded the Socialist Party of Latvia, successor to the Communist Party. Under Latvian law, he is prohibited from running for office. Nonetheless, his strong will and his popularity gained him (in 2009) a seat in the European Parliament as a delegate from Latvia. For the next 4 years, from the European tribune Rubiks continued to speak out for the ideals which he still believes in, namely socialism and equality of nations. Such ideas fall on mostly deaf ears in an increasingly fascist and Russia-hating Europe. However, Rubiks believes that his efforts were not completely in vain — he succeeded in at least “softening” some of the restrictions placed on Latvian “non-citizens”, i.e., ethnic Russians. For example, the EU insisted that Latvia stop preventing “non-citizens” from freely travelling within Latvia itself. On the other hand, Rubiks was never able to get these people the right to vote in elections. Even the Estonians for crying out loud allow ethnic Russians to vote in municipal elections; but the Latvians just couldn’t bring themselves to go that far…
Currently, at the age of 81, Rubiks has effectively retired from politics. Fortunately for him, he has political offspring, namely his two sons, Artūrs and Raimonds, who carry on their father’s legacy. Both sons are elected deputies in the Latvian Saeima, or Parliament. Their political party, which is called “Harmony”, stands for equality of Latvian citizenship regardless of ethnicity or native language.
Another political figure in the Latvian “pro-Russian” camp is Jānis Ādamsons, also currently a member of the “Harmony” Party. Unlike the boring Rubiks brothers, Ādamsons is a truly colorful figure. In his past life he served as a Soviet border guard in the Far East, where he acquired the nickname “Captain Shark”. After Latvian independence, Ādamsons continued to serve as a Latvian Border Guard as well as a sea captain. In 1995 he was appointed Interior Minister. In this post he won fame and notoriety by busting open a Pedophilia ring run (allegedly) by prominent political figures, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice. In response to these accusations, the ruling circles banded together to squelch both Ādamsons and his investigation. In 1996 Ādamsons resigned from the “Latvian Way” political party and joined the Latvian Social-Democratic Workers Party, which traces its pedigree all the way back to the 1918 Mensheviks!
Despite his defeat by the “Pedophile” ring (he lost in court and had to pay a fine), a bloodied but unbowed Ādamsons continues his mutinous pronouncements, and continues to buck The Powers That Be. He has spoken out against NATO deployments on Latvian territory; and against the lobbyists of the American Military-Industrial Complex, who are just itching to pick a fight against Russia. When Crimea seceded from Ukraine and joined Russia, Ādamsons applauded the Crimeans thusly: “I am thrilled that Crimea left Ukraine — the situation is such that, if Crimea had remained in Ukraine, then Europe would already be experiencing a full-on war.” With Crimea being the litmus test, Ādamsons, like the Rubiks brothers, is an example of an ethnic Latvian who fights to end discrimination against the ethnic Russian minority within the context of an independent Latvian state. The word “independent” perhaps should be put in quotes, since Latvia, a member of the EU and NATO, is no more independent than is a toy poodle at a Westminster Kennel Club Show.
We Will Rock You!
And here is a third example of Latvia’s equivalent of the Hebrew Yad Vashem (google it), in other words, ethnic Latvians who defend the rights of Russians. And unlike the other two, Imants Kalniņš could not have been predicted as a pro-Russian type. For starters, he had nothing to do with the former Communist Party nor state. Quite the contrary: He was an artistic dissident and musician who wrote the USSR’s first rock opera. As his wiki page notes, Kalniņš was a bit of a hippy during the 1960’s; his rock band Liepāja flouted the stuffy Soviet establishment. His wiki page makes it sound like Kalniņš was repressed by the Soviets, but one needs to factor in, that his genuine talent as a composer won him a “State Laureate” title of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. So, he was not exactly some martyr who went to the gulag and had to piss into his own boot.
It was only natural that a man like Kalniņš would support Latvian independence and oppose the USSR. And sure enough, he joined the Latvijas Tautas fronte (Popular Front of Latvia) political movement which helped to bring about Latvia’s secession from the USSR. Only Latvian nationalists use a different vocabulary: The call it “ending Soviet occupation” of Latvia. See, in their ALT-version of history, Latvia was only independent for a while in 1920, then was “occupied” by the Soviets, then regained independence under Nazi administration, then was “re-occupied” by the Soviets. Well, the pro-Soviet side sees Latvian history in a completely different light, of course, but we don’t really have time to go into that right now. Suffice it to say that Kalniņš just seemed like your typical ethnic anti-Soviet dissident who goes on to become an ethnic fascist and Russia-hater. After his “Popular Front” gig he joined an even more ultra-nationalist organization and combined political rhetoric with his continuing creative work as a composer.
But then things took a different turn. Nowdays, the elderly Kalniņš is considered a “true friend” of Russia and the Russian people. He even declared the following: “In collaboration with Russia I see more positive prospects for Latvia, than in the European Union.” Which only proves that people are complicated animals and you can never predict, with 100% accuracy, what they will do, or how they will turn out in the future.
Patterns do persist, however. In the case of Kalniņš he came to his current position from a completely different starting point than did the ex-Communist types; and yet this is a curious road also travelled by part of the current European “Right”. You only have to look at people such as French politician Marine Le Pen to see that there is a certain logic to it: The classic old-fashioned European “Right” (sometimes verging on a type of fascism in their thinking) has a wing that is pro-Russian. Or maybe not pro-Russian in the sense of loving to death Ivan the Russian railway worker from Daugavpils; but pro-Russian in the sense that they like and respect Russian President Putin; while similarly disliking and disrespecting American President Obama and his NATO bullies.
Speaking of which, even the current President-Elect Donald Trump can be seen as an example of this “new Right” way of thinking about the world. In a way where Russia is not always the bad guy, and EU/NATO are undermining European sovereignty far more egregiously than Russia ever did. In other words, for a guy like Kalniņš, a Latvian nationalist who sees Latvia as an integral component of Europe, then maybe the EU is the real enemy here. Which is a completely different perspective, as one can see, from the earlier examples of politicians who self-spawned from a Soviet/Communist ovum.
Now in his old age, Kalniņš explains his former and current views thusly: “It was not against Russia that I fought. I fought for Latvia as an independent state. There is a big difference. But now, seeing all the bad things that are happening in Latvia, I am trying to find an alternative: How to withstand [these pressures] and find a different course of development. I see a chance for Latvia to preserve itself and to develop, by cooperating with our Eastern [neighbor].”
The composer is bitterly disillusioned with everything that has happened in Latvia since it joined the EU. Namely, Latvia has experienced a loss of control over its own economy, and also a cultural decline. Another path must be taken, including a rapprochement between Latvians and their ethnic Russian counterparts: “The Russian people who live here, are a huge asset to us; they allow us to maintain a relationship with this large and, to my view, very interesting state — Russia. As you can see, I personally harbor no prejudices against Russia, unlike so many of my countrymen who continue to suffer from this prejudice, caused by a past which they have not been able to process completely. And I simply don’t know how long this is going to go on, it’s like the tail of the crocodile, to which Latvians assign all the evils which they experienced during the time of the Soviet regime. I personally do not harbor such feelings.” Kalniņš concludes benevolently: “I am able to look at this country [=Russia] without that feeling of heaviness which the Stalinist empire in its time laid upon the Latvian people.”
But if a man like Kalniņš is able to forgive and forget all the repressions and indignities he suffered under Soviet occupation — including winning the Musical State Laureate prize — then the same does not go for many other residents of Latvia. And in the next segment, Vishnevsky turns his attention to the opposite sort of fellow: The ethnic self-hating Russian!
[to be continued]