AGE OF THE DISAPPOINTMENT. Why the hell are we 40 years too late?

I heard a fact once, but am not sure, if it's absolutely true. When many developing countries in Africa experienced their mass advent of land-line phone, most decided to drop the idea and switch to mobiles immediately - it wasn't worth the fuss, time and investment. It was cheaper and faster for investors, municipalities, and the people to build towers and buy a handy rather than install wires above and below ground and call from one fixed place. In result - an extra leap was taken leaving the past to come to get on the same line with the present.
We are celebrating our Latvian Centenary in less than a month, and many have had their time looking back and observing our steps in history, too. Then what leap of life the hell was forgotten to us being so stuck in some 1978?
Let's get it straight - when contemplating on our 50 truly independent years out of the 100 coming on 18 November one can indeed feel like this half-adolescence has not been long enough for Latvians to relive the past success as well as mistakes of many Western states. Yet one can realize pretty soon, that has almost nothing to do with those "only 50 years of democracy". Simply because - there are other countries, who have had the same destiny, yet they have learned from some mistakes faster than us. (Let's take our neighbours, for instance) Then how come our civic maturity seems and is less ripe, condensed, experienced than many other European or Western states? Where is that symbolic leap Africans had but we don't?

The answer somewhat struck me when examining the times when the free Western countries had the same issues as us now. When many nations were having similar degree of human rights, civic diversity, growth of social services we have today, while also sharing the same frustration, ignorance, phobias, misogyny, social conflicts, lack of personal freedom.

Then I was drawing parallels - say, some 30 years have passed since Latvia is happily out of the Soviet Union. Out of the "conflict", the inconvenient, oppressed times, the times we don't want to return to, times of having a few or no alternatives. Many nations (apart from those being "be-friended" by USSR) felt similarly 30 years after WWII as well. When they had had chance to consolidate their first humanity levels to enter a new breakage point of challenges. And then it came to me - although today is all nice and fluffy, mentally many Latvians have reached, say, 1978 rather than 2018, and, politically and socially, issues have not changed for us.

The most preposterous here is asking myself - why are we repeating the same faulty deeds and stepping on the same rakes? Why our mental state is stuck in the end of the 70's, when we could learn from others' mistakes, ditch them and take that famous leap over into the mindset of present?

I don't have an answer to that. Maybe everybody needs to try out all the bad fruits to find a good one. Still here is a list of things that I find somewhat problematic to Latvians/Rigans (Meanwhile I must agree other Western nations are still having similar issues taking place even today).

So here is a list of "why the hell are we not taking an example from others and just do it better":

FEMINISM

In the second season of The Deuce, a TV show by HBO, Abby, one of the main characters, is reading "Sisterhood is poweful", an anthology of radical feminist writings edited by Robin Morgan. It's 1977, and Abby, like many members of Western mainstream back then, has finally indulged into ideas of a second-wave feminism and is ready to implement them in life to prepare soil for the third wave coming soon. On the other hand, it's 2017, and a group of female artists have their pop culture performances related to "women-stuff" (by pop culture I mean - they are widely discussed in mass media), A FEMBLOCK is being published, and the first local male authors like Kārlis Vērpe are debating for feminism.

Finally something starts causing the long-awaited vibration in society - what women should and shouldn't decide to do with their body. Menstruation, egg cells, breasts, tubal ligation is discussed widely in artworks, exhibitions, debates, protests; women stand-ups are sky-rocketing from its popularity and staging only - women. Finally, Anda Čakša, the minister of Health of Latvia, has given birth to a child while still in the office - an unprecedented event!
One of the pro-egg cell donation protests, 2018. © LETA
Although for some the situation might seem similar to other countries, and activities for women' rights are of a global scale, for many in Latvia it seems senile and trivial - why should a man with three wives/partners simultaneously decide, what all women in the country should do..? We can only hope, the society in our land won't have such blown-up women problems like breastfeeding in America.

AIDS

Congratulations! Latvia can be proud of owning 1st place among EU member states with the number of HIV patients per 100,000 residents in 2016, as well as 1st place in terms of newly-diagnosed AIDS cases1! And, in majority of cases, they are not even close to be homosexual men like it was presumed in the very beginning of 1980's; last year the total cases of infections for gay men in Latvia were only 10 %. Yet it does not stop the "Latvian common" species from presuming the same like 40 years ago - that all homosexuals are males, infected pedophiles, pervs and "are not real men". Nothing has also changed from the nineties, when many believed that you can get AIDS by swimming in the pool. Yet one third of HIV-positive are discriminated in Latvia2. Welcome to the stone age.

LGBT+

If AIDS seems to be a minor 10 % issue to LGBT+ men community in our country, just wait and visit Rīga during Pride. Although been reduced to minimum, one still can experience the mentality of yahoos shouting, and filming, and wearing anti-LGBT t-shirts. In a parallel universe the age of consent has been 15, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, in Denmark since 1977 already1. The worst news is - Denmark only legalized same-sex marriage in 1989. Therefore it's easy to predict that Latvian same-sex couples will be waiting a much longer and emotionally degrading period to legally enter registered partnerships without being condemned by conservative, bogus-socialist populists, ultra-nationalists, and treated as the "traitors of race reproductivity programmes". Just this spring a petition, signed by more than 10 000 individuals in order to legalize Cohabitation Law, entered the parliament's correspondent commission, therefore setting the door to same-sex marriage ajar. The bill was denied by one vote short out of nine. What a surprise.

The situation is much more critical in Latvia, when you realize we are of the last in EU to accept all mutual human to human love, while this year's elections again proved - most of parties have issues with same-sex relationship. For them it happens to be the main cause of Latvians dying out - how can gays have babies (no word about lesbians though)? And if they adopt one, all the gays around the globe will gather hands to molest that poor child and turn one into a baby gay! On the contrary, exactly the last couple of years have showed a huge wave of constant issues with orphanages and orphan treatment, proving the opposite - maybe a loveless dysfunctional nuclear family can be the cause of all evil rather than loving parents of any gender, who still are not even legally designed to adopt. Some joke that many Latvian children in the last century grew up in a lesbian family anyway - a family of mother and grandmother.

Yet the good news is the Baltic Pride did happen this year gathering roughly 8000 people (which is 3000 more than last time). No one threw poop at them like in 2006. In the matter of fact, the number of phobic potato-heads shouting slur behind fences dramatically dropped through years. Some might say such parade is an unnecessary flag-waving, yet many would agree it serves like another protest for LGBT+ rights, just in a more relaxed party manner. Finalizing all this, the seventies were also the time when Harvey Milk rose to power and then was assassinated in 1978. I hope an analogue case will never take place here.

PROGRESSIVE TAX

It was probably a merely warm day in Sweden, when a tax reform was implemented in 1971, and "the progressivity of the tax system was increased. In addition to this development, inflation accelerated during the 1970s, increasing bracket creep. As a result, the marginal tax rate continued to increase for the high-income earner whereas it fluctuated for the low- and average-income earner4."

Meanwhile the rich in Latvia get richer and the poor.., well, the poor still have potatoes apart from paying the same tax rate as the wealthy do. Sadly the only ones, who really considered the implementation of such form of tax during this year's election, were, there there, the Progressive party. NB. Important to mention - despite the historical term representing centre-right political power (e.g. in Iceland), Progresīvie in Latvia are a well tempered leftist, socialist anti-populist movement, thus reanimating the idea of what "progressive" really means. You know, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Genesis, and others.

AUTOMATED CONTAINER-DEPOSIT

The modern automated recycling system of any ready-to-serve beverage as we know it today took place first in British Columbia, Canada in 1970. Then, throughout the rest of the seventies, it took Norway, Australia, and many USA states over by force, following many other countries and territories5.

Meanwhile.., meanwhile Latvia has none. And, guess what, the process of implementing such legislation is wildly delayed and opposed by the Green and Farmers party (ZZS) the most. What an irony.

CYCLING

The famous renaissance of cycling in Copenhagen took place in mid-1970's. "Due to the energy crisis when the Government was forced to introduce car-free Sundays to conserve oil reserves. During the next following years massive demonstrations in Copenhagen and other major cities, demanding better infrastructure and safety for the city's cyclists were organized. Another grassroots action cited for helping cycling infrastructure on the political agenda was operation "White Crosses" where white crosses were painted on the streets where a cyclist had been killed in traffic6".
©Gatis Šļūka, 2018.

Meanwhile on 17 October there was just another protest in front of the Town Hall of Rīga, where cyclists were demanding the same rights - to have a safe, convenient infrastructure. Because, let's be honest - comparing to the number of people in the city, Rīga has none, while the number of bipeds in the city has grown by 40 % in the last four years and five-fold in the last decade7. It was just one of many activities our local grassroots activists have been pulling; it also includes the famous fake bike lane painted on the main street a few years ago to raise awareness of such unrealized possibility (we covered the overall story of cycling already here).

Still the municipality keeps on reconstructing street by street in the best traditions of ultra-modernist creators in Brasilia since 1960's - car-friendly streets, wide carriageways, tree-less boulevards, high curbs, no bike lines or solutions for people with disabilities. Finally, there is an on-going development of new, vast residential districts, where "The City Defamiliarized" kicks in the most, and you can only move around in a fast, motorized vehicle.

Yet we see no improvement in the near future. If everything goes as planned, there will soon be a "White Crosses" activity in Rīga, too. According to news about hit, hurt, injured or killed cyclists in both Rīga and Latvia the numbers are slowly growing within a last few years. Sadly some changes still come written in blood even in a contemporary state.

CONSERVATIVISM

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who started leading the Conservative Party in 1975 and then in 1979 became the Prime Minister of the UK, we truly know what a combination of right-wing neoliberal conservativism means.

Why is it so important in today's Latvia? Well, because this year's Latvian election proved the rise of pro-national, pro-conservative parties (a combination of the New Conservative Party JKP and the National Alliance NA) gaining nearly 25 % of votes8. In combination with the rise of authoritarianism in Europe and Herr Donalt Thrumpf in charge, the situation seems even more dramatic than ever, causing polarization in society.

Anti-refugee politics, xenophobia, pro-Cristianity, conspiracy theories "framing" the Soros' agents, and anti-everything-written-above-in-this-post is what might scare wast majority of socially and mentally healthy intelligence in Latvia. A populist sort-of-right party KPV.LV (gained +14,25 %) also keep on exercising their propaganda that everything is rotten in the country, while, some say, they might already partnering up with pro-Kremlin forces in the backroom (on the rumour basis). Eventually, the situation again leads to the late 1970s, when "radical right" or "populist right" along Thatcherists began their chauvinistic acts typically including opposition to globalization, criticism of immigration and multiculturalism, and opposition to the European Union9. Slowly, yet unstopably it starts dividing the society in Latvia, too.


But don't worry, my friend. Some good things are taking place at the same rate as in the 70's also today, and for that we are happy.

ANIMAL RIGHTS

The New York Review of Books took an unusual step of commissioning a book from a vegetarian, Australian philosopher Peter Singer on the subject, published in 1975 as "Animal Liberation", now one of the animal rights movement's canonical texts. He argued in favor of the equal consideration of interests, the position that "there are no grounds to suppose that a violation of the basic interests of a human—for example, an interest in not suffering—is different in any morally significant way from a violation of the basic interests of a nonhuman". Singer used the term "speciesism" in the book, citing a British writer, psychologist, and animal rights advocate Richard D. Ryder. It involves the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership10.

Protesting against wild animals in circus, 2018. © Zane Bitere/LETA.

In the last couple of years animal rights activism in Rīga and Latvia has been vibrating within society with a visible force. Along with guerrilla videos filmed in egg and fur farms, the peak of activities organized by Dzīvnieku Brīvība or "Animal Freedom" was reached last year, when large mass protests resulted in banning wild animals being used in circus' performances. Parallel to veganism Zero waste cultures are growing rapidly,  and many eateries are offering vegan food options already or only. There are also a few already being planned to be open in near future. Our top suggestions are Terapija and Saldā Terapija (we covered them in our Avotu Kvartāli map post), as well as Stock Pot, Mr. Fox, Wok'n'Curry, Bhajan Cafe, Miit, vegan pizzas at L'Acquerello, Shawarmas, and Dabas Stacija as our favourite grocery store. No doubt, we already forgot someone.

MUSIC SCENE

Today's revolt in the alternative music scene follows the roots of new wave, post punk and romantic style in the late 1970's, yet are less political and more angry about everyday life though. One of the most favourite bands in Riga now are the Belorussian Super Besse dashing tunes like Joy Division. Then follows Chomsky Chess Club's lo-fi speed eclecticism, NIKTO's dramaticism and many others.

No doubt, the underground and alternative music scene in Latvia has now become very exciting and tasty - similarly to what happened with The Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, The Clash, The Cure etc. Camp style finally influences rap and electro music scene also, making cheesy and banal, yet perfectly constructed reflection of today's mediocrity by Singapūras Satīns or Origo Boys. Finally, the new wave and post punk godfathers "Dzeltenie Pastnieki" or the Yellow Postmen (who entered the Latvian music scene in the late 70's) have begun touring again and will release a first record in 15 years. Good times.

MORE INFO
It is important to mention - these are my personal thoughts and I have much more to discuss - refugees, heart illness, etc. Yet I strongly believe to share these views with many others. Sometimes they might be exaggerated, sometimes seemingly populistic, too. Yet, like CAPITAL R mentioned some time ago, Latvia has lately entered a "narrowed-state" status, and this text might be just illuminating the grounds of why so. Summarizing - the overall global situation is not promising for an open-minded, nonviolent individual, and it is important we keep talking about political obstacles ruining our free-roaming, mental and physical well-being and general acceptance. Otherwise, we will again be stuck in another Samsāra wheel for no good, repeating the same mistakes like 40 years ago.

You can now disagree.

Mārtiņš Eņģelis
editor-in-chief


1HIV Association: situation with HIV did not improve at all last year
2 Study: one-third of HIV patients in Latvia have experienced discrimination
3 Bekendtgørelse af straffeloven
4 Henrekson, Magnus, Stenkula, Mikael. Swedish Taxation since 1862: An Overview
5 Container-deposit legislation. Wikipedia.
6 Cycling in Copenhagen. Wikipedia.
7 Number of cyclists up 40% in Rīga since 2014. LSM.lv
8 Radical right (Europe). Wikipedia
9 Animal rights. Wikipedia
10 Animal rights. Wikipedia

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