I was lucky to be born in a well-functioning state, albeit at the end of its development. Still, it was the time of space travel, the time of the “Buran” shuttle (with the Latvian factory “Alfa” playing an important role in its creation), the time of newly-built suburbs, traffic jam-free roads and plans for the Riga Metro system.
Due to selfish actions undertaken by the supporters of Perestroika from Moscow and the Popular Front of Latvia (whom the working people still trusted), everything was turned on its head. Egoism, rampant consumption, getting one over on your fellow man and “free-for-all” mindset became the new norm. When Perestroika went down in flames in 1991, the people were suddenly trapped in this new country.
One of the first laws enacted by the “restructured” Latvian politicians was stripping citizenship away from one-third of the country’s population. It was needed to redistribute property, commence felonious privatization, deprive the working people of their solidarity and spur ethnic hatred in a multiethnic land. And to add insult to injury, the authorities have succeeded in their endeavor.
Mass layoffs at our dying factories, callous eviction of people from their homes in favor of new self-declared owners who came over from the US, Canada and other Western countries – such was the life in the 1990s. Of course, the politicians did not forget to pass laws that allow to privatize land on which Soviet apartment blocks had been built. How many people have become hostages to these so-called landlords?
But the privatization didn’t stop there either: many more factories were shut down, Latvia’s inhabitants started to flee the country in order to settle in the West or other former Soviet republics. In 1998 the remaining “non-citizens” were offered to receive Latvian citizenship if they pass a humiliating “loyalty” test.
On top of that, Latvia’s agriculture was also in the process of total destruction. Very few collectivized farms survived (“Tērvete”, for example). The rest were divided up into much smaller farms that could not compete and went bust as a result.
Some people like to say that socialism is theft. Is it? Turns out that nationalists and liberals were the ones who stole your property and redistributed it among themselves. People were evicted from their homes and apartments. Their summer houses just “happened” to be on private property and were taken as a result. Land, factories, ships, everything was up for grabs. Unfortunately, the new “effective managers” in charge didn’t have any management skills required, so they squandered everything this state had inherited. The whole thing was nothing more than a few people enriching themselves at the country’s expense.
Yet this state-sanctioned torture of the people does not stop there. Many were deprived of even the most basic rights in their native land. The government plans to “reform” the education system and force all schools to use Latvian exclusively which is the only official language in this multiethnic country. It appears that such oppressive language policy is the only state-run thing left. Mass student protests in 2004-2005 only managed to delay the government’s insidious plans.
Latvia’s ascension to the European Union flooded the country with cheap credit. The population became overburdened by debts and mortgages. Luxury spending spiraled out of control, thus turning people into slaves of the banking system and the government’s rules. In the meantime, ordinary people continue to flee the country: as a consequence of the nationalistic bourgeois elite’s rule Latvia has already lost more than a third of its population.
Fearful of the growing discontent, the ruling class decided to enforce the status quo through military force. Latvia’s ascension to NATO was a perfect solution to this little problem. And the politicians don’t seem to care that the country’s health care and education systems are on their last legs. These people are already satisfied with the current system that allows them to raise their own salaries indefinitely. To them, throwing more and more money at NATO is nothing out of the ordinary, business as usual. But how are they going to keep the country running if everything goes towards the bloating bureaucracy and military upkeep, if the economy is in such a state of disrepair that it can’t even satisfy the needs of the population?
And how do the remaining people fare? They suffer from high unemployment and have to work for peanuts with the credit noose slowly tightening around their necks. If you do find work, you are kindly asked to do your job “in a diligent manner” (i.e. for up to 12 hours a day). Working overtime has become the new norm. Refusing to toil outside of regular work hours is now a sign of disloyalty to one’s employer. However, instilling fear into dissenting workers is easy as there is always a jobless corps waiting just outside the factory doors, eager to take your place.
In order to support this rotten cannibalistic system, the ruling politicians hastily raise the retirement age to 65 years. Perhaps the capitalists, various ministers and MPs can last even a hundred years. Obviously, they can afford to retire a bit later. But when you work 12 hours a day in a poorly-ventilated shop, you begin to realize that you might not live long enough to get this trinket pension.
Despite the fact that everything has been turned on its head, the appetite of the state continues to grow. All these funds will not go towards your broken health care system or your dysfunctional education system. All this money will be used to support the bureaucracy, fund the NATO and satisfy the ever growing demands of our “effective managers” who run the country. And the citizens can always cough up some more money (as if they can do anything about it).
I’ve spent my whole adult life as a wage laborer. I’ve never tried to enter the cutthroat world of business. But I have to live in a world of unemployment and work overtime just to get by. Standing at a workbench for 12 hours a day doesn’t raise any eyebrows anymore. In the eyes of the state, all this back-breaking work means I have earned extra. And then they tell me, “It appears that you owe us money. Now go to our revenue service and pay what is due.” That’s the way the cookie crumbles my friends.
Therefore, I was not lucky to live in a state where everything is directed against the people. Where everything goes to the gangsters in charge. This is a mafia state.
On May 4th (the day when the independence was declared in 1990) I was on my way to another overtime shift (after paying an exorbitant bus fare, of course). The city was filled with flying banners of the new state. As if to taunt me, all these banners read only one thing, “Freedom!” What is freedom? Who is free exactly? And then some people wonder whether or not I support this state and the current order of things.
A. Krasniy, an industrial enterprise worker