Sunday, November 30, 2008

The shame continues...

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)  has published (online and, presumably, in print) a story about the arrest of Dmitrijs Smirnovs. WSJ reporter Andrew Higgins notes that: 

Virtually no one here worries that Latvia is reverting to the ways of the Soviet Union, when the KGB hunted down dissidents and kept the population in cowed silence. Unlike Russia, where state-controlled media largely ignore bad news, Latvia has a vibrant free press.

I differ somewhat from this assessment. There are certain similarities between the Security Police and the Latvian KGB in the very last years of its existence, when it (if I recall correctly) also had a press secretary and a policy of warning and harassing certain types of dissent, rather than arresting dissidents and sending them to Siberian exile. The Security Police are operating in a manner similar to the KGB Lite of, say, 1990 - 1991.  To be sure, the Security Police are not the KGB of the 1970s and 1980s, nor even remotely like the Stalinist goons of earlier decades. 
Since the Security Police are  operating on orders of the government, I would also say that, intentionally or not, the government is pushing parts of the population toward "cowed silence". 


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Nick Cohen has an article in the Observer on the recent remarkable erosion of British freedoms, including this line: "the descent into hyperbole plays into Brown's hands and allows him to dismiss valid criticisms as hysteria." I think drawing a parallel, however tempting, between the DP and the KGB is similarly hyperbolic and distracts from the issue at hand.

Yesterday's Observer editorial included these lines:

"The leaks made public by Mr Green embarrassed the government, but that does not constitute a threat to national security, nor should it ever be deemed a criminal offence. Few laws are worded so exactly that police have no discretion in their use. When that discretion is applied with flagrant disregard for basic political freedom, it is an affront to democracy.

"Police tend instinctively to push their legal powers to the limit. Checking that tendency should be just as instinctive for parliamentarians. If either the Prime Minister or the Speaker were stirred by such an instinct last week, they kept it well hidden."

The Damian Green case is quite different from the DP's recent actions -- but you can see some essential similarities, too.

I'm not convinced that bringing "disgrace and ridicule" upon Latvia is helpful; there's that "Western gaze" in which them stereotypical pitchfork-wielding peasants of Ruritania be up to their backward old tricks again, stuck in some inescapable, indeed innate Eastern European condition?

Don't get me wrong -- I think that what the DP did was vile, sleazy and stupid. But things like this happen in advanced democracies, too. Cohen also draws attention to the difference between freedom of expression in America and Britain: "Yet the unprecedented spectacle of America, a fellow democracy whose legal system has roots in the English common law, deciding that Britain is no friend to freedom of speech, has passed without comment from officialdom here." The libertarian American approach you espouse, Juri, is exactly that. I doubt that David Irving would be put behind bars in the US, as he was in Austria.

When you make the comparison to the KGB (even "KGB Lite"), the differences stand out first, to my mind -- you wouldn't get headlines in the papers after an interview with the KGB.

Juris Kaža said...

Yeah, certainly there are free speech incidents elsewhere in the developed democracies. Unfortunately, looking at Jaudžeikars, Šmits, Segliņš and other Latvian politicians, I do see the pitchforks and the peasant/tumsonis mentality and little chance for change :(

Anonymous said...

As a Finn I well remember what havoc forced devaluation can cause. Finnish government in 1991 knew that will devalue soon, but still they publicly lied that Finnish markka will never be devalued. Of course it did and those poor fellows with loans pegged to foreign currency saw their debts exploding. Many thousands succesful people were permanently bankrupted. Tens of thousands took heavy economic blows. And the situation in Finland was, say in 1990, much brighter than in Latvia now. Devaluation seems almost inevitable in Latvia. And the Latvian government is forced to lie about this coming devaluation to public. Should government official and politicians then face two years prison sentences for deceiving public in financial matters. This is serious business and Latvians would be wise to learn from Finnsih and other experiences with government lies about devaluation.

Aleks said...

For the record, I was told that the story was printed on the front page. I pray for the fifth column reserved for quirky stories...

LV Resident said...

Sure, drawing a parallel between the DP and the KGB is hyperbolic,though the DP should appologize for this case!