Monday, January 26, 2009

Latvia moves from speech to non-violent resistance

After the January 13 street riots in Riga, subsequent threats of government repression and what is widely seen as continued government indifference to public opinion, an informal movement of non-violent resistance, called The Penguins (Pingvini). The term emerged from a remark by Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, apparently in his New Year's Eve address to the nation (I was in the US at the time and missed it). Godmanis said that in hard (or cold) times, penguins squeeze together.
The penguin movement apparent started before January 13, since a contingent of mainly young people with placards bearing ironic "penguin slogans" was seen at the peaceful opposition rally at Riga's Dom Square that preceded the disorders.
Following statements that were seen as threats to freedom of assembly and speech by the Prime Minister immediately after the riots, journalist, blogger and radio personality (and my editor and colleague at LETA) Māris Zanders said that the government had "declared war" on the public and the only reasonable response was to prepare for non-violent resistance. Transcripts of Zanders' radio commentaries have appeared on the home page of the Penguins, putting him in the unwanted position of being an informal leadership figure for what is emerging as a non-violent, almost anarchist resistance movement.
Zanders has published a number of addresses and mobile phone numbers that he hints might be those of government ministers and has urged the public to call or send SMS to these numbers to express dissatisfaction. He has also listed some addresses and locations in Riga that can be understood to be the residences of the same ministers.  The journalist's commentaries have been formulated in sufficiently vague terms so that no one can call them incitements to harass public figures. Press reports say that several ministers have been turning off their mobile phones after work or failing to answer calls from numbers they do not recognize.
Zanders has also suggested the people go on " peaceful strolls" in areas where the politicians live or where important meetings of the government and parliamentarians are taking place. One could even have a friendly "snowball fight", he said.
The penguin website is developing discussions of other non-violent and civil disobedience actions (silent vigils, refusals to disperse).  There is, too, an undertone of concern that the authorities might use force against such protests and what, then, would be the reaction of the penguins and their supporters.
Aside from the penguins, Latvian farmers, especially dairy farmers, are threatening to obstruct roads with farm machinery and perhaps organize similar militant actions in Riga. The farmers are asking for government support to avoid bankruptcy during the economic crisis.
I think we are seeing the seeds of an extraparliamentary opposition in Latvia, ranging from non-violent demonstrators to civil disobedience, to possibly other forms of resistance if the state is the first to use force.  I will try to keep readers informed. 

1 comment:

Wannabe Sorosieši said...

Paldies! I had not seen this site. I will monitor and join in where and when I can.