Allegations of a grand conspiracy orchestrated by distant, powerful, yet obscure forces are nothing new in this part of the world. It was, after all, the czarist police who penned the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic treatise that is still read and quoted by a handful of Baltic fanatics today.
In recent weeks, however, the conspiracy-mongering in the Baltic states has reached an alarming level. In Latvia and Lithuania, marginalized politicians have used their own media to conduct a smear-campaign against philanthropist George Soros, his foundation and the myriad organizations that survive in part from its contributions. The recriminations in Latvia were spiked during the scandal surrounding Ingrida Udre's nomination to the European Commission in 2004, then again during last year's municipal election, and will likely follow the same course as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in October.
The two main catalysts are Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs and Transport Minister Ainars Slesers. Both men are independently wealthy (though the source of that wealth remains a mystery, and in Lembergs' case a matter of criminal investigation), and both head their own parties. Curiously, both were arch-rivals two years ago but seemed to have set aside their mutual distrust in order to battle their new common enemy. Meanwhile, Indulis Emsis, chairman of the parliamentary national security committee, has become increasingly unstable judging by his paranoiac statements.
In Lithuania, the conspiracy has taken an even nastier spin, with allegations of Soros' links to drug cartels and calls for an investigation. As Gintaras Naslenas, a representative of the public organization Parents Against Drugs, told Vilnius Laikas last November: "During one of the international conferences, I heard that Soros owns a company that produces methadone. Some say that part of Soros' wealth comes from the pharmaceutical industry. First they turn an individual into a narcotics user, and then they treat him. The treatment pays off. The methadone and syringe exchange programs in Lithuania have already bred a group of such zombies."
The main accusers in Lithuania are impeached president Rolandas Paksas, who believes he is the victim of a massive conspiracy (and not his own lousy sense of judgment), the Viktor Uspaskich-led Labor Party and Respublika-publisher Vitas Tomkus. The latter believes gays and Jews control the world and wrote a four-part article expounding his deranged thoughts on the theory.
So what is behind the onslaught of media attacks? The media and political assault against the Soros Foundation coincides amid calls for increasing transparency and monitoring of the political system and the financing of political parties. Charges of conspiracy, and secret networks controlled by a billionaire Jew, are simply a convenient cover for people who don't like the direction that the countries are moving in, the enforcement of the rule of law, and the careful eye on the financing of political parties.
Perhaps, if we were to juxtapose the antagonists in the two countries and reduce them to a common denominator, what we have is essentially fear. Fear of a loss of wealth, status and, of course, power. All these individuals propagating myths about Soros and NGOs and foreign influence 1) have something to hide, and 2) have no "power base" abroad. Outside their local cells, they are paeans. In Brussels, Strausbourg or Washington no one will listen to them (and rightfully so). Even at home they are estranged. They are marginalized in the purest sense, and they strike back the only way possible 's through rabid xenophobia and anti-Semitism. They create their own political market based on popular fear.
Unfortunately, it works. The audience for fear-consumption in the Baltic states is tremendous, and this is both a product of the Soviet background and a failure of the last 15 years of reforms. Those who think otherwise should spend a bit more time in Daugavpils or Panevyzes.
It remains to be seen what common sense can do to extinguish this madness. Mainstream politicians, including presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Valdas Adamkus, need to address the issue urgently.