Have we got a country to sell you!

  • 2000-04-27
  • By Philip Birzulis
Blamed for war criminals, ethnic discrimination and bad weather, Latvia clearly has an international image problem. Fortunately, a top secret report leaked exclusively to The Baltic Times shows that creative powers are trying to give it a pretty face.

Greetings from Shyster, Allfraud & Crapbaum, although you probably know us as SHAM, image makers to the world's unknown. To be perfectly honest we're not really located on Madison Avenue, that's just where we keep a post office box for the sake of appearances. Actually, we'd rather not tell you where you can find us, not because we have anything to hide but because an element of mystery gels perfectly with what we do.

From Andorra to Zaire, there's a whole lot of turf on this Earth that the famous and filthy rich West doesn't know a lot about. That's bad, because it means tourists won't leave their bucks on your shores. And lets face it, the guys on Capitol Hill didn't get where they are for having straight A's in geography, so when they get the itch to send some Marines around to blast some bad guys away, its tough luck for Zambia if they really meant to hit Zimbabwe. Or if the Baltics get hit with an economic blockade when it was really those nasty Balkans that deserved to get their Coca Cola franchise pulled.

Speaking of Baltics... We really had to look at our pin-up, USA Today educational supplement map before tackling that one. But since the government of Latvia (that's the one in the middle, right?) asked us to give their country an image boost, we've totally boned up on your little land. Thanks to that sweet donation to our corporate retirement fund made by those fellas from your oil industry we've prepared an amazing, all-inclusive, perfectly painless step-by-step program to get the world drooling about your piece of real estate.

Getting acquainted

Before getting started on fixing your image its important to understand the primary tool of our trade: the journalist. This two-legged species is a freak of evolution not for its own qualities but because of what it convinces other seemingly more intelligent mortals to let it get away with. For a minuscule amount of work, these critters are paid a hell of a lot. While bearing absolutely no responsibility they are imbued with power most politicians would envy. And by doing no more than learning to spell the name of your capital city correctly, they can make the public growl at the very mention of your country.

Now, its a well-known fact that as motor vehicles are powered by gasoline and horses do their galloping on oats, your average garden variety journalist runs on large quantities of alcoholic beverage. In fact, she/he has the capacity to absorb more beer, wine, hard liquor and shaving lotion than their total body weight in the space of a few hours.

We see this as a great natural advantage which is Latvia's for the exploiting at minimal cost. Firstly, you people love a drink, right? A lot of you are Russians, so your mama's teet dripped vodka instead of milk. Secondly, your neighbors are Scandinavians, who are even bigger lushes, who come south to binge on your soil, so there must be something pretty special about you.

As we know, Latvia has been doing a lot of privatizing lately. If they're not already sold, we suggest you get those highly profitable Latvian breweries and distilleries off the government books real quick. Then renationalize them. Then sell 'em, then buy 'em. Every time you do this, invite a posse of hardened international reporting pros to write the story about a brave little country's bold step toward the free market. Or its step back toward those bad old meat-queue days. Just keep the freebies coming and they won't remember they've written it all before.

Spin and grin

Of course, once they get a belly full of booze its inevitable that some of these reporters will start stumbling into places they're not supposed to. A prime example in Latvia is your annual March 16 ten-minute parade by a few aging war crones through Riga that comes across the wire as a viciously resurgent neo-Nazi movement that threatens to undo all the good McDonald's has done for eastern Europe in the last ten years.

The problem really is as simple as the fact that this march takes place at an unhealthily early hour of the morning when the ratio of hangover to heavy inebriation is at its very worst. Reschedule and remember the past just as you Latvians like.

Another example of Latvia's peculiar image problem concerns the so-called discrimination against your population of ethnic Russians. To get to the heart of this matter you just have to understand a simple chain. Most of the accusations about alleged linguistic imperialism and citizenship denial emanate from the Kremlin. Moscow is a veritable booze paradise, which attracts a lot of journalists. To get them to Latvia, just start doing the trick with your grog factories mentioned previously. Russia has been half hearted about reform for a long time, so like all bad kids they get a lot of attention.

Extra flavor

Once you've got them to see the right side of the wrong stuff, its time to turn their ever-so-short attention spans to the real attractions of Latvia. The perfect selling point is your fascinating, extra-authentic, full-of-fun Midsummer festival of Jani.

Once your reporter has finished his/her hard-hitting analytical business piece on the Latvian brewing industry, its time for a soft and woolly feature for the Saturday color supplement. What could be more exotic than pagan rituals long extinct everywhere else (especially when they're performed by white folks?) The bit about finding the flowering fern gives it that crucial bit of titillation. And colorful ethnic folk costumes set against those green landscapes could have been made in Kodak heaven.

More crucially, your journalist will relate to the festivities in a personal way that will add an extra authentic feel to the story, something editors love. Firstly, they will find plenty of booze. Enough said. Secondly, the ritual of jumping through the fire for purification will set them on a sweet trail of wishful thinking. Imagine if that's all you had to do to get rid of a libel suit. No paying damages, no embarrassing retractions, just a quick singe to the knickers that won't even hurt if you are sufficiently alco-anaesthetized.

Closing the sale

This project has been an exciting one for us not just because of any financial rewards, but because in going through it all we've really come to care about your country a whole lot. We hope that by following these simple steps, folks all over the globe will know all about Liberia. Sorry, Latvia... Whoa, there, we're not getting paid by the word, so its just about time to call it a day. Actually, its just about noon. Time for a drink... o