Latvians need to reach out more

  • 2010-01-13
  • By Arta Ankrava

RIGA - The beginning of a new year is a time to make realistic and attainable resolutions. The year just over is bound up in a fat folder of papers, squeezed onto the shelf next to the previous year’s bundle. The first weeks of January are spent winding down after an array of seasonal feasts, when there is no better time to take a good, long look at the last twelve months and think about what they have made us expect for this year.
While the televised holiday addresses of the prime minister and president of Latvia encouraged people to have faith and hope in these trying times, the faults of previous governments were largely credited with the pickle we find ourselves in today.

President Zatlers’ speech on Christmas Eve, in true festive fashion, beckoned us not to be afraid of seeing miracles in everyday life, and in each other. He said that love not only has helped people to be born again, but has helped states do the same. For a moment there, one could have thought the president would then ask us all to join hands. As cynical as criticism of his Christmas speech might be, Zatlers’ attempt to deliver a private and ‘warm’ address on the most personal and warmest of holidays fell a bit flat.

Albeit Christmas is a time of miracles and love, one might find it slightly upsetting to hear our state leader’s suggestion for next year – to believe in magic! Sure, no one expects to see flowcharts and bar graphs in a festive address like this one, but even though one might say to one’s family and friends, who have had a tough year, to hang in there, that miracles happen, one could expect a bit more from the president. The line between amicability and looking slightly helpless – really, all we can do is believe, because, heck, I by myself sure can’t do anything about it, either – was within reaching distance on Christmas Eve.

All this might come down to responsibility or accountability. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (New Era) implied that governments before him made a real mess of this country, with piles of carelessly stored clutter falling out of every wardrobe. No one knows if we have found all of it yet, or if there is a bucket of ice water balancing on a door somewhere. Dombrovskis is being careful and opens his doors extremely slowly.

Meanwhile, the latest Human Development Report on Latvia addresses precisely the issues of accountability in all areas. It turns out that, in a situation of need (financial, health troubles, unemployment, etc.) most people would turn to themselves for the most reliable help (50.1 percent). This answer is slightly absurd, as asking for support implies turning to someone or something else. However, half of the Latvian population see only themselves as capable to best support themselves; family comes in second and friends lag behind slightly. The state and ethereal international organizations are barely mentioned.

Is the Latvian of today an island, largely incapable of reaching out to others and would rather deal with its problems alone? In this case, responsibility should not be an issue in our society, because everyone is responsible for themselves. Unfortunately, this is precisely where the problem is best seen, because the apparent lack of civic, as well as other social responsibilities/accountabilities, turns Latvia into a society of hermits.
Do we not trust each other? It turns out that on a scale from 1 to 10, the average resident of Latvia trusts other people, in general, on a level of 4.78. Latvia barely gets a ‘pass’ in trust. With so many ice-cold buckets stacked above doorways, this number is bound to shrink more with every opening.

With an almost pathological inability to take responsibility, we have written down failures to previous managements, powers, governments and fashions. How about this year we make it our resolution to own up to our responsibilities and move on. How about not relying on everyday miracles and just ourselves, but reach out past 4.78 this year and not just to join hands, but to regain belief in others out there. Perhaps Zatlers was right and not every door is trapped. Perhaps there are more than just miracles to look forward to in 2010.