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The four corners of Latvian society

  • 2000-11-30
  • Memo Merlino
To clearly understand the Latvian society of tomorrow, one must spend a lot of time with the children of Latvia, ages 10 to 18. They are firmly and uncompromisingly European and strive to be so with remarkable perseverance. This group represents the future of Latvia, and one should be reassured and feel comfortable with this choice consciously made by the youngest generation, who have no real living memory of the horrors of Soviet domination. These young people interact with other Europeans their age, by visiting countries in Europe or via the Internet using their favorite chat rooms as the means to exchange ideas, information and adapt to a European lifestyle that they find so attractive. These young Latvians attend primary and secondary Latvian schools that are excellent by European standards and far superior to the average American school. The Latvian school curriculum is heavy with a variety of subjects and foreign languages, courses that 80 percent of American students would routinely fail.

These young people are also rooted in the traditional Latvian culture of beautiful folk dancing and folk songs. It is their only anchor to the past, and many enjoy performing in groups large and small, and are Latvian ambassadors of Latvian living culture to other European countries they visit. It must be noted that Western European countries have lost their living culture, with few exceptions. Many western European schools has maintained traditional folk dancing and folk songs as part of their optional activities. This is a very important aspect of modern young Latvian society, that has a clear ethnic flavor. The same can be said of Estonia and Lithuania, where youngsters are equally attracted to the European society of their peers.

Should a referendum be held with this age group in the Baltic countries today, one would be convinced that the future for these three small countries lies firmly with Europe.

The shackles of Soviet society were broken only 10 years ago, and the parents of the age group made up by children ages 10 to 18 are the generation in transition. Their age group, 30 something to 50 something, is faced with running the country. They see Latvia as a difficult place to make a living, not having the skills to a great extent to perform in a market economy relentlessly driven by technological changes that confound many in the Western societies as well. This generation of Latvians is, for lack of a better term, confused. Many who are in business resort to strategies that do not work, mostly because they cannot overcome their attitudes learned during Soviet times - stubborn refusal to accept new ideas and new concepts, such as team management, Internet marketing and the like. The concept of the "Boss," who is the sole decision maker, is very much rooted into the minds of those individuals, mostly male, who are either the owners or the managers of privatized businesses. Such individuals are incapable of making changes that would be making their businesses more competitive and innovative. They do not understand the company culture of Microsoft or McDonald's, as applied to the size of their company. The people working for the "Boss" are intimidated and afraid of proposing changes, and in most cases have no practical experience to do so. In reality very little has changed for these workers, both in manufacturing or service industries. The Soviet system is unfortunately very much alive. It was part of an indoctrination that cannot be shed easily. The only difference is that the orders do not come from Moscow any longer. So the new owners or managers see themselves as the "New Moscow" maintaining the tightest of controls on their companies and letting rigidity rule the day.

This is the generation most in danger of losing it, when Latvia will join the European Union. But if Latvia waits, or is forced to wait for five to 10 years before joining, then those who are now between 20 and 30 years old will gradually become the business leaders, and the companies will have a pretty good chance of surviving the strain of countless EU regulations, tough competition for market share and, above all, the ability to generate financial resources to constantly upgrade technology and improve productivity.