Dear Alina Lebedeva?

  • 2001-11-22
  • Eric Jansson
Though you don't know me, I respectfully request that you hear me out. This is about your shenanigans the other day - your surprising little meeting with Prince Charles, whose face you slapped with a red carnation.

It was an act of total romantic impudence, a moment of impetuous justice. A commoner chastening royalty. Of course, it was also wrong and ill thought-out. But since Latvia's criminal justice system clings to its absurd charge that you threatened the prince's life - a predictably outrageous overreaction - congratulations, Alina, you are the political victor.

Most people still do not understand how wonderfully poetic your protest was. A few commentators noted that you have some sympathies for the National Bolshevik Party and that your weapon of choice was a carnation - the flower preferred by communists. But that's not poetry. That's not symbolism. Nobody noticed the richer imagery at work.

According to old Christian legend, carnations sprouted from the spots where St. Mary's tears fell on the day of her son's crucifixion. The carnation, thus, is a blossom that mourns peace betrayed.

It recalls, in blood red, the prince of peace whose kingdom has no end - in contrast to Charles, the prince of an earthly kingdom at war. You chose your weapon well.

But the world does not take your attack seriously. All the prince got was a moment of odd anxiety, and all the world got was a snapshot impression of Latvia. What they saw was a homeland of spirited girls who hate war and, unafraid of power, take their complaint straight to the throne.

Is this terribly inaccurate? Is it very bad? Or does is sound like Latvia, truly, at its best?

No matter how upset the president was, and despite the fact that your criticism of the current war was oversimplified, you did no serious harm to Latvia's reputation abroad. You may even have helped it, by chance. It's primarily the police who made the country a laughing stock, not you.

What's more, you have done Latvia a service at home. You sounded the alarm, loud and clear, that ordinary young Russians out in Daugavpils are frustrated and increasingly tempted by rebellious ideas. National leaders should listen, and so should your parents and teachers. Then they should explain.

It's a shame that, somehow, you got the idea that National Bolshevism has more to offer you than Latvian democracy. But it's not impossible to understand. Too many people view you as the enemy rather than an important friend.

You are, to the worst of society, an undesirable: a young Russian from the east. But don't respond to fools' hatred by hating the whole country. Don't hand that easy victory to the nationalist extremists. You should know that many of your countrymen - and by this I mean Latvians, too - do not hate your kind.

The president is one of the good ones. She deserves a sincere written apology from you, and if you choose to express your frustrations in the letter, too, go for it. You are free to do it.

Reconsider your young political views. The National Bolshiviks are no fools, but they are not smart enough, either. They are creative provocateurs, nothing more.

It's rather unlikely they know much about Christian legends and symbolism, so I hesitate to actually credit them with spiritual poetic talents, although their sense of humor is vaguely admirable. (They seem to lack consistency, since their previous target in Riga was the tower of St. Peter's church.)

The National Bolsheviks do just one thing well. Whenever they stage a provocation, it succeeds in prompting overreaction and so somehow discredits the Latvian state. They win every time.

The ultimate embarrassment came in your case when St. James Palace announced the prince's view that the criminal charge against you is excessive. This is slightly entertaining, perhaps, for a gang of frustrated youths, but not much more. Don't squander your life on cheap and dangerous jokes like this.

If you really want to protest the war, and if you really want your country to treat you with respect, you have to consider the roots of the problems. Attack the source. Dig deeply enough, and you will find that your real enemy is short-sighted, ill-considered, modern utopianism, the idea that a sinful path can lead to paradise.

Virtue doesn't work this way. This stuff always disappoints. It's the same garbage the National Bolsheviks offer in place of Latvian democracy, the same mania that drives suicide bombers to strike in New York, the same self-righteousness that's built and destroyed every empire since the industrial revolution, and the same pettiness disguised as virtue that deludes nationalist dreamers. Is it the same hopeless cynicism that led you to hit the prince? Ask yourself.

Then, having thought it over, write a letter to Charles thanking him for bailing you out. That's a big thank-you. And it should be a lesson for you, not just the Latvian state: true power is merciful.

One more thing, since I admire your spirit: a poem. William Wordsworth, in his 1830 lyric "The Russian Fugitive," wrote of a girl who got in trouble with clumsy power. You, being an advanced student of English, may appreciate the coincidence of these lines. They're about a young woman like you, who evidently longs for some greater justice but who cannot imagine how to achieve it:

Enough of rose-bud lips, and eyes

Like harebells bathed in dew,

Of cheek that with carnation vies,

And veins of violet hue;

Earth wants not beauty that may scorn

A likening to frail flowers;

Yea, to the stars, if they were born

For seasons and for hours.

Through Moscow's gates, with gold unbarred

Stepped one at dead of night,

Whom such high beauty could not guard

From meditated blight;

By stealth she passed, and fled as fast

As doth the hunted fawn,

Nor stopped till in the dappling east

Appeared unwelcome dawn.

This goes on for 360 more lines, so I'll cut it here, but not before noting that Wordsworth prophesies your tender attack. Now, in the protagonist's voice:

The blossom you so fondly praised

Is come to bitter fruit;

A mighty one upon me gazed;

I spurned his lawless suit,

And must be hidden from his wrath.

Beautiful, no?