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A voice in the wilderness: Why doesn’t composer Kalniņš like present-day Latvia?

The ruling and cultural elite of the Baltic States is a kind of ideologically consolidated caste, where publicly expressed views of a freethinker may turn him into a pariah, outcast.  In this light, Imants Kalniņš, a prominent Latvian composer, makes revelations that may seem shocking for the ideology reigning in the Latvian society.  The West’s “Gift of the Danaans” – this is how he calls the wave of migration, poverty and moral and spiritual decline in Latvia and urges the country to turn to Russia.  For Latvians such statements appear to be so strange and not fitting into their worldview that no one in Latvia has managed to oppose Kalniņš properly.

Not against Russia, but for true independence

First and foremost, Imants Kalniņš is not the one who could have been called a marginal and outsider. There are few cultural workers in Latvia as well-heeled and merited as he is.  Kalniņš is one of the most famous Latvian composers - author of operas, oratorios, symphonies, and chorus songs, soundtracks for theater performances, movies and cartons.  He was Laureate of the State Prize of the Latvian SSR.  In late 80s, Kalniņš joined the most radical forces in the fight for independence from the Soviet Union with great enthusiasm. He was deputy of the Supreme Council (1990-1993) from the People’s Front of Latvia. Later he was elected to the Saeima of the 9th convocation from the ultra-national party TB/LNNK. He is an Honorable Member of the Latvian Academy of Science, the holder of Great Music Prize, the Knight of the Order of the Three Stars. Now, he is 74.  Apparently, a man of advanced years, Imant Kalniņš wants to be absolutely sincere to him and to the others.  That is why, perhaps, he does not care for “the etiquette rules” and ideology.

Why does the prominent composer’s reappraisal of values hurt his compatriots?  He has lately reiterated in an interview with Neatkarīgā Rita Avīze (“Independent Morning Newspaper”) that Latvia has not achieved the true independence of the Western model. “Yes, the Soviet Union had brutally retained its grip on us for fifty years. However, we have much longer history with the territory called Russia.  Various ties with Russian have a history of almost 400 years. That is why I think Latvia has much in common with Russia both mentally and physically. This does not preclude it from being part of Europe at the same time. Russia is in Europe too. This is the first. The second, the experience we have gained in the same team with the Western states during the years of our independence pushes me away from the Western society. That experience is inadmissible to me. I do not see my ideal  - the ideal of Latvia as an independent state – there. Quite the contrary, that ideal is fading away in the West. Naturally, I seek a way to preserve myself  - and I see that way in Russia. I mean Russia has the same problems of self-preservation, overcoming of difficulties,” Kalniņš said.

He used to do such statements and even harsher ones also before. Talking to the correspondent of Diena (“Day”) para-governmental newspaper, the composer said openly: “I see more positive prospects for Latvia in the cooperation with Russia rather than with European Union.” Explaining his views, he said: “I did not fight against Russia. I fought for Latvia, for the independent state. These are two different things.  Latvia as an independent state – is a basis for everything. However, when I saw what has happened to Latvia, I started searching for an alternative way to development and self-preservation. Then I looked at Russia and began to weigh every opportunity. I see a chance for Latvia to maintain its independence and develop cooperating with the Eastern party. I mean not only Russia, but also China and India.  I mean the economies that are rapidly progressing now. In addition, the Russian people that live here is a great advantage for us, as they enable us to maintain contacts with that huge, and I think very interesting state, Russia. You see, I have no prejudices against Russia, unlike a significant part of the Latvians who have not managed to overcome the past,” he said. The composer does not understand why the Latvians nurse the grievances from the Soviet regime.  “I have no such feeling. I am able to look at that country without recalling the grievances Stalin’s empire brought to Latvia,” he said.

“We were brutally fooled and robbed”

Why the Western path of development is unacceptable for Imant Kalniņš? At the beginning of 2013, he explained that to mass media in details.  Kalniņš with unrelenting accuracy specifies the “gifts” Latvia received from Europe: “The gifts are fundamental. The biggest one is the high number of migrants. Latvia has emptied out. The second gift is the gambling houses and entertaining facilities. Third - graffiti in the streets. Fourth – unhappy people called homeless. Another gift is the marches of sexual minorities and ‘the Europride’ in 2015 ‘wrapped in a colorful pack’ with a sign ‘European democratic values’ on it.  The gifts pour as from the horn of plenty.”   The composer said that after withdrawing from the Soviet Union, Latvians pinned great hopes with the European Union, but it were misplaced hopes.

“A human being is a pragmatic creature. To survive, the Latvians had to be pragmatic too. I think, instincts often dictate our behavior. However, we cannot avoid trying to understand what our values are and what ruins us. Unfortunately, I am making sure that we fail to manage our country. Why do our people fail to fulfill their duties properly? Why don’t these people manage to work to make the ideals that were once selected and recognized as good come true?”

Soon after that interview, at the beginning of 2013, the composer published an open letter to the public that was much talked-of later.  That letter needs to be quoted, as every phrase in it ‘bleeds’.  In his message, the prominent composer says that Latvia is turning into a country having no future, as “western values” expand into it.  Although in the Soviet times, the people experienced hardships, he says, but mood blossomed in them.  The country was in its height in culture and art in 1960-1990.  “You ironize about the nostalgia for that period…However, you are blind if you don’t see that the ‘iron curtain’ better protected our consciousness from the cloacae that is generously pouring into our country from the West like a tsunami smashing on its way everything our people had built for centuries to protect itself,” he says in the letter.

“We were unable to manage our economy.  It turns out that the monetary policy, the most important instrument to control and manage the national economy, was not in Latvia.   So, what after all did our best (also best-paid) financiers and economists do all these years? Did they supervise compliance with others’ regulations? Then, it is small wonder that we had Banka of Baltija, Parex, and Krājbanka,” Kalniņš said recalling the Latvian banks that collapsed in the given period. “I am looking for people who try to oppose it. I see how our neighbor, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, tries to protect his people and country despite the outrage of the ‘democratic’ vultures of the bankrupt West.  President of our neighbor Russia Vladimir Putin does not let his country turn into a revolving door, public house or a gambling one, where everyone can enter with his rules and try to snap up something.”  A howl of despair: “The country without future – is it what we tried to achieve when joining hands on the ‘Baltic Way’ in 1989 and building barricades in the streets in Riga?”

Frankly speaking, Kalniņš is not alone in his grey thoughts, but he is the only one who dares to reflect such thoughts. It is really very unusual, considering that in Latvia it is not customary to criticize the government openly.  The composer asks appalling questions to the ruling elite. These are pressing questions that need answers. However, there is deafening silence. They now try not to notice Kalniņš as if he were an old mad man. Ivars Ījabs, Associate Professor at the University of Latvia, proved among the few who dared to respond. Having a reputation of a liberal, Ījabs said: “Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words. I dare say that the statements of Kalniņš are not as loud as the Latvian public’s reaction – to be more precise, no adequate reaction - to them. Demagogy in comments and twitters no object. It is clear that Imant Kalniņš is a person of high reputation in Latvia, but no one of our so-called intellectuals has responded to his letter properly.”

Another turn of events?

Ījabs explains that silence in two ways.  One the one hand, he thinks, part of the Latvian intellectuals agrees with the composer, but is afraid of saying that in public. On the other hand, the pro-western intellectuals disagree with Kalniņš, but are unable to give answers to his questions. Yet, to be on the safe side, Ījabs warns that he disagrees with most of the statements made by Kalniņš, “a radical conservative, if not reactionary.”  Nevertheless, the political analyst cites Kalniņš saying: “The statement that the Latvians like sheep are driven to ‘the fold of the federative Europe’ flurries many Latvian intellectuals. Europe failed to understand us. It has fooled us. Instead of a country of blossoming lemons, we have found ourselves stuck in dirt.  It is impossible to manage the economy at full, as bankers serve for foreigners, while the country’s former leaders just care for their personal interests and try to snap up something.” The opposite of this destructive situation could be a national autocracy that would finally let Latvia become a really independent state.  Such an Ulmanis 2.0 (Kārlis Ulmanis, a pre-war dictator, whom the Latvian conservatives consider an “ideal” governor – the author’s note). It will be possible, if they stopped listening to the western advisors and worked to achieve “full-fledged, bright and secure future” for Latvia.

Then, Ījabs ironizes the composer’s thoughts that should have been unpleasant for the Latvian intellectuals. “He mentions three factors that may turn out badly. First, he compares Afghanistan (where Latvia sent its servicemen as part of the NATO mission – the author’s note) with Red Arrows, ‘the hypnotized Latvians that once dealt death and destruction on the Russian land.’ Mr. Kalniņš, be careful with such things. It is widely accepted in Latvia that the Latvians were innocent victims during the history, and not bloody butchers of the regime that which eventually destroyed Latvia. Second, in his letter, Kalniņš mentions Lukashenko and Putin as positive examples of how the governments oppose the degenerative West to preserve their national identity. Moreover, he mentions that true Latvian patriots agree with those regimes. ‘Everyone who strives to protect his country and people is our friend and ally.’   Meantime, our people will not understand that. The problem is that Russia is our geopolitical rival and we blame it for all our problems reasonably or without reasonable grounds.”

Yet, this is not the main problem, Ivars Ījabs says. In his words, the Soviet regime was totalitarian and inhumane, but it was ready to do much more to preserve the Latvian culture than the independent Latvia suffering from crisis and technocratic policy does.   The young Kalniņš wrote five, quite good symphonies in the Soviet period, Ījabs recalls.  Meantime, he says, at the annual Latvian symphony music concert at Riga's Great Guild Hall, the people were presented no new symphonies.  The ruling elite is unable to give an answer to this question that would satisfy absolutely all Latvians, Ījabs says, warning that once enduring national conservative front may split into obstinate persons who want to change nothing and ‘true conservative euro-skeptics and statists’ who would be ready for concessions to the local non-Latvians to change the geopolitical orientation of the country for a true “sovereignty.”

This political analyst published his views more than two years ago. However, there were no preconditions during that period for a healthy conservative force able to insist on changing the country’s geopolitical line to emerge. Meantime, the developments of the last months promise changes. For the first time over the last years, the “titular nation” and the local Russian-speaking minorities have something in common – unfriendliness to the migrants from Africa and Middle East who the EU threatens to flood the Baltic States with. Experts say that the Latvians comprehend that migrants with a lower level of civilization may flood into the country and started to realize that Russians are not the biggest evil. After all, the two communities have co-existed peacefully for years.  The more people understand this, the more interesting changes may happen in that region. Then, maybe, the persons like Imant Kalniņš may put on a pedestal as the ideologists of “another turn of events.”

Vyacheslav Samoylov

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