Davos aims at our shared future but what about shared good

If you noticed I have been silent for a short while, I stopped posting on ‘peaceroads’ in January because of various other commitments, mainly my university studies. And after all the deadlines and sleepless nights, I enjoyed one week in a quiet, pretty and posh English town – Harpenden. Everything there is so green compared to the winter scenery in Latvia and the life seems ‘greener’ on that side, too.

While I enjoyed walks in the English countryside, looked for good deals in charity shops and wondered where to get the best fish and chips, the news on my computer screen showed another idyllic picture  from Davos, a small sleepy town in the Swiss Alps, and the headlines talked about the rich and powerful gathering for the annual World Economic Forum.

For many people the name “Davos” is probably like the word “Disneyland” is for most children. To be rewarded and privileged to go there and to mingle with the powerful, rich and famous, to stay in expensive hotels, eat gourmet food, make deals, build networks, meet the right person at the right time for your idea, business or even country and feel like you are in the center of the ‘things to be’. No doubt a thrilling experience if you believe in it.

Don’t misunderstand. I have no doubt that many good and socially responsible initiatives have their beginning  in such meetings, many important decisions are made and the original vision of this gathering is still being fulfilled to some extent. Many of the people whom I turn to for their expertise and opinion attend this forum of leaders and they don’t see it as a waste of time. Still, I struggle to take this year’s theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” without a dose of heavy skepticism.

It is not the words I disagree with . “Creating” is what we all do. Even if we are just sitting on our couch and doing ‘nothing’, we are affecting our lives, others and our world in some way or another. “Shared” is a fact which nobody in his right mind denies. The world is so interconnected. Just ask Europeans how the war in Syria affected them. Or the people who suffer through extreme weather patterns because of climate change.

“Future” is already here. “Fractured” is the feeling and view that many have and are generally afraid of. “World” is every human being and in fact everything else that exists. There is no escaping this framework, unless you can ‘pretend’. And there are those realists who, I believe, pretend the ‘sharing’ because these ‘fractures’ affect them the least.

The statistics of growing inequality are getting worse and worse. The American facts show that the richest 1% of families controlled a record-high 38.6% of the country’s wealth in 2016, according to a Federal Reserve, and this gap keeps growing. The UK experts state that rising inequality has seen a dramatic increase in the share of income going to the top, a decline in the share of those at the bottom and, more recently, a stagnation of incomes among those in the middle. You can go country by country on every continent. (Yes, Norway and few others are the exception!)

This is a global trend and poses one of the greatest threats to our future if we want it to be peaceful and stable and good life for everyone. I don’t have to be an expert in history or politics or economics to see that this is very dangerous in many ways. Not least if we care about democracy because the concentration of wealth and power is happening faster than we can blink.

The main drivers of this growing ‘fracture’ in our societies are identified as technology, political systems and institutions, family, childhood, globalisation. This is also where most of the solutions lie but somehow I get the feeling that these urgent and difficult changes will not come from ‘top down’. Our long human experience shows us that people will rarely share power and access to wealth and goods if they don’t have to. But we also have more than enough bad experiences with ‘bottom up’  pushing back in the form of violent revolutions.

Since this is an election year in Latvia, I will end with small but crucial practical step. Voting matters and informed choices matter! We have the same fractures in Latvia and we have to guard and continue improving our political system and institutions. Practice of democracy for sure decreases inequality.

We should not aim at simply “shared future”. We should aim at sharing good future.

Searching for my Latvian antidote to our EU ignorance

I expect next few months our European headlines will be dominated by ‘Brexit’. On June 23 the British voters will decide whether to stay in or leave the European Union. Even though the Brits are known for their stoicism and reserve, I imagine it will get quite emotive.

Well, it is emotional for everyone else watching and waiting to see what Britain decides. It literary feels like watching a family dispute and the discussions of either divorce or staying together and working through the problems. This is because the EU is a very unique union and I dare say, there is no other international organization or institution like this anywhere in the world.

The British will vote but all the rest of us will be discussing and debating and reflecting on this strange ‘phenomenon’ – the European Union. And you know what?!! I am glad we are debating because maybe… finally… many of us will start to understand what it actually is meant to be, what is it now and where do we go from here. Why our unity matters?

The journey to our current EU started in 1950. Latvia joined in 2004 together with 9 other countries. (So, 54 years after its foundations were laid.) I remember the referendum in Latvia and vaguely recall some of the debates but honestly it was not much of a debate. And not because some politicians had decided it. The people wanted it. We, citizens of Latvia, voted 67% in favor of joining the EU. Here are the votes of others who joined at that time. Estonia 67%, Lithuania 91%, Poland 77%, Czech Republic 77%, Hungary 83%, Slovakia 92%, Slovenia 90%, Malta 54%

As I see, nobody was twisting our arm. Overwhelming majority of us wanted to join and May 1, 2004 was a joyful day. I travel the world with my EU passport and lots of people envy me when they see this little document in my hand. Why do they think I am privileged to have this passport?

The BIG question – why did we want to join the EU so much? Was it the money? For many people, the most obvious answer. Who does not want to join the rich kids club, right? How can we access those big fat EU funds in Brussels, right? I think the same voices are often the loudest in screaming that the refugees or asylum seekers or any migrants only want this same money and they want to move in our rich neighborhood.

Was it the security? For us, Latvians, another obvious reason. We know that we are too small to defend ourselves from any serious global threats and we need alliance with stronger and bigger (but nice and democratic) countries.

This is a very serious question. At this very moment in Europe there is a country suffering war and conflict because of people’s desire to have a closer association with the EU and even possible membership. Ukraine is fighting a war to join the EU and the Brits are deciding whether to stay or leave.

Let me give a disclaimer… I do not think that the EU is the greatest place in the world. I do not think that it has all the answers for humanity and the best governance. I do not think that it is a ‘paradise on earth’ and I do not think – God bless the European Union and no place else!

But I do think that many of the current problems and crisis – social, political, economical – we are experiencing because we don’t know who we are. Our moral compass is not working very well or sometimes not working at all. Where is north, where is south? There are lots of things to discuss such as identity, ethnicity, nationalism and so on but first let us remind ourselves the “roots”. What was the vision behind the political and economic union that started as European Coal and Steel Community with 6 original members? Why is this vision still as relevant today as it was then?

Here is a shortcut to another blog I wrote last May Why should I care about Europe Day. It gives a very brief introduction to the foundations for European project.

This problem of ignorance about the original vision of European unity is not just Latvian. It is also Estonian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian, British, Dutch… I think this is truly a European problem. If only for the sake of our friends in Ukraine who are going through a lot of suffering right now to figure out their future and want our support, let us find answers to these questions. Let us start injecting some antidote to our ignorance… quickly and in heavy doses.

*Obviously in this blog I asked many questions for reflection and discussion. It is because I intend to write more about this topic and our current EU crisis. Hope you will join the conversation and soul-searching…

CROATIA-EU-ENLARGEMENT

Croatians wave an EU flag as they celebrate the accession of Croatia to the European Union on June 30, 2013. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

Latviski:

Paredzu, ka nākamos mēnešus mūsu Eiropas ziņu virsrakstos dominēs ‘Brexit’. 23. jūnijā britu vēlētāji un pilsoņi lems, vai palikt ES vai izstāties. Kaut arī briti slaveni ar savu stoicismu un vēso prātu, gan jau emocijas sitīs augstu vilni.

Arī mums pārējiem radīsies emocijas, vērojot un gaidot, ko briti izlems. Burtiskā nozīmē ir sajūta kā ģimenes strīdā, kur tiek lemts, vai šķirties, vai arī palikt kopā un mēģināt atrisināt visus sarežģītos mezglus. Jo Eiropas Savienība nav vienkārša. Tā ir ļoti unikāla savienība, un otras tādas organizācijas un institūcijas nav nekur citur pasaulē.

Briti lems, bet mēs visi diskutēsim, spriedīsim un pārdomāsim šo mūsdienu ‘fenomenu’ – Eiropas Savienību. Un ziniet, ko?! Tas ir ļoti labi, jo varbūt… beidzot… mēs sāksim saprast, kam šī savienība ir domāta, kāda tā ir tagad, un ko darīt tālāk. Kāpēc vispār mums ir svarīgi būt vienotiem?

Šis Eiropas vienotības projekts iesākās 1950. gadā. Latvija kopā ar vēl 9 valstīm pievienojās 2004. gadā. Tātad daudz vēlāk… 54 gadus pēc ES pamatu likšanas. Es atceros Latvijas referendumu, un pa miglu atceros debates. Ja godīgi, man tās nelikās nekādas karstās. Neatceros, ka mēs virtuvē ar draugiem sēdētu un strīdētos. Un ne tāpēc, ka politiķi jau visu izlēmuši mūsu vietā. Mēs gribējām stāties ES. Latvija nobalsoja 67% ar “JĀ”. Cik ļoti to gribēja pārējās valstis? Igaunija 67%, Lietuva 91%, Polija 77%, Čehija 77%, Ungārija 83%, Slovākija 92%, Slovēnija 90%, Malta 54%

Kā redzams, neviens mūs nespieda un nevilka ar varu. Lielākā daļa Latvijas iedzīvotāju to gaidīja ar prieku, un 2004. gada 1. maijs bija svētki. Es ceļoju pa pasauli ar savu ES pasi, un redzu, cik daudzi skatās ar zināmu skaudību uz šo mazo dokumentu manā rokā. Kāpēc viņiem liekas, ka ES pase ir tāda privilēģija?

Lielais jautājums – kāpēc mēs tik ļoti gribējām stāties šajā savienībā? Naudas dēļ? Daudziem tā liekas visloģiskākā atbilde. Kurš gan negrib iestāties bagāto klubā, vai ne? Kā lai tiek pie tiem treknajiem ES fondiem Briselē? Reizēm man liekas, ka tās pašas balsis, kam nauda pirmā vietā, tagad kliedz visskaļāk, ka bēgļi, patvēruma meklētāji vai citi migranti grib tik to naudu, tos treknos fondus un atbalstus, un turklāt vēlas ievākties mūsu bagāto rajonā. (Ko vēl sagribēs!)

Vai arī tas bija drošības dēļ? Mums, Latvijā, tas arī ir ļoti loģisks iemesls. Mēs esam pārāk mazi, lai aizstāvētos pret dažādiem globāliem satricinājumiem un draudiem, un mums jābūt aliansē ar lielākām un stiprākām (bet arī jaukām un demokrātiskām) valstīm.

Jautājums ir patiešām nopietns. Jo šajā pašā brīdī viena Eiropas valsts piedzīvo karu un ciešanas, jo tauta izrādīja vēlēšanos tuvināties Eiropas Savienībai, un pat sapņo par iestāšanos. (Par ko tad viņi cīnās?) Ukrainā ir karš, jo cilvēki grib būt savienībā un vienotībā ar pārējo Eiropu, un briti lemj, vai palikt kopā vai sķirties.

Neliela atkāpe, lai kāds mani nepārprastu… Es nedomāju, ka Eiropas Savienība ir vislabākā vieta uz pasaules. Es nedomāju, ka mums ir visas atslēgas cilvēces problēmām. Es nedomāju, ka te ir paradīze zemes virsū, un es katrā ziņā neparakstos zem attieksmes – Dievs svētī Eiropas Savienību, un nevienu citu!

Bet es esmu pārliecināta, ka viena no mūsu problēmu un patreizējās krīzes – sociālās, ekonomiskās, politiskās – saknēm ir tas, ka mēs nezinām, kas mēs esam. Mūsu morālais kompass ir krietni bojāts, vai dažreiz vispār nedarbojas. Kur ir ziemeļi, kur ir dienvidi? Daudz ko vajag pārrunāt un pārdomāt, piemēram, identitāti un nacionālismu, bet šoreiz es gribu trāpīt uz naglas, kas ir ES saknes un pamati. Kāds bija tās dibinātāju redzējums, kad pēc Otrā Pasaules kara tika izveidota šī politiskā un ekonomiskā savienība? Iesākumā kā Eiropas Ogļu un tērauda kopiena ar 6 dalībvalstīm. Kāpēc šis redzējums ir joprojām aktuāls šodien?

Pagājšgad maijā es uzrakstīju nelielu ieskatu šajā vēsturē. “Why should I care about Europe Day” (latviskais variants vēl nav pievienots)  Atgādinot par cilvēku, kurš tiek saukts par “Eiropas tēvu”, un viņa drosmīgo redzējumu par iespēju vienot eiropiešus, pat ‘mūžīgos’ ienaidniekus.

Un vēl viens mans secinājums… Šī milzīgā problēma, ka nezinām vai esam aizmirsuši Eiropas vienotības pamatus un mērķus un redzējumu – tā nepiemīt tikai latviešiem. Tā piemīt arī igauņiem, lietuviešiem, poļiem, ungāriem, arī britiem, holandiešiem, utt… Tā ir problēma visā Eiropā. Un mums ar to ir jātiek galā. Kaut vai tikai ukraiņu dēļ, kuri meklē atbildes un virzienu savas nācijas nākotnei, un gaida mūsu atbalstu. Mums vajag izplatīt antivielas pret mūsu ES nezināšanu un apjukumu… ātri un lielās devās.

*Šajā rakstā ir daudz jautājumu pārdomām un pārrunām. Tāpēc, ka es turpināšu rakstīt par ES tēmu un mūsu, eiropiešu, krīzi. Ceru, ka jūs pievienosieties šai sarunai un pašanalīzei…

Don’t talk in maybe’s… Sing it like it should be

There is this one guy I would like to meet. He is very tall, very skinny, very bald and very cool. Well, he is kind of intimidating, too, but in a good way. His name is Peter Garrett and he is an Aussie.

He also happens to be the lead singer of my favorite Australian rock band. No, not AC/DC or Jet… I am talking about Midnight Oil. My teenage music library and first introduction to MTV would not have been the same without this passionate and intense band and the beautiful but deep songs with a strong anti-nuke, anti-corporate and pro-environment message.

It was a very catchy song and easy to sing along. “How can we dance when our earth is turning? How can we sleep while our beds are burning?… The time has come to say fair’s fair… To pay the rent, to pay our share” I was trying to understand whose beds are burning? what’s not fair? Then I found out that Midnight Oil were active supporters of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and protection of the environment.

Years later I saw Midnight Oil perform this song “Beds Are Burning” at the Sydney Olympic Games and they were wearing suits with the word “SORRY” in front of 2.5 billion worldwide audience. It was a strong and bold message to a new generation. I felt challenged, inspired and convicted and I’m not even Australian. This is the power of art and music and lyrics that speak of our human brokenness and search for hope.

This is what I meant by him being intimidating in a good way. To make more sense of Peter Garrett, it is good to remember that he describes himself “a sporadic, occasional, very ecumenical, spiritual sojourner” who is committed to Christian social justice. He said that his Christian faith is his personal moral compass. Besides being a successful musician, he is also a former politician who served as Australian MP and member of the Cabinet.

One interviewer asked him, “How do you as someone with such a big profile, fame and commercial success, answer the call of humility as Christians are called to do?” Peter’s answer, “I have been around long enough to know that it is not about me. I have always believed in working with others to get things done. I have been fortunate to experience that in my time with Midnight Oil and working with my colleagues as conservation activist. To me public politics is public service. It may sound naive but I have always seen myself as someone who has chosen public service in whatever shape or form it comes.”

January 26 is Australia Day and I have very fun memories celebrating it together with friends in Perth, Western Australia. It is truly a beautiful land with breathtaking landscapes and great beaches. I have never seen sky so blue… I have also never met people who are more laid back than Aussies. No worries, mate!

So, maybe one day I will get to meet Peter Garrett and tell him in person how much I appreciate people like him. The ones who work for the healing of a nation… as in the song “One country”

Who’d like to change the world?
Who wants to shoot the curl?
Who wants to work for bread?
Who wants to get ahead?
Who hands out equal rights?
Who starts and ends that fight?
And not rant and rave,
or end up a slave.

Don’t call me baby,
Don’t talk in maybe’s,
Don’t talk like has-beens,
Sing it like it should be.

one vision, one people, one landmass
be our defenses
we have a lifeline

one ocean, one policy, see bad light,
one passion, one movement, one instant, one difference,
one life time and one understanding.

Transgression, redemption
one island blue, our place (magic),
one firmament, one element,
one moment, one fusion,
is so on time.

MidnightOilGarrett

Photos from the Internet

Latviski:

Ir viens džeks, kuru es vēlētos satikt. Viņš ir ļoti garš, ļoti kalsns, ļoti plikpaurains un ļoti foršs. Un man no viņa ir mazliet bail, bet labā nozīmē. Viņu sauc Pīters Garets, un viņš ir austrālis.

Turklāt viņš ir manas mīļākās Austrālijas rokgrupas solists. Nē, nevis AC/DC vai Jet… man patīk Midnight Oil. Mana pusaudzes gadu mūzikas izlase un pirmā iepazīšanās ar MTV nebūtu bijusi tik iespaidīga bez šīs dedzīgās grupas un viņu skaistajām, vienlaikus dziļajām dziesmām ar spēcīgu vēstījumu – pret atomieročiem, korupciju, ekonomisko nevienlīdzību un par dabas aizsardzību.

Viena lipīga dziesma, kurai viegli varēju dziedāt līdzi… “kā mēs varam dejot, kamēr pasaule griežas? kā mēs varam gulēt, kamēr mūsu gultas deg? Ir pienācis laiks teikt, kas ir taisnīgs… Laiks maksāt īri, maksāt savu daļu” Es gribēju saprast, par kādām gultām ir runa? Kas nav taisnīgs? Tad uzzināju, ka Midnight Oil aktīvi iestājas par Austrālijas pamatiedzīvotāju – aborigēnu – tiesībām, un arī daudz darbojas dabas aizsardzības jomā.

Pēc vairākiem gadiem es un vēl kādi 2,5 miljardi cilvēku redzējām Midnight Oil dziedam šo pašu dziesmu “Beds Are Burning” Sidnejas Olimpisko Spēļu ceremonijā. Viņiem bija tērpi ar uzrakstu “SORRY” kā atvainošanās, kā lūgums pēc piedošanas. Tā bija spēcīga un drosmīga vēsts jaunai paaudzei. Tas izaicināja, iedvesmoja un pārliecināja, kaut es neesmu austrāliete. Tāds spēks piemīt mākslai, mūzikai un dzejai, kas runā par mūsu cilvēces salauztību un cerības meklējumiem.

Tāpēc šis cilvēks mani baida… labā nozīmē. Lai labāk izprastu Pīteru Garetu, ir vērts atcerēties, ka viņš pats sevi sauc par “izkaisītu, dažreizēju, bet garīgu ceļotāju”, kura vērtību pamatā ir kristīga izpratne par sociālo taisnīgumu. Savu kristieša ticību viņš sauc par personīgo morāles kompasu. Būdams ne tikai populārs un veiksmīgs mūziķis, bet arī bijušais politiķis gan Austrālijas parlamentā, gan kā ministrs valdībā.

Kāds žurnālists jautāja, “Kā tu savieno savu atpazīstamību, slavu un komerciālos panākumus, ar Kristus aicinājumu būt pazemīgam?” Pītera atbilde, “Es jau ilgi ar to visu nodarbojos un zinu, ka lieta negrozās ap mani. Vienmēr esmu ticējis, ka tikai strādājot kopā var kaut ko panākt. Man ir paveicies gan ar Midnight Oil, gan ar kolēģiem dabas aizsardzības organizācijās. Būt politiski aktīvam man nozīmē kalpošanu sabiedrībai. Varbūt tas izklausās naivi, bet es vienmēr esmu uztvēris sevi kā tādu, kurš ir izvēlējies kalpot sabiedrībai vienalga kādā formā vai veidā.”

Katru gadu 26. janvārī ir Austrālijas Diena. Man ir foršas atmiņas no šo svētku svinēšanas kopā ar draugiem Pērtā, Rietumaustrālijā. Tā tiešām ir skaista zeme ar elpu aizraujošiem skatiem un vienreizējām pludmalēm. Nekur citur neesmu redzējusi tik zilas debesis… Nekur citur neesmu satikusi tik atbrīvotus un nesteidzīgus cilvēkus. No worries, mate! (Nav par ko, draudziņ!)

Varbūt kādu dienu satikšu Pīteru Garetu un varēšu pateikt viņam, cik ļoti cienu tādus cilvēkus. Tos, kuri cenšas palīdzēt dziedināt savas tautas pagātni… kā grupas dziesmā “Viena valsts

Kurš grib izmainīt pasauli?
Kurš grib braukt uz viļņa?
Kurš grib pelnīt maizi?
Kurš grib izrauties?
Kurš grib vienādas tiesības?
Kurš pabeidz iesākto cīņu?
Nevis trako un ārdās, vai vergo
Nesauc mani par mazo
Nerunā varbūtībās
Nerunā par izbijušo
Dziedi par to, kā jābūt
Viens redzējums, vieni ļaudis, viena zeme
Tā mūsu aizsardzība,
Kas ļaus mums dzīvot
Pārkāpums, izpirkums
Viena zila sala, viena pasakaina vieta
Viens avots, viens elements
Viens brīdis, viens savienojums
Tieši šim laikam
 

European and grateful? Let’s see…

We are getting better and better at the blame-game, anxiety, complaints and arguments. Those pointing fingers are growing longer and longer. “It is Germany’s fault… it is Brussels’s fault… it is those Eastern Europeans who want the benefits of EU, but not sharing its burdens…”

As a European, who spends a lot of time outside of Europe, I have noticed that outsider’s  perception of Europe is changing. Our reputation as the region of stability, peace, hospitality,  solidarity, compassion, rule of law, social justice, humanitarian values is suffering. Here I am addressing the failures of Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations in their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and now the spotlight is on my own nation and region.

Not that I am worried about our “moral high ground”. All of us have fallen short in so many ways. Still, I am privileged and blessed to be a European and I do not take for granted the good life we can enjoy. I have been to too many places around the world where people just cannot understand how Europeans can be so ungrateful for what they have.

We, Europeans, are very very privileged and one of our big problems is trying to deny, ignore or downplay it. We are the ‘rich club’ of the world. I remember some of the conversations in my own family. My mom who was definitely in the category of ‘lower social status’, would say, “I am ‘poor’ compared to rich Latvians, but I am very rich compared to people you visit and help.” And she was not talking about money and things only. She was talking about safety, security, healthcare, roof over her head, beautiful country, loving family around her… ‘Man does not live on bread alone’, right?

Another personal example – I received a last-minute invitation to attend a conference in Germany next week. I had to make a decision very fast and within one hour I had an airline ticket, registration for the conference, information about train times to get me from Lubeck to Hannover… As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking to myself, “This is incredible. I don’t need a visa for Germany; I just had the money for this trip; I speak English and even some German and will not feel lost traveling by trains. This will be a good trip.” How many people around the world would love to be in my shoes!

But there are problems with this good life and too often it comes at the expense of others. “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Wise words by Gandhi. I could say a lot but another time.

I want to encourage those of us who feel like we don’t have enough or feel threatened that those ‘immigrants’ or someone else from outside will take this good life away. That we will have share our goods and privileges with someone. We have more than enough, but we act like we don’t. Many of my friends around the world feel ‘poor’ compared to Latvians. Latvians feel ‘poor’ compared to British. British may feel ‘poor’ compared to Norwegians. Hmm, who can Norwegians compare themselves with?

I guess, Norwegians are the most grateful and therefore the most generous and welcoming people in the world! Are they? Are we?

Klaipeda 10

Crisis of conscience in the land of confusion

The speed of changes in our globalized world seems faster than the speed of light. My mind and my whole being cannot travel so fast… as the events and situations and challenges and questions swirl around us. I suspect I am not the only one who feels like the whirlpool is getting stronger and harder to resist. Like a scene from the “Pirates of the Caribbean”…

Our common responses are – engage or escape. I can say, “Well, there is nothing I can do. I cannot change this world.” I can blame global conspiracies, corrupt politicians and weak governments and greedy people. I could say that all of this is normal and expected and therefore I should just accept it and go on with my everyday life.

I strongly believe that we have to engage our world on the deepest level possible – our conscience.

One of the main problems of our times is undeveloped, weak or confused conscience. We cannot reap where we have not sown. Which means that if we have not constantly cultivated and cared for our conscience, we cannot expect any good fruit. Especially now.

Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize because he was known as a man of conscience. He said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Also Lev Tolstoy challenged his fellow Russians and all of us, by writing, “The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.”

We know that the life styles of the privileged have become unsustainable; conflicts because of power and resources are repeating; suffering of the underprivileged is continuing; the damage of our environment seems irreversible; the lack of good leadership is undeniable… Many years ago the British band “Genesis” were singing, “There’s too many men…Too many people… Making too many problems… And not much love to go round… Can’t you see… This is a land of confusion” Well, the wise king Solomon already said that there is nothing new under the sun.

Therefore my thoughts on conscience is nothing new either. I believe that conscience is a God-given instrument and without it life is impossible. It has rights and it has duties (J.H.Newman) but how do we care for our conscience? If we believe that we are the only true judges of our conscience, than we are in grave danger. I know how deceiving and corrupt my heart can be. I know how to quiet my conscience and I have done it many times. I need a higher judge than myself. I need God.

I conscientiously object selfishness, confusion, greed and indifference not because of personal moral integrity but because I believe in a higher law.

Many people are concerned and anxious about the infringement on our privacy. You know, the Big Brother is trying to watch us. But I believe that I am already living under 24/7 ‘surveillance’. I have rights and I have duties because I am created in God’s image and He has given me dignity and worth. And He has given me my conscience as the best instrument for living with dignity.

Do I live according to my conscience in the time of comfort and in the times of challenges? Or is it abused and compromised? If we lose or disengage our conscience, then we lose the whole world!

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Asylum seekers should know us by our love, not our fear

To begin with I want to tell my friends who are of different faith or no faith; this blog is mostly directed to those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ. Some parts may feel like an internal family debate, but in reality these are crucial questions for everyone.

Also, as I write this, Europe is on my mind. Again, I welcome everyone else to join the discussion because this topic is truly a global issue and a global challenge. It is the same ‘hot topic’ in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. Except maybe in some small islands in South Pacific… (no, I have not been to all these places but I do travel a lot for work and have lived in three continents)

And don’t worry; I will keep this blog short even though there is much to say. As we know, the issues are very complicated. There is already lots written and said in media, government, workplaces, family… One of my friends in Latvia commented, “On this issue everyone in my family has an opinion.” This is truly a debate that involves the society as a whole. Many of the opinions and arguments are thoughtful and respectful and helpful, while many others are simply xenophobic and unhelpful and very very fearful.

What I want to focus on this time is FEAR! People express many views and emotions when they talk about immigration, refugees, asylum seekers. Common ones is anxiety and fear. I can relate to it very well because I have struggled with many fears in my own life. Some of them are now gone; others are still lingering. So, I try not to judge other people but I can be a judge of myself. And I can speak as a Christian who is called and commanded to follow a higher law.

Jesus was constantly opposed by people who did not like his way of building God’s Kingdom or the people He included. They had their own ideas of what it means to be a godly person and what it means to have their national identity and morality and religious authority. Keep everything ‘impure’, ‘unknown’ and those ‘others’ as far away as possible. Wash your hands after you come home from a public place because who knows what or whom you have been touching.

Once Jesus answered them like this, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. (…) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Harsh words but how many times I have felt that this is exactly what I have done; I have focused on many important things but have gotten completely blindsided but missing the main point.

The question of receiving asylum seekers is a matter of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness! The fair treatment of the immigrant and the host community is primarily a Justice issue. Having compassion and empathy for asylum seekers is Mercy. Believing and trusting God when He talks about the love toward our fellow human being is Faithfulness. There is so much to say about each of these but I will leave that for other blogs.

What are we afraid of? Let us think about our fears and anxieties! Let us deal with them! One of my teachers said, “Holiness is moving towards darkness.”  Those fearful corners of our hearts are truly dark but everything brought in His light becomes light. And then we can love anyone who becomes our neighbor freely and practically and sacrificially!

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Latviski:

Iesākumā es gribu pateikt saviem draugiem, kuriem ir cita reliģija vai arī nav nekādas ticības, ka šis raksts ir vairāk domāts tiem no mums, kuri sauc sevi par Jēzus Kristus sekotājiem. Tāpēc manis teiktais daļēji izklausīsies kā ģimenes saruna, bet patiesībā tas attiecas uz jebkuru.

Vēl, man rakstot, prātā ir Eiropa. Protams, visi var piedalīties diskusijā, jo šī tēma un problēmas ir patiešām globālas. Tā pati ‘karstā tēma’ Āzijā, Austrālijā, Āfrikā, Eiropā, Amerikā. Varbūt vienīgi kādās mazās Klusā Okeāna salās par to nedomā…

Un neuztraucieties; šis raksts nebūs pārāk garš, kaut gan teikt var daudz. Mēs jau zinām, ka šie jautājumi ir sarežģīti. Daudz jau ir rakstīts un pateikts gan plašsaziņas līdzekļos, gan no valdības puses, gan darba vietās, gan ģimenē… Viens mans draugs no Latvijas ieminējās: “Par šo jautājumu katram manā ģimenē ir savs viedoklis.” Šīs diskusijas iesaista visu sabiedrību. Daudzas domas un argumenti ir pārdomāti, cieņas pilni un palīdz domāt un rīkoties, bet citi ir vienkārši noskaņoti pret svešiniekiem, nepalīdz meklēt risinājumu un veicina arvien lielākas bailes.

Par to es arī gribu šoreiz parunāt – par BAILĒM! Cilvēki izpauž savus uzskatus un emocijas, kad runā par imigrāciju, bēgļiem, patvēruma meklētājiem. Bieži redzama reakcija ir uztraukums un bailes. Es to varu saprast, jo man pašai dzīvē ir bijušas daudz un dažādas bailes. Dažas no tām ir izgaisušas, dažas vēl mēgina turēties. Tāpēc es cenšos nenosodīt citus, bet pati sev gan varu būt soģe. Turklāt es varu paust savas domas kā kristiete, jo mēs esam aicināti sekot augstākai pavēlei un likumam.

Jēzum vienmēr nostājās pretī tie, kuriem nepatika Viņa pieeja Dieva Valstības celšanai, vai arī tas, kādi cilvēki tiek aicināti šajā Valstībā. Šiem kritiķiem bija savas idejas, ko nozīmē dievbijība, vai ko nozīmē nacionālā identitāte un tikumība un reliģiska autoritāte. Turēt visu “nešķīsto”, “nepazīstamo” un “citādo” tālu tālu prom. Atnākot mājās mazgāt rokas, jo nevar taču zināt, kam vai kādiem cilvēkiem tās pieskārušās.

Reiz Jēzus atbildēja tā: “Jūs atmetat to, kas svarīgākais bauslībā – taisnīgu tiesu, žēlsirdību un ticību. (…) Aklie ceļa vadoņi! Jūs knišļus izkāšat, bet kamieļus norijat!” Skarbi vārdi, bet neskaitāmas reizes esmu sapratusi, ka tieši tā esmu rīkojusies. Esmu pievērsusi uzmanību labām lietām, bet esmu bijusi gluži akla pret pašu svarīgāko

Jautājums par patvēruma meklētājiem ir Taisnīgas Tiesas, Žēlsirdības un Ticības jautājums. Taisnīga izturēšanās pret imigrantiem un pret vietējo sabiedrību ir Taisnīgums. Spēja just līdzi un sirds, kas iežēlojas par bēgļiem, ir Žēlsirdība. Uzticēšanās Dievam, kad Viņš liek mums mīlēt sev tuvāko cilvēku kā sevi pašu, ir Ticība. Par katru no šīm lietām var daudz teikt, bet tas nākamajiem rakstiem.

No kā mēs baidāmies? Pārdomāsim savas bailes un bažas! Skatīsimies tām acīs, un tiksim ar tām galā! Viens no maniem skolotājiem teica, ka “svētums ir tuvošanās tumsai.” Tie kakti mūsu sirdīs, kas pilni bailēm, ir tiešām tumši, bet viss, ko Viņš ceļ gaismā, top gaišs. Un tad mēs varam mīlēt tos, kuri kļūst par mūsu līdzcilvēkiem, brīvi un aktīvi un upurējoties!

Greece is on my mind and here is why

So, here I am – living in Asia – and every time I turn on the news, it is a story from Europe that dominates the international headlines. Greece and the debt crisis…

Yesterday Gary and I were on a long bus ride and, with lots of time to talk, I started venting. My poor husband, he has to listen to lots of my speeches! He said, “Why are you talking to me about this? Talk to Europeans!” Exactly my thoughts and hence this blog. Not just for Europeans, but for anyone following this complicated situation.

I am not an economist or a political scientist, but I see a big relational problem. Even if we talk only about the actual topic – the debt and bailout- it is very relational. With borrowing and lending, there are two sides relating to each other. Guy Brandon, Research Director at the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, UK gives this simple explanation, “For the borrower, there is the obligation to repay their debt, to seek to understand the lender’s interests and to secure the best deal for them within the terms available. For the lender, there is the recognition that the world is an uncertain place. Repayment cannot always be guaranteed and default should not be forced unnecessarily.”

Also, I think we almost forget that we are talking about a nation here. Country with more than 10 million people in a very difficult, fearful situation. What if it is my grandmother who is afraid to lose her small social guarantees? What if it is my younger sister among the 50% of youth who are unemployed? What if it is my dad, standing in long lines at ATM to get his daily ‘allowance’ of 60 euro?

When the global financial crisis hit the world in 2007-2008, the bailout of banks and financial institutions was beyond ‘huge’. US and European governments spent trillions. We know that the crisis had many roots and complicated global issues, but no denying, that there were systemic and endemic failures and human greed that led to it.

So, yes, Greece needs to reform and there are endemic failures, but those without sin can cast the first stone. There is tax evasion in Greece? Yes, there is (but I don’t think Latvians can be a role model.) There are serious problems in public sector? Yes, very serious…

I will not talk about the current Greek government since I understand them very little. They may be very populist, but again, this is not anything new on European continent when it comes to some other serious issues like nationalism, immigration, etc. Like I said, it is all about relationships. I believe that both sides have made big mistakes  – Greece and the European creditors – and the language used is often harmful and isolating and judgmental. Lots of self-righteousness. This includes many of the Latvian politicians and media.

We are talking about the European Union here. If Greece had to leave euro zone, it basically would mean that they have to leave the European Union and from what I hear, Greek people want to stay in the EU. I cringe when media uses the words, “Greece may get kicked out… Grexit…” This is not some sensational story.  This is a very big deal. It would be a huge relational failure with unforeseeable consequences. There is already much bitterness and frustration between peoples. What do you think this would mean to the relations between nations? I am not talking only about Greeks and Germans. What about Latvians and Greeks? Is Greece ‘our neighbor’ or not?

For those who are interested in a deeper and better economic and political analysis, I will insert a link to an article written by a Christian think-tank Jubilee Center in UK. It was written in 1998 during the debate about joining European Monetary Union or euro. It expressed some of the main concerns which now seem very insightful. Here is what they wrote on the question whether euro will make Europe more peaceful and harmonious, “If a country faces an unsustainable fiscal situation, it may be forced to threaten default on its debt or request help from other members. If a transfer or debt guarantee is granted, those populations in solvent countries may resent their taxes being used to bail out irresponsible governments elsewhere. If these payments have no democratic mandate, resentment of neighboring countries within EMU may result.”

I encourage you to read the article but more than that – I want to encourage all of us, including the main decision makers, to think relationally. It is not about economy or money or even news headlines; it is about people and lives and social harmony in Europe!

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