Season of Advent reminds us why universal declaration of human rights still matters

Universal declaration of human rights? United nations? International cooperation? International order? Preventing wars? Striving for peace? Respecting human dignity? It is almost 70 years since this declaration was proclaimed and yet it is hard to shake the impression that many people/nations/leaders could care less…

I look up at the calendar on my kitchen wall and there it is – December 10 as Human Rights Day. I go to Facebook and there it is again – you can click ‘Like’ or share it on your wall. (I did not share it since I did not like the design. Or maybe I am just tired of online activism where we post slogans, memes, famous quotes, provocative statements and anything else to “make this world a better place”. But here I am writing this blog. I guess at the end of the day it is still better to add my voice to issues I deeply care about.)

This Sunday is also a religious celebration of Second Advent. In the Christian tradition and calendar it is a time of waiting and preparation. Waiting for the Hope and Light of the world to be born in a seemingly hopeless and dark place and welcoming this coming with open heart and mind. We sing “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel” and we do it every year. Why keep saying it if we believe He has come already?  There are many theological reasons but one simple reason I can give is we need to remind ourselves what this life and this world is like without Him.

It is amazing how quickly we get used to the good news, things and good times and take it for granted. It is also amazing how quickly we can descend into hopelessness and darkness again.

For very long time now, we take Jesus of Nazareth and the way he transforms our human existence for granted. Nowadays we also take the Universal declaration of human rights for granted. We cannot imagine a world without these commonly accepted principles because most of us did not live before 1948 and during Second World War. We, at least the Westerners, are so used to speaking about our human rights that we think nothing of it.

But here I read the lines from the declaration’s preamble: “The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

(…) Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations.

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Have we achieved and experienced the advent of this kind of world yet? Are all people free to speak their mind, practice their religion, free from fear and want? Are we, the peoples of United Nations, keeping our pledge? Do we even believe in this larger freedom? Do we still have common understanding and emphasize the word “common”? Or are we putting our trust in the world of “mine”? My country. My people. My rights.

The answer is obvious. Thus we are still waiting, still striving and longing…

“O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel”



What makes us Latvian? Let’s talk values…

Few days ago I watched a debate about values in Latvia. Big topic and lots of interpretations. Afterwards I had more questions than answers. What is a value? Is there such a thing as specifically Latvian values? How are our values different from other places and cultures? Or are they the same?

I think of universal values. For example, the ones described in the declaration of Universal Human Rights and by world religions. The main value is the dignity of each individual human being. Yes, some of us grow up in very individualistic societies (like USA, France, also Latvia) and others grow up in very group oriented or collectivist societies (like Thailand, China, Rwanda) but still the dignity of each person needs to be protected and valued.

We, Latvians, like to emphasize our work ethic. But honestly, I have never been anywhere where good work ethic was not important. I have not met people who stated ‘laziness’ as their value. There are hard working Latvians and ‘lazy’ Latvians. It is true, though, that there is a connection between work and ownership. In the Soviet times many people were trying to work as little as possible or make low quality things because they did not see any purpose or benefit from their work. Everything was owned by the State. You care less when it is not your own and I think we still have some residue of this.

Latvians value patience, endurance and politeness. Also, we are know for our skills to adjust. Latvia has experienced so many different ‘rulers’, ‘systems’ and ‘ways of life’ that people have had to adjust and make the best of it. Patience and endurance are very good traits but interestingly we don’t mention ‘passion’ or ‘vision’ as our value. Actually we can be very suspicious of strong, visionary and passionate people and leaders.

Ask any Latvian and we will tell you that we love and value our cultural heritage. We grow up learning our folk songs and folk dances. I wanted to dance but I was considered too short (yes, we want our dancers to look certain way – tall and slender!) Instead I joined the choir. This is another thing we value – choirs, opera, bands… any kind of singing. We organize lots of festivals and events. I mean, lots!!! My grandmother likes to joke that Latvians have been doing so much singing and dancing this side of eternity, what are we going to do in Heaven?

We value good quality in music. So many kids study in music schools and play classical instruments. Even when singing along or having fun with karaoke, we are conscious. Something I can compare to Thailand where karaoke is the absolute favorite past-time and nobody cares if you can keep the tune or not. Latvians would find that embarrassing.

There is one value that I don’t hear mentioned when talking about specifically Latvian values. It is “hospitality”. Specifically hospitality to strangers or visitors. Too bad and I hope this will change.

I guess the best way to find out what our values are is to ask people from “outside”. Those who have lived in Latvia or visited. Even first-impressions can tell a lot of truth. If you are reading this blog and if you are not from Latvia but have been to Latvia or been around Latvians, what do you think? What comes to your mind when you think of Latvians?


Yes, we love wild flowers and natural things… and yes, I can make this flower wreath (photos from personal archive)


Pirms pāris nedēļām biju sarunu festivālā LAMPA Cēsīs. Un pirms dažām dienām intereses pēc paskatījos pagājušā gada arhīvu. Viena interesanta diskusija zem nosaukuma “Latvijas vērtību anatomija”, kur dažādi Latvijas politiķi skaidroja savējās un mūsējās vērtības. Liela tēma  – kas ir vērtība? Vai ir tādas īpaši latviskas vērtības? Vai tās kaut kā atšķiras no citu tautu un kultūru vērtībām? Bieži vien pēc tādām diskusijām ir vairāk neskaidrības nekā skaidrības, jo katram pašam tas viss ‘jāpārmaļ’, un jāizdara secinājumi.

Vispirms man prātā nāk universālās vērtības. Piemēram, ierakstītās Vispasaules Cilvēktiesību deklarācijā vai arī lielāko pasaules reliģiju uzskatos. Vislielākā vērtība ir katrs cilvēks. Taisnība, ka daudzi no mums ir uzauguši sabiedrībās, kur pirmā vietā ir indivīds (ASV, Francijā, arī Latvijā, u.c), bet citur pirmā vietā ir kolektīvs jeb kopiena (Taizemē, Ķīnā, Ruandā, u.c). Bet jebkurā variantā vissvarīgākais ir cienīt un pasargāt katru cilvēku.

Mums, latviešiem, patīk uzsvērt savu ‘darba tikumu’. Taču es neesmu bijusi nevienā vietā, kur srādīgums netiktu novērtēts. Neesmu bijusi kultūrā, kur “slinkums” būtu vērtība. Ir strādīgi latvieši, un paslinki latvieši. Vienīgi pieminēšu, ka ir skaidri redzama saikne starp attieksmi pret darbu un īpašuma tiesībām. Mēs paši zinām, kā padomju laikos, kad viss piederēja valstij, daudzi “strādāja”, lai mazāk kaut ko padarītu, vai arī galīgi neuztraucās par kvalitāti. Ja neredzi savam darbam jēgu, vai arī neredzi nekādu ieguvumu, tev kļūst vienalga. Šī attieksme mūsos vēl nav pilnībā izzudusi.

Mēs, latvieši, augstu vērtējam ‘pacietību’ un ‘izturību’. Vēl esam pazīstami kā tauta, kas prot pielāgoties. Latvijā ir bijušas tik daudzas varas un ‘dzīvesziņas’, ka esam bijuši spiesti kaut kā to panest un dzīvot tālāk. Pacietība un izturība ir labas īpašības (ar to “pielāgošanos” gan ne pārāk lepojamies), bet es ievēroju, ka mēs nepieminām tādas vērtības kā “degsme” un “redzējums” jeb “vīzija”. Lai gan mēs gribam tādus latviešus, it sevišķi valsts pārvaldē un uzņēmējdarbībā, uzreiz kļūstam piesardzīgi, ja kāds ir ļoti dedzīgs un nāk ar savām idejām. Laikam tomēr augstāk vērtējam to savu ‘vēso prātu’ un ‘lēnīgumu’.

Vēl mums, protams, liela vērtība ir kultūras mantojums. Mana vecmamma smejas, ka latvieši tik daudz dzied un dejo, ko mēs debesīs mūžībā darīsim? Mums svarīga arī mūzikas kvalitāte. Tāpēc karaoke nekad nebūs tik populāra kā Taizemē vai citur, kur neviens neuztraucas, vai var noturēt meldiņu. Mums būtu kauns.

Ir viena vērtība, ko nedzirdēju šajā diskusijā, un vispār neredzu latviešu augstāko vērtību sarakstā. Viesmīlība! Konkrēti viesmīlība pret svešiniekiem, jo to vienmēr vērtē tie, kas nav “savējie”. Esam laipni, bet cik ilgam laikam jāpaiet, lai latvietis uzaicina pie sevis mājās? Vai piedāvā svešiniekiem naktsmājas? Vai kafiju? Vai palīdzību?

Un tāpēc man škiet, ka labākais veids uzzināt, kādas ir Latvijas un arī konkrēti latviešu vērtības, ir pajautāt tiem, kas nav no Latvijas. Kaut vai pirmie iespaidi, jo tie daudz pasaka. Tie, kas te ilgāk padzīvo, var mums atgādināt, ko mēs vērtējam un ko nē. Vai mūsu darbi sakrīt ar vārdiem, vai arī izrādās, ka ir pavisam citas prioritātes šajā vērtību skalā? Pajautāsim?