Martin Luther, Krišjānis Barons and my claim to fame

My parents could not pick the day I was born but my mom was always very proud of the date – October 31. She used to tell me that I was born on the same day as Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923), one of the most influential people in forming Latvian national identity and shaping cultural history. He is considered the “father of Latvian folksongs” to honour his work in collecting, researching and preserving this cultural heritage. A wise looking man with long white beard and glasses… I used to look at his image and wonder what kind of wisdom he would impart if we had met.  I felt that my mom’s pride about the special date was supposed to inspire and encourage me to learn, to explore, to gain knowledge and then pass it on.

The example was set… Be intelligent and visionary!

I was born when the USSR still existed and my family were not particularly religious (except my grandmother). Scientific atheism was the official “faith” and certainly there were no celebrations for significant religious events. Like Reformation Day which also happens to be on October 31. I had never heard of it even though the skyline of any Latvian city is dominated by churches, especially Lutheran ones. Even many non-church people like to think of themselves as “Protestants”.

Today, Oct. 31, 2017 was the 500th anniversary of Reformation movement. I learned about the Reformation and 95 Thesis and Martin Luther much later and there is still so much I wish I knew. It does not matter if Luther actually nailed his thesis to the church door in Wittenberg or mailed them, the fact is that these thoughts, questions, critical analysis, challenge to the institutions and powers-to-be spread like a wildfire and continue to impact all of us today. Especially in Europe. I have a feeling that, just like me, many of us still have no clue what actually happened and why is it such a big deal?!

Certainly Luther’s challenge to the highest civil and religious authorities of his day continues to inspire those who struggle against corrupt power systems and those who claim to hold “the keys to eternity”: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

 

The example was set… Be courageous and always seek and speak the truth!

It really is a big deal if we get it. Today we had another discussion in our university where my professor shared his passion and also deep frustration that Reformation is still undervalued and underestimated. Certainly Martin Luther was no Jesus when it comes to changing hearts and minds and some of his views, especially in later life, are very controversial. Many of his views I do not share. But history is made by imperfect people since perfect people simply do not exist.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “Extraordinarily, God the omnipotent One depends on us, puny, fragile, and vulnerable as we may be, to accomplish God’s purposes for good, for justice, for forgiveness and healing and wholeness.”

The example is set… Be just, compassionate and above all loving person!

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Shared European identity? Being proud and embarrassed together

Recently in Amsterdam I was invited to join a small group at a local pub. I am not a fan of beer, so my choice was a glass of red wine. But the rest of my new acquaintances knew their local beers – Dutch, Belgian, German… You gather a few Europeans and they can have a whole long discussion of the flavors and origins and colors. We can get very patriotic when talking about our national exports. I guess there is no such thing as European beer.

Our group of six people was diverse – Latvian, Dutch, Greek, Belgian and Indian. Enjoying some free time after a very inspiring session and discussion on the state of Europe at a Christian forum, we were getting to know each other and asking questions about current issues in each of our countries. There were many things I learned about Greece and Belgium and the Netherlands.

One big question of the night was asked by the only non-European in our group (even though he has lived and worked in England for many years). What is a shared European identity? Is it even possible to have one? He pointed out that we were so good at describing the complicated histories and issues in our nations or even in regions within the countries. We like to defend and explain ‘our group’ to ‘others’ in case they seem ‘misinformed’ or ‘ignorant’. This is one of my favorite topics, too. Our identities!

Yes, we can be very clear on which is ‘our group’ and ‘our beer’ and ‘our borders’ but somehow we are also able to identify ourselves under this common name of “Europeans” and talk about shared values. I totally understand our friend’s question because it is difficult to explain. If we are struggling with our national identities (just ask people living in Latvia) and, in some cases, identity crisis, how can we even dream of saying that we have a common European identity?

Especially in the current political and social atmosphere in Europe where there is such a polarization to the right (those who say that every country is on its own and let’s go back to our forts and fortify them even more)  and to the left (those who say that we should have no national borders and internationalism is the future).

I realize I feel very European. When my American friends tell me, “You dress European”, I take it as a compliment. When I am in Asia, they say that I am from Europe (and not just because most people don’t know where Latvia is). I even write to my friends in Latvia and tell them when I am coming to Europe! I talk about European movies, European cities, European issues… Yes, this is my identity also!

What do I identify with? Obviously Europe has showed its best but also its worst through the history and even today. Why is it that I am not ashamed to say that I am from Europe? I think one of the big reasons is that we work hard to keep peace with each other. We have fought and hated and destroyed and we are tired of it. We have desired what others have and taken it by force and demoralized ourselves in the process and we are tired of it.

Guess what? I am not even shamed of our European Song Contest called Eurovision. Even though I get embarrassed by many of the songs and costumes and some participants. And the funny thing is that we take turns producing these ’embarrassing’ performances, so we are in the same boat. During the last contest, the event hosts reminded us that Eurovision was created in 1956 to unify continent torn apart by war and now once again Europe is facing darker times. (Again, let’s ask Ukrainians about peace and unity within the country and with their neighbor Russia)

Maybe one way we create our shared European identity is by sharing our embarrassing moments like dumb, brainless songs and by showing that we care about each others pain like supporting the story of Crimean Tatars, represented by this year’s winning song from Ukraine.

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Eurovision Song Contest – being proud and embarrassed together (photo from the web)

Latvian:

Nesen Amsterdamā neliela draugu kompānija uzaicināja mani uz vietējo krogu. Neesmu alus cienītāja, tāpēc izvēlējos glāzi vīna. Toties mani jaunie paziņas pārzināja vietējās alus šķirnes – holandiešu, beļģu, vācu… Tā ir taisnība, ka eiropieši var ilgi un gari apspriest alus šķirņu garšu un krāsu un izcelsmi. Mēs esam lieli patrioti, kad runājam par savu nacionālo eksportu. Šeit nav tādas kategorijas kā vienkārši Eiropas alus.

Mūsu mazā kompānija bija ļoti multikulturāla – latviete, holandieši, grieķis, beļģiete un indietis. Atpūtāmies pēc garas un labi pavadītas dienas, kurā piedalījāmies kristīgā forumā, veltītam svarīgiem jautājumiem Eiropā. Varējām labāk iepazīties un pajautāt par aktualitātēm citās valstīs. Es uzzināju daudz ko interesantu par Grieķiju, Beļģiju un Nīderlandi.

Vienīgais ne-eiropietis mūsu kompānijā (kaut gan viņš jau daudzus gadus dzīvo un strādā Anglijā) uzdeva vakara lielo jautājumu – kas ir Eiropas kopīgā identitāte? Vai tāda vispār ir iespējama? Viņš norādīja uz to, ka mēs tik ļoti turamies pie savām nacionālajām un etniskajām identitātēm. Mēs aizstāvam un izskaidrojam ‘savējos’, lai ‘citi’ mūs zinātu un saprastu, un lai uztvertu mūs ‘pareizi’. Man arī patīk pētīt šo tēmu. Mūsu identitātes!

Jā, mēs labi zinām, kura ir ‘mana tauta’ un ‘mans ēdiens’, un ‘mans alus’ un ‘mana vēsture’, bet tomēr mēs spējam sevi identificēt zem šī vārda ‘eiropieši’, un pat apzināmies kopīgas vērtības. Es saprotu, kāpēc mūsu paziņa no Indijas uzdeva šo jautājumu, jo Eiropas identitāte ir sarežģīta būšana. Ja mēs vēl skaidrojamies un definējam savas nacionālās identitātes (kā, piemēram, Latvijā) vai piedzīvojam identitātes krīzes, kā mēs varam runāt par kopīgu identitāti kā eiropieši?

It sevišķi patreizējā sabiedrības noskaņojumā, kad politiskie spēki velk uz pretējām pusēm. Pa labi, kur saka, ka katrai valstij jādomā tikai par sevi, un jāiet atpakaļ savos cietokšņos, un tos vēl vairāk jāstiprina. Pa kreisi, kur saka, ka valstu robežas un nācij-valstis ir savu laiku nokalpojušas, un internacionālisms ir mūsu nākotne.

Es sapratu, ka jūtos ļoti eiropeiska. Kad mani draugi Amerikā saka, ka es ģērbjos kā eiropiete, man tas ir compliments. Kad esmu Āzijā, draugi uzsver to, ka esmu no Eiropas (un ne tikai tāpēc, ka Latvija ir maza un nepazīstama). Pat draugiem Latvijā reizēm rakstu, kad braukšu uz Eiropu. Jā, Eiropa ir daļa no manas identitātes.

Ar ko tad es īsti identificējos? Skaidrs, ka Eiropā ir ar ko lepoties, bet arī daudz, no kā kaunēties un ko nozēlot – gan pagātnē, gan tagadnē. Kāpēc man nav kauns būt eiropietei? Varbūt viens no iemesliem ir tas, ka mēs tik ļoti cenšamies uzturēt mieru savā starpā. Mēs esam daudz karojuši, ienīduši viens otru un iznīcinājuši, un tas jau ir līdz kaklam. Mēs esam iekārojuši to, kas kaimiņam, un nēmuši to ar varu, un pazaudējuši paši sevi, un tas jau ir līdz kaklam.

Atzīšos, ka man nav pat kauns no Eirovīzijas dziesmu konkursa. Kaut gan varu nosarkt par daudzām dziesmām, tērpiem, šova elementiem un dažiem izpildītājiem. Smieklīgais ir tas, ka šajā ziņā visi esam līdzīgi – katra valsts ir sagādājusi šādus brīžus, ka tautiešiem gribas izslēgt televizoru vai aizbāzt ausis. Šī gada finālā vakara vadītāji atgādināja, ka “Eirovīzija tika radīta 1956. gadā, lai palīdzētu vienot kontinentu, kuru bija sašķēlis karš, un šodien Eiropa atkal skatās acīs tumsai” (cilvēki Ukrainā var pastāstīt, ko šie vārdi ‘miers’ un ‘vienotība’ nozīmē viņiem gan iekšējās, gan ārējās attiecībās)

Tātad viens no veidiem, kā mēs radām savu kopīgo Eiropas identitāti ir kopīgi pasmieties par savām smieklīgajām, dumjajām dziesmām, bet arī kopīgi skumt par citu sapēm, un tāpēc tik augstu novērtēt Ukrainas dziesmu par Krimas tatāru traģisko vēsturi.

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…

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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…