Tatjana Ždanokas office is the office of an old lady. She needs more than five tries until she finally manages to pick up her smart-phone. Her assistant is ill today, she seems to be helpless without her. Every time I visit the Parliament to interview MEPs, their assistants come down to the lobby, sign me in and guide me through the security check. Today, Mrs. Ždanoka comes down to the lobby herself and somehow she seems to be lost between all the young assistants, moving faster than her and knowing better what to do.
Her office is located at the very end of a corridor. Posters of Scotland and Catalonia decorate the walls. Mrs. Ždanoka is a member of the “European Free Alliance Group” which stands for the self-determination of the regions in Europe. But what Mrs. Ždanokas really cares about are the stateless Russian speaking people in Latvia. In our talk later she will always come back to them, no matter the topic. The whole corridor and her office are really quiet. Since her office is located at the building’s corner I would have loved to check the view but all windows are closed with white curtains. Just artificial light illuminates the room.
There is nearly none square centimeter of plain white wall in her office. All is covered with pictures of Russian orthodox saints. The handout “Introduction to the European Free Alliance Group” tells me that one of Mrs. Ždanoka’s hobbies is knitting, so I guess that the colorful, a little kitschy, embroidered landscapes in-between are self made. She wears a colorful, fuzzy cardigan. She is over sixty years, so far the oldest MEP I interviewed. Her Russian accent reminds me of an old lady I baked cookies with in a kitchen with streamed windows in Latvia.
But even though Mrs. Ždanoka might look like a grandmother baking cookies for her grandchildren she isn’t harmless. Her opinion isn’t quite usual here in Brussels and during the long talk she gives me exactly what I’m searching for: Her vision for Europe.
Already with the fist sentence she makes clear that she does not like Europe. She and her party “For Human Rights in Untied Latvia” (Par cilvēka tiesībām vienotā Latvijā) weren’t in favor of the idea right from the beginning. Her concern by this time was that the young Latvian Nation couldn’t compete with the rest of Europe. And I have to agree with her on that point. The most important Latvian industry in the Sowjet time was the production of the RAF buses. After Latvia’s independence some investors showed an interest for the RAF factory but all in all it was too risky. The Latvian market for buses was too small, the rest of Europe had their own buses and trade with Russia was nearly impossible by this time. Anyway, in her opinion already the status of an associated member of the EU harmed Latvia badly. When Latvia had a referendum about joining the EU in 2003, she believes Latvians were forced to join because they had no more other chance. She says “Latvia was violated as a girl and now it needed to be married officially”. Today, in her opinion, the Latvians understood that Europe isn’t good for them. The official statistics seem to give her a point, on average just around 35% still want the Euro.
But her real concern isn’t the economy. What really moves her is the question of independence. Some Latvians could be surprised by this since she wasn’t really known as a fighter for Latvia’s independence during the Sowjet times. She seems to be refined though. “We did not want this level of dependence on Sowjet Union, why should we depend on Europe then? Are we independent today? ” she asks.
Her opinion isn’t isolated in Latvia. Just recently a famous Latvian composer and politician, Imants Kalnins shared his thoughts about independence with the Latvians through an open letter. “We are going to be a marginal country on big Europe’s borders. Yet we wanted to be an equal country surrounded by equals, controlling our economy, our relations with other countries and all human and social aspects ourselves.” Furthermore he says that he thought Europe would give Latvia total sovereignty but by now he feels that Latvia can decide less than ever on it’s own and should never join an eventual United States of Europe. If Latvia ever joined such a federal State, it would die. “Think about your children” he appeals and reminds on the famous Baltic Way, where the Baltic people from Lithuania to Estonia stood hand in hand to claim independent nations.
Mrs. Ždanoka specifies that countries can’t be totally economically independent, yet politically. I ask her how this could work and just as a big carpet she spreads out her vision of a Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. A big free trade zone but nothing more. A lot of states, and regions of course trading with each other but having totally independent policies. I’m a little confused. Wasn’t that at least a reason why we are having a crisis now? “No!” She says. In her believe just the Euro creates a need for more equal politics. Without, the Trade Union would work just like it did in the fifties.
“Would a small country like Latvia be able to act independently?”
This time I ask my question to Daniel Cohn-Bendit. He is a green Europe politician who just recently published his vision for Europe in a manifesto. He strongly believes in a United Europe and more integration. Following his thought there isn’t sovereignty in the globalized world of today. And if a country wants its sovereignty back it has to cooperate more with other countries to fight the financial markets. He reminds me that in thirty years none of the European countries will be in the G8 anymore. How would one on it’s own have enough power to defend values and the social system? He doesn’t think that a nation will be strong enough to protect its citizens alone in the future. And if a relatively strong nation like Germany can’t, how would Latvia ever deal with that?
But Cohn-Bendit also argues that humans needed more than three hundred years to develope the nations and that the idea of a supranational federal state isn’t older than fifty years. Maybe it just takes a little time to get used to something new. In my personal opinion that would be even harder for the Latvians. Their nation isn’t even fifty years old by now. Expecting them to think about giving more sovereignty to Europe, is like giving back something you saved money for a really long time. But just the moment you get it there comes a new thing which might be much better but still you love what you have just bought.
In my opinion Cohn-Bendit is right, there can’t be a total independence in our globalized world. Mrs. Ždanokas vision seems to be just a daydream which you can dream if you want to close your eyes for the reality.
First of all, let me tell you that I think the article is really interesting, and it’s cool how you can write things down from a different perspective. But at the same time, I think that your last sentence might be judged too quickly. It’s too easy to say that the vision of Mrs. Ždanokas is just a daydream. When freedom is so important for you, and you have fought for it as hard as the Latvians did, it is not easy to give up your freedom. The Baltic countries are squeezed between two powers. Russia on one side, and the EU on the other. There’s no way for them not to choose between one of them, and so they are kind of forced into the EU. This doesn’t mean that they’re satisfied with it, or that they feel like Europeans. Being really independent is their biggest wish, but with the growing globalisation, and the growing influence of Europe on our daily lives, they simply cannot be independent. How nice would it be if we could just live next to eachother, respect our differences, make clear trading rules, and do not participate in globalisation? This might not be so realistic at the moment, but it’s nice that people fight for it!
thank you so much for your comment! It’s really nice to have a discussion here.
I found a quote today which might be a good start to answer you:
“What in concret and pratical terms does the independence of nations mean in the world of today, a world of the closest economic and politic interdependence, which makes the destiny of all men kind inserparably” Julius Braunthal, 1943
I understand what you mean when you say that Latvia is squeezed between two powers but I think as the quote says that total independence isn’t possible for any country today. Even if Latvia would not be squeezed by the powers the would be the match-ball of international markets since it is so small and relativly poor. And if the economy has more power than the politics you aren’t independent anymore too.
In my opinion it would be more realistic if the people would fight for their differences and rights within Europe. I think it’s really important to fight for that because I woudn’t like a Europe where everything is decided from above either.
But it’s true that one always has to remember how hard the Latvians fought for freedom if you judge their choices!
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