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.