Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Independence Day Greetings!

Greetings on this the fourteenth Independence Day in Ukraine. I write to you from L'viv where all day today there have been festivities and where tonight will be a concert at which one of my favorite contemporary Ukrainian bands will be playing, called "Mandry."

I have been doing a lot of traveling about and talking with people in various parts of the country again--namely, have been in Kyiv, Poltava, Ivano-Frankivsk, Yabloniv (a village outside of Kolomyja), and now in L'viv. My feeling about Ukraine almost a year later after the Orange Revolution that already much has changfed for the positive. However, for the most part when talking with people, you get the sense that nothing has changed. The vast majority of people with whom I talk feel rather let down and quite pessimistic. I think that this was predictable a year ago and I don't think the pessimism is justified, and there are enough people here who also think more positively and optimistically. But the rumors are true: average people have by and large become rather dissillusioned. But not entirely. I don't get the sense that people have completely given up hope. I can't do justice to these observations here as I only have a few moments to write, but once I am settled back in a major city for a while I want to post a more thought-out piece. But here's one really great thought that one Kyiv resident said to me; one Volodymyr Kish said, "The problem is that, the new government would be having a much easier time if they had not come to power via a revolution." Expectations would be much lower.

But now to be positive: things here feel more Ukrainian than they did last year. There is advertising on public billboards and on TV everywhere that proudly proclaims Ukrainianness and a Ukrainian identity, and this is a HUGE change since last year. There is more pride and joy it seems here, and Ukraine also already feels and is much less isolated from the rest of the world. I CAN NOT BELIEVE the number of tourists from the West in Kyiv and Lviv and even in the Carpathians this year. It was not like this AT ALL last year, and long time livers- in-Ukraine (native Ukis and expats and diaspora) all say that this summer has seen an unprecedented level of tourists and wanderers. (A tourist is one who dos all the typical touristy things, while a wandered or traveler to my mind is the one who steps off the beaten track.) This is good, really good, for Ukraine and Ukrainians: Ukraine feels happier, more open, and like a part of the world. This is a positive side of globalization.

So also on that note, today a fellow made a very good and topical speech on Taras Shevchenko square right in the heart of Lviv. In his speech, he reminded Ukrainians that they made the Orange Revolution happen and they therefore also have to make its legacy last. He criticized those who now are cynical or disillusioned with the progress of reforms as being lazy or being too typically Soviet-minded, in the sense of expecting the State and the political leadership to take care of everything. He urged diligence and patience. And if Yushchenko and his gang to in the end turn out not to be all that they were cracked up to be, the legacy of the OR should out live them. I am glad someone made that speech.

There are lots of things to be proud of; so far, most of them are only on the legal front (ongoing arrests and investigations into former corrupt officials) and cultural (things beginning to look and feel more genuinely Ukrainian). But the average person wants to feel the reforms in their pocketbooks. This is going to take much longer than 8 or so months. And the world economic crisis and gas prices are also hurting the reputation of the new government and contributing to people's impatience unduly. This and the fact that they did come to power with such high expectations really is the new government's greatest adversaries. But for now, I have faith that they will pull through. I am super pleased to be in a Ukraine that this year seems more proudly Ukrainian than it has in a long time!

Us'oho najkrashchoho!


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

First Post from Kyiv

Pryvit! Greetings!

I am back in Ukraine and am writing to you from Kyiv. It is great to be back here, even if I felt like crap this morning when I got up (pokhmylnyj s'ohodnyj--hungover today) and the folks upstairs from where I am staying are doing a evroremont of their apartment, so the banging started only after 5 or so hours of sleep. Why is my luck such that I am frequently staying in places in Ukraine with neighbors who start their Euro-renovation projects first thing in the AM? All of this is, of course, just my luck and not something out of which to make a tale about some travels in Zainy Ukraine; however, it also does indicate something interesting: "Euro-Renovation," "Euro-Standard," etc., have been buzzwords here for quite some time.

Anyhow, the real point is that I spent the first evening of my first full day back in Ukraine in a very Ukrainian way with a Ukrianian friend and a Canadian grad student of Russian literature with a keen interest in (and good knowledge of) Ukraine as well.

It's kind of weird being here right because of how much it does not feel like such a big deal for me! It feels like I never even left this place. After living 8 months in Ukraine and now returning for another 2 1/2 months after a 5 month interlude in the States, it is easy to jump back into life here. But maybe that's because Eastern Europe in general and Ukraine in particular feel like home to me; certainly a spiritual home, but more and more like a real home as well. I am really happy about this, that this is becoming evermoreso a real place for me, such that I am not all wowed by being here all the time (I want epiphanies of Wowness, but not all the time like I was having my first ever month in Ukraine a little over a year ago) . That is, one's real homeland is where one works, sweats, bleeds, etc.; hence, Ukraine is only a spiritual homeland for diaspora, but a real homeland for those who were born and raised here; and I do NOT mean to prioritize or privilege one type of homeland over the other. A spiritual homeland is just as important, and I think that perhaps part of the problem for the majority culture of the US is that it was long ago set adrift from anything like a spiritual homeland, and it really has not grounded itself in a new one. Germans in Germany live in their real and spiritual homeland as do Ukrainians and others as well. And although what I am writing here could be turned into a formula for fascism, I still like it; for it is not fascistic in the sense that, for example, non-ethnic German minorities in Germany who keep their culture alive also have two types of homeland that are divergent, one spiritual and one real, and there is nothing wrong with Germany or the US or Ukraine for that matter being only a real homeland (money and labor) and not a spiritual one for large minority groups (Germany or Ukraine for Germans or Ukrainians is a fascist idea, of course). And sometimes, its those whose real homelands are far from the spiritual ones that, through the sanctity by which they look back at the spiritual homeland, have a lot more passion for it, while many of those who really exist in the homeland have want nothing more than to get out of it!

Well, I could go on and on. That was just thinking out-loud, but I do intend to write a great deal more during this trip on the difference of Ukraine as a spiritual homeland and a real one. And thankfully, there are plenty of people still left in Ukraine for whom it is both a spiritual place as well as real one; and also, thankfully, Ukraine is becoming more and more a real homeland, of not a spiritual one, for a growing minority of Africans and Asians, etc. But also there are Ukrainian-Africans or African-Ukrainians, for example, who proudly proclaim their Ukrainianness, their spiritual connection to the place. . .

Hm. These out loud thoughts must be heading in the direction of an essay on Ukrainianness. . .

Well, here's some proof that I am back in Kyiv, some photos I took today of St. Michael's Cathedral on a cloudy day and of a pagan statue not far from it:

A priest was sitting nearby while I took this photo of a pagan statue (probably a replica of one), and he shouted at me in English something like, "Why do you taking photograph of pagan idolatry? It is sinful for this stand here between two great churches." To which I said in Ukrainian that I respectfully did not agree, and that I consider the true message of Jesus was one of universal acceptance and love for all without regard to faith or belief. He then asked me to walk over for a chat, but it turned out that I was not in the mood for a chat, as I was really looking for a 5 o'clock nap, and so declined the offer. That could have led to an interesting conversation, but oh well. . .

And one other thing: the Cathedral above is rebuilt. It was destroyed byt the Soviets, and I think on orders of the ever loving Stalin.

Onto other anecdotes, I went shopping at Petrivka (the main outdoor bazaar in Kyiv; take the Metro to Petrivka station and shop for absolutely everything, from books to AV to technology to clothes, etc.) to buy a shirt and pair of jeans (packed really lightly this time) and was once again asked by no less than three salespeople whether I was from Poland. I was asked this all the time my last adventure in Ukraine, and I am REALLY happy about that. Only once did someone detect that I was a Ukrainain-American among them. And I am happy about this even if my newly Ukrainianized speech caused consternation among some diaspora Ukrainians while I was back in the US, who would definitely challenge the notion that it was Ukrainianized. "Bozhe Stefane, ty teper hovorysh jak vony v Ukrajini!" In other words, I am Russified. Hmm. . .

Does the fact that most diaspora Ukrainians speak with an obviously N American influenced accent and cadence, and that they say things like "bosska" for a female boss while younger ones like to say things like "dui mene" for "blow me," which is NOT mat' in Ukraine (not a cuss phrase) not mean that they have no position, no bully pulpit, upon which to stand and preach about the purity of language?!?!

Oh, but back to Petrivka--my conversations with salespeople there are usually interesting, and I recommend going there and even just pretending to shop if you are not really interested in buying anything, just to get a feel of the real Ukraine and for the conversation. This is how most Ukrainians do their shopping; they certainly do not shop on Khreshchatyk or Andrijivskyj Uzviz! And I was really impressed by one guy selling shirts and underwear yesterday; he was a fabulously friendly and very gentlemanly middle aged fellow who even writes receipts and tells you that you can return things if you don't like how it fits, etc.! I have never been told that so openly at a bazaar, and certainly have never been given a card guaranteeing me the right to return the items if I wish. He seemed like an educated fellow and was very interesting to talk to, so go buy something from him (he told me to tell my friends)! His booth is located in row (rjad) 46, (mesto) space 17-18.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Proposed Movie About Tymoshenko (and Saakashvili)

Radio Free Europe's newsline on Ukraine reported today that someone in Russia is intending to make an erotic film about a love affair between Ukraine's Tymoshenko and Georgia's Saakashvili; RFE also reported that it is not clear whether the film will be erotic or pornographic in nature. Hmm. . .given that Yushchenko has vacationed with Saakashvili, would it not be better to make a film about a homosexual love affair between the two men? And wouldn't that do more for the filmmaker's purpose, which is obviously to throw egg in the face of two countries that are strongly standing up to the Russian bear, which pathetically keeps yearning for the right to bully its neighbors? Oh but wait: given the highly intolerant character of Eastern Europe when it comes to homosexuality, such a tale would probably do poorly at the Russian box office or rental stores. But then again, given how intolerant things are, maybe such a story would catch on as something really humiliating. Whatever be the case, this film idea is at once both a potentially great moneymaking idea and also an exhibition of how pathetic some Russians' nostalgia for Empire is--as also is the stupid and offensive video game about shooting west Ukrainian natioanlists. It shows how pathetic some chauvanist folks in Russia really are. Maybe Tymoshenko should make the movie herself, just to wow the socks off her adversaries, jsut as she did when she worked her charm on Putin and made him blush during his first visit to Kyiv after the OR. Whatever; but learning of this news really pissed me off. Some people are really pathetic. . .especially men with a lot money who want to feel powerful and/or have a lot of money, and who are willing to punch below the belt, so to speak, in order to achieve either or both those goals. . .

Friday, August 12, 2005

Is Yushchenko Too Chummy with Old Power?

Some thoughts provoked by two Kyiv Post OpEds that I liked:

1) Yushchenko--too chummy with Kuchma? (Read the Kyiv Post op-ed here)

Are the cynics proving right? Is Yushchenko chummy with the old power to the extent that the cynic's theory that he is just another oligarch, another one of the players in Ukraine's game of gangster politics, is right? Or is there still some critical distance between Yu and the ''old" power? I agree with the Kyiv Post that Yushchenko's call to Kuchma on his birthday is outrageous and much too chummy to go unnoticed and un-commented-upon. I also completely agree that the situation with the Gongadze case is ridiculous and shameful. The as of yet still unsolved case is becoming Yushchenko's primary "orange shame," more so than some scandal over the privileged first brat and his father's defensive overaction to the bad press the kid well deserves. So what is going on?

Yushchenko has, as others have remarked, much too much the tendency to want to be loved by everyone, and I would add to that, much too much the tendency to want to be seen as the perfect gentleman who is the bigger of his adversaries. He eagerly shook Putin's hand with two of his own during his first summit in Moscow, even though there was much consensus that a Russian hand had played a role in his poisoning (remember, right after his inauguration, Yu took off for Moscow, which was indeed wise, but such an eager hand-shake?) . During the OR, he was the handler to Tymoshenko's bulldog, who urged restraint and European gentlemanliness while she wanted to tear things apart. Again, he wanted Ukraine to appear neat, gentlemanly, presumably "civilized" and "European." This, I believe, is how we should be reading this phonecall. Yushchenko loves being in the country club of world-class, wealthy political elites, and it seems to me that he imagines that it truly is a club of genuinely gentlemanly figures; and he seems to want to pretend that those in Ukraine are worthy of the kind of club he wishes he himsef was part of, a club in which elites are, presumably, much more sophisticated and much less cut-throat than Ukraine's elites have been, with their obvious thuggishness and rapaciousness. The fact that this is a bit of a Yushchenko fantasy, in the sense that American and European elites have relied upon thugs and brutes for their wealth and power, abroad if not within their own nations (hence the whole Iraq quagmire), is not to be commented much upon here except in passing. . .

Thus I think the following are his main shortcomings in the case of the phonecall: The desire to play the role of the gentleman, and the will to pretend. And along with that, a corrolary: Yushchenko also seems to me to want to play a kind of father-like role to Ukraine's political elite. Maybe this is kind of outrageous, but he seems to me to want to be looked upon in Ukraine as the example of the gentlemanly, European statesman. He seems to want that people will learn from his example what it means to be a gentleman-politician, or a European bourgeois politician. . .and a polite dandy. Hence the call.

Certainly Tymoshenko, with more populist feelings in her heart than "gentlemanliness," would not have called Kuchma on his b-day. But then mentioning her take me to her feuds with Lytvyn and Poroshenko, and so here's another potential explanation of Yushchenko's failures vis-a-vis Gongadze and his seeming chumminess with the "old" power. Is he playing some political game, engaging in more backroom negotiations as he did in the OR? To keep the coalition going, he's willing to forestall all that is potentially bad for his team by stalling resolution of Gongadze? But isn't that more of the same old thing, as the cynics would say?

No, I don't think that the cynics have it quite right: Yu is a wealthy elite destined to behave like other Euroelites if he ever gets the chance, and is not simply one of them, one of the Kuchmas/Medvedchuks/Pinchuks/Akhmetovs/Yanukovyches/Sirkuses/etc. of Ukraine. He is indeed a wealthy man, an oligarch of sorts, but of a much different persuasion. He may be a bit naive in his gentlemanliness, but he at least would not--I still believe--be trying to protect Poroshenko or Lytvyn for their own sakes or his (Yushchenko's) own, in terms of landing them all and himself lucrative deals that will make them rich and powerful. He wants to stay in power in order to try and make a genuine change in the country's situation. In other words, he wants to work in a political culture whose brutishness and corruption are toned down and watered-down, as it is in the US or EU. This already is a huge distance from those of the old power, who are fine with things as they are or were. . .

You may disagree with how he is going about his reforms, and there are many, many things to disagree with. You may think that such games as chumminess are more of the same, no real change. You may think that, no matter what Yu may want, using such methods are a guarantee that nothing will chage. You may even also disagree with his vision and his theories for a better future-- he is too much a market liberal or naive neoliberal or Eurobourgeois for me, against which I like to juxtapose the populist impulses of a Tymoshenko. But for what it's worth, he is at least this much different from the old power: he is thinking, I still think and hope I am right, about the country, and not just about enriching his cohorts. These are short term tactics, it may be, in his long term design for a better Ukraine. I am not comfortable with them (I want Poroshenko booted and the Gongadze case resolved), but I still think his heart is at least in the right place. . .I hope I am right about that one. I still think that there is not clear enough evidence indicating that his tactics won't work and that he is just another wicked oligarch. . .an oligarch of sorts maybe, but certainly much the lesser of the wicked.

2) "Energy as a Security Threat" Read the Kyiv Post OpEd here. Agreed, completely: Ukraine needs an independent energy policy, and Tymoshenko certainly is a good person to set to that task, with all of her experience working in the energy sector and hostility toward Russian manipulations, and as one who clearly realizes that energy is Ukraine's Achilles heal vis-a-vis Russia. . .

Evening in Riga

Rainbow over Zinta and Julija
Evening in Riga

Thursday, August 11, 2005

On the Importance of the International War Crimes Tribunal

In contradistinction to Bush administration rhetoric about the ineffectiveness of an international war crimes tribunal, read the following article here about the very important effect the Hague process is having in Bosnia. This article tries to illuminate just one of the ways that international, cooperative, or global-society institutions help promote the development of democracy for real, on the ground, in the real world. . .in a way BETTER THAN GUNS and UNILATERALISM can, I would add. . .

The American occupation of Iraq was not about "freedom and democracy," and the situation there long ago turned into the unilaterally greedy quagmire it was destined to become from the start.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Recent Kuzio Article Defending Progress of Orange Reforms

See this important defense of the progress of reforms in Ukraine agianst the rising tide of impatience, cynicism, skepticism, exaggeration regarding the shortcomings of the orange government, etc.

And see this earlier account of the Tymoshenko government that he wrote in May during the fuel-shortage crisis.

And once again also read Terry Hallman's defense of Tymoshenko on his blog.

Also look at my three pieces on this blog (Tymoshenko's Tribulations 1, 2, and 3) about the whole gas shortage affair and the issue of her populism--Kuzio's more recent piece linked above, btw, to some extent echoes my assertion that to cry about her populist policies that, "It's god-damn socialism, I tell you!" is hyperbole.

Radio Free Europe Interview with and Another Representation of Tymoshenko

Mat'kivshchyna abo bat'kivshchyna-maty
Motherland or Mother of the Fatherland

Read about the above painting here (in Ukrainian).

Read the recent RFE interview with Tymoshenko here.

Perhaps I like this painting because I see my partner breast-feeding our daughter
every day, which I add here, since I think that people and the press do make much too much of Tymoshenko's beauty. . .

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Riga Stencils, Part 4



Riga Stencils, Part 3

Hip Hop Latvia (in Latvian)

Riga Stencils, Part 2

Hendrix Lives in Riga 2

Riga Stencils, Part 1

Hendrix in Riga

Tried to get out today to take more pictures of Riga in summertime, but it was a cloudy day and so this is what I came up with instead--photos of stencils in front of what was the Soviet era playhouse for experimental and modern plays.

I have been to Riga twice before, but both times were in winter. Late summer--as it is nearly the beginning of Fall here--provides a bit less cloud coverage and more sun, but its hit or miss. Soon a dark, grey mass of clouds will be descending upon this beleagured nation (weatherwise) and the round disk of the sun will be disappearing for not days, not weeks, but months, destined to make but only very occassional appearances now and again during the long--very long--winter. And I am writing this as someone from Minnesota and who absolutely loves the winter! My first trip to Riga was in January of 2002, and for the three weeks that I was here at that time, I never laid eyes on the round disk of the sun, burried behind grey clouds as it was. You could only make out the shape of the sun behind the clouds. Things get to be like that in Minnesota, but we also will get clear-skied days with bright, bright sunshine--even if such days are usually the bitterly cold ones.

But there still is charm here, even in winter: like a glass of hot, black currant juice with a hearty shot of Latvia's most mysterious liqueur, the Black Balsams (Latvijas Melnais Balsams). . .

Monday, August 08, 2005

Links: 2 articles on Lytvyn and Poroshenko

Read about the increasing isolation of Lytvyn and Poroshenko within the overall Orange ruling coalition and what's behind it here and here.

Things are heating up for next Spring; but there will first be a cooling period. . .

Sunday, August 07, 2005

On the Andrij Yushchenko Controversy

I am quoting the following paragraph from one of the first Kyiv Post op-eds on the Andrij Yushchenko affair because I completely disagree with it (read the entire piece here):

"It’s worth separating what’s outrageous about the above from what isn’t. Listening to some of the journalistic rhetoric, you’d think young Andriy was an outrageous decadent in the mold of the Marquis de Sade, squandering the national wealth on ceaseless orgies. In fact, his lifestyle is not atypical of that of young people in positions analogous to his. It might be unfair, but the kids of powerful politicians tend to be showered with gifts and offered opportunities the rest of us don’t get. They get offered high-paying sinecures. When Ukrainska Pravda editor Olena Prytula says in a recent interview that Andriy’s lifestyle raises corruption issues, because Andriy’s unnamed benefactors might be trying to influence the president, she’s mistaken. There’s nothing that says a First Child has to take a vow of poverty, and there’s nothing illegal about a private citizen – which is what Andriy is – accepting gifts or a high salary for doing too little work. Without proof of a quid pro quo involving his father, what Andriy owns – or borrows or uses or accepts as a gift – is no one’s business but his own and his family’s. Unseemliness is no crime. This is a free country."

All of this is unfair, and even if it is legal, it's a so-called "free society's" more legalized form of corruption, and one of the more important tasks of a free press is to rigorously investigate and expose the privileges of the rich and famous, and of those whose privilege derive from connections to people in power, and to pressure them into doing positive things with their wealth/power/privilege/prestige. I do not think that people with lots of wealth and who are in positions of power and/or privilege, especially when their privileges derive from family members who are in politics, are entitled to a private life that is free from scrutiny by the press. I do not want to see Ukraine become a country like the United States in which wealth is worshipped above all else and in which we think that people are simply entitled to the wealth they have amassed. Given that so much wealth is amassed by questionable means, even in the US, the press should act like hound dogs on the wealthy: Justify yourself, and we will leave you alone! That's what the press was asking of Yushchenko--please explain to us your son's behaviours and wealth, justify it if you can, or take a stance on it if you can not! Instead, Yushchenko has blown up and blown off the press's concerns--very disappointing. I hope that the post-OR powers will strive to build the kind of Ukraine that they proclaimed they would, one that is EUropean (i.e., in the EU sense of Europeanness). That means developing a social democracy that does not allow the wealthiest members of society to pocket as much of the nation's wealth as the wealthy of the United States do. It means promoting a press willing to ask questions about how wealth is made and used, especially when it reaches relations of politicians and touches the levers of power. I am very pleased to see that the Ukrainian press is more willing to scrutinize the lifestyles of the rich and famous than it is in the US.

And in the end, we find that Andrij probably has been acting in an illegally corrupt manner as well, via his copyrights. . .the hounddogs did a good job sniffing out this one.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Photos from Riga 3: St. Peter's Church

The Spire of St. Peter's Church

Latvians claim that this was, at one point, the tallest steeple in all of Europe, and one should see it as emblematic of how Latvia has always been a part of Europe; that is, it has not suddenly become European by virtue of having joined the EU. This is an example of how everyone in the former Eastern Europe (some Latvians say there's is a Central European country) struggles to stake their legitimate claim on European history and in having a European identity. No doubt, Riga is very much so a European city with a history deeply entangled in the all-European past. Riga was a key city of the Hanseatic League. The important late-eighteenth to early nineteenth century philosopher Johanne Gotfried Herder, whose writings helped to inspire the "Springtime of Nations" that would happen in 1848, years after he was no longer active as a writer, spent 7 years in Riga as a Lutheran minister. It was his observations of the Latvian peasantry that led him to the conclude that peasants have a legitimate and powerful culture all of their own--i.e., that they were not merely close to nature, living almost like animals, and that the aristocracy were not the only purveyors of "culture."

Anyhow, during my first trip to Riga and to Latvia in January of 2002, I went up this steeple. On the elevator ride up, I chatted with the operator who was a Russian fellow who spoke no Latvian nor English, but very well in German (we chatted in German, as I knew basically no Russian then). Before going up, I had noticed photos of the steeple on fire and collapsing during the intense battle that took place as the Germans occupied the city in WWII, and I asked him whether he knew if it was the Soviets or the Nazis who had set the building on fire. In response, he said, "Who knows? Who was looking? It was WAR!"

Photos from Riga 2: Coke Truck in Old Riga

Coke Truck in Old Riga

Photos from Riga 1: Graffiti

Happiness = Money (raised to the nth power): The Theory of Capitalism (in Latvian)

There is an active anti-globalization movement here, and just as throughout the rest of the former Soviet Union, some of the anti-globalizers are what I call nostalgic communists (i.e., foolish, unrepetent enthusiasts of the Soviet past), old school anarchists, newer anarchists, as well as many social democrats, liberals, and also the occassional ultranationalist freakazoids. . .

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Right to Be Who You Are: On Last Week's Anti-Gay Demo in Riga

Greetings All,

I have been meaning to write for days, but have not managed to; I have once again landed on the European continent and am presently visiting friends in Riga before heading back to Ukraine at the end of the month. I AM SO HAPPY TO BE BACK IN EASTERN EUROPE!!!!

But not because of what I have to write about today:

The Latvian press has been ablaze with commentary on an incident that occured last week in Riga, which is an incident that, like all good news stories, has both a positive side and a negative one (quite a negative one in this case):

On the good side, the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) community of Riga held it's first ever Gay Pride parade last week.

On the bad side is the huge homophobic and intolerant reaction that took place against the parade. I am not sure just how many participated in the parade (some say about 40), but I am sure from all the reports this week in the media--and the media here is just obsessed with the issue, as it should be--there were far more people who came out to protest against the parade than to participate (some say nearly 1,000). Anti-gay demonstrators attempted to block the parade from proceeding and then threw eggs and tomatoes at those participating in the parade. But not only that happened; a significant number of MPs (Members of Parliament) made statements about the immoral nature of the parade, as also did the Mayor of Riga (who initially hesitated to issue the permit for the march). The deputy mayor of Riga resigned in protest that the parade took place, and calls were made for the resignation of the mayor and the executive director of the city (equivalent of a chair of the city council) by members of the deputy mayor's political party.

However, back on the positive side: Amnesty International already has issued a statement strongly condemning the MPs and other politicos for fostering through their statements an environment of intolerance, and for thus contributing to the fierceness of the anti-gay violence that happened in reaction to the parade. Also, Human Rights Watch is expected to make a similar statement. Also, much about the parade has been commented on in the general European press, with reports of Western European officials making strong condemnations of the speeches of the MPs and the irresponsible behavior of all the politicians. Many European liberals apparently are taking the opportunity to once again assert that contemporary European values are those of tolerance for difference, and to remind all members that the EU was in part built out of the desire to never go back, no matter in what kind of small steps, to such extremes of barabirc intolerance as was manifested by the Nazis (who were already rounding homosexuals up into concentration camps by the mid 1930s).

HOWEVER, although I do agree that the message must be sent to the New Central Europe that such intolerance is precisely what the EU stands against on the cultural front, and although I do agree that these MPs and other politicians in Latvia should be held responsible for the anti-gay demos, etc., it is also disturbing to sense in much of the Western European liberal commentary what people in the eastern part of the continent are unfortunately coming to expect: Western liberals speaking with a tone of condescension toward their "backwards" and "'intolerant,'' "New European," brethren. Western liberals should be careful of acting holier than thou, for certainly anti-gay and anti-immigrant hysteria is on the rise in Western Europe, too. I am sure that one can open any one of the all-German or all-French right wing papers and find commentary happily applauding the little Easterners, either overtly or somehow subtly. The struggle to build a truly open and tolerant society is still an unfinished one, and will always be an incomplete project that will have to renewed. Western Europe certainly is farther along in acceptance of nonstandard sexualities or even better stated, of GLBT lifestyles, but things there are not perfect enough for anyone in the West to be throwing any stones toward the East. Homophobes of both the West and the East need be condemned. Thus, this is an opportunity for Western Europeans to also write polemics about the ongoing problem of barbarism in their own countries. . .for they should watch out: a right-wing and intolerant backlash threatens the very liberal values and practices that is the foundation of the EU, and liberals in the EU need to figure out how they will prevent the destruction of their relatively tolerant society through the same kind of backlash that is ripping up the United States today. Attitudes or statements betraying attitudes of cultural superiority do not help at all; in fact, they play right into the hands of rightist forces, if the US experience is any indication!

And I have not said a thing about the disgusting level of anti-gay hysteria in the US of today, and the pathetic way that many conservatives have used the issue of gay marriage for their political agenda. The social agenda of the new right and all the so-called centrist liberals who go along with it is sickening. It uses hatred and intolerance to further its goals, often in contradiction to the very religion it lauds (the universal law of the New Testament is one of universal love and acceptance, and the New Testament came as a negation of the Old Testament, etc., so no one is justified in going back to the Old just to justify their own immature intolerance), and this is simply unacceptable. The politicos of the US who are also fanning the flames of anti-gay hysteria in the US via the issue of same sex marriage should also be condemned for contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance. For did you know that gay couples are MORE loyal than non-gay and that liberals have a lower divorce rate as a group than members of the so-called Christian Coalition!!!!! Another way of putting it is to say that the current neocon leadership in the US should be condemned for a failure of leadership, for good leaders bring their people together--even if elements of their people don't like each other. Genuine leadership does not divide and rule. When was the last time the US had a leader that was a genuine, universal figure?

So back to the good: I was sitting in a cafe in Riga, in a location of a restaurant chain called Lido that serves traditional Latvian food (there are similar chains in Ukraine, serving Ukrainian food, of course), and I looked out the window to notice a tall, very muscular black man wearing a very tight black dress that came down only to mid thigh level, and who was wearing knee-high leather boots with stilleto heels. I was amazed. Ok, in the US one might be able to spot such bold display of one's sexuality, but here in Riga! And also given that he was a black man in a country where nonwhites are but a decimal point of the population,
one can guess that he was quite a sight. At the time, I had no idea how to read him and his display of sexuality but for to think, "Right on man, be proud!" But I could not believe the risk he was taking. He just strutted--and he strutted--up and down the street looking intently at each person who passed by. I therefore wondered about his eagerness most of the day, until later I learned about this whole anti-gay uproar. That fellow is just as courageous as any of the Latvians who boldly stood out to proclaim their right to be Latvian against the Soviet government. Or to put it another way, in light of last week's anti-gay fervor, walking down that street in that dress was just as bold and courageous (and potentially dangerous) for that man as it was for any Latvian to have walked the streets wrapped in the (red-white-red) national flag in the early days of perestroika and of open resistane to the Soviet regime. Thus, I truly, truly hope that neither he nor anyone else like him becomes martyred as did the many Latvians who bravely struggled against the Soviet regime for one thing: the right to be who they are.