The Catalan Way (Via Catalana) is the way of tens of millions of Europeans

On Sept. 11, hundreds of thousands of Catalonians joined hands to form a 400 kilometer long living chain. Their purpose and their desire was profoundly understood by tens of millions of Europeans.

Their own independent state – a dream for centuries for the Irish, the Poles, Finns, Norwegians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and many other Europeans. They have all had to take the long and difficult Way to fulfill the dream of an independent state. The memory of their struggles for independence is sacred to these people – their fathers, grandfathers have dreamed and aspired, quite often sacrificing what is most precious – their lives.

So, deep in their hearts, millions of Europeans understand and support the Catalan aspiration for their own independent state. To them, Catalonians are not some sort of separatists. They are heroic people ceaselessly striving to fulfil their fathers’ and grandfathers’ dream – an independent state.

When Pope John Paul II returned to Poland in 1979, he was surely advocating freedom for his native homeland. For centuries countless emperors and dictators had tried to destroy and divide Poland. But the Polish people stubbornly and faithfully followed their dream of an independent state.

Finland, for centuries saddled by various empires, achieved independence in 1917, as did a year later also the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Later the Baltic states remained true to their dream in spite of long years of occupation, repression and mass deportation to Siberia.

The closest parallels to the situation between Catalonia and Spain might be the Nordic states – Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. This was not always so. Only comparatively recently – early in the 20th century – they were relatively impoverished nations. For several centuries Denmark and Sweden ruled over the peoples of Iceland and Norway. From time to time the Danes and Swedes would wrangle over Norway, trading and redividing it, until, in 1814, the Norwegians declared independence. Naturally their Swedish masters found this unacceptable at first, and dispatched an army to reestablish “order”. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and a truce was declared, in which Norway entered into a union with Sweden, while retaining its previously adopted constitution. This union held until 1905, when Norway became a fully independent state. Another northern European state, Iceland, small but proud, declared its independence in 1944.

The example of the Nordic states shows us that even in the recent past, powerful European kingdoms were able to recognize the independence of subject neighboring peoples, enabling them to become pround and wealthy states today. They are all now universally respected in international society. One of the reasons for their success is that their relations are no longer dominated by resentment, but rather by cooperation and friendly competition. They all learn and compete among themselves for better ideas, for better solutions to their problems. In difficult, trying times, they unite in mutual cooperation and assistence. Their example could be a wonderful road map for the future of Catalonia and Spain, profoundly understood not just by northern Europeans, but by all European nations and states. That is why the peoples of the Baltic states sympathetically support Catalonia’s dream of independence.

Some time ago, one of Europe’s most brilliant thinkers and most outstanding diplomats, Estonia’s president Lennart Meri wrote: “The diversity of Europe’s large and small cultures is the key to understanding Europe’s creativity. Europe’s mineral wealth is relatively insignificant, Europe has never been a garden in paradise. Europe is the creation of its people, and, one could add poetically, that Europe in gratitude has created the European people. The idea of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality could have been born in many places, but it could only have taken root first here, in Europe.”

Lennart Meri is no longer living, but his deeply held conviction stays true, that the freedom of nations, including the freedom of self-determination is at the foundation of the European ideal. Bureaucracy, laws complicated by design, fear of change must not be allowed to deny any nation its right to determine its own future. Catalonia must be allowed to decide its own future. Those nations of Europe that have achieved their dream of independence must not betray the ideals of their fathers and grandfathers today, when their brother Europeans – the Catalonians – are striving to realize the same ideals.

Therefore, as a Latvian I say that I will be a Catalonian until Catalonia is free and independent. I believe and I hope that millions of Irish, Poles, Finns, Lithuanians, Estonians and many others will be Catalonians likewise.

The European Union must decline the Nobel Peace Prize

If the leaders of the European Union had any honor, they would have to decline the Nobel Peace Prize. In doing so they would pay tribute the memory of at least 300 thousand citizens killed quite recently in European wars. Less than 20 years ago, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, unbridled rape and other war atrocities took place right under the noses of the indecisive and cowardly population of Europe and its cynical leaders. And what did Europeans do about it? There were endless meetings, but when the horror erupted, we were told to put down our weapons and simply turn our backs.

And has this cowardly cynicism ended? No. The leading nations of Europe continue to enrich themselves by collaborating with undemocratic regimes. In the event, accepting the Peace Prize devalues the Nobel name and insults those who have in the past received the Prize for genuine courage and self-sacrifice.

A hypocritical bargain between the Peace Prize Committee and the EU

The flattering pleasantries exchanged between the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and the leaders of the EU amount to bargaining in grotesque hypocrisy. In a joint announcement, the presidents of the Council of Europe the European Commission congratulated themselves: “This Prize is the strongest possible recognition of the deep political motives behind our Union: the unique effort by ever more European states to overcome war and divisions and to jointly shape a continent of peace and prosperity.”  The Norwegian Nobel Committee chimed in, emphasizing – “EU’s contribution for over six decades to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” (1)

The Nobel Committee’s shameful case of amnesia

A glance at very recent history suffices to give the gentlemen the lie. What “six decades” are they talking about? The Nobel Committee could not have forgotten the terribly destructive wars, not one, not two, but five wars altogether, that took place in the territory of former Yugoslavia from 1991 until as recently as 1999. The European Union proved itself utterly impotent, unable to prevent them. In some cases the actions of the European nations were pathetic to the point of being criminal. In 1990, just before the bloody conflict erupted, the United States urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to place the growing threat of danger on its summit meeting agenda. French president Francois Mitterrand chided the Americans for “overly dramatizing” the situation and rejected the idea. A short time later the situation literally exploded, initiating one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in Europe’s recent history. It is estimated that as many as 300 thousand people were killed, and millions were driven into exile.

France is also culpable for one of the most horrific episodes in this conflict. French general Bernard Janvier, the commander of the UN military contingent in Bosnia, ordered a ban on air attacks on Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica. His decision was soon followed by the most horrendous mass murder in Europe since the Second World War.

British historian Tony Judt writes: “… Encouraged by the cowardice of the West, Bosnian Serb forces under the leadership of Ratko Mladic on June 11 (1995) moved into one of the so-called ‘secure zones’ – the eastern Bosnian city of Srebrenica, which at the time was crowded with frightened moslem refugees. Srebrenica was officially ‘protected’ by a UN mandate and by a contingent of 400 Dutch peacekeepers. However, upon the arrival of Mladic’s soldiers, the Dutch battalion lay down their arms without resistance, whereupon the Serbs systematically separated men and boys from the rest of the moslem population. The very next day, after having given his “officer’s word of honor” that they would not be harmed, his soldiers led the men, including boys aged 13 and older, out of the city into the countryside, and, over the following four days, slaughtered most of them – 7400 people. The Dutch soldiers returned home to Holland.” (2) This was made possible by the government of Holland, which vetoed any sort of attack on Serb strongholds until all Dutch soldiers were safely removed from danger.

Was it Europeans who put an end to these death orgies? No. Only seven weeks later, when the Serbs had attacked a market in Sarajevo, killing tens of people, mostly children, the US government headed by president Bill Clinton sanctioned the bombing of the aggressor. For a time this did force the Serbian paramilitary groups to take cover. Sadly, however, it was not the end. The conflict continued to smolder and occasionally flared up again. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, taking advantage of the helplessness of European diplomats and the unwillingness of the Americans to get involved in European affairs, continued his aggressive policies. This led to a string of merciless mass murders in Kosovo in the spring of 1999.

Again – it took the active initiative of the US and NATO to put a stop to it. The slaughter in Kosovo ended only after a prolonged bombing of Serbian forces by NATO. The holocaust in former Yugoslavia ended on July 9, 1999, when the government in Belgrade agreed to remove its forces from Kosovo. The European Union’s role in the resolution of the conflict was nothing but dithering impotence. For eight long years, literally a couple of hundred kilometers from Vienna, the Balkan wars raged in indescribably merciless and bloody conflicts in which people were indiscriminately raped, flayed alive and slaughtered, including women and children. Has the Nobel Committee forgotten this, or has it simply decided to ignore the recent past?

EU Big Four – When money is to be made, democracy is second fiddle

Has anything changed in Europe since? Undeniably, the European Union is trying gradually to become a more serious organization. But old habits are still strong. The leading nations of the EU still talk the talk, but deep down they are just as cynical and duplicitous as ever. The Nobel Committee was unable to bring itself to notice a recent scandal in Sweden. Only half a year after taking office, Swedish defense minister Sten Tolgfors was forced to resign when it turned out that, under his leadership, negotiations were underway with Saudi Arabia for construction of facilities to repair and modernize antitank weapons. More recently, Sweden has lifted its ban on arms sales to nations led by undemocratic regimes. (3)

The Swedes were outdone many times over by the Germans and the Brits. It is well known that the mightiest of member states of the European Union – Germany, has been supporting, directly and over a long period of time, the regime of Europe’ s last dictator Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus. This support has been of a most cynical sort – German police have been involved in training his secret police, trading secrets and sharing experience. This was going on as recently as 2011, ignoring the fact that Belarusian forces in 2010 had brutally suppressed opposition protests, entailing more than 500 casualties. As reported by the German periodical “Der Spiegel”, representatives of the German security services had actively been involved in training these forces. (4) It is hard to imagine the feelings of the Belarusian citizens opposed to their regime, imprisoned and beaten with “German experience”, upon hearing the Nobel Committee’s fine words about “EU’s contribution for over six decades to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

In Great Britain, the money of dictators does not stink

The goings-on in Belarusian prisons are well known in another EU superpower – Great Britain. Its Foreign Ministry has reported that it has received credible testimony about torture and mistreatment imprisoned members of the opposition in those prisons. It has never been a secret to the EU and to Great Britain that Lukashenko is no “last Santa Claus of Europe”, but rather he is its last dictator. However, as reported by British TV Channel 4, this has not hindered Great Britain from selling him military arms worth 3 million pounds sterling. These arms deals were stopped only after the imposition of an embargo in July of 2011. (5)

However, this did not put a stop to all opportunities for the Brits to enrich themselves in Belarus. Great Britain has become the second biggest foreign investor in Belarus. British TV Channel 4 reports that British exports to Belarus have doubled in the last five years – from 67 million pounds sterling in 2007 to 125 million in 2011. The trend continues – in the last five months these exports were worth 77 million pounds. Of course the Brits try counter criticism by saying that business is business, and that they try to avoid dealing with Belarusian state authorities. They seem not to understand the meaning of the word “dictatorship”.

In that case, the Nobel Committee might as well invite Lukashenka, the president of Belarus, as guest of honor, personally to deliver the Peace Prize to the representatives of the leading nations of the EU, Germany and Great Britain. And if Milosevic had not passed away prematurely in his prison cell, then he might have been invited to shake hands with the French and Dutch representative. But maybe the leaders of the EU might yet manage to be sufficiently self-critical to realize, that the Prize is not deserved, at least out of respect for the victims of the Balkan holocaust, the political prisoners of Belarus, and other true idealists willing to sacrifice themselves in the long, hard struggle for world-wide peace and democracy.

Translated into English by Juris Žagariņš.

1. 2012. gada Nobela Miera prēmija piešķirta Eiropas Savienībai – 12/10/2012
2. Tony Judt. “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945”
3. – Ieroču skandāla dēļ atkāpjas Zviedrijas aizsardzības ministrs
4. „Der Spiegel” – Minsk lobt Polizei-Hilfe aus Deutschland
5. „Channel 4 News” – How the UK props up Europe’s ‘last dictatorship’


Great Russia’s divine nationalistic mission

Speaking about languages, at times it seems that Russians, and especially politicians, do not understand how fatal their policies have been.

Overall, the Russian Empire collapsed twice precisely because of its unreasonable Russian language policies. For many decades, for innumerable people, this was the language of the occupiers. It symbolizes oppression, reprisals and arrogance. People do understand that it isn’t reasonable to blame common Russians or the language itself. Even so…

It appears that politicians whose home language is Russian—beginning with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and Nils Ušakovs in the Rīga City Hall—haven’t ultimately understood the lessons of history. Reviewing how 19th and 20th century history is portrayed in Russian language books, it’s rare to find explanations of the destructive role that the Russification policy played, which in large measure ruined and brought to an end the Russian Empire. In fact, the resentment felt by minority nations and their longing for freedom demolished the powerful Russian Empire. In large measure this explains the support of the Bolshevik revolution and Vladimir Lenin by Latvians, Jews and other people. In contemporary times it’s not unusual to hear the conclusion that the 1940 occupation of Latvia by the U.S.S.R. was a symbolic retribution for the Latvian Riflemen’s support of the Red revolution and their participation in the Russian Civil War.

This is a primitive and misleading assertion. Joseph Stalin simply repeated the mistakes of his predecessors. The idea proved to be a fatal tragedy. Both during Czarist Russia and the Soviet regime, Russian chauvinism most frequently manifested itself with the imposition of the Russian language. This engendered opposition, antipathy and hatred. It has to be admitted that even now the wounds from these policies haven’t healed. The Harmony Centre party, with Ušakovs as its head, carelessly ripped open the wound again, most likely because of ignorance. If representatives of the Kremlin support or encourage this policy, then they too haven’t understood its importance. In the beginning of the 20th century similar pressure led to the emergence of anarchists and other radicals. Later they enthusiastically participated in the destruction of the Russian Empire.

When pacifists reach for bombs

Russia’s problems, which continue in contemporary times, began in 1880. In that year Konstantin Pobedonostsev became chief prosecutor of the Holy Synod of Russia, a highly influential position in Czarist Russia. He was a notable person in the Czar’s court—the constitutional rights teacher of both Czar Alexander III and Czar Nikolai II. The British historian Alan Palmer wrote, “Pobedonostsev was a person of strong principles, extremely anti–Semitic and just as hostile toward Catholics, Islamic believers and any form of representative government. (“Parliament in our time produces the greatest of lies,” he wrote in 1896.[1]) He believed in Great Russia’s divine mission and that the blessings were embodied in the highest autocrat—the Emperor of Great Russia.” Many, perhaps, would disagree, but looking at contemporary Russia it is hard not to think that a similar vein of thinking is quite strong. Many continue to feel blessed with a unique mission and an emperor of sorts exists. In huge, rich Russia with its many wise and talented people, the only alternative to Putin is… Putin.

Returning to historical events, Pobedonostsev had enormous power and he began his devasting imperial Russification program and the imposition of the Russian Orthodox religion. The historian Kristīne Volfarte wrote about this: “1888 and the next two years brought great changes to Rīga’s schools, since as a result of the government’s Russification policy, Russian replaced German and Latvian in the classroom. This was an enormous turning point for school children. All subjects, except for religious instruction, were taught in a language that pupils didn’t understand. The law allowed the use of a non–Russian language only in the beginning of the school year, as a temporary teaching aid. The situation became even more acute as a result of the 1893 law that declared that the Russian language was not only the language of instruction, but was the only one allowed to be used in schools. This meant that pupils and students, both during conversations among themselves or with teachers, could speak only in Russian.”[2]

Beginning in 1887, almost all higher education institutions began using the Russian language. The notable University of Tartu in Estonian territory ended, replaced by the University of Yuryev. All legal and legislative matter had to be conducted in the Russian language. The ruthless Russification policy was imposed on all of Czarist Russia’s European lands—from proud Poland, through the Baltics, and even upon self–reliant and peace–loving Finland. In Latvian literature this era was strikingly portrayed in Pāvils Rozītis’ novel The Boys from Valmiera (Valmieras puikas)

This all evoked huge resentment, anger and protests. The Western–leaning, well–educated Baltic people refused to accept the brutality of Russian chauvinism. It was precisely at this time that these small nations understood that they had to escape from the Russian Empire. Palmer wrote, “On June 16, 1904, a young activist, a jurist who worked in the Senate, Eugen Schauman, shot and fatally wounded Bobrikov (Finland’s governor–general), and afterward committed suicide. While vacationing at the Finnish resort in Kotka, Czar Alexander II had once said, ‘Finland! What a wonderful place to live! No one makes bombs, there are no gangsters.’ The foolishness of Russian policy had provoked a member of the most pacifist of nations to engage in murder.”[3]

Without Russification, everything would be different now

In fact, during this time period, a substantial seed of hatred had been sown that’s alive today. The situation became even more inflamed by the unrest of 1905 and the czar’s brutal, punitive death expeditions that ensued. The “White Russians” were never forgiven for this by the future Latvian Riflemen. During the Russian Civil War, the Russian monarchists and “White Cossacks” were especially hated. As the czarist regime weakened, it was precisely representatives of the minorities that were on the front lines of the extremists. After 1905, a constellation of notable Latvian anarchists appeared, some of whom found their way into Lenin’s regime.

Jews fought especially hard against the czar’s regime. Pobedonostsev had been especially evil toward them—arranging deportations, restricting freedom of movement and limiting education opportunities. The infamous pogroms against the Jews came into being at this time. In large measure that explains why Jews joined and supported the Bolshevik conspirators, since they’d suffered so terribly from the czar’s policies. The Finns, for their part, acted according to the principle: we will support the enemies of our enemy. They always provided sanctuary to those extremists who fought against the Czar’s regime. Precisely for this reason, Lenin found refuge in Finland, safe from the Czar’s secret police.

Of course, the czarist regime collapsed for other reasons as well, but the brutal Russification policy gave an enormous impulse for the minorities to oppose the Russian Empire. The language of one’s birth was the foundation on which all of these minorities used to bolster their self–confidence and dreams about freedom. The imposed Russian language was a symbol of repression and arrogant domination. The Russian Empire even as late as 1918-1919 still had hopes of ridding itself of communist conspirators and create a new, modern nation. Yet, they let this chance go due to this same arrogant conceit. The Finns and Estonians were ready to help the monarchist, the White Army General Nikolai Yudenich, crush the Red regime. But the White general and other monarchists refused to promise the smaller nations the freedom to establish their own governments. After hearing this, the Finnish General Carl Gustaf Mannerheim with his army and the Estonians, as well as others, refused to help Yudenich. Lenin, who promised freedom and independence, remained in power. Of course, Lenin had an entirely different understanding about the freedom of minorities, but at that moment, this was the deciding factor.

Leave the beautiful and rich Russian language in peace

What Lenin couldn’t accomplish, Stalin completed in 1940. He actually revived the old empire and once again, in a slightly different form, the Russian language was used as a weapon to oppress the smaller nations and their desire for freedom. A love for the Russian language was once again imposed from above. This time this wasn’t done only with bayonets, but also with tanks, the KGB and trains to Siberian labor camps. The Russian language again came to symbolize repressions, stolen freedom and the arrogance of those believing in their superiority. One’s language of birth became the last and only salvation for the oppressed nations. This is grandly demonstrated by the popular Raimonds Pauls song with Alfrēds Krūklis text, “Why should I sing a foreign song?” (“Kāpēc man dziedāt svešu dziesmu?”). The language of one’s birth was one of the most important values that the Balts and others needed to protect. Precisely for this reason they actively did all to wreck the Soviet regime. Of course, this wasn’t the only reason why it imploded. Even so, the Balts again were at the front lines of the empire’s collapse.

A variety of pseudo–historians and politicians will have a thousand versions of the “true” history, and will claim that “the whole truth is different” and so forth. But, Ušakovs and his supporters should be made aware that this is the Latvian understanding about our history. This is our experience. Latvians never make a joke at the expense of their language. It’s been a hard battle and one that’s occurred for almost 100 years, while experiencing the collapse of various empires.

The only place in the world where it is possible to protect and develop our language is in little Latvia. It’s incomparably smaller than the unimaginably large Russia. Isn’t it possible to leave it in peace?

Isn’t it also possible to leave the beautiful and rich Russian language in peace? It’s a truly wonderful language that Latvians have always appreciated. Isn’t it high time to stop abusing the Russian language for cheap political points? And isn’t it finally time to end using Latvia’s Russians as hostages to the Kremlin’s dubious geopolitical ends?


1 Palmers, Alans (2007). Baltijas jūras valstu un tautu vēsture. Rīga: Atēna.

2 Volfarte, Kristīne, and Ervīns Oberlanders (2004). Katram bija sava Rīga. Rīga: Izdevniecība AGB.

3 Palmers, Alans (2007). Baltijas jūras valstu un tautu vēsture. Rīga: Atēna.

(Editor’s note: This is a translation of a commentary in Latvian, Dižā krievu nacionālisma dievišķais uzdevums, that appeared Jan. 13, 2012, on the TVNET portal. It is published with the permission of the author. Footnotes are translated from the original Latvian text, not their sources.)