Monday, March 10, 2008

Skewed tenets of political ideologies in Latvia

It was after resigning from the post of the PM last December, when Aigars Kalvītis said that he would henceforth concentrate not only on the parliamentary work but also on promoting conservative ideas in Latvian society. Last Saturday’s week Diena quoted ex-PM saying, “liberalism of George Soros has gone too far in Latvia”. Also the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, as if echoing his former boss [Maris Riekstins was the PM bureau chief when A.Kalvītis was PM], spoke out the idea about a need to establish a conservative think tank in Latvia.

I have always wondered about the inability of Latvian present politicians to manoeuvre in literature of Western political science. If it is the former head of Latvian Dairies Ltd., then I do understand that he might not be accustomed to nuances of political science terminology. Therefore, I am not apprehensive about A. Kalvītis demagoguery and ability to compare Karl Popper’s idea about ”open society” with extreme market liberalism. The fact is that in most of the former Soviet Union (fSU) the student of Karl Popper, Mr George Soros is associated with the liberal ideology. But ironically it was and still is the excessive capitalist market ideology that G. Soros has been trying to argue against during the last two decades. The whole Open Society Network actually was founded in order to mitigate excesses of the liberal market economy in territories formerly run by the gang of “communist mandarin class”.

In reality the excesses of market liberalism or euphemistically called conditional reforms of Washington consensus were brought by the interplay between the International Monetary Fund and decisions of the ruling nomenklatura. Obviously the Washington consensus “one size fits all” approach did much damage, and there are volumes of scholarly literature written about it. Also, one should not forget the policy planners in the US State Department, who found it very convenient to hold on principles of liberal internationalism, and that was propagated by works of Francis Fukuyama or Kinichi Ohmae.

However, I still believe that harsh effects of reforms today are felt in fSU were not forced to accepted stringent reforms not so much as forced designs of development from the West, but mostly because of the bankruptcy of the centrally planned socialist economy, and oversize and ineffective state administration. The fact that one country in Central and Eastern Europe did better than other very much depended on several factors and institutional and administrative culture of the state was paramount here. For more detailed research one may look through very informative article by Oleg Havrylyshyn, but in a nutshell ongoing problems of states across the Central European region are still caused by the same old lack of rule of law, corruption and lack of administrative capacity.

Present members of the Latvian political elite try to solve problems of slowing economy and alienation of populace from the state. Instead of looking for primary causes of problems, the members of Popular party (TP) have decided to start to deal with secondary causes first. Instead of eliminating primary causes for the high level of corruption and lack of trust in society, members of the present political elite are looking now for means of conserving the existing situation.

Latvian conservatism

Former PM and present Minister of Foreign Affairs believe that liberal reforms have disoriented Latvian electors. Prevailing values of market liberalism according to ex-PM Kalvītis deteriorate family values, there is lack of traditional authority so there is nothing that holds the society together. But whilst speaking only about family values former PM is no different from all the other politicians. First, politicians of most political shades support family values, and second, from A. Kalvītis speech it does not become clear what else the newly formed organization should cherish or conserve? Traditional conservative values are associated with small government (Anglo-American example), although the US neo-conservatives have deviated from this important predicament lately. Continental Europeans try to preserve conservatism by preserving religious and family values. Conservatives traditionally do not believe in complicated policy proposals, and try to keep the small and efficient state administration as an arbiter and away from mingling into economic affairs.

Speaking about Latvian parliamentary political parties then at least five of them deem to defend conservative values in one way or another – People’s Party (TP), LPP/LC (Union between Latvian First and Latvian Way parties), New Era (JL), Fatherland Union (TB/LNNK) and Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS). All of previously mentioned parties deem to be conservative in defending traditional Latvian values, LPP/LC defends conservative Christian values, and ZZS defends conservative values of Latvian peasantry.

It might seem to be clarifying, but I have never really understood what does it mean – traditional Latvian values? Even if it comprises family values and promotion of Latvian language I am still puzzled about what kind of values those parties and particularly TP wants to conserve apart prom previously mentioned? Small government has never been on agenda in Latvia and what about low taxes? And how to finance the present unreformed and bloated governemt with low taxes of the upper quintile of society?

After all the word conservatism (conservare – to preserve in Latin), means that those using word conservatism want to preserve existing order, because they consider it being good enough in serving their needs. In Latvian case, when the country had to go through several forms of authoritarianism, what is the basis the traditional authority, efficient state apparatus; family values will be based upon? Would they trace back their roots to Ulmanis traditional authority, efficiency of state apparatus to the Soviet era, and family values to the last fifteen years? All in all, there are several questions that the newly founded conservative think tank ideologues would still have to answer prior making to understand on what values the future conservative party consolidation would be based on.


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