It seems that the spring has finally arrived to Latvia. Although I was a bit worried yesterday that it might start to snow again (because it pretty much always did after a day of sunshine), I believe this time the warm weather is going to stay.
The streets and public parks — however dodgy and unpleasant — are overcrowded with young couples in love. I believe love is pretty much like a bear who wakes up from hibernation after a long and cold winter. Though however sweet things may seem over here in Riga, I cannot help but notice the other side of the coin: the poor, the desperate, the homeless people as well as the others’ attitude towards them.
As usual, I was heading for lunch with my colleague. We are the same age but have radically different opinions about a lot of issues. Certainly about the citizenship and the minority issue in Latvia. Whereas he is the ‘patriotic’ Latvian who thinks Latvia should belong to ‘Latvians’, whilst Russians are the lazybones not willing to integrate, I believe it is hard to define what being Latvian really means — let alone patriotic — and, furthermore, it is most of all the official policy of state which throughout the last 20 years since our redeclaration of independence has aggravated the situation and made most people artificially hate Russians, while not doing a thing to hep them integrate.
I do not want this to become personal and to tell bad things about my colleague, but there are certain things I cannot remain silent about. As we walked through the park, a lady from Ž?lsird?bas Misija Dz?v?bas ?diens (Mercy Mission Food for Life), a ‘soup kitchen’ serving Kichiri to homeless and poor, approached us, asking to donate some money. Although willing to do so, I followed my colleague who rather explicitly declares he does not give a damn about such things. For the rest of our walk to the restaurant, which thankfully was only couple of meters away, my colleague kept viciously arguing against people like the aforementioned lady as well the homeless beggars we were passing by. “Solidarity?” replied he when I was trying to argue that it is not the fault of these people that they are homeless and I feel that it is our responsibility to show some — however limited — solidarity with them, doing the very least we can, thus, donating some money.
Upon entering Lido, a bistro serving ‘traditional’ Latvian food, a desperate elderly woman approached us saying something like: “Please, help me, bring me in with you.” She wasn’t drunken or one who is just too lazy to do anything constructive and is now pretending that life has been too cruel towards her. None of this was true. Judging by the way she looked I am sure she was one of the countless pensioners who just cannot make ends meet and has probably not eaten in days. I am sure she would never have wanted to be there, begging people to buy her lunch. But what do you do when you are starving? It is not that there are many options to choose from.
Did I help her? No I didn’t. Again, I jumped on the selfish, capitalistic bandwagon, led by my colleague, who, after we passed the lady spitted out “here is your solidarity.”
I was in shock. I have always believed that unlike some other nationalities, Latvians by and large are the good Samaritans (which, by and large could nevertheless be true). Yet, it is still appalling to see that there can be people who think, let alone speak, like that.
I distanced myself from my colleague and, standing next to large French-fries pan, was carefully looking at the old lady now asking people for money. I was angry at myself that I did not help and even more angry that I felt shy to go back and tell her to come in so I can pay for whatever she decides to get. I could still do it but something evil was forcing me to stay where I am. So I watched instead the people passing by the lady. And I saw Ray Ban glasses, Guess handbags, expensive make-ups and fancy jeans totally ignoring this one desperate human being. These people — willing to spend hundreds and thousands for things they don’t really want or need and yet stingy enough to spare couple of Lats and pay for this lady’s lunch. Pathetic…
I finally brought myself together, got some food and went to checkout. I was glad to see some people had finally given this lady some money and she was now running around the place looking at the cheapest options to get. And yet I realized that this is only a patch on this deep-cut bruise of our society – the tens of thousands of most vulnerable people who have worked so hard for their whole lives only to find themselves in a situation like this old lady.
I found a table where my colleague was already waiting for me, appearing pleased with his choice of food. Although trying to conceal my emotions, I guess he understood that this time he went too far with his statements. So he tried to reconcile, saying he does not think soup-kitchens are that bad of an idea after all, etc.
It did not change anything. Although not angry with him, I felt I have nothing good to say. “What kind of patriot are you? You think our government is full of kleptocrats or at best very weak politicians — which is surely true — so ok, let’s fuck them. So let’s stand by the people. Oh, but wait a second, I just remembered Russians are the occupants and lazy-ones, not willing to integrate, etc, etc. Alright. I don’t agree with that but ok, let’s go with this nonsense. Whev. You almost scared me. For a split second I thought you don’t give a damn about the people either but, silly me, there is still Latvians left which you stand by. What a relief!…. But wait! — I guess I just realized that is not completely true either because those couple of people we just passed happened to be Latvians. And weren’t you the one saying that you don’t give a damn about anyone’s fate because it is only our selfishness that dictates our fortune? … Satire and irony aside, what kind of Latvian are you? What kind of patriot are you? Who do you stand by if you condemn the government as well as the very own people that live in this country? Is that the ‘patriotism’ you are so proud of? Is that the Latvia you stand for?”
I chose not to say the former although these and other things were spinning around my head continuously as I was trying to get some food down my throat.
On the way back to work we did not speak a word. The saddest part, unfortunately, is not the attitude of my colleague. The saddest part is that there are hundreds of thousands of people like him aka Latvia’s patriots who hate both the government and the people.