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44 Power and Powerlessness of Intellectuals in Turkey International Freedom of Exchange. ‘Two Sentenced for ‘Insulting Turkishness’ as European Court Rules Against Turkey’. Ifex.org. 16 October 2007. viewed on 25 January 2010, http://www.ifex.org/turkey /2007/10/16/two_sentenced_for_insulting_turkishness/.
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Powerlessness, Lamentation and Nostalgia: Discourses of the Post-Soviet Intelligentsia in Modern Latvia Olga Procevska Abstract During the transformation and collapse of the Soviet system, the intelligentsia was perhaps the most influential advocate of ideological, political and social change. Later a new political elite came to power, gradually marginalizing the intelligentsia in decision-making circles and evoking its yearning for the recent past. References to the accomplishments of the perestroika period (1985-1989) remain an essential foundation of identity for intellectuals in today’s Latvia, preventing them from adopting new roles and discourses. Therefore a specific post-Soviet public intellectual now exists - unable to switch from tactics of accusation and reproduction of 20-year-old myths to taking responsibility in a democratic society, unable to maintain the functions of leader and legislator and retreating in nostalgia.
***** 1. An Obligation of Nostalgia Nostalgia is no longer regarded as a disease as it was between the 17th and 19th centuries, but it also has ceased to be viewed as curable.
Alienation from home, longing for another time and place are seen as inherent components of modern, postmodern and post-postmodern societies.
Especially distance and strangeness have been viewed as natural characteristics of an intellectual.1 Intellectuals are said to dwell in the lands of ideals and goals, usually leaving practical matters to others and moving on to new ideals and goals. Thus an intellectual is never home, never settled down;
he is meant to be nomadic because being on a quest is the essence of being an intellectual. Attachment and engagement is viewed as a threat to the freedom of his thought and successful functioning of the intellectual.
Post-Soviet intellectuals are especially exposed to risks of nostalgia not just because they are intellectuals, but also because outbreaks of nostalgia are especially common in societies after revolutionary periods. The turmoil of revolutionary and post-revolutionary events makes stability (even stagnation) seem more valuable.2 Some authors even consider nostalgia an integral component of every social change, including Professor Mitja Velikonja of the University of Ljubljana, who emphasizes its twofold nature of lamentation and glorification in his definition:
48 Powerlessness, Lamentation and Nostalgia A complex, differentiated, changing, emotionladen, personal or collective, (non)instrumentalized story that binarily laments and glorifies a romanticized lost time, people, objects, feelings, scents, events, spaces, relationships, values, political and other systems, all of which stand in sharp contrast to the inferior present. It is a mourning for the irreversible loss of the past, a longing for it, and it frequently involves a utopian wish and even an effort to bring it back.However, several sociologists admit that in former socialist states nostalgia is rarely viewed as something that should be acted upon; the desire to restore socialist order is uncommon.4 Mostly in post-socialist societies nostalgia is mediated by popular culture and media and takes the form of lamentation or irony.
2. Perestroika and its Heirs Initially both the intelligentsia and glasnost were state projects in the Soviet system. However, during the years of perestroika, the intelligentsia gained unprecedented authority and an image as the ‘nation’s consciousness’ by filling in the gaps in official discourse, openly talking about things that previously were silenced and limited only to a small group of dissidents in samizdat or the private sphere of kitchen talk: deportations, ecological problems, unbalanced migration, corruption, and threats to the traditions and languages of Soviet minorities. It has to be taken into account that in Latvia the most important discourses of perestroika were different from those of Soviet Russia - human rights received no significant attention, but there was a huge emphasis on ecology, language and migration issues.
In the late 1980s people trusted the intelligentsia more than any official institution. The organizer of an icebreaking 1988 plenum of Latvian creative unions, poet Janis Peters, remembers the arrival of ‘tons of letters’ asking for solutions to one problem or another; they were sent to the Writer’s Union instead of the ministries or regional party organizations, the rightful recipients, because the intelligentsia seemed more honest and influential and, strangely, unconnected to the state.Until approximately 1988 the party still kept public discourses under control, and dissidents still had to limit themselves to a small underground audience. However, in 1988 the intelligentsia formed mass movements throughout the Soviet republics (although such movements existed before in Poland, Hungary, and some other states under Soviet influence outside the USSR, they did not have considerable impact on events within the USSR). In Latvia the driving force of late perestroika, usually referred to as Atmoda (revival, awakening), was Tautas fronte (the People’s Front or Popular Olga Procevska Front), an organization led by the intelligentsia that consolidated criticism towards the Communist Party and served as a real political alternative to it. In Estonia and Lithuania similar organizations were Rahvarinne and Sajdis, respectively.
In 1989-1990 the influence and popularity of the intelligentsia reached its climax. They were the most notable speakers at mass demonstrations, and their articles dominated op-ed columns in almost every newspaper and magazine except the most pro-Communist. In March 1990, the Supreme Council of Latvia was elected. Its primary duty was to officially declare independence from the Soviet Union and prepare for the election of a Saeima (parliament). More than 70% of the seats were won by national and regional leaders of the Popular Front - most of them members of the intelligentsia. Critical decisions about the formation of an independent state were made, and the work of the Council was the focus of public attention.
But soon after independence was declared, the public had to face the dark side of systemic transformation: the collapse of the state planned and controlled economy led to unemployment, an absolutely marginal problem during Soviet times; inflation of 300% to 400%; the closing of factories, and a consequent deficit of almost all essential goods.
As already mentioned, intellectuals rarely bother themselves with the practical realization of strategies and goals that they bring to the public agenda. Therefore, when the initial (ideological) stage of changes had passed, the intellectuals, who ‘proved to be extremely powerful in their effect on the national consciousness of their societies during the demolition of the Iron Curtain, later [...] were forced to limit themselves to performing more modest roles,’ as Lithuanian historian Almantas Samalavicius concludes.6 The agenda of the people also changed - they were preoccupied with adapting and surviving in conditions that were extremely harsh and entirely new to them.
Two Russian sociologists, Lev Gudkov and Boris Dubin, highlight another aspect of systemic transformation, declaring that the identity of the Soviet intelligentsia rested upon two main characteristics: the function of enlightening the public and ‘the corporate belonging to the circle of the elite.’ As it turned out, first, the intelligentsia lacked the professional skills and knowledge to function as ‘rationalisers of everyday life’ in a pluralistic public sphere, and second, the bond between the intelligentsia and Soviet political elite was too strong for the former to obtain a new identity.Sociologist Inna Kotchetkova also points out that it is a problem not only for Soviet intelligentsia, because ‘overall changes in society demand active reflexive work, reconsideration of previous identities or the search for new ones, something which most people brought up in a communist country are unaccustomed to.’ That is why ‘instead of the joy of liberation the majority of 50 Powerlessness, Lamentation and Nostalgia the population experiences frustration, anxiety and longs for the comfortable past.’By the time parliamentary elections occurred in June 1993, most Atmoda leaders had moved away from the centre of the political scene to its periphery or completely retreated from the public sphere back to their professional work. The new elite came mostly from an economic background, rather than an academic or creative one. They were former heads of collective farms (kolkhoz) and factories or entrepreneurs who made their fortunes during the second half of the 1980s when the state-controlled economy was partially liberalized to allow private enterprises. The next elections, in 1995, made this change of elite even more obvious. Intellectual leaders of perestroika then obtained a role that belongs to them even today: as the so-called locomotives - vote-getters, engines for dragging less popular candidates into office - even if the locomotives have no significant influence on legislation or administration when formally being in power.
The intelligentsia was aware of the changes; they disliked or even despised the new elite, but were unable or unwilling to interrupt or transform this process. As the head of the Latvian Popular Front, Dainis Ivans writes in his memoirs: