EU Accession and Personal Enlightenment
Everyday Sociality and Political Mobilization among Young Latvian NGO Activists
MA Thesis: University of Copenhagen, Institute of Anthropology (Specialerækken nr. 249), November 2002
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I would like to thank Thea Skaanes and Gitte Olesen for taking their time to read this thesis and offering encouragement and valuable criticism at various stages of its coming into being.
To my supervisor Finn Sivert Nielsen, thanks a lot for your good advice, open mind, highly valuable regional expertise, and a fun, active and inspiring academic life with the other members of the East / Central Europe Group at the Institute of Anthropology, Copenhagen University.
To Anna, thank you for living with me through the ups and downs of writing, while you also managed to finish your own thesis in the process.
This is a thesis about young Latvians who are active members of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). The NGO supports Latvia's accession to the European Union, and provides young people with pro-EU information on issues of European integration.(1)
Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania make up the Baltic countries, which were part of the Soviet Union from the end of World War II until its collapse in 1991. The Latvians lauded their regaining of national independence as being also a "return to Europe", and they along with seven other East European states applied for membership of the European Union.(2) In the twelve years since the restoration of independence, the country has experienced rapid political, economic and social change from being a Soviet republic to being a nation-state, sovereign and independent but also inter-dependent with the rest of Europe.
While politicians in the West and East present EU enlargement as a historical opportunity to heal the post-World War II division of Europe, there is little qualitative research on how East Europeans actually anticipate their accession to the EU. I think anthropology has a lot to offer in this regard, especially when keeping in mind that the reality of political and historical systems depends on people constantly bringing them to life. Referring to Sartre, Jackson formulates the issue in this way:
"No matter what constituting power we assign the impersonal forces of history, language and upbringing, the subject always figures, at the very least, as the site where these forces find expression and are played out… the significant fact for phenomenology is that the passage from one objective situation to another is always mediated by subjective life - by purposefulness, practical activity, and projective and strategic imagination" (Jackson 1996: 23, 29).
I aim to show how large-scale historical and political change is "mediated by subjective life" by providing empirical description, interpretations and analysis of a group of people, who involve themselves in the EU accession of Latvia.
The youth NGO where I did fieldwork from July to December 2000 is called Klubs "Maja" - Youth for United Europe. The name Klubs "Maja" literally means Club "the House", and in everyday conversation the members refer to it as either "the club" or "the house". The NGO has existed since 1994, and the members, numbering around 200, are mainly high school or university students, aged 17 to 22. A large majority are women.
The NGO is located in Riga, the capital of Latvia, with less active branches in other cities around the country. In an attempt to counteract the alienation of the large Russian-speaking minority in Latvia, Klubs "Maja" has defined itself formally as "multicultural". In practice, however, only a few members have Russian as their first language, and all members speak Latvian at the NGO.
Klubs "Maja" works to inform people about the history and structure of the European Union from a pro-EU perspective, and about issues pertaining to a future Latvian membership. Most members of the organization see it as their goal to create an interest in the EU, an awareness among fellow Latvians that the EU is a major influence in their lives. Their basic argument is that Latvia has no choice but to join the EU, given her history of dominance by larger neighbors and her present-day economic situation. They also work with issues like social integration of national minorities, but I will concentrate on their pro-EU work. It is through this that they attract funding and cooperate with other political actors in Europe. The whole organization is a member of the Young European Federalists (JEF for Junge Europäische Föderalisten). Through JEF, Klubs "Maja" is connected to local pro-EU NGO's in Eastern and Western Europe.
The members of Klubs "Maja" direct most of their information towards other young people, sometimes children but mainly high school students. One of their activities is to organize events where the students compete in showing the most extensive knowledge about the EU. Such testing of factual knowledge is often combined with more creative approaches, as when the participants write and perform songs with lyrics about Europe and Europeans, or paint their visions of "Latvia's road to the EU". It is by reaching out to young people in this way that the NGO recruits new members.
Other activities target the general public, as when the NGO puts up a stand in central Riga, decorates it with blue and yellow balloons and EU flags, and distributes information to passers-by. Moreover, some members go to the countryside to explain the need for open markets and agricultural reform to locals, who worry about losing their jobs and small farms. For some of my informants, their work also involved going abroad, on trips to seminars and political events organized by European NGO partners.
Above I have described the activities through which society becomes acquainted with Klubs "Maja". What motivates these acts of public political participation? In this thesis I offer answers to a research question that I formulate, in its most general form, as: What mobilizes my informants to do pro-EU NGO work? I will show that by joining the NGO community and doing NGO work, my informants collectively make sense of the rapid political and historical change that their society is undergoing. They become able to see and narrate their own transition to adulthood in a way that mirrors the story of Latvia's national rebirth and return to Europe. Thus they turn political changes into something they can identify with and act upon.
They also gain the ability to take up a position within the social and political landscape of Latvia - that of being "NGO" - from which they engage in political actions in the public sphere, in the company of other young people who share their experience of personal and social transition.
In order to understand the NGO career through which the activists are mobilized to be politically active, this thesis also deals with the theoretical question of how a group's everyday face-to-face sociality interrelates with their shared orientations towards an abstract political realm. I show my informants' political mobilization to be embedded in everyday social experience, where ideological discourse is largely absent.
This thesis offers interpretations of the ways that people make sense of a political process. The "political process" is Latvia's post-Soviet transition and European integration, and the "ways" in question are those of NGO life. Clifford Geertz has described anthropology as an interpretive science "in search not of law but of meaning" (1973:5), and meaning is what I search for when I consider political life. According to Geertz, when we study meaning, we study how symbolic acts, events, relations and objects communicate a certain perception of the world (op.cit: 91). I will be considering the symbolism through which my informants perceive and communicate the meanings of building a nation and a civil society, and joining the EU.
My goal is not to discuss symbolic systems in themselves, except if that helps me to arrive at a phenomenological understanding of political action. By phenomenological, I mean understanding how a large-scale political process becomes present in people's lives through the competences they acquire, the political and social landscapes they become familiar with, and the emotions, life stories and everyday sociality in which their political and historical worldview is rooted.
My project is to understand the NGO as a space of everyday sociality within which my informants come to share a view of the world, and feel that they are connected to, and able to act upon, the historical and political process happening in their society. I describe how political realms such as civil society have a mobilizing potential because they appear to my informants as new, as a break with the Soviet past. So does a Latvian nation, state and market economy, and the process of entering the EU. I aim to describe the social spheres that they identify with (civil society, their generation, the capital city), the activities they enjoy (their everyday social life, engaging in public political manifestations), and how through these activities and identifications, they experience a Europeanization of their society and an enlightenment of themselves.
I see the phenomenological approach as one of understanding the mobilizing potential that resides in the appearance of this landscape to my informants. Thus I do not problematize the "new-ness" that my informants see in Latvian civil society and European integration. My concern is to understand and interpret their political practice by focusing on images and stories that motivate. As Jackson writes:
"Fieldwork-based writing affirms that truth must not be seen as an unmasking which eclipses the appearance of the thing unmasked, but a form of disclosure which does it justice" (1996:4).
Besides describing, I am also concerned with interpreting the interrelation between the issues my informants bring up. I see interpretation as a search for symbolic resonance between spheres that may in everyday talk, also among my informants themselves, be presented as distinct from each other. Thus I am not endorsing an impressionism that would stay content itself with recording and repeating the ideas held by informants. But the elements that I use for my interpretations, are those that they bring up as immediately important, and which I myself have observed to play a central role in their political mobilization.
What is the value of interpretation? I follow Geertz in seeing anthropological interpretation as devoted to:
"a continual effort to devise systems of discourse that can keep up, more or less, with what, perhaps, is going on… [by] elaborat[ing] a language of significative contrast" (1995:19-20).
My interpretations aim to follow how, under post-Soviet conditions of rapid social and political change, new symbolic practices appear by which people ascribe meaning to their world, and existing social divisions and symbolic forms are invested with new political content. I use well known theoretical concepts such as "totemism", and I also modify concepts used by other anthropological authors into neologisms such as the "internationalizing gaze".
The data one collects in the field are affected by various personal characteristics. I believe with Donna Haraway that anthropology offers "situated knowledge" (Haraway 1988:188). Accounting for the nature of one's position in the field "implies responsibility for our enabling practices" (op.cit:193). But it also allows the anthropologist to insist on the "embodied objectivity" of his or her ethnographic viewpoint, and to strive for empirically based "enforceable, reliable accounts of things" through "a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a 'real' world" (op.cit:187-8). I will now account for my position in the field.
I found Klubs "Maja" by contacting the NGO Centre in Riga during a pilot project visit in May 2000. Gaining entry to the field was no difficulty at all, compared to the experience of many anthropologists (e.g. Dumont 1978). Accounting for my own viewpoint, my nationality was one reason for the relative ease of my field access. I found that my informants identified me as representing the Europe that I was researching, and especially Scandinavia, which was widely seen as the peaceful and uncorrupt epitome of democracy. My gender and age also played a role. As a male, Danish researcher in my late twenties, it was relatively easy to communicate, to a group of mainly female Latvian university students in their early twenties, my interest in them and their political work.
In my relations to informants, an international dimension was always present in the basic sense that our communication was in English. They spoke good English and were eager to do so, and I did not speak enough Latvian to engage in conversation, though I learned to understand enough to have an idea of what subject people were speaking about. When on various social occasions I listened to my informants speaking together in Latvian, I would usually ask "are you talking about…?" and people would explain to me in more detail what was being said. If I started to involve myself in the discussion, they would often switch to English.
During my fieldwork I made 16 recorded and transscribed interviews with NGO members, as well as people in the networks that surround them. These interviews were mainly in English, though a few were carried out in Danish with the aid of an interpreter. Many of my data also come from informal everyday conversations.(3)
With my informants, I took part in projects in Latvia and around Europe, and at one point I did press-work in English for the NGO. I went several times with members to international events, where I was registered as a member of Klubs "Maja", but presented myself as a Danish anthropologist. During my participation in NGO projects, the age gap between me and my informants was not wider than that I could to some degree "slip into the crowd" and be seen as a young person among other young people.
I should also mention that I have a personal background in NGO activism,(4) which probably predisposed me to ask certain kinds of questions: where the motivation for political activity comes from, and how the relationship between immediate personal gain and the long-term common good develops as the activism changes the activist. My own NGO experience implied that my fieldwork took place within a political culture that was partly "at home" to me.
"Situated knowledge" also means that the reader should be able to ascertain the political bias of interpretations. Let me therefore say that I myself support the EU, and also its enlargement. But my fieldwork has made me critical towards the political rhetorics in the candidate countries which stigmatizes any scepticism towards the EU as old-fashioned socialism or nationalism.
In chapter one I present a short outline of Latvian 20th century history. I also discuss some meanings of European integration and the concept of civil society in a Latvian context.
In chapter two I describe my informants' political worldview as centered on notions of openness and inter-dependence, and a symbolism of recognition and isolation. I see their international lifestyle of NGO activism as a lifeworld in which that worldview is rooted.
In chapter three I demonstrate that while my informants are engaged in political work, the main attraction of NGO life is the everyday sociality. I propose to see their enjoyment of such face-to-face relations as a medium for political consciousness.
In chapter four I look at individual NGO carreers and a case of public political manifestation. I argue that mobilization comes about through the social experience of creating a political-symbolic presence in the public sphere.
In chapter five I discuss how my informants see themselves, as a moral actor, in relation to other groups and actors within the social and political landscape of Latvia-in-transition.
In chapter six I discuss my informants' life stories of entering NGO life and experiencing personal enlightenment, and how these narratives establish symbolic links to the political process taking place in society.
In this chapter, I place in a wider political and historical context three basic aspects of my informants' political activism: that it took place within an NGO, that it was directed towards EU accession, and that they supported the latter for reasons that had to do with national history.
When I encountered Latvian history, in official settings (such as the Latvian Occupation Museum in Riga) or in conversations with ordinary Latvians, themes of occupation, social suffering and a continuous struggle for independence and recogniti on were emphasized. Such national narratives of suffering are not unique to Latvia. They exist in many societies where people have experienced war and conquest (e.g. Nordstrom & Robben 1995). Throughout Eastern Europe, post-Soviet anthropology has shown that the theme of suffering is endemic to the national history, social memory and individual life stories (e.g. Demirdirek 1996, Skultans 1998, Verdery 1999). Nations and individuals are publicly mourned and victimized in rituals such as reburials of dead bodies (Verdery 1999:115).
My informants often evoked national history as a background for their work for Latvia's "return to Europe". They presented EU accession as a condition for Latvia's economic and political survival, and drew parallels between their own NGO work and what they perceived as a centuries old Latvian struggle for nationhood. As Nora, the president of the NGO, explained to me, "the tribes in the 13th century were also fighting against their land being taken away, like we have done ever since. They were like us".
Nora's words about "land being taken away" refer to historical instances of occupation that, as we shall see in the anthropology of post-Soviet Latvia, are vividly present in Latvian social memory. Another informant used the expression "we have been occupied for 900 years" when referring to the succession of German, Polish, Swedish and Russian empires which from the 13th century until World War I reigned the region that today is called the Baltic Countries.
However, the themes of occupation and struggle refer particularly to Latvian 20th century history and the two world wars. From 1918 to 1941 an internationally recognized Republic of Latvia existed, the "first Republic" of which today's Latvia is seen as a continuation. During World War II, Germany and the Soviet Union fought each other on the territory of Latvia, which was alternately occupied by both sides.
The Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries lasted from the end of World War II to 1991, and Latvia today is in all respects presented, by my informants and official history writing, as a contrast to and release from the "russification" and repression of that period, of which I can only sketch a few elements:
In the early years under Stalin, there were mass deportations to Siberia. Dissident intellectuals and resistance leaders disappeared, but ordinary people were also deported for no obvious reason.
As in other Soviet republics, alongside the centralization of political power there was a considerable cultural autonomy. The Soviet state supported the expression of national culture, especially in the form of folklore (Kerblay 1983: 39, Rosengaard 1996). Latvian literature disappeared after World War II, but reappeared in the late 50's, and was used as a subtle medium for political protest (Skultans 1998:177, Kerblay 1983: 49, 287).(5) The social and humanist sciences deteriorated under the effect of secterian Marxist perceptions (Kerblay 1983: 49).
Soviet central planning demanded a collectivization of almost all land into state farms. It also resulted in a heavy industrialization of the Baltic states, with mass immigration of Russian-speaking workers. Of the 2.4 million population of Latvia today, one-third have immigrated or descend from Russian-speaking immigrants during the Soviet period. While most of these were ethnic Russians, a considerable number were "russophone" Ukrainians or Belorussians (Dreifelds 1996:142 ff).(6) The migrants settled mainly in the cities and especially in the capital of Riga. By 1989, Latvians were a minority in the country's eight largest cities (Dreifelds 1996:146). Today, on the outskirts of many cities, large areas of Soviet-style apartment blocks testify to this mass immigration. In the capital of Riga, ethnic Latvians make up only 35-40 % of the inhabitants, and "the daily life of Latvians in Riga unfolds within a sea of Russian-speaking individuals" (op.cit: 148).(7)
Political repression eased in the 1970's, but this thaw was contradicted by Soviet language policies. While in its constitution the Soviet state recognized the right for people to use their national, native tongue, in practice the promotion of Russian language intensified, especially in the educational system. Latvians "required Russian if they desired to advance in life" (Dreifelds 1996:158). As described in 1983, "Bilingualism, along with everything that is conveyed or communicated by language, is inevitable for any Soviet citizen wishing to pursue his studies beyond secondary level" (Kerblay 1983: 48). Latvian was used less and less in the public sphere, in shops and offices. It became the private language of the home, and "Latvians complained that their language was described as 'a dog's language'" (Skultans 1998: 177). Russian was seen as a morally and culturally superior language, the teaching of which, according to a Minister of Education, "safeguards the effectiveness of patriotic and internationalist education, promoting the development of high moral and ideological-political qualities in school pupils" (op.cit: 176).(8)
In 1991 Latvia achieved independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union. A reversal of all Soviet policies began: Land and property were given back to their pre-occupation owners, and Latvian became the official state language. Russian is however still taught in schools, and most Latvians speak it quite well.
In the aftermath of the Soviet break-up, the Baltic states have avoided violent ethno-nationalist conflicts between the titular majority and the ethnic and linguistic minorities. But many of Latvia's Russian speakers, especially the older generation, have little wish to speak Latvian or become Latvian citizens. In the decade following independence, the Latvian state's treatment of its Russian-speaking, non-Latvian minority has been a subject of international monitoring and criticism.
The national history I have briefly outlined is very present in the everyday lives of Latvians. It materializes in sites of commemoration that are found all over the country: museums, graveyards, monuments, ruins of German and Russian military installations. It affects people's everyday life through a long list of official days of commemoration. The middle-aged mother of a Latvian friend told me that on these days, people were by law required to raise the Latvian flag, or risk being fined by the police. She also said that she felt "so very sad" on days of commemoration, and that there were far too many of them. The suffering they recalled brought a sadness upon her that would barely disappear before another day of commemoration made it return.
In the many references to the past made by my informants, they presented national history as a vivid memory, but also as something they were actively striving to escape. In their view, accessing the EU was all about breaking with the past, and their NGO work took part in creating this break.
In a review article, Wilken warns against the tendency for anthropological studies of the EU to present an abundance of organizational detail (1999:220). I will limit myself to a core principle of European cooperation, the rationale of openness and inter-dependence, which also plays a central role in the political worldview and international NGO lifestyle of my informants.
In the aftermath of World War II, European cooperation was seen a measure against war arising once more between the great powers of Europe. Europeans were securing themselves against their Other, the nationalist forces of their own past (Buzan, Wæver & de Wilde 1998:148, 179-93). The means was economic integration, as prescribed by the liberalist maxime that nation-states can realize freedom and prosperity by being inter-dependent with, rather than independent from, each other.
Since the European Community was conceived in a divided Europe, it comprised West European states (Bull 1993). After the fall of the Soviet Union, EU enlargement has come to the point where, at the time of writing, ten East European states including Latvia have been promised membership within two years. When Europe's politicians talk about this historical change, they use a historical imagery of "closing the chapter" and "healing the wound", making whole what was "artificially" divided in the past. Europe is a "family of nations" moving away from a "paranthesis in Europe's history", during which not only the Iron Curtain but "the nation-states isolated the Europeans" (Prodi in Tygesen 2000), towards "a Europe where there are national differences, not national barriers" (Blair 2000). This historical and political imagery provides legitimacy and momentum to European integration. To my informants, such images of " healing the wound" were very meaningful, and so was the idea of the inter-dependent rather than independent nation, as we sha ll see.
In the academic and political discourse about Eastern Europe's transition towards democracy, the process of opening up for broad, public political participation is often spoken of in terms of "building a civil society". Keane defines democracy as "a system in which the exercise of power, whether in the household or the corporate boardroom and government office, is subject to public disputation, compromise and agreement" (1998:8). In being the prime forum for this "disputation", civil society is "a complex and dynamic ensemble of legally protected non-governmental institutions that tend to be non-violent, self-organizing, self-reflexive, and permanently in tension with each other and with the state institutions that 'frame', constrict and enable their activities" (op.cit:6). In a political process marked by trust and dialogue, non-governmental organizations ideally confront the state and international society as partners in setting the social and politica l agenda.
The concept of "NGO" is applied to a wide range of non-state actors, from research centres to groups of specialists who work with development projects. Klubs "Maja" is the kind of NGO that offers a membership and a social life centered around political activities. Its raison d'etre is to represent the grassroots political participation of enlightened, self-organizing citizens.
The concept of "civil society" has attained a virtually global popularity (Keane 1998:33-6). And like any concept in wide use, it has different meanings in different contexts. In Latvia and other post-Soviet transitional societies, democracy and civil society are "under construction", and NGO's are represented in public discourse not only as representatives of new social orders, but as agents who build them by encouraging popular participation. In Latvia, NGO activism is, by its mere existence, an idealized representation of the historical process of "returning to Europe". An example of this idealization is found in The Annual Report 1999 from the Non Governmental Organizations Centre in Riga:
"NGO's… play a pivotal role in civil and democratic societies. They democratize the political process by transmitting values, attitudes and signals about the needs and potentials of society, and… will be indispensable when Latvia joins the European Union where NGO's play an important role in transmitting the needs and demands of ordinary citizens to the political decisionmakers" (NGO Centre Riga 1999:4).
In 1998, 2.4 percent of Latvian students aged 18-25 were members of youth organizations, according to a recent UNICEF report on Young People in Changing Societies (UNICEF 2000:110).(9) Thus, my informants are part of a young elite minority, which as a group embodies an ideal vision of the future of Latvia as a reborn European democracy. It is not surprising, then, that although Klubs "Maja" is a youth NGO, with a less serious image than more formal organizations, it receives a lot of recognition from national and international institutions in Latvian society. The Club was praised by staff at the NGO Centre in Riga as "a very good NGO", not for its EU-work in particular, but for the more general achievement of "being active" and serving as a place for young people to learn the organizational skills required in a civil society. The importance attached to the work of Klubs "Maja" is also attested to by the recognition they receive in the UNDP Latvia Human Development Report 1999, which on the subject of the European integration of Latvia says that,
"An important task for administration [and] NGO's… is to provide society with information… a public vote on an issue as significant as joining the European Union is unthinkable without a soundly based understanding regarding the situation" (UNDP 2000:64).
On the same subject, the report explicitly mentions Klubs "Maja":
"There are several NGO's in Latvia whose goal is to provide information to the public and involve the public in Euro-integration processes. The youth club Maja ("Home"), which was formed in 1995, unites young people who are in favour of a united Europe. The club organizes educational and informative events for schoolchildren and students, and holds discussions on various integration issues" (ibid: 67).
In this chapter I have brought up three issues, those of European integration, civil society and national history. In the following chapter we shall see how these issues merge in the political worldview and everyday NGO life of my informants.
In this chapter I consider the political message that my informants communicate to society and to each other: that the European integration of Latvia has to happen and is happening.
This political message might be seen as ideology; a discursive interpretation of history which the interpreter tries to universalize, to present as independent of his or her positioned viewpoint, in order to legitimize political changes.
I have decided not to use ideology as an analytical term, because my aim is not to show that my informants expound a positioned truth. I might add that as an emic term, my informants used "ideology" derogatively. They saw it as a negative thing, which they associated with the Soviet state's attempts to control people's everyday lives.
In this chapter I write about a pro-EU political worldview that I call the "internationalizing gaze", seeing "worldview" as a more suitable term than "ideology". It does more justice to the political practice of my informants if we see their actions as based, not on ways of talking or thinking about political issues, but on a shared way of seeing the world, a worldview which has an aesthetic preference for openness, cross-border links and free movement.
Furthermore, I try to grasp how this particular worldview is rooted in a shared lifeworld. My informants' conception of the meaning of history, in this case European integration, is based on living that history. This thesis is an attempt to analyse the interelation between a group's way of seeing the world, living it and acting upon it. Thus in the latter half of this chapter, I look at European NGO youth culture as an international lifeworld shared by my informants.
I begin the chapter by bringing up a conversation, where a girl talks about doing information work, and how she tries to convince rural people about the long-term rationality of EU accession policies. I did not have many conversations that were as explicit about EU political issues as the following. I could have pressed my informants more on the issue. But due to their unwillingness to engage in ideological discussions, I felt uncomfortable about asking too directly about these issues. And when I did, it clearly went against the field role that I was building by "hanging out" with people at the NGO office, talking about everyday experiences, memories and visions that were personal to them.
Anja had been a member of Klubs "Maja" for four years. During our conve rsation, she came across as one of the most pro-EU members of the NGO that I would meet. Her views were close to those found in official Latvian state declarations: the necessity of EU accession is beyond discussion, and demands far-reaching social reforms .
Anja's story of recruitment is typical: In high school she was one of the most active students, and her activities brought her in contact with youth organizations. She eventually ended up at a summer camp organized by Klubs "Maja". Like the participants I interviewed at other camps, she liked the opportunity to learn about the EU, about how to generate funds and organize NGO projects, and she enjoyed the social life with other young people with a similar orientation. So she joined the NGO.
At the time of our interview, Anja did pro-EU information work not only for Klubs "Maja", but also in connection with a project run by the EU "embassy" in Latvia, the EU Delegation. She told me how she regularly went to the countryside to explain the need for Latvia to join the EU. Her audiences were either local elites drawn from a larger rural area, or a more mixed crowd of people inhabiting a single village. No matter what kind of audience she met, however, she complained that not only the farmers but also local elites failed to face up to the new times. They rarely seemed to understand her arguments for European accession. From the questions they asked, it was evident to her that the "logical" need for open markets and agricultural reform was lost on people in the countryside. The farmers continued to worry about losing their jobs in the face of competition from the EU single market. They also feared being driven from their small farms as part of pre-accession agricultural reforms by the Latvian state and, upon accession to the Community, land purchases by foreigners.(10)
When I asked Anja "would you like to join the EU tomorrow if possible?", she said that "yes, because politically and culturally we are ready, and economically we need it now". Thus part of Anja's argument for joining the EU was economic, as she hoped that a future life within the EU would be marked by a Western level of material wellbeing. In this respect, Anja seemed to represent a post-Soviet continuation of a long-standing view of "the West as prosperous" (Kideckel 1994:135). This view existed during the Soviet period, and continues in the post-Soviet era. Especially in the early phase of the post-Soviet transition, East European visions of the new life to come were cast in terms of utopian idealizations of Western life. Kloep & Hendry talked to Albanian university students in 1991:
"What we expect from joining the West? Economic independence, freedom, weekends with friends, entertainment, discos, nice clothes, money - everything you always had and we never could have. Now we will get all this and more… In three years, we will be just as Sweden!" (1997:8)
According to Susan Gal, this "rich West versus poor East" is one of several dichotomies in East - West relations which show a continuity of symbolic form, but an ongoing change in political meaning (Gal 1991:442). Anja invested this symbolic form with the hope that trade and economic competition would be the way to attain a Western standard of living. Her economic rationale was that Latvia had to modernize through agricultural reforms and privatization, to be able to compete against other European nations while also joining them in the competition against the rest of the world. There was no other way, "we need it now" as she said.
It would be misleading however, to reduce Anja's faith in EU accession to a rational calculation of future economic gains and losses. Though my informants hoped that Latvia would receive economic development assistance from the EU, none of them were certain that this would happen. Indeed, a view I often encountered among Latvians was that even if the EU tried to aid their society, resources meant for development would never benefit the common man, because corrupt state elements would divert them towards their own pockets. And though Anja at first sight seemed to see the economic aspect as a main attraction to EU membership, she did not say in our interview that she was sure about future economic rewards. Still, "there is no other way".
So why did she and most of my informants maintain that EU accession "has to happen"?". According to Anja, the alternative to European integration was isolation, and "I don't want isolation" she said. To understand her yearning to join the EU, I will consider the historical symbolism that confers meaning upon the "return to Europe", and in particular the meaning of isolation in a Latvian context.
Anthropological research has repeatedly shown that the building and rebuilding of imagined national communities involves an ongoing reinterpretation of national identity (e.g. Anderson 1983, Herzfeld 1992). But these constantly changing social constructions do not rule out that certain themes appear continously in the way the history of a particular nation is told, though the meaning of these themes may change according to the political context in which they appear. I agree with Clifford Geertz, who refers not to Latvia but to Morocco and Indonesia:
"The continuity [of a country], to the degree that it exists, is a continuity not of event, an improbable chain of ambiguous causes, nor of essence, a fixed innerness drifting through time. It is a continuity of political task… What lasts, or anyway has for a long time lasted, is not what it is these countries are. They are still terrains on which ambitions cross. What lasts is what they are up against" (Geertz 1995: 29).
What Latvians perceive themselves as being "up against" I have described in chapter one: being occupied, suppressed and forgotten by the world - a perceived lack of, and therefore a quest for, national recognition. The fear of a historical tragedy repeating itself is evident in official depictions of Latvian history, which describe a series of recurring threats against a small, vulnerable nation, while also emphasizing that the West never recognized the Soviet occupation.
Among my informants as well, the perception was strong that national isolation is in itself a threat to survival. When Anja talked about her fear of isolation and her urgent wish to join the EU, she presented Latvia as heading towards either isolation or recognition. Several NGO members simply stated that "we cannot exist alone". What they and many Latvians strived for, due to historical experience and the geostrategic reality of Latvia being a small country surrounded by large powers, was a recognition that would bring an end to the fear of isolation. They saw national isolation as dangerous because it was a condition of insecurity, which laid the country open for conquest by larger powers. Entering the EU was by far a preferred alternative.
The concept of "international society" conceptualizes relations between states according to an ideal of mutual recognition. It asserts the rational ability of states, in spite of the absence of a supra-state monopoly on violence, to lift themselves above the Hobbesian anarchy of mutual distrust and deterrence. International society arises when actors understand the upholding of mutual recognition to be an essential, shared interest, which ties them to and protects them from each other (Bull 1977).
The notion of recognition stands as the opposite of isolation. When I speak of "recognition", I refer to a condition of being present to others. Arendt writes about the human necessity to enter the public realm and encounter "the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others" (Arendt 1958:58). Isolation means being deprived of witnesses to one's life, being excluded from reciprocity and solidarity with others, having no voice or presence to them.
Arendt writes about recognition as an existential need on the level of the individual, but the same need extends to a national level. Recognition is a crucial existential resource for individuals, groups and nation states. It is a theme in the national stories people tell, and also in their own stories. The dynamic of mutual recognition outlined above can be applied to nation states as well as individuals: In being present to each other, being defined within a shared understanding of statehood or personhood, actors achieve a status (and recognize the other) as agents with a voice, a past and a right to exist.
My theoretical point is that by focusing the analysis on the themes of recognition versus isolation, we can shed light on symbolic parallels between national and individual stories. Anthropological research shows that this symbolic parallel should be take n into regard in the case of post-Soviet Latvia:
In The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia (1998), Skultans shows that a national history of conquest and struggle has made notions of isolation and recognition central to Latvian social memory. The term social memory reflects that individual memories of major historical events, such as deportations, uprisings and liberation, are not "private property". They become part of a shared linguistic realm, as themes that people use when telling stories about their lives:
"Beyond the intentions of past individuals, language absorbs and reflects history and social structure. Individual narrators draw in varying degrees upon conceptual structures derived from history and literature" (Skultans 1998:24).
Skultans gives us a sense of what Geertz refers to as the "political task" that Latvians are up against: their social memory intensifies the universal need for individuals, and the nations they build, to attain recognition and avoid isolation. I will return to this issue in chapter six, when I discuss my informants' life stories. For now, I have established recognition and isolation as central elements in the social memory of Latvians and in the political worldview of the NGO activists. They saw the quest for recognition as a task facing the nation, which they undertook in their political work to access the EU.
In the following I present my informants' belief in the "return to Europe" as an example of a political worldview that I call the internationalizing gaze . The NGO activists wanted to draw other Latvians closer to the European Union, to make them "open up" and see the EU as a reality with an impact on their everyday lives. Anja described an encounter with a woman from the countryside:
At a meeting in Liepaja, this very emotional woman stands up and says 'I will lose my small farm and the money I make, and then I can't pay for my daughter's school'. I understand that they have this short-term perspective, but it is so emotional. I mean, it's all about perspective. People will lose jobs, but they will lose them anyway. And the longer this kind of agriculture goes on, the worse the side effects, so we'd better reorganize sooner than later… These [EU-produced] goods are reaching Latvia and will do it even more.
Anja advocated further social reforms, like effectivizing the small farm agriculture which was presently a way of life among rural people. She also saw herself as confronting "emotional" and "egoistic" EU-sceptical forces. She worried that "short-sighted" fears would make old people, and particularly people in rural areas, vote no to membership. I asked
JL: Then why don't you just wait [and postpone the referendum] till all the old farmers are dead, and the more open young people of today will vote yes?
Anja: How long do you mean?
JL: Well…like 20 years?
Anja: Twenty?! No, that's just not possible. All the processes in the world demand it, everywhere countries are forming regions, they are starting to act like communities.
As we see, Anja based her faith in joining the European Union on her knowledge that there is already a process of international integration going on. As she said, "it is all about perspective", "the no-voters are reacting too emotionally, and they are not aware of their possibilities, for example students don't know which possibilities exist for them to go abroad".
The unequal confrontation between her perspective and that of the rural people examplifies how European integration privileges local actors who hold a certain kind of knowledge. In the case of Spain's accession to the EU, an anthropological study has shown that it entailed
"changes not only of political economy but of social epistemology - in how community members obtain knowledge and what counts as evidence… 'objectivity' derives from a logical and statistical format together with distance from personal experience and the observer; it is a 'scientification' of knowledge and evidence [which] has worked against the cofradias [small-scale fishery associations] whose leaders tend to present their case in rather personal and experience-based terms" (Lipuma & Meltzoff 1994: 41).
In Anja's vision, countries all over the world were joining together to form political-economical units. The EU was part of a global process which Latvia was better off connecting herself to, or rather, which Anja was afraid to be isolated from. Out there in international society, political and economic structures were being built, and the power of their inevitable reach showed in the "goods" and "possibilities" that "have already arrived" in Latvia, though this was not understood by all Latvians.
While Anja declares an urgent need to join the EU, she also perceives EU accession as something that in a sense has already happened. She presents EU enlargement as a process which is already penetrating Latvian national space, manifesting itself in the shape of "goods". In the same vein, several informants emphasized the inevitability of joining the EU, not only by referring to historical necessity, but to political effects already at work. As they said, Latvian laws are already and have for several years been written to fit the EU criteria for membership.
Thus, at the core of my informants' view of European integration, we find two perceptions. One was that EU accession has to happen to avoid the isolation they knew in the past. The other had a selfreferentiality to it: EU accession has to happen because it is already happening.
Besides NGO members I also interviewed people who were not members of Klubs "Maja", but worked professionally to promote the European integration of Latvia. Mr. Kusners was the director of the European Integration Bureau, which worked as a communication link between the Latvian government and society in the accession process. Director Kusners had a picture of the massive task ahead of him which he conveyed to me:
I want people to know this: The union is much closer than they think! These big questions about the EU, people do not care. Because Latvians do not understand that everything is linked! They do not feel the holes in the sky, though the modern world is small… The problem is, we feel too Latvian. People are still longing for their own little country house, their own little space where everybody makes his own happiness. We are closing our world to the sense of being European, while in the rest of the world countries cooperate within structures that we don't know about. Because during the Soviet times we were never told about all this. And in people's consciousness, the world is still divided into separate nations. But let us look at the big companies, it's their world. They don't recognize national borders….
In the view of my informants, to embrace Europe, people had to understand the forces that worked on their reality. This meant seeing Latvia in a larger context, as a part of global relations. Director Kusners saw Latvia as threatened by "big companies", and by the stubborn belief of the Latvian population that they could hide from global developments within a national realm. It is interesting that he attributed this ignorance to the Soviet period, but also to people feeling "too Latvian". But what I will seize on here is that both Anja and Mr. Kusners saw something happening all over the world that ordinary people could not see.
Informants like Anja and Mr. Kusners hoped to teach ordinary Latvians a different way of seeing the world, which would allow them to face the radical changes happening in their own society and in the world. In their conviction that "it is happening, all over the world and in Latvia too", Mr. Kusners and Anja saw what to them was "reality". They also worried that ordinary Latvians were unable to see everyday things in the right context. The particular worldview that my informants endorsed was not only global in its outlook, it also saw the local and nearby in a new way. People had to understand that things around them were not what they seemed. They were in fact linked to a global reality that was external to everyday life, but also penetrated it. This penetrating force manifested itself in the "goods" that "have arrived".
Löfgren writes about the growing emphasis during the 20th century on the nation as a territorial and cultural unit. There is "a thickening of the nation into a lived everyday experience, a nationalization of trivialities", a process accompanied by "the making of the nationalizing gaze" which "scan[s] the terrain for the small differences" between nations (Löfgren 1999:11,13). I believe that in the 21st century on the periphery of Europe, among members of the social elite that is strongly oriented towards an international realm, a new worldview arises. It does not supersede the national gaze, but adds itself to it. I refer to this worldview, borrowing and modifying Löfgrens concept, as the internationalizing gaze. With this gaze, Anja looked beyond her own locality into a global field of relations and processes. She was also "scanning the terrain" around her for links through which a European reality manifested itself within the horizon of her immediate experience, materializing itself in political and economic institutions, objects and persons . The internationalizing gaze, which contextualizes the local within the large-scale, is an element of what my informants see as enlightenment: the realization that European integration "is happening".
An important point here is the fundamental distinction between having a "modern" open idea of the national and an "old-fashioned" closed idea. With the distinction between open and closed, my informants distinguished between two ways of relating to the issue of nation building, only one of which had understood the reality of global inter-dependence.
The distinction between "open" and "closed" was basic to my informants' view of national spaces, and also of social groups. When they encountered people whom they saw as enlightened, as opposed to people in need of education, the open - closed distinction aligned with other oppositions, such as active versus passive, young versus old and urban versus rural. As Anja said about the rural people she had met and tried to inform: "the middle-aged people who are not ready for the EU never will be. They're a lost generation, and that's it!"
Both Anja and Mr. Kusners actualized the dichotomy of open versus closed in describing their task of informing people about the world and the future to come. Kusners denounced Latvians who were "closing our world to the sense of being European" in fear or self-sufficiency. In his view, the sense of being European would by itself take root in Latvians, if they would only "open up". The European integration of the nation was seen as an opening up, which demanded a population of enlightened individuals who were also open, or willing to open up. "Open" people had a modern, democratic mindset, and understood the value of inter-dependence.
The metaphors of "open" versus "closed" turned ideological argumentation, which they were reluctant to engage in, into a more knowledge-oriented issue of whether one understood "reality", and into a form of political aesthetics which conceptualized nations, people and ideas as open or closed.
In Geertzian terms, we can say that the internationalizing gaze shows a model of the world, "this is how it truly is", and the idealization of openness is a corresponding model for social organization (Geertz 1973:77). The model for social organization also becomes a model for the cultured person, who should be open and able to see "what is truly out there".
I have described the internationalizing gaze and a historical interpretation of isolation and recognition. These were central elements of my informants' political worldview, within which EU accession appeared attractive. But the EU was not only something they " saw". It was their lived reality, a regularly occurring, embodied face-to-face experience of being European. They had primary experience of a world where it made sense to intertwine national rebirth and nation building with European integration. This was demonstrated in the international events that my informants and I participated in. I will now look more closely at the European youth culture of NGO activism, an international lifeworld which is fundamental to the political worldview of members of Klubs "Maja".
Keane writes about different ways that civil society is lived in the world, and calls attention to international networks he calls European civilians. Like eighteenth-century cosmopolitans, Keane says, people in these networks see themselves as "true cosmopolites" and take
"advantage of an emerging European civil society comprising a macédoine of personal contacts, networks, conferences, political parties, social initiatives, small businesses and large firms, friendships, and local and regional forums" (Keane 1998: 110).
During my fieldwork, I took part when my informants went abroad and cooperated on projects with NGO activists from all over Europe, or organized international seminars and projects in Latvia. Keane points to networks like the European youth culture that my informants and I encountered at events in Latvia, France and Denmark. A culture funded by the EU, the European Council, Soros Open Society Foundation and other international sources.(11)
Within this political culture, there was a simultaneity of the international and national, which I can best describe as (inter)national. While people cooperated on projects with a strong European dimension, in their interaction they identified themselves and others according to ethnic or national characteristica. National particularities were often used to make fun of each other. When somebody got drunk, or behaved in any way that stood out, like talking too much or not at all, it was invariably seen as a characteristic sign of their national spirit. The Lithuanians said the Estonians were "silent", while according to many West and South Europeans, all Balts were introvert.
The (inter)national dynamic appeared not only in speech but in action, some of it of a very practical character, as when crossing national borders. During the bus ride to a pro-EU demonstration in Nice, France, we passed through several countries each day. It gave a very international feeling. When we entered the Schengen area, where there were no passport controls, we talked about the ease of moving rapidly through the European Union. But crossing other borders, down through East and central Europe, was a deeply nationalizing experience. Participants with "problematic" passports got an extra look from the customs official, who treated everyone as a national. The official's behaviour was, in turn, the first sign by which the character of this particular nation was judged. Each new place was closely scutinized with the "nationalizing gaze" that Löfgren speaks of. At the first stop after the border, we would talk about the price of beer in this country and whether their coffee was better than the previous nation's.
Such "staging of national exits and entries" are moments where "motion and emotion" connect in "rites-de-passage with strong symbolic and existential meanings" (Löfgren 1999:5). They were a recurring feature of these European travels, which confirmed to the NGO activists the existense of an international reality, and simultaneously stimulated a nationalizing experience.(12)
All participants emphasized their ethnic or national cultural and historical roots, but within a European perspective. At each international event, local rootedness was displayed through ritualized presentations where the participants represented their country or ethnic group. A primary example was the "European Evening", which seemed to be the standard way of "getting acquainted with each other":
Before going abroad, the organizers asked participants to bring exotic snacks or drinks that represented their nation. Mostly people brought alcohol, because the evening would also be a party. At the European Evening, each participant presented that which they brought, perhaps with an anecdote about what happened to someone who drank a lot of it, and they taught the audience to say "cheers" in their language. People also taught national or ethnic songs and dances. These were joyous scenes of transnational hybridity, as twenty people drunk on Bulgarian brandy chanted a Gaelic folk song, each with the accent of their national tongue.
The first time I myself became involved in this ritual was at an international NGO seminar and summer camp in Latvia, organized by the Club. I clearly felt the force of expectation: be national. But I also felt unfamiliar with my national role as a Dane. This distance was partly an anthropologist's job injury, partly caused by my being a Swedish citizen (who was born and has always lived in Denmark). In any case, I had not brought any national paraphernalia. In a desperate search for something Danish to display, I found myself on the floor singing the Danish national anthem while seated in the position of the Little Mermaid. It was ridiculous but sort of fun, and to my surprise, I truly felt a desire to "perform Denmark", which I regretted not having prepared for. The ritual had a nationalizing effect, it was a national experience that only made sense to me because it took place in an international setting.
The organizational culture of Klubs "Maja" offered a repertoire of acts for such meetings between the national and the international. There was a particular folkdance, accompanied by song, that my informants often taught to foreigners abroad and at home. Some of my informants, who were deeply involved in European NGO life, were expert national performers, such as Eva who was a highly skilled Latvian folk dancer.
Nora had participated in many European Evenings as described above. I asked how she had experienced them. She said:
All the JEF things are big, because they happen not in Latvia but in Europe. You go there and… You feel like you are Nora but you are also not just Nora. You represent Klubs "Maja" but also Latvia as a state… It's very important for me. You have the feeling that you have to show that Latvia is OK, it belongs in Europe, it is not something in Africa.
It clearly meant a lot to Nora to perform her nation-ness in an international setting. But why was it meaningful for her? Because in this European NGO youth culture, the historical "return to Europe" was my informants' lived reality, an idea which they themselves embodied in their performative competence. At European Evenings, they experienced themselves as Europeans with national roots. The mutual recognition of international society became a tangible fact as the participants recognized and even imitated each others' nation-ness.(13) A harmony between national identity and European integration was asserted, in that it was the very structures of European cooperation that had brought one here, allowing one to express one's national or ethnic identity.
In such rituals, and in their everyday sociality, my informants and the other NGO activists encountered the princi ples that define European integration and International Society as such. This principle is described by Billig as a "universal code of particularity": The experience of nationhood implies a certain way of thinking about the whole world, in that one necessarily perceives one's nation as "a nation in a world of nations" (Billig 1994: 61 ff). Other nationalities are different from oneself, but they are also similar because they are nationalities. Ritual occasions such as European Evening were perfect illustrations of this principle.
While my informants themselves were becoming involved in a very modern, European youth culture, they were able and even encouraged to see themselves as connected to national roots. Through their own acts, they were in effect taking on the national quest for recognition that I have described. They were making Latvia known to the world, which as Nora told us, was very important to them.
My informants and their European NGO friends seemed to share two fundament al social expectations: one was about being rooted, and the other was about realizing one's identity at a European level. It was a shared idea that collective, territorially based cultural and historical identity - whether ethnic or national, though I limit this discussion to the latter - was a fact, was valuable, and had to be realized and integrated on a European level. The building of nation-states was presented as inseparable from, in fact accomplished through, their integration into the EU.(14)
I don't think many of these young Europeans would ever endorse a European federalism that dissolved the nation. Within their European outlook, they subscribed to a community nationalism (Wilken 2001:73), which essentially merges the realization of national identity with its Europeanization. Community nationalism is, according to Wilken, increasingly the conceptual framework for ethno-national activism in Europe. My informants shared with the other young European NGO activists - many of whom were ethnic activists - the view that by achieving recognition within a European framework, the local would gain permanence and a presence to the world.(15)
We see that while my informants tried to convince ordinary Latvians of the reality of European integration, this was a process with which they themselves had immediate face-to-face experience.(16) When my informants advocated that EU accession "has to happen", their conviction derived from seeing that "it is happening to my society", but also, and ultimately, from their lifeworld experience that "it is happening to me". As a face-to-face, bodily experience, partaking in European NGO youth culture was at least as important as ideological interpretations of national history in confirming to my informants that EU accession has to happen. They felt that opening up towards Europe was imperative because ideas that are fundamental to European integration, like free movement and international inter-dependence among nations, were things that happened around my informants, and to them. Learning someone's folk dance instantly evoked the mutuality of international society.
While enjoying an international lifestyle, my informants maintained their image, in a context of Latvian social memory, as active opponents of national isolation, as people who "opened up" the nation by translating European ideas into local terms. As we see in the following, such practices may be seen as a form of modern patriotism.
My informants are, like the European civilians that Keane writes about, "citizens of the wider world", but also "loyal patriots" driven by
"wanting to enlighten and transform that little corner of the world where one had been born, or had been brought by destiny to live, work, love and die" (Keane 1998: 110).
I will consider here the aspect of patriotism mentioned by Keane. Some of my informants referred to themselves as "patriots", who through NGO work realized a moral obligation to contribute to nation building. Anita was a new member, who at the time of our interview was participating in a summer camp organized by Klubs "Maja". I asked her why she had joined the NGO. She said she saw a "responsibility" to inform herself and others, and that she would like to educate people on EU-political issues. In her view, only an informed public could take democratic decisions, including whether to enter the EU.
While NGO activism was not mentioned in the following quote, it was the issue with which this part of our conversation dealt:
JL: This feeling of responsibility, when you talk about duty and democracy and being a citizen - where did you get it from? From your parents, classes about democracy in school, or…?
Anita: Not from my parents, they simply gave me the freedom of choice and I am thankful for that. The people around me gave this feeling of patriotism. Well, I had actually only one talk about patriotism: a young man around 25 said to me 'what do you think about patriotism? Would you call yourself a patriot of Latvia?' I actually couldn't answer, but he said 'I am sure that me and my colleagues, we would go and fight for Latvia if a war broke out. I simply added 'well I as a woman wouldn't go to fight with a gun'. But then I thought 'what else can I do, well I can't fight with a gun, but I can prove my love for this country in some other way'.... This is my home, and therefore I feel responsible that the place where I live, is also the place where other people feel well... If you care about the things that go on around you, it makes you a person who feels responsibility somehow. Those who care only about their life, I would say it's a kind of selfishness.
Anita's words make sense to us when we consider that images of struggle against occupation are at the centre of Latvian social memory is (see 2.1). She saw NGO work as an act whereby she could shoulder the responsibilities of a citizen of a newly independent country. By contextualizing it within images of war, NGO work became analogous to the act of defending the nation in times of war. Her symbolism claimed a moral unassailability: in showing their "love for this country" and caring for the national home, she and the other NGO workers were heir(esse)s to ancestral struggles for independence. They were able to see themselves as engaging the quest for recognition, which I will speak more about at a later point.
Anita and other members saw a form of modern, enlightened patriotism in active NGO work. So whom did they see as unpatriotic? They did exhibit the "allergic reaction to nationalism" that Keane mentions, when they referred to their opponents as "nationalists". One day in a conversation with three NGO members, we talked about another youth NGO in Riga called "Klubs 415". This NGO was known to be anti-EU, and my informants strongly condemned it: "They are nationalist, they see Latvia nowhere, in no space, just independent and in Latvia only Latvians".(17)
To the members of Klubs "Maja", the concept of nationalism signified an old-fashioned belief that the nation can enjoy total independence by closing itself off from the world. But at the same time, my informants all declared their pro-EU political activism to be motivated by national interest. In this distinction between old-fashioned nationalism and modern patriotism, two ideologies, which both aim for national survival and empowerment, go their separate ways, by stressing either independence or inter-dependence.
My informants communicated a pro-EU political message to society which was based on a certain way of viewing the world: Looking for integration, for enlightened "pooling" of inter-dependence, openings towards the international sphere, and zones of ignorance where tendencies towards closure must be challenged. My informants based this worldview on their certainty that they saw and knew what was "really" happening.
In the everyday life of my informants, abstract ideological concepts like "inter-dependence" versus "independence" became a political aesthetic resting on opposed metaphors of "open" versus "closed". This opposition was heavily moralized. The idea of "openness" held a deep attraction to my informants, since it referred to the enlightenment of the nation as well as the individual.
Through their NGO activism, my informants managed to turn the tension between nation building and European integration to their advantage, by building an image of themselves as enlightened patriots who continued Latvia's historical "quest" through times of social and historical change. They strongly opposed the "old-fashioned" form of nationalism that wanted to "close off" the nation, and saw this point of view as a remnant of Soviet isolationism combined with Latvian peasant-mindedness.
My informants' political worldview that it has to happen and is happening was not just a question of knowing or seeing. Ultimately, they felt confirmed in their political message to society because they themselves were living it, in everyday NGO life and as members of a European NGO youth culture.
The NGO activists were part of the incipient lifestyle of the "European civilian". They and their fellow European NGO activists subscribed to a community nationalist view of the interrelation between the nation and Europe, which is increasingly widespread among local ethno-national actors in Europe, who are mobilized into a civil society that works for the inter-dependent nation.
During my fieldwork, I often wondered about the relation between my informants' political worldview, which I have described in the previous chapter, and the importance they attached to their everyday NGO sociality. In this chapter and the next, I elaborate on this relation, in light of my research question "what mobilizes my informants to do pro-EU NGO work?".
On the homepage of Klubs "Maja", the NGO presents itself as follows: "Club the House is the only youth organisation in Latvia whose aim is to popularise the idea of a united Europe". What is the relation between this overarching aim and the everyday motivations of those who carry out the NGO work and live the NGO life?
One might perhaps expect people, who popularize grand ideas about a "united Europe", to present ideology as a motivation for their political work - "ideology" in its classical meaning of universalized, value-based assertions about the relation between individual and society, oriented toward long-term political goals for the development of society. But this was rarely the case among my informants, most of whom presented the everyday social life of the NGO as the central motivation for their activism.
How is the everyday sociality of a political organization interwoven with their will to engage in public political practice? In this chapter I explore the social side of Klubs "Maja"'s political work. By drawing on interviews and discussing with Maffesoli's The Contemplation of the World: Figures of Community Style (1996), I develop this central point: that the enjoyment of face-to-face sociality is a primary motivation for NGO life, but not antithetical to more abstract political concerns. On the contrary; I suggest that we see the being-together of the group as a bringing-forth of political issues, which thereby gain presence and motivating force.
The everyday NGO sociality, as I observed it, clearly attracted people to the organization. At the time of my fieldwork, the NGO office consisted of a room in an old building in downtown Riga. It was a good place to make and meet friends. Most days when I went to the Club office, a group of members would be sitting on the couch drinking tea, eating cake or just hanging out in a friendly, informal way. Others would arrive, meet their friends and leave again. Often this coming and going was timed by the breaks between classes at the nearby university. Students would come to the office to have lunch together, hang out if they had free time, and return to the university.
In an interview I made with Vera, she told me that her own motivation for joining the NGO was to get new friends after moving to Riga from a small town. She found that in the NGO, "people care about each other". This was a very valuable and attractive thing, which defined a " spirit of 'the House'" that to her was the most valuable aspect gained through her membership. It was when she first encountered this "spirit" at a summer camp organized by Klubs "Maja", that she decided to join the NGO. Many informants told me about similar social motivations for joining.
Vera studied art and other humanistic subjects at the university, and she was reading much of the social science literature that I know from my own studies. On several occasions she commented actively on conclusions that I had arrived at in my study. On two occasions during my fieldwork, I made presentations at the NGO of "what I have found so far", and I also subsequently sent them a copy of an article I wrote a year after leaving the field (Linnet forthcoming). Vera commented on this article, in which I made references to the pro-EU views of Klubs "Maja". In her email to me, she contrasted her experience of everyday NGO life with more "rational" concerns such as ideology:
"Perhaps it's necessary for your research to stress strong ideology when you analyse the House as an NGO with very clear-cut aims… but I had the impression from your paper that the House is a propagandist organisation, and it somehow makes the club more 'flat' as it seems to me… The people in the House… want a useful and interesting way to spend their time, to do what they like. Although in some way this motivation is very concrete, it's very 'irrational' at the same time" (email on 13/01/2002).
In my article, I had described NGO life by emphasizing ideological commitment, but mainly material and existential gains. Vera found it necessary to counter the flatness of academic representation by pointing to the "irrational". It seems then, that to arrive at a fuller understanding of political activism, we must not forget motivations such as the social "spirit" mentioned by Vera.
In the previous chapter, we have seen various elements of the political worldview through which my informants see Latvia's accession to the EU. However, in their explicit patriotism and liberalism, Anita and Anja spoke in more ideological terms than NGO members generally did.
The majority of my informants mentioned "meeting new people" and "being with friends" as their main reason for being involved in NGO work, but they also said that they had become more politically aware in the course of partaking in NGO work.
When Vera told me about the spirit of the House, she was an experien ced NGO activist looking back on her first contact with the NGO. But also when I talked to people who were at the point of first contact with the NGO, their primary motivation for approaching it appeared to be social.
Most new members joined the organization after going to a summer camp organized by Klubs "Maja". Usually the camp participants had had previous contact with the NGO when it organized a competition about the EU at their school. I went along on a summer camp, the same kind as where Vera encountered "the spirit of the House". One morning at the camp, I asked a group of girls sitting around the breakfast table, all of them prospective members who had not yet joined the NGO, about their reasons for going to the camp.
A girl said "We need knowledge because we are the generation who will have to live in the EU", and another girl said: "I am here because of the possibilities for me in the future as a student, getting international contacts and so on. Maybe I am a bit egoistic, because I know that some people in Latvia will suffer in the EU, like those who work in agriculture". They saw the EU as a useful thing to know about because society is changing in a European direction, and they recognized themselves as belonging to a group which could benefit from those changes.
But what they mainly stressed was the social aspect of the camp, which they all said was their primary reason to be there. This was the summer holiday and they had nothing to do, so they wanted to spend time in the company of other young people. One or two had also decided to join the camp because a girlfriend was going. Some of the girls laughed in a slightly embarrassed way while saying this, as if they expected me to be disappointed by such pragmatic motivations.
The value to my informants of their social life in the NGO was also illustrated by a fact that became clear to me after some time in the field: that there were members of Klubs "Maja" who were to some degree EU-sceptic, and did not personally agree with the organization's official pro-EU profile. Out of my ten to twelve core informants, about half told me that they were not that positive about the EU. Some held high positions in the NGO, including one who said "I will probably vote no". Despite these reservations they had no intention of leaving the organization, and explained that the social life of Klubs "Maja" was more valuable to them than the EU-issue. This made it clear to me that the friendships within Klubs "Maja" encompassed an internal diversity among the NGO members concerning what "returning to Europe" meant, and how desirable it seemed.(18)
In the stories told by new and potential members as well as by experienced NGO activists, we see that the sociality and "the spirit of the House" was a major motivation for being an NGO activist, and, for the new members of Klubs "Maja", often their initial reason for approaching political work. In discussing my informants' social motivation, I will refer to Maffesoli's work The Contemplation of the World: Figures of Community Style. In Maffesoli's perspective, what motivates people to be members of groups is a "hedonism" turned towards the collective enjoyment of the present. People are attracted primarily by the joy of being together, sharing a certain style and image of whatever their particular community is oriented towards. And although political organizations such as Klubs "Maja" officially have a long-term political goal of effecting some sort of social change, Maffesoli analyses NGO's in the following way:
"The communitarian ideal is equally encountered in… the multiplication of 'nongovernmental organizations' and… the diverse idealisms that, without very much theory, are essentially addressed to the affective side of those who practice them. In all these instances, while the efficacy may not be evident - and it is even sometimes totally nil - nevertheless, in a more or less conscious manner, a form of being-togetherness is lived out that is no longer oriented to the faraway, toward the realization of a perfect society in the future, but rather is engaged in managing the present, which one tries to make as hedonistic as possible" (Maffesoli 1996:xiii).
Maffesoli's analysis of people enjoying the present together is a useful object of discussion. The limits of our agreement show something important about what my study is trying to show. Maffesoli problematizes the issue of motivation in terms of affect versus effect. As quoted above, he thinks that activists are motivated not so much by the effect of their political work as by the affect that they themselves derive from it. While I do not believe that reality is either-or, I think he has a point in not seeing ideology and political projects primarily as things that people "believe in" or "work for", but rather as things that they consume collectively.
Klubs "Maja" is an organization with a political purpose, and my informants did political work that may have contributed to that purpose being realized. At the same time, most of them presented their motivation for being NGO activists as centered on having fun in the here and now with other young people. They were attracted by what Maffesoli calls the "being-togetherness" of the group. As we have seen in the case of Vera, some members of Klubs "Maja" emphasized the value of NGO sociality by explicitly refuting ideological explanations for their political actions.
Thus, my data seem to confirm Maffesoli's observations of the centrality of social "presentism" and hedonism, especially among the young. The organization appears to fit his description of groups that "favor a being-togetherness not seeking an objective to attain, not oriented to the future, but engaged quite simply in enjoying the good things of this world'" (ibid:33).
I agree with Maffesoli when he critizices "modernist" assumptions about abstract rationality being the cause of political action. As I understand the modernist view, it can be illustrated with the political and moral thinking of Immanuel Kant. In Kant's view, the enlightenment of a human being is a process of elevating himself above the "empirical", "subjective" and "natural" sources of action. With his first and third categorical imperatives, in 1785 Kant formulates the ideal to be attained. The first imperative is "Act as if the maxim of your actions were to become through your will a universal law of nature", and the third "So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims" (Malnes & Midgaard 1993:185).
Kant's moral imperatives contain a modernist theory of practice as to why people act politically and why social changes come about. The actor idealized by them is a person who acts on the basis of a rational analysis oriented towards the attainment of long-term political goals. She is oriented towards universal truths and the common good of humanity, and she joins a political "struggle " on the basis of rational analysis, with her eye turned towards the final outcome of her actions: social change and humanity's mastering of history (Lyotard 1984).
There is a retrospective reification to the Kantian view, however, because it sees an objective outcome, a social change occurring, and infers the motivation of the actor to be directed towards that outcome. The problem is that this modernist view is excluded from recognizing the emotional involvement in a shared, social present that motivates everyday practice, even of actors who self-identify as "politically active". Emotions are subjective sources of action that the idealized Kantian actor has risen abo ve.
Evidently, to understand the political consciousness of my informants requires a break with the modernist ontology of the political actor. The members of Klubs "Maja" were no doubt contributing to changes within the long-term perspective of European integration. But whether they were or not, long-term goals for society were not in the foreground of their experience. The motivation for their action resided in the present, in the immediate enjoyment of sociality and the desire to acquire the style of the group. I agree with Maffesoli and others (Lähteenmaa 1999) that we must contest assumptions about voluntary political work that stress a sacrificial attitude and a commitment to long-term goals, which cannot account for the concrete, face-to-face dimension of the mobilization and motivation of young political activists.
In spite of my agreement with Maffesoli's basic perspective, I strongly disagree when he, in refuting the "modernist" conception of political action, claims a general abandonment of the political. It is central to Maffesoli's analysis that social groups at different levels do not "any longer" gather around abstract, long-term political projects of changing the world. Instead they contemplate it in each other's company, and enjoy what it has to offer. He says that there is "a fatigue with regard to the political or rather toward the democratic ideal that developed slowly throughout modernity" (op.cit:xii). He describes this fatigue as a "saturation" of the "activist ideal" of changing the world (ibid). Announcing the demise of the activist ideal, Maffesoli posits a break between "modernity" and what we see today, the "postmodernity" which is allegedly a:
"time in which the style of seeing, feeling, loving, or being enthusiastic together and in the present wins out, without encountering any opposition, over rational representations oriented towards the future" (op.cit:15).
I see no reason to take the step from observing the role of concrete face-to-face sociality to announcing the end of activism and dispensing with the political. Let us not forget that while the closeness of social NGO life was the primary source of motivation for my informants, the political aspect was in many ways deeply meaningful. I will show that this is so, and in chapter two I have already given examples of NGO members who feel strongly about their political worldview, and we have seen Anja think in a long-term "rational" time-perspective concerning the gains and losses involved in EU accession. We have seen Anita declare herself a patriot who feels responsible for the building of the Latvian nation. Many NGO members did feel some orientation toward abstract processes and future political goals, and at times, for some informants, this orientation was very strong. They enjoyed doing things which they considered "helping society", and, motivations left aside they were carrying out political work through the projects I observed and participated in. Thus I disagree with Maffesoli's complete rejection of the political. I think it is our task instead to understand how the orientation towards an "abstract" political realm becomes an element of "concrete" face-to-face sociality.
It seems clear that social, individual and political motivations coexist among my informants. But how are the three related? To my informants themselves, the matter seemed quite straightforward. When I presented Nora, the President of the NGO, with the observation that her members were partly into NGO activism for personal career benefits and social hedonism, she reacted with little surprise:
Well, Jeppe… what you're saying is not a problem, really. Of course people want to have fun while they do something important, and some members of an organization are more serious about its work than others. That's how it is everywhere.
From Nora's perspective I was merely pointing out a practical knowledge, which she herself was using in her daily work of leading a well-functioning NGO: People want to do good for others, as long as they also get something out of it. That "something" can be the doing good itself, especially if one does it in pleasant company, and the activity signifies a moral responsibility and political enlightenment which one is attracted to. That is the case for the members of Klubs "Maja", as Nora knew well.(19)
The relation between social motivation and political consciousness has been dealt with by Jaana Lähteenmaa, who approaches it as a question of ethics, and introduces the valuable concept "hedonist altruism" (1999). Lähteenmaa also refers to Maffesoli, but she herself is more balanced in her understanding of "the possible motives of urban young people for doing voluntary work". Like my informants, her young Finnish voluntary workers emphasize "a multiplicity of motivating factors": They gain skills for the future, they enjoy "being together with other volunteers" while "doing something useful". The combination of these motivations simply gives them a "good feeling". Contrary to attempts to idealize NGO activists as "altruists", or to expose them as "self-interested", both of which are equally naive, Lähteenmaa points out that in actual, lived NGO life, what we may analytically separate into "self-interest" - including the interest in a social life - and "altruism" dialectically reinforce each other. From the actors' point of view, they become virtually inseparable:
"For the young it is not impossible to admit that when they are doing something useful, which someone else might well consider proof of a sacrificing mentality, they are in fact enjoying it… altruistic considerations of the best interests of other people and a personal sense of satisfaction are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary they constitute a dynamic association" (op.cit:28).
What Nora used as practical knowledge about leading an organization, Lähteenmaa sees as an ethics of "hedonist altruism". I approach the interweaving of motivations not as a form of ethics but as a symbolic process which I see as prior to ethics. When a political activist talks about the "hedonist altruist" experience of being together and doing good, prior to that statement I see a symbolic process whereby the political realm becomes present in social life. A social life centered on creating this symbolic presence, and bringing it forth to the public sphere (see next chapter), makes an ethics of hedonist altruism possible and meaningful.
Maffesoli is surely right in attacking the modernist moralism that devalues the role of the sensuous and emotive in "rational" political practices. But as Nora's words demonstrate, the two foms of consciousness, which Maffesoli dichotomizes as "modernist" versus "postmodernist", are two truths about political motivation that coexist in the universe of my informants, who in their everyday life experience no opposition between them. At the end of the day, Maffesoli ends up making an argument similar to that of Kantian modernism: that the hedonism of youth makes it unable to act politically and feel responsible for the common good. Ironically, he ends up reproducing the moral dichotomies of modernity, positing an unbridgeable gap, in terms of political ontology, between the present and the abstract, between hedonism and altruism. However, as long as one does not have to go along with Maffesoli's dismissal of the political, I find that he has useful points about the affect gained by the collective sharing of image and style. His critique of modernist thinking is useful when trying to understand the subjectivity of political action.
In this chapter I have called attention to the interweaving of everyday sociality and "abstract" political awareness. In chapter four, I see "political mobilization" as a process of socialization, through which my informants simultaneously involve themselves in everyday social relations and make their entry into the political sphere.
Nora's story about joining Klubs "Maja" is similar to what we have heard a few times now: First she had nothing to do in the summer, so she went to a camp and liked the people. Then, after moving to Riga from the small town of her childhood, in order to enter university, she decided to join the NGO. What led her towards NGO activism was primarily her need to meet new people, and since it seemed useful to learn about the EU, she chose Klubs "Maja".
When we did our interview, it was three years since Nora had been at her first camp. The girl who sat across from me now had become a very busy and effective president of the NGO. What had happened?
Actually my point of view has changed, because when I started I just saw one thing happening at a time, just one project. Now I have to think about all the things together, not just one project and what will happen next month, now I have to think about the whole year, about JEF, things going on in Latvia and in Europe. I have to think about the money, of course, how can we bear our expenses. Actually it's a dramatic change in my point of view, because when I started I thought that it was not that hard work, there was not a lot to do, just fix some letters and that, but actually it is hard work. It takes a lot of time, my free time, my personal time. If I could earn money on this, it could be my profession.
So of course it has changed, my motives have. Now when I am president, I have to think not just about my own motives, I have to think about the other people whom I am responsible for. For example if I want to go and visit my parents, I often have to choose Klubs "Maja" instead. It is not an easy choice, because of course, family is family, and - actually, right now Klubs "Maja" has become like another family.
Obviously, Nora's experience of doing NGO work had changed since the camp, and so had she. It was still about having fun, but she had attained a position which involved a lot of work and responsibility, and demanded a broad range of competences. Informants in and outside Klubs "Maja" praised her work as president. Evidently, Nora's leadership was a large factor in Klubs "Maja" carrying out EU information projects that brought them positive attention. But as she herself said, her workload was wearing her out, economically and in terms of time. Why was she doing it?
As I got to know Nora, I understood that she was very involved in her friendships within and around Klubs "Maja". When she and other members travelled abroad to seminars and political events, or organized international NGO events in Latvia, Nora always emphasized "the good company" of these events as much as their political content. She had made friends with people all over Europe. Also in our interview, Nora presented the social aspect as a large part of her motivation for doing NGO work:
"Working in Klubs "Maja" you don't have any salary, you don't get, I mean, material things. You get new friends of course, experience of course, but not money or something like that. Sometimes it is really difficult, because you have to eat, you have to pay for your room. But still it's really interesting to meet all these people, to make the plans, to make the projects".
Like other university students, Nora received a meagre state scholarship.(20) Meanwhile, as Latvian society was making its transition to a market economy, much wealth was being displayed around her. In Riga, expensive shops with French fashion and German cars were appearing, and a get-rich-quick mentality dominated commercials and media. The cost of living and going out was high for university students like Nora. This was the context when she emphasized that her personal, immediate gains from NGO work were primarily social, never material. This indicated to me the scope of her dedication to NGO life.
I asked Nora how her studies and future career plans related to her NGO work.
"Actually, I like to live for today and do things I like to do now, not just start thinking all the time what's going to happen".
Her words confirm that young voluntary workers have no problem with " admitting" to personal gain. Nora perceived NGO work as a self-realization and an enjoyment of the present, achieved through everyday social relations of friendship. By stressing non-material gains, she communicated to herself and society that she and her NGO friends were "altruist hedonists" who wanted to be with other people and do something useful for society, even if it did not pay economically.
In the previous chapter I brought up the issue of social affect versus political effect, with Maffesoli claiming that the former, the being-together, was "winning out" over "the activist spirit". While social hedonism was a crucial element of my informants' motivations, to Nora the political effect of her work was also important. When once I asked whether she thought NGO activism had any actual political consequences, she replied that "you mean if I believe that we can do something, that we change something? Yes I do, I really do!". Clearly, for my informants the chance to believe in a political effect was in itself a gain made from NGO activism.
What I want to capture in Nora's story is her process of mobilization - her socialization into political activism. What she tells me is that political mobilization is experienced as personal responsibility for a growing load of work. This can be stressfull, but also offers a strong sense of personal growth and achievement, as well as recognition from one's friends and partners. She also makes clear that the social satisfaction of sharing this work with good friends remains a central motivation. In Nora's story, I see two main elements of mobilization: the friendships she has made, and the work she has engaged in with her new friends.
Nora had joined a group of young people whose everyday being-together included political work. As she herself took on more work, she rose in the ranks of the organization, and extended her social networks in Latvia and abroad. As I understand Nora and my informants in general, their own growth as individuals, and the enrichment of their social life, developed in parallel with their political motivation. What gave impetus to this process was the capacity of political work to generate a motivation for more work. In the effort required to do political work, there was a principle of expansion that led them to acquire new skills and build social networks. Political work in the company of friends became an intensely social experience, and an experience of personal growth.
As we have seen earlier, Nora saw both the "serious" and the "fun" aspects as necessary for the work of the NGO. In her way of relating to NGO life, there was a unity between the NGO as a group of friends and as a political actor oriented towards public political manifestations. NGO-political work was friendship-in-action.
Above I have outlined a process of political mobilization: My informants develop a political consciousness, an orientation towards the political realm, because political work offers them a way of being-together. This interrelation between the political and the social is also seen in the history of the organization as such. Liena was a founding member of Klubs "Maja". She told me how the NGO came into existence:
In 1994 they were a group of friends from the University of Latvia. Some were students of journalism and involved in the trilingual European youth magazine das Haus/the House/la Maison. The magazine still exists, and Klubs "Maja" is still involved with it. It is published two to three times a year by changing European youth NGO's, who get funding from organizations like the EU or the Council of Europe, to bring young people together for an editorial conference. I took part in such a conference with Klubs "Maja", and the spirit was youthful, friendly and international.(21) This is the sort of spirit, and the sort of funding, from which Klubs "Maja" has come into existence.
The main reason why Liena and her friends were involved in writing for the magazine, she said, was that they could travel for free to editorial conferences in European countries. During these events they built social networks with other young Europeans, and in 1994 they decided to host a conference in Riga themselves, and invite their European friends to come. They realized that in order to attract funding for the conference, they needed a name, a bank account, stationery with a printed logo. They needed to organize themselves as an NGO.
In our interview, Liena emphasized several times how important they were to her, the group of friends with whom she organized the conference in Riga. One person in particular had a lot of energy and made things happen, and as she said with an amused look, "I would have followed Andrejs into any kind of organization. If he had formed an environmental or maybe even an anti-EU organization, I would have joined that" . Now, because of his organizational energy and another girl's political interest, the EU was chosen as the focus of the new NGO called Klubs "Maja". A lot of early activities had to do with human rights. But as it turned out, the EU topic gave a clearer organizational profile, that made Klubs "Maja" different from other Latvian youth organizations, and it also gave access to funding.
While organizing the conference, the group became even closer friends. Liena described it as an intense experience: "It was a game, we were young and we did it in our spare time. We had a friendship and there was this atmosphere, we ate and drank together and had Ritma's apartment as our meeting place, while everyone else was living with their parents. It was the people that made it into an NGO".
Klubs "Maja" was established as an organization with the sole purpose of hosting this editorial conference, and thus it was named after the magazine. But after the event, Liena and her friends were reluctant to let go of their social life together. Nor did they want to lose their recently strengthened networks with NGO friends in Europe. Today, Klubs "Maja" is in its 8th year of existence.
The point of Liena's story is that already existing social networks were formalized into an organizational structure, which was "filled" with political content. I think this substantiates my interpretation of Nora's story, that the sociality around political work is a central mobilizing factor. The basic drive behind the establishment of Klubs "Maja" was and is the will to be with people, within a friendship that is dynamic because it is geared towards the creation of public, political events. For the creators themselves, organizing and carrying out such events are intensely social experiences.
The history of Klubs "Maja" shows us a principle central to its organizational culture: people expect their friends to be NGO members very much for social reasons. But they know their friends in a way which, for want of a better term, I call also-political, because "being active" is an intrinsic quality of the friendships and the everyday sociality. During an NGO career, the friendships one acquires remain attractive as friendships, but they also have a potentiality to them because an orientation towards political action in the public sphere is immanent within the everyday face-to-face sociality of the NGO. The value of friendship, or any other personal gain made through NGO activism, cannot be separated from this political potential.
I will now return to my interview with Nora. After she had told me that her point of view had changed during three years of NGO activism, I asked:
JL: Do you think it generally changes people, the way they think and behave, when they are active members of Klubs "Maja" for some time?
Nora: Of course. There are some very active members, and a larger part is not so active, and even for them I think it changes something in their lives. Every event I think, every summer camp, every seminar is a chance to change inside… my friends who are active say that 'yeah sure, Klubs "Maja" changes people'".
Based on her experience as an activist and an NGO president, Nora asserted that the change which happened to her was also likely to happen to others. In chapter six I bring up examples of informants who describe such change as a significant turning point in their lives. Their stories, and my own experience of participating in projects with Klubs "Maja", give me reason to believe that the experience of personal change is common among my informants, and important to them.
When Nora said that anyone could change through NGO activism, she was not only referring to the members of Klubs "Maja", but to people active in NGO's as such. She told me that she saw a large difference between a person who was "just a student" and a person who was an active member of any organization. Dividing the active from the passive, she even gave credit to active members of EU-sceptical organizations:
Nora: "They are active, and we can see that they are different from those who are not members of any organization. Maybe it's because of all these activities, and your participation in organizing them".
Nora's words show the extent to which my informants saw a basic difference between people who were active and those who were not. These young people, who were involved in steep social climbing, experienced that personal change happened to themselves and others as they acquired a new social life and new skills. Organizing NGO projects gave them a feeling that the circles of important people and international money, which they had hitherto experienced as incomprehensible or hostile, had suddenly become accessible. It was something they started to approach, pragmatically, to get the NGO work done. Then one day they would realize, maybe from the way the new members looked at them, that they had become part of that world themselves.
I have outlined a process of entering the political through the social. Nora experienced this process happening in her life, and she suspected that it would happen to anyone who engaged in similar activities. In the following, I discuss elements of this process by presenting my observations from an NGO project, which I took part in with my informants. I shall attempt to show how people's everyday being-together is mobilized towards political action in the public sphere.
It is significant that Nora brings up the participation in "events", and the process of organizing these, as the source of personal development, the "chance to change inside". How does the collective creation of political events effect this change in people?
Three months into my fieldwork, in October 2000, Klubs "Maja" became involved in project "Enlargement Day", in daily conversation just "E-day". The project was coordinated on a European level by Young European Federalists (JEF), the European NGO network that Klubs "Maja" is part of. As the date for a political manifestation, JEF had chosen November 9th,, which commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall.(22) Pro-EU NGO's all over Europe would make a call for "the fall of the second wall" as JEF referred to it in their electronic newsletter. This "second wall" delayed "a swift and efficient enlargement" of the EU. JEF had no direct role in carrying out the local E-day projects, but via email the JEF president sent press releases, pep talks and reports about the activities local "sections" such as Klubs "Maja" were planning. As a part of project Enlargement Day, Klubs "Maja" planned and carried out various public political manifestations around Latvia, mainly in Riga.
In the following, I describe in some detail the situation that started the planning phase of project E-day. This situation illustrates how political mobilization comes about in and through the enjoyment of being-together.
I became part of the planning of E-day without knowing that the organization of the project was about to start. One evening I went to the home of one of the members, where I had been told they were having a party. I arrived at the girl's place, and seven-eight other people showed up. I had understood the word "party" in a different sense than my informants, and brought beers. But to my initial disappointment, we just sat around a table and chatted. People told jokes and came up with small games to play, they ate cake and sweets and drank tea, except for myself who drank the beer I brought. Music was played from the host's computer, European and American pop-rock with some Latvian tunes in between.
Two months earlier, E-day had been a topic of discussion at a JEF camp in Latvia organized by Klubs "Maja", but since then, as far as I could tell no one in the NGO had talked about it. I myself hoped that the project would be realized, because it seemed like an interesting event to study. At the present party, the conversation went from one topic to another. Then someone made a remark about E-day. Eriks, a new and very active member, said that maybe we should have a proper discussion about the project. This was still a party, not a formal meeting, so there was no need to declare "the meeting open". Eriks just took up a note from his pocket, on which he had already written some points for discussion.
We started to talk about E-day, coming up with ideas about public events that could bring EU accession to the attention of people on the streets of Riga. Certain features of these events came naturally: we needed to display the EU symbol with the yellow stars on blue background. We talked about EU institutions and embassies where we could possibly borrow an EU flag. It was also an obvious choice to include the national flags of the European member states.
While there seemed to be a standard "template" for displaying the symbolism of EU accession, much enthusiastic discussion revolved around the form of communication: where and how to display our flags and banners. It came naturally to look for somewhere high up, which had a national symbolic meaning to it. Wouldn't an EU flag hanging from the Freedom Monument be a great thing?(23) Or from the wall of the Occupation Museum?
We were gathered around the face-to-face social immediacy of a party, but we had now also oriented ourselves towards the future creation of a public, political event. This was visible as a change in people's posture. They looked more alert and attentive than a moment earlier. We were getting involved, and like them, I was having a lot of fun. It was a creative feeling to imagine the ways that we could change slightly, for a short while, the city space which we and other people moved around in. I came up with a lot of ideas which were totally unrealistic, but were well received as a contribution to the general enthusiasm.
In our brainstorming around the form of the event, there was a playful mood, but there was also concentration. This was particularly clear in the behaviour of Janis. He usually laughed and joked a lot, and had a sort of a careless attitude. Now he looked more serious and focused than I had seen him before. There was a reason for this. Janis was one of the two vice presidents of the Club, and neither the president nor the other vice president were at the party, since both were abroad. So while in the everyday life of Klubs "Maja" it is often hard to tell who has a formal position, right now it was clear that Janis stood at the top of the organizational hierarchy. This was not a formal meeting and we could not actually make any decisions (this was deferred to a coming meeting in the NGO office). But our collective enthusiasm around E-day grew by the second, as we laid the ground for a future project which would involve the entire NGO. This activated the organizational hierarchy. Janis started to act according to his position, listening attentively to ideas that came up and mildly rejecting some of them as unrealistic.
Janis' behaviour shows what it means that my informants were known to each other as also-political. This quality of their friendship was intensified whenever they oriented themselves collectively towards the public sphere.(24)
At a more formal meeting held a few days after the party, the NGO members decided on an E-day event. It was not as imaginative as the many visions that had come up at the party, but it had worked several times before: putting up an EU information stand on a central square in downtown Riga, then going to a high school in the evening to hold a competition.(25)
November 9th started with preparations at the NGO office. People made cardboard signs with "Youth for a United Europe" and sorted folders which they put in boxes. A lot of logistics had to be taken care of. As was typical of these occassions, more male members than usual were present. Around such peaks of activity, the boys would be summoned to handle things such as driving a car to pick up a tent for the stand. I spent the morning running back and forth to various EU offices carrying stacks of information folders and booklets, and helping some of the guys carrying the tent and some tables to the square, where we set up the stand. The stand was decorated with blue and yellow EU ballons. We placed the cardboard signs on the street next to the stand, and taped them to the outside of the tent - in part so bypassers would not see the giant letters underneath spelling "Aldaris Beer", the brewery we had borrowed the tent from.
We also had an international setting at hand. By the square lies on one side a McDonalds' restaurant, on the other the Hotel de Rome, outside which all the European flags fly from a row of poles. From our stand as well hung a festoon with the European flags in miniature. This very international square opened up to a very national one, across a boulevard, on which stood Latvia's Freedom Monument.
Our stand stood in the middle of the square, and passers-by on Riga's main pedestrian street were offered material about the EU, and asked a few questions for a very superficial survey concerning their interest in EU information. People gathered around the stand from the first moment. The media had been notified, and several NGO members were interviewed and photographed by Riga newspapers. The NGO members resolutely engaged the passers-by in discussions, and were sometimes also asked questions about the EU, though most people simply glanced at the folders on the table in front of the stand, grabbed some of them and moved on. My informants harboured no illusions about people's level of interest, "they'll take anything that's free" as someone said.
For myself and the informants I observed, project E-day was an intense experience in social as well as political terms. We got involved in the work of organizing E-day, which strengthened the social relations within our group. It makes sense, on the background of the stories told by Nora and other informants, that participation in this process would bring about mobilization. For the NGO members who participated in project E-day, including myself, it was an immersion in the social life of a group of people. It was a social experience centered on creating and partaking in a public political event.
By returning first to the party that turned into a meeting, I will take a closer look at the different elements that constituted this mobilization.
At the party-turned-meeting, Eriks initiated a discussion which brought a focus on political action into a social situation. I will describe the mood that entered the situation as a flow to and fro between the political and the social. The "inwards" movement towards the group went together with an "outwards" movement towards the public sphere.
During my fieldwork I was present at several occasions similar to this party, in which the social atmosphere was interspersed with moments with a distinctly meeting-like quality. The different moods seemed to weave into each other. It would be wrong to say that the situations "changed" from being social to being political. Instead I would say that in their creative and at times almost playful approach to project E-day, my informants retained their everyday orientation towards the social present, which was expanded to encompass the political realm. The situation was characterized by the same adding of the political to the social, the also-political quality, which appeared when Nora described how political and social motivations coexist within, and contribute to, the political work of Klubs "Maja".
In this study, political mobilization is a process of socialization: through the socialization of the individual who immerses herself in NGO life, and through situations when people socialize with each other. When political mobilization arises through the social, this is not a switch between different motivations, but what I see as an expansion of the social to encompass the political. Face-to-face sociality is also-political in that it regularly expands to encompass the more abstract, political sphere.
A political manifestation such as E-day has no meaning if it is not directed towards the public sphere. It was the orientation towards the public sphere that brought creativity and anticipation to our gathering. We as a group were going to create something that people would see, we were reaching out from our shared present towards the public sphere. When we turned our focus towards the future project E-day, there arose a mood of a shared, concentrated enthusiasm, which I myself felt, saw on the faces of my informants and heard in their voices.
As we talked about different places in the city where we could carry out the project, we evoked a shared imagery of the coming event. This imagery included the flags, the stand and different places in the city, as well as our audience and their presumed feelings and thoughts in encountering the symbolism that we brought to the streets. It also included us, the creators of it all. We shared a will to be present, to display a political symbolism and assert ourselves as a collective political actor in the public sphere.
In reaching out towards the public sphere, we reached through a space that I will call a political landscape of democracy. Within this landscape, Klubs "Maja" identifies with the position as "NGO", or in broader terms as "civil society". At the party-turned-meeting, our shared anticipation and creativity resided in the act of reaching out from that position, making ourselves present to people on the street and in the media.
In chapter 2.1 I referred to Arendt on the need for humans to enter the public realm and encounter each other, to avoid isolation and be seen. Speech and action are "the modes in which human beings appear to each other, not indeed as physical objects, but qua men" (Arendt 1958:176). This existential need to appear to each other has been intensified in Latvia and other countries of Eastern Europe after the breakdown of the Soviet state. Concerning speech:
"In Latvia severance from the Soviet Union has released a deluge of personal memoirs, life histories and diaries… [which] marks an end to the retreat into privacy observed throughout the Soviet Union and eastern Europe and represents an attempt to reconnect private with public life" (Skultans 1998:25)
I argue that my informants' determination to reach into the public sphere was also part of this post-Soviet "release". They were obtaining witnesses to their lives, not through speech as much as through action. They appeared to people on Riga's streets as human beings who had agency, and whose agency was at the cutting edge of society's political emancipation. With their pro-EU message to society, they showed themselves to be endorsed by official history and the political establishment, but also as "worldmakers" who in their creativity transform the social structures given to them (Jackson 1996: 21-3).
At the above-mentioned party, people started to joke about the possible ways that project E-day could turn into something quite different than it was supposed to. For example, we considered setting up a microphone by our stand, to create something like a Speaker's Corner where people could publically say their opinion about the EU. But the idea quickly turned into a joke about how drunk people on the streets of Riga would think the microphone was an opportunity to engage in karaoke singing.
The joke seemed to me as a way for my informants to put into words and share their his torical and political experience of being "civil society" during the post-Soviet transition. Their idea of setting up a microphone resonated with the core democratic principle of "free speech", it concerned the central raison d'etre of their NGO: to create public discussion about the EU. The joke was funny because my informants shared a collective representation of a democratic political landscape, and the joke de-idealized a sacred centre of this landscape, that of free speech, by associating it to profane, drunken karaoke singing.(26)
Relating democratic free speech to drunken karaoke singing revealed a perception of society that I often encountered among Latvians: while post-Soviet society had taken on the political and economic forms of the West, people behaved in ways that were formed by the Soviet past and by "Latvian mentality". Social problems, such as public drunkenness which appeared in the karaoke joke, were often attributed to the wrongdoings of the Soviet state. I interpret the joke as implying that the Soviet past had an effect on everyday public life, to the extent of corrupting even actions such as project E-day, which were meant to manifest a break with the Soviet past.
The party-turned-meeting exemplifies Goffman's (1959) description of the "backstage" as a zone for neg otiations and preparations for public "frontstage" performances. While we were backstage, we anticipated and prepared our near-future entering of the frontstage. The public eye was not yet on the NGO, so we shared an "organizational privacy" which was backstage in relation to the public sphere. This gave us the freedom to tell jokes about the public act we were planning, and toy with ideas like plastering the freedom monument with blue paint and yellow stars.
While the joke pointed to society's continuity with the past, it also expressed the radical modernity, in an East European context, of my informants' NGO lives. My informants saw themselves as representing Western democratic political culture in a purer form than anywhere else in society, whether in the state (see chapter 5) or in the general public, where it existed only as impure hybrids in transition between Soviet past and European future.
Encounters with public space such as E-day were illustrative. In everyday "hanging out" at the NGO office, my informants would often appear so familiar with the political culture of civil society that it was possible to forget the historical drama unfolding around their life. But political practices such as E-day clearly revealed that a new social order was under construction, and my informants were among its construction workers. They not only appeared in the public sphere, they created it, which is why we should take seriously the creativity of organizing the event. They knew that they would appear radically modern in the eyes of many passers-by, as people who had carved out a new space around themselves.(27)
When my informants join the sociality of Klubs "Maja" for social reasons, they are admitted into a democratic landscape, and made familiar with its geography. But, probably in contrast to most NGO's in Western Europe, public democratic space is perceived as not really there yet, and one joins a community involved in its creation.
Thus, I see appearing to others and gaining their recognition as a universal need, which is intensified under the particular conditions of the post-Soviet transition. The democratic landscape is a setting for different ways of effecting this appearance, and NGO activism is one of them. Joining civil society, becoming a voice within a democratic polyphony, represents both a reclaiming and a creation of the public sphere, which is one reason why NGO work holds a strong attraction to my informants.
I find Durkheim's concepts of collective representations, force and effervescence useful to capture what went on during project E-day. I believe I was part of what Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life calls an "effervescent social setting" (Durkheim 2001 :164). Effervescence denotes an intensification of the dynamic which, in Durkheims perspective, is a general trait of social life: that collective action brings into existence something which the individual cannot create or sustain on her own:
"Within a crowd moved by a common passion, we become susceptible to feelings and passions of which we are incapable on our own. And when the crowd is dissolved, when we find ourselves alone again and fall back to our usual level, we can then measure how far we were raised above ourselves… To reaffirm feelings that might fade if left to themselves, it is enough to bring those who share them into a closer and more active relationship" (op.cit: 157).
This captures well what I have been trying to say about the mobilizing and socializing effect of concrete, physical, collective NGO work. The "feelings and passions" of creating a symbolic product, and bringing it forth as a political statement in the public sphere, where we are seen by our audience as a group of political agents within the democratic landscape - this generated an effervescence that lasted throughout the organization and implementation of project E-day.
By conceptualizing project E-day in terms of effervescence, we come closer to understanding how the individual develops a political consciousness as she experiences an increasing unity between doing political work and being with friends. By referring to "political consciousness", I am not implying an increasingly conscious ideology, but rather a growing familiarity with, and hence an increasing belonging to, the political landscape within which NGO activism takes place. When my informants appear to the public as political actors, they position themselves within this landscape. This public action animates the sociality of the NGO, which has a lasting effect: Durkheim says it clearly in the quote above, about measuring how far we were raised above ourselves after the act is finished. Each effervescent "getting high" on public political manifestations brings the individual closer to the point where the NGO, as described by Nora at the beginning of this chapter, is like "another family".
In this chapter I have mainly discussed how everyday sociality became the medium for the political presence of Klubs "Maja" in public space, but I have not mentioned the message about the EU that I outlined in chapter two. I will now consider how the EU-political symbolism of the event involved the activists.
On E-day, among the 12-15 members who took part, there was a practical and unreflected attitude to the political substance of the event. As I have said, at the party-turned-meeting it came naturally and without any discussion to display the EU flag and the flags of the European nations. This was simply how we had to appear in public space for people to understand what was being said. On E-day itself, we also handled the EU symbolism in a practical manner. It was a materiality passing through our hands, as when setting up the stand and painting the cardboard signs. Our contacts with other EU-related actors in Riga had the same practical character, as when we went to the EU Information Office to get some folders, to the European Movement for a table, and so on.
Judging from the practical attitude the members had towards transmitting the EU symbolism to the public, it was not from the EU-political content of the event that the fun and creativity of the project came, but from playing with the form of the action. The social effervescence arose from the democratic act of going public.
But on the other hand, the EU-political content was far from unimportant. To continue the Durkheimian line of thinking, effervescence arises not only because people are together, but because they have a collective orientation towards something: They gather around shared collective representations of the world. As a political orientation shared by my informants, the EU-related political substance of the event deserves to be considered, and I will do that by discussing another of Durkheim's notions, that of totemism.
When Durkheim speaks of collective representations he refers to the totemic principle. The totem is simultaneously a representation of a god and of the clan itself, which leads Durkheim to the famous conclusion that when men worship gods, they in fact worship society (op.cit: 157).
Considering their scepticism towards the state (see chapter 5), it would be an exaggeration to say that my informants "worshipped society", but they did worship the story of their nation's break with the Soviet past and "return to Europe", and of civil society as a manifestation of this story. On E-day, we represented that historical break, and Latvia's "opening up" toward the world, through symbols such as flags and blue and yellow EU balloons.
In what sense is the EU symbolism of E-day totemic? When Comaroff & Comaroff write about the rise of ethnic consciousness in Africa as "totemic", they point out that groups understand other groups as both different from and similar to themselves: "The irreducible fact of identity implies the cultural structuring of the social universe" through processes of classification such as totemism, "in which groupings define themselves as independent or inter-dependent units within a common humanity" (Comaroff & Comaroff 1992:51).
On the national level, the similarity to Comaroff's inter-ethnic totemism is Billig's "universal code of particularity", which I have mentioned in chapter 2.2 as a way of thinking and performing the nation within European NGO youth culture. People perceive themselves as positioned within a classificatory system, within which other groups and individuals are also positioned and thereby appear as both different and similar to themselves. We are all "different in the same way".(28)
I think that the notion of totemic classification is one way of understanding our E-day symbolism. Our EU flag and the national flags were "media of totemic consciousness, a particular species of consciousness collective" as Comaroff & Comaroff call it, referring to Durkheim (ibid). They communicated our shared representation of the world, the system of totemic classification generally known as international society: Latvia exists as a nation which is sovereign in the same manner as the other nations whose flags we display. At the same time, Latvia coexists and is inter-dependent with these nations in the European Union, whose flag we displayed most prominently of all, and tried to place in the highest and most visible position.
The relevance of the above discussion of totemism lies in the connection between the symbolic and the emotional, that is, between the collective application of totemic classification and the experience of effervescence. In effervescent social settings, groups (in Durkheim's account, tribes) experience a closeness to something that is larger than themselves, a moral and political order that they perceive as "higher" than that in which their everyday lives take place. This order is known to them through totems, which are "merely the material form in which that immaterial substance is represented" (op.cit:141).
What is this "substance" that is represented through totemic symbolism? According to Durkheim, it is "an anonymous and impersonal force" (op.cit:140, my emphasis). This force lies at the base of cosmology, morality, ideas about social organization and ways of classifying the material and social world. The group engages in intense activities oriented toward that force, in order to make it present.
I believe that the "force" we related to during project E-day was that of the massive, rapid reconfiguration of boundaries that has taken place in and around Latvian society during the post-Soviet transition. In the context of the present discussion of " international totemism", the most obvious reorganization of boundaries is territorial, with the establishment of national independence and with an ongoing opening up and repositioning of the nation as part of the West, by joining the EU and NATO.
But the boundaries that have been reshaped in the last twelve years are also social, moral and conceptual. The anthropology of post-Soviet Latvia shows that with the break-up of the Soviet empire, and in the course of post-Soviet independence and European integration, the categories through which people in Latvia understand their place in history and society are being stretched to the limit. Some authors describe how the Russian-speaking population experiences the break-up of the Soviet Union and state building in Latvia as an exclusion from everyday urban, social and political space (Rosengaard 1998). Others, while noting the tension and everyday segregation between Russians and Latvians, also point out that though Russians and Latvians are unequally represented in public space and political life, both groups experience the transition as a stressfull time of great reforms undertaken for diffuse and sometimes incomprehensible reasons (Berglund 2000). Moral boundaries are set afloat, for example with the display of pornography in public space (Rosengaard). The rapid changes have severely alienated some group from society, as may be seen in their difficulty to express their memories and author coherent lifestories (Skultans 1998), and in the conflict among Latvians themselves concerning what being "Latvian" actually means (Mortensen 1999, Buceniece 1997).
These examples illustrate some aspects of the post-Soviet transition in Latvia, several of which may be generalized to the whole of Eastern Europe. Project E-day may be interpreted as a reaction to and display of what I have described as the "force" of the post-Soviet transition, which is brought forward through the sociality of Klubs "Maja" to the public sphere of Latvian society.
How does the practical attitude towards the handling of EU symbolism merge with the effervescence that E-day as a social act was characterized by?
The creative mood around the project was directed towards the creation of something new, a public imagery of a return to Europe. While we had a practical attitude to the symbolism we were transmitting, and did not discuss EU-related matters, what we very much wanted was for other people to turn their attention towards the issue of EU accession, and share the image of history I described in chapter two, that EU accession has to happen.
We wanted to make people see what, for my informants, is perceptible in the internationalizing gaze: that it is happening. That is why the EU symbolism was brought into play in a rather unreflective manner, as a well-established "template" for how the EU is made present. The "template" was how my informants believed that the EU should be presented to people, in order to trigger their interest. Among the NGO activists, there was no need to explicitly debate the EU issue, to reach an agreement on what the "return to Europe" meant, because they were living it. As I have said previously, their conviction that EU accession "has to happen" arose from their shared experience that "it is happening". The activists saw themselves as communicating reality, because the international totemic symbolism did describe the reality that they were living through NGO work in Riga, and within transnational networks of European civilians sharing a community-nationalist outlook (see chapter 2.2).
To use the Durkheimian imagery from above, we could say that the NGO activists wanted the people on the street to react to historical "force" in the same way as they themselves did: to perceive EU accession as inevitable, and see Latvian nationhood as constituted in a mutuality with other nations, the international totemism encompassed and transcended by a higher, and radically modern, European political order.
We also have to keep in mind that while my informants seemed involved in E-day as a social and public act, some of them were not so positive about EU accession. Behind the public manifestation, what was shared by all members was an image of history and "reality", not a core of political opinion. The consensus among them was not so much about the value of European integration as about its inevitability. Performing this as a political symbolism in the public sphere was experienced as an immersion into a highly valued social life.
Durkheim says that "the reign of impersonal aims and truths can come into being only through the cooperation of particular wills and sensibilities" (op.cit:342). When we apply these words to project E-day, the event may in a modern theoretical perspective be understood as a performative creation of presence. Schieffelin makes the following point about performance:
"The ponderous social institutions and mighty political and economic forces of late capitalism which weigh so heavily upon us are, like illusions of maya, without any reality except in so far as they or their effects are actually and continually engaged and emergent in human discourse, practice and activity in the world: generated in what human beings say or do" (Schieffelin 1997: 196).
What Durkheim, Schieffelin and many others insist, is that the reality of political systems and historical processes depends on people constantly bringing them to life. Historical change is "mediated by subjective life" says Jackson in the introduction to this thesis, and this mediation happens as my informants take an active part in Latvia's accession to the EU.
I have used Goffman's terms to characterize the mood, during our preparations for E-day, of being in the "backstage" of the public sphere. As Schieffelin says, metaphors of theatre may invoke false notions of "following a script", which downplay the improvisation and immediacy that is inherent in performance. Because a situation is always only to some degree similar to previous situations, never identical to them, there can never be total certainty about the outcome of an act. There is always a risk of misunderstanding or being misunderstood. My informants were strongly oriented towards their audience's reaction, because they could not be certain that people would understand and become "interested".
I have argued, referring to Skultans (1998), that there is a post-Soviet intensification of the ontologial need, described by Arendt (1958), to appear to others in speech and action. When Schieffelin says that there is a fundamental ontological risk involved in such performance, I think that this risk may also be intensified, by the post-Soviet transition, for agents of political change, such as Klubs "Maja" during E-day. There is a particular need to be present, but also a particular risk of being misunderstood, of not achieving the desired communication. Schieffelin's critique of Goffman seems pertinent, in that the idea of stepping onto a stage prevents the analysis from approching an understanding of the fact that Klubs "Maja" were not appearing in a public space just "waiting for" them, they were creating it in the act.
I started this chapter by discussing Nora's words about her NGO career. She told about a process, in which she became an NGO member because she wanted to immerse herself in an everyday sociality. I proceeded to look at the organization and carrying out of project E-day, in which partaking in sociality led to involvement in political work. We have seen two ways in which involvement with the social life of political activism led my informants to approach the political realm. Firstly, in the social effervescence of political activism, there was a familiarization with the political landscape of democracy within which NGO activism takes place, and where one comes to identify with the position as "NGO" . Secondly, the political was present in the substance of the political act itself, as a passing on of political symbolism which I have analysed as a way of dealing with historical force.
In Nora's story about her NGO career, in my description of the party that involved moments of political organization, and in the final public act in which the organizational process culminated, I have described some of the ways in which my informants brough about an interweaving of the social and the political. I have referred to this interweaving as "an expansion of the social to encompass the political".
In my discussion with Maffesoli in chapter three, I asserted the importance of documenting such interweavings, in order to avoid an ontology of political activism that repeats the modernist dichotomization of social hedonism and political consciousness. Let us return to Maffesoli's claim that the being together-ness of NGO's is motivated by "affect", people's enjoyment of the present, rather than considerations of political goals and effects. He is right, but wrong in the conclusion he draws: that the enjoyment of a face-to-face present implies the demise of the activist spirit. I think that Maffesoli's failure to see the social presence of political consciousness springs from the fact that his exploration of "postmodernity" is based more on readings of political philosophy and sociology, and observations of political events presented in the media, that on actual fieldwork among those who, according to him, are content with "contemplating the world". It takes observation and participation in the daily sociality of political life to hear the stories and notice the subtle situational shifts in style and discourse, by which the political becomes present in the social.
In the previous chapter I emphasized the NGO career as a process of entering a political landscape through social acts of political work. In this chapter I explore this incipient democratic landscape further, by considering the emotions which my informants experience in their encounters with the Latvian state and the European Union.
Through their NGO activism, my informants got to meet people who represented the European Union or foreign states, or who belonged to the Latvian establishment of academics, politicians, government ministers, civil servants etc. During my fieldwork, these networks manifested themselves on the many occasions when I was invited with NGO members to attend speeches by foreign diplomats and politicians visiting Latvia.
To my informants, such meetings were a source of fascination and pride. I will consider these feelings in the latter half of this chapter. I begin on a less positive note by discussing feelings of ambivalence and mistrust towards the state and the EU. This chapter takes steps towards an emotive mapping of the political landscape of post-Soviet transition, by considering the emotions by which my informants came to know Latvia's EU accession and nation- and civil society-building.
Why are emotions relevant? I see emotions as bodily, immediately felt reflections of abstract political ideals, as "embodied thoughts" about politics and history (Rosaldo 1987:143). Emotions are a basis for engaging with the world. As "thoughts seeped with the apprehension that 'I am involved'", they are "dispositions for types of actions" (op.cit:143, see also Levy 1987:220). This perspective on emotions helps to understand how the abstract-political becomes concrete, in social life, and in an embodied form. Emotions such as mistrust or desire are shared ways of knowing the world. Emotions work in alliance with reason as "parallel processes [that] tell us about how the world is" (D'Andrade 1987:100). The world that my informants come to know through their emotions, is the social and political landscape of Latvia's EU accession. Thus by focusing on emotions, we are not turning towards "inner worlds" (op.cit:140), or precluded in seeing everyday sociality as the locus for the bringing-forth of the political.
The concept of "civil society" describes a sphere where state power is publically disputed (see chapter 1.3). The NGO members self-identified as part of civil society. If the promises of post-Soviet Latvian democracy were to be fulfilled, the state would have to listen to them and take their disputation seriously. The aim of this chapter is to discuss how such political ideals about public dialogue are embodied when people experience them emotionally.
The NGO members had a highly ambivalent experience of facing the state.(29) Besides fascination and pride, some informants expressed mistrust, suspicion of the state's motives. Many seemed to wonder whether state representatives they had met in a public debate or at a reception had been genuinely interested in what they had to say. From such meetings, they often drew conclusions about whether Latvian society was truly democratic. Being face-to-face with a government minister was a lithmus test for the relation between state and civil society. If he was not interested, it might signify that state rhetorics about "dialogue" were pretence, that Klubs "Maja" and other NGO's were kept on display by Latvian politicians for the benefit of the outside world. On the other hand, if the man really was interested, then his behaviour allowed one to believe that one's opinions were truly taken into account, that society had really taken an irreversible step towards democracy. My informants' experience of such situations confirm that political ideology may be understood as "knowledge of detail" and "concrete behaviour" (Connerton 1989:11). Issues like state legitimacy would boil down to one thing: How does this man behave towards us?
Such meetings also offered the attraction of talking to people who were, as Liza said, "closer to the truth" than she, who took important decisions and knew things that ordinary people didn't. Another girl told me that politicians can be trusted more when they speak to you face-to-face, than if you read something they said. Face-to-face meetings promised a degree of personal honesty that did not exist in the media. While my informants by far preferred democracy over any other political model, they also saw it as flawed by its own forms of double-talk. For example in the media, a politician's rhetorics might represent his party's strategy to attract voters, rather than his personal views. It was clear to my informants that such is the nature of democracy.
Even if a politician's words could tell lies, in personal meetings the body was assumed to give away clues as to whether the person was honest. When my informants engaged representatives of the state in dialogue, they were closely attentive to the physical performance of the person in front of them. The NGO activists would judge his level of interest by "reading" his bodily language, his style, his way of looking at them.
After such meetings, my informants interpreted their meaning. I was told about some of these encounters. A woman lecturer from an EU institution had obviously not "been interested", her lecture had seemed like routine and she had stared into thin air when the NGO members asked questions. On the other hand, during the latest summer camp, two men from another EU institution had driven all the way from Riga to give a lecture; a sign of "the system" having a true interest in the work and opinions of the Club.
In my informants' perception of the state, which I will now describe in detail, certain traits are universal to the state - civil society relationship in any democracy. Other elements are characteristic of post-socialist democratization in particular: The image of the state is a composite picture that combines my informants' images of the Soviet past with their experience of a relatively new and unfamiliar capitalist economy.
Civil society is generally characterized by a "Myth of Collective Harmony… [a] disgust for the political, [and a] quest for actors' authenticity" (Keane 1998:33). We may see my informants' suspicion of the state as universal to democracy, as well as their disgust for politics as a power-game, where lies and manipulation were rampant. Also common to civil society actors was my informants' idealization of themselves as uncorrupted by the tendencies mentioned above. They considered civil society to be morally superior to the state, "the incarnation of social virtue in opposition to political vice" as Keane says (op.cit:78). I was often told that the beautiful thing about NGO's, as opposed to party politics, was that NGO people acted on the basis of an inner political authenticity, they spoke "from the heart", not from a party-political platform.
When I spoke to Latvian observers of politics, as well as to foreign diplomats who had lived a long time in Riga, they told me about a loathing for politicians that was more widespread and intense than anything they had seen in the West. From the following observations on the post-socialist countries in general, it seems that similar feelings are common throughout Eastern Europe:
"Twelwe years after the 'end of communism', the initial feelings of hope in a better future have, in many cases, been replaced by disillusionment and scepticism. Widespread unemployment, new class differences, poverty, corruption scandals, disagreements about the restitution and appropriation of state property, and the economic advantages taken by the old nomenclatura have generated increasing distrust in the new 'democratic' states" (Svasek 2002:17).
It may be a universal trait of democratic systems, that while we consent to being ruled by politicians, we also suspect them of "selling" us their words and their appearance, in an attempt to keep or conquer state power. But such feelings are, I believe, intensified for East Europeans who live through post-Soviet democratization, because their emotions towards the state derive in part from their social memories of the Soviet past, and from their images of other spheres within the social-political landscape, such as the market. I will take a closer look at these symbolic and emotional linkages.
In identifying as "NGO", my informants distanced themselves from the business sector of Latvia today. They did see the market economy as preferable to the centralized system of the Soviet past. But they also saw capitalism as an unleashing of materialism and greed, as implied in remarks about young business-people who "just want to make money". The NGO members constituted business as an Other while attributing non-materialist virtues to their own voluntary work. It was not that they denied their own self-interest and personal gain. But like Nora in chapter 4, they presented their reward as primarily social, never material.(30) In voicing their critique of the greed of the business sector, we may see traces of Soviet kultura, the ideal of the "cultured person" whose work is not for profit, and takes place on the level of ideas rather than crude materiality (Verdery 1996; Nielsen 1987; Rosengaard 1998).
My informants themselves gained various resources that they perceived as highly attractive, such as free travel to political events around Europe, while they were still allowed to see themselves as "non-materialistic" (Linnet, forthcoming).
If my informants shared a feeling of cultural and moral superiority towards business people, they expressed no outrage at their actions or values as such. After all, in capitalist systems businesses are expected to seek profit.(31) But while it was reasonable for business people to want to make money, the same motive among politicians was unacceptable.
Latvia is ranked by the international anticorruption organization Transparency International as one of the most corrupt societies in the world. It is also perceived as such by its inhabitants. Latvians use the expression "nauda aploksnee", which means "cash in an envelope" (Sedlenieks, forthcoming), to designate the "abuse of public office for private economic gain".(32) The latter is the official definition of corruption, a phenomenon that Latvians encounter in their everyday dealings with "the system" and in occasional privatization scandals. The UNDP reports that:
"Most of Latvia's inhabitants are of the opinion that public administration is based less and less on the 'voice of the people' and more and more on the 'voice of the market'. An alarming fact is that 90% of Latvia's population considers that the development of the State is taking place according to the interests of several influential groupings and not according to the interests of the people" (UNDP 2000: 103).
I suggest we see this widespread perception of the state, which my informants seemed to share, as a combination of impressions from the present-day political reality, and memories, opinions and emotions that pertain to the market and the Soviet past. From my informants' viewpoint, a force of greed and materialism was running through their society, affecting everyone including state politicians and civil servants. Both the state and the market were refractions of a cruel, aggressive search for material gain. But in the case of the state, greed seemed much more alarming and reprehensible than in its "pure" market form, because it masqueraded as political work for the better of society. (33)
According to Keane, feelings of mistrust are universal to the encounter between state and civil society. But I think they intensify in a post-Soviet context, where the state becomes the target of an "adding up" of disillusionments, grievances and mistrusts, including social and personal memories of political repression and uniformation during the Soviet period.
My informants understood the concept of "NGO" in contrast to the youth organizations that existed in the Soviet Union. They had personal memories, from when they were six-seven years of age, of being members of the "Pioneers", the childrens organization set up throughout the Soviet Union by the Communist Party. Nora remembered:
"We had to learn some stories and poems about Lenin, about Moscow, about the Soviet Union being nice and pretty and something like that, and we had meetings, and what do you call it, we had to stand in line… like soldiers. We had to wear these uniforms, and there was a flag of course and things like that".
My informants expressed a general mistrust towards political power that comes "from above". Those of them who were old enough emphasized the value of their present NGO life by explicitly contrasting it with the involuntary character of the Soviet organizations of the past, thereby directing their criticism of top-down power towards a political Other located in the past. It appears to me that the same scepticism, fuelled by childhood memories of the Soviet period, was also directed towards the Latvian state. In other words, even though Latvian statehood announces a complete break with the Soviet past, the widespread scepticism towards the Latvian state derives from people perceiving a symbolic "kinship" between the state and the Soviet past. Both become Others who exert political power in a top-down manner.
In contrast to them, my informants could influence public opinion and political decisions, but stay free of the corruption of power. Arendt makes an illustrative analogy to political life in the Greek polis: "To be free meant not to be subject to the necessity of life or to the command of another and not to be in command oneself. It meant neither to rule nor to be ruled" (Arendt 1958: 32). Because their own NGO life was idealized as involving no political power and only non-material gains, state representatives became their main political Other, when they were perceived as seeking material and financial gains through political power.
My interpretation above, that mistrust towards the state is partly based on personal memories of the Soviet period, is qualified when we recall what I mentioned in chapter two: the post-Soviet tendency to recount national histories as narratives of suffering. In such a narrative, there is always someone who exploits, suppresses and deceives the Latvian people, and historically, that role has been assigned to actors who were external to the national realm. Today, when Latvians feel threatened by Russia, or express fear that their national resources will be "plundered" by the EU, they are reiterating this narrative. This does of course not imply that their fears are necessarily groundless. But as I see it, the widespread Latvian loathing of politicians implies that the role of "external predator" may also be assigned to the Latvian state, which is thereby perceived by Latvians as the "foreign", enemy who are to blame for the sufferings of the people.
This may sound illogical, but I encountered such opinions in a conversation with Olga, the middle-aged mother of one of my Latvian friends. Olga referred to the government as "our enemy". She told me that a recent incident in Latvia had demanded immediate political action. But as it turned out, none of the ministers could do anything. They were all abroad. Olga was a teacher, and she and her collegues agreed that the politicians might as well stay abroad, because "we don't need a government which is agains t us and not for us". She told me that ordinary people get by in spite of the government, not because of it. And in any case "they [the government] are not Latvians", she told me, "they are not part of the people, they behave like belonging to a different place, a foreign country". In her view, Latvians were once again being exploited and denied a free and prosperous life.
It seems to me that the Latvian national narrative defines "Latvians" as those who suffer under whoever reigns the territory of Latvia. The power wielders are not "part of the people", they are foreign. That goes for the Baltic "Germans" and "Russians", who lived in and ruled the territory of present-day Latvia for centuries: And, with the same flexibility with which terms like "son" or "brother" are used in classificatory kinship systems, "foreign" may pertain to the Latvian state today, which is classificatorily placed outside the national realm.
In sum, as the political landscape of Latvia-in-transition appeared to my informants, the market and the Soviet past were specific points of reference which had their own intrinsic significance. But they also "lent" their significance to the state. The state, the primary political Other of NGO activism, appeared to my informants as a composite image. Some parts of that composition were "copied" from other images: the greed and materialism of the market, the top-down power of the Soviet system. Others were universal to how civil societies see state power, such as democratic politicians' perceived lack of authenticity. These "parts" took on new meaning when composed into an image of the state, as when "pure" business greed became "impure" immoral state corruption. The entire composition, which rendered the state and its power understandable, was charged with meaning by being interpreted within a national narrative of suffering. Thus the Latvian state, which my informants were eager to confront as a part of their NGO work, became their main political Other, inauthentic, power-hungry and corrupt.
Gender rarely appeared as an explicit element of my informants' political landscape, but it probably strikes the reader that with few exceptions, all my informants were women. I will suggest a few ways that gender might play into the social divisions I have mentioned, and my informants' perception of themselves as political actors.
Some informants saw NGO activism as having a particular appeal to girls. On a summer camp I asked a young man, who had not joined Klubs "Maja" and never did, why there were so many girls and so few boys on the camp. He told me, in German which some Latvians prefer, that it was because girls liked activities which involved studying, whereas boys were more interested in sports, or hanging around "die Werkstatt".
The majority of the NGO activists being women, may indicate a gendering of the political landscape that I have mentioned, as an intensification of some of the ways that my informants identify with civil society. The transition to capitalism in Eastern Europe has had more appeal to men than to women (Kaznelson & Haue 2001), which could be a factor that supported the NGO activists' scepticism to market economy. Gender may also play a role in the NGO activists' scepticism towards party politics. The representation of women in the Latvian parliament is low, and when they have positions as Ministers, these are "soft" and "domestic" issues like culture and welfare (UNDP 1999:28). One barrier for East European women's political participation in party politics is that many have "a principal aversion to participate in what is often seen as a dirty game" (Kaznelson & Haue 2001). It makes sense that, rather than vying for state power, women would engage in civil society activism, which as I have shown is seen as a less aggressive, power-hungry sphere.
A "patriotic gendering" of NGO activism appeared in Anita's story about her encounter with "the young man" (see chapter 2.3). Anita saw men and women as having different roles in building and defending the nation. The young man she talked to proved his patriotism by declaring his readyness to take up arms and leave for the battlefield. But Anita said that she " as a woman could not go and fight with a gun", and presented NGO as her way of showing her "love for this country".
By working for Latvia's entry into the EU, my informants themselves gained access to European spaces. This happened when they travelled abroad, but "Europe" was also encountered in their everyday NGO life in Riga. They had access to exclusive fora, where they met foreign academics, politicians and diplomats. These people represented their own nation-states or the European Union, and my informants were fascinated by them. They were "like small islands of Europe" as one girl told me. Eva, who described herself as "a girl who loves everything international" , told me how she loved going to meetings with foreign diplomats who were "very interesting and attractive people and different from others". She mentioned a meeting with the Italian Ambassador, and with a flirtatious look referred to him as "very attractive".
My informants' perception of this international sphere may be described as a sensual desire or yearning for these people and the (often very fashionable) settings where such meetings took place.(34) These feelings seemed much less ambivalent than those that pertained to the state. Meetings with foreigners demanded less reflection and distancing.
This is not to say that there was no ambivalence at all. When one of the members of Klubs "Maja" told me that she might vote no to joining the EU, she referred with weariness to "all these politicians and smart people who come here and say the EU is so good". Fascination and admiration could turn into humiliation or indifference. Since Latvia applied to enter the EU, Europe has kept its eye fixed on Latvian society, constantly evaluating and commenting its level of progress. This eye was embodied in the omnipresence, especially in Riga, of high-status foreigners. For my informants, being exposed to this eye seemed from time to time to result in a longing to "hide" from its gaze, to withdraw to a national realm having an existence in and for itself, independently from external recognition. But since they also had the fundamental perception that "we cannot exist alone" and saw isolation as equal to extinction, such a national realm remained wishful thinking. So they entered NGO life, where they acquired the style necessary for a competent performance in front of the European eye.
Apart from moments of sceptical withdrawal, access to European spaces was mostly a source of pride and sensual desire, with everyday encounters that provided material for a personal story of growth and recognition. I proceed to consider such "positive" emotions and stories that pertain to meetings with the EU as well as the state.
NGO activism gave my informants access to exclusive fora, where foreigners with high positions in diplomacy or international organizations mingled with Latvians involved in politics, media or business.(35) Meeting these influential and famous people face to face was in many ways a rare and important opportunity, which sometimes gave access to "unofficial" political viewpoints as well as personal tips on contacts and procedures when applying for upcoming jobs or grants. There was also an organizational interest in approaching these people, as some of them worked for embassies or international organizations and foundations that were potential donors for Klubs "Maja".
So far in this chapter I have discussed my informants' experience of facing such people in terms of ambivalence, which allowed me to describe the layout of the political landscape as seen from the NGO activists' position, especially as regards their perception of the state and the EU.
In the rest of this chapter, I will focus on my informants' shared experience of achieving recognition as individuals. This happened at formal, public occassions and in personal encounters with people of high status, and in a broader sense, whenever my informants felt that such people recognized them as active, competent, and patriotic in the modern sense described in chapter two. Here I do not distinguish between the EU and the state. In positioning themselves within a social and political landscape as pro-EU NGO activists, the important aspect is that the fora they gained access to, and the recognition bestowed upon them, was exclusive and denoted excellence.
As I have said in chapter 2.1 and 4.3, referring to Arendt, my use of the term "recognition" denotes a basic human need to be seen by others, to appear to them as someone with a past, who is the agent of one's life and the author of one's history. I understand "excellence" as an intensification of the same existential dynamic. Ultimately, being present to others is a striving for excellence, for which "by definition, the other is always required" (Arendt 1958:49). "No activity can become excellent if the world does not provide a proper place for its existence", says Arendt (ibid), and makes one of her frequent analogies to life in the Greek city states: There, the life least prone to achieve recognition was that of the slave, who "lost excellence because he lost admission to the public realm" (ibid). He was not considered a human being, and his life had no public presence by which to remember it after his death. My informants seek a recognition which has an existential significance that is the opposite of the condition of the slave.
When I asked Nora what the best thing about NGO activism was, she told me about looking at herself in the mirror of the high status people, that she met in the course of NGO work:
Nora: I think that the best thing is experience, and the people you meet, because it is not like youngsters, they are… bigger, you know, larger people, some headmasters and something like that.
JL: What do you mean, "larger people"?
Nora: Just important, and with eh, what's it called - you know when you manage some project, you have to find some lecturers, and then you have to talk with a lot of people, not just youngsters. Directors of some institute or something like that.
JL: And you like that?
Nora: Yeah, sure!
Nora: Maybe just to prove for me that I can do it, that I can manage all these things. Actually [managing such things] is mostly done by older people, and you understand that you are only 21 and you can manage all these things, it's very - yeah, I like it, the feeling that I can do it.
Through her NGO career, Nora had gained an awareness of herself as accomplished. Within this awareness there were feelings of pride and a strong awareness of her generation. These elements also appeared in the following situation:
I accompanied Eva to a reception held by the European Movement upon the inauguration of their new offices. Eva had been invited on account of her position as president of the NGO. People in dark suits and chique dresses mingled in a hum of civilized clatter, holding glasses of champagne and small plates with hors d'oeuvres. We contemplated the fashionable crowd, and Eva told me who was who. In front of us were the Latvian Minister of Justice and notables from various EU institutions in Riga. I asked her how she felt about being in the middle of all this:
"You know, all these people are here and they are so famous and have power and, you know - but they are old. I'm only twenty and they have invited me to come here, it makes me think - how far can I go?"
In these two cases, Eva reflected on what a particular situation meant to her, while Nora contemplated her NGO career as such. Both girls measured themselves against people with high style and status, and experienced a similarity to them. Nora had the experience that "I can do what they do" and Eva that "I am here, with them". Both saw themselves as sharing a level of excellence with these people, and both experienced this with pride.(36) This feeling was rooted in their NGO activism, through which Nora accomplished her projects and Eva received her invitation.
Both girls also distanced themselves from the same people on the basis of generation. Their self-image of excellence and their feelings of pride lay not only in being able to do what "larger" people do, but also in doing what older people do at a much earlier age.
While the dynamics of recognition are the most important for the present analysis, in order not to present a lopsided account I will add that gaining access to exclusive fora also engendered feelings of anxiety. We have seen that the NGO activists were very observant of the physical apperance of the people they faced, and sought to ascertain their level of interest. They were similarly concerned about their own appearance. They told me about feeling nervous before going to a meeting, and being very conscious of their own appearance while at the meeting. They would think about whether they should dare to ask questions, and what to say, what people would think. They would ponder whether they were dressed in a proper manner for the occasion. When leaving home in the morning to go to the university, they would dress up more formally if the day involved going to a reception or a conference.
Above we have seen that when facing people of high social status, my informants alternated between stressing the similarity of excellence and the difference of generation. I will now proceed to outline the image of themselves that my informants construed in relation to the different groups and actors, who inhabited the social and political landscape of Latvia, and whom they encountered through their NGO life. Within this landscape, all groups and actors had a story or a style which offered some basis for shared identification, while on other points the NGO activists distanced themselves from them.
As we have seen, my young, high-status informants experienced a feeling of mistrust towards the state. So did Olga, who told us previously about her mistrust towards politicians, and who belonged to their parents' generation, and held a lowpaying teaching job with no status. Across the social gap between my informants and Olga, in terms of generation and social status, they could identify with an "us" and perceive as "them"any predator who deceived and exploited them, including the state. They could join in a shared mistrust and fear of the state, which they resisted by excluding it from the national realm.
This identification with "the suffering people" was possible but counteracted by my informants' experience of upward social mobility and belonging. In this regard, the identification with civil society was a "shifter"(37): It could denote purity and thereby a distance from the state, in which case it allied itself with "the people". But it could also denote being active, stating one's opinion in the public sphere, which implied a distancing, in terms of competence and democratic-minded-ness, from "passive" social groups.
"Passive" was often aligned with "rural" or "old". This was demonstrated when, a few days after my conversation with Olga, at the NGO I spoke to Andra. She worked with human rights education for boarding school pupils. Her goal was to make them proactive in relation to the system when their rights were not respected. Anonymizing my source, I told Andra about the conversation I had a few days earlier with the older woman, Olga.
I should add here some details that Olga told me about her background and situation, details which I passed on to Andra when we spoke later in the NGO:
While Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, Olga worked as an artist, and received a salary from the state that allowed her to live as an artist. Now she was a teacher, and felt that independence had not brought her much good. In a bitter voice she told me how the state was in all possible ways turned against her and her kind. There was no prestige to her job, and according to her "the state says that teachers are stupid people". As teachers' wages were extremely low, she would like to start teaching art classes in the evening on a private basis. But according to Olga, the state maintained a bureaucratic system that made it a very slow and expensive process to register a private enterprise. She referred to an existing " open education" program between Latvia and countries like Denmark, through which she could possibly attract some funds to start up her private teaching. But then she resigned and said that the state would either try to prevent her from using this program, or itself would take the money that was meant for her.
In Olgas words, the government had "a very nice game going" to keep people under pressure, weak and vulnerable. This was especially done, she said, through the poverty that the state brought upon people like pensioners and teachers. I asked if she belonged to a trade union. She said of course, but the head of it was a woman who also held this position during Soviet times, and she cooperated with "the system". Olga said that if she or other teachers were to go on strike, they would be attacked by their own trade union for acting immorally and not teaching the children. If she herself were to protest in any way, this would be registered and kept on file by the system, just like in Soviet times. I asked if they were really maintaining this system because they wanted to oppress people? "Of course!" she said, how could I believe otherwise?
I told Andra about Olga's story and her fear of the state as a "foreign" predator. Andra nodded, she was not surprised to hear such disillusioned opinions. But she also accused Olga of not doing anything about her situation. As a result of the Soviet period, Andra said, the older generation lacked the attitude necessary for turning their experience of discontent into action.
"Nobody thinks 'what can I do, how can I act, raise my voice?' That's how it is everywhere, including among school teachers. People don't believe in change, they only think that things will get worse if they try. That's wrong, you have to take initiative and ally yourself with people who feel like you".
Andra saw "the system" as something to be challenged, instead of turning away in fear and resignation. She agreed with Olga that many institutions in Latvian society did not support people or respect their rights. But from her perspective, Olga's fear of the system was unjustified, it was a leftover from Soviet times when the system really was against you. Olga's fear was a sign that she had not understood the extent to which things had changed, that she herself belonged to the past. And such fear led to passivity. I think that in their perception of the political landscape, my informants to a large extent shared Olga's view of the state. Their own life stories were not sad like hers, but they shared a social memory of suffering (see chapter 2.1). However, in contrast to Olga my informants were able to turn suffering into action. They did so by confronting the state, and appearing in public space as agents of national destiny.(38)
In Andra's critique of Olga's fear and "passivity", we see that with the active -versus-passive dichotomy, my informants distanced themselves from the worldview and lifestyle of other people. This distance became marked when the active-passive dichotomy aligned itself with other social divisions, such as the generation gap.
This moralizing, distancing dynamic was further intensified when social cleavages such as the rural-urban divide were added to the spectrum of divisions. In chapter 2.1, Anja complains about an EU-sceptical rural woman who was "emotional" and "egoistic", and refers to her as belonging to "a lost generation". In my informants' stories about doing EU information work, rural and old people embodied the tendency to "close off" that impeded Latvia's "opening up" towards European cooperation, and generally appeared as ignorant and passive.
In the following interview with Jelena, in her story about joining Klubs "Maja" and experiencing personal change, many of the social and political distinctions that I have mentioned came into play. I return to her story in chapter six.
Jelena was 17, she was born in Riga and had lived there all her life. Her mother was Latvian and her father was Russian, having moved to Latvia in his late teens, when the country was a Soviet republic.
JL: Why did you become a member?
Jelena: I wanted to make changes in my life, real, important changes. 'Cause I was completely another person a year ago before I went here. I was very shy, I just couldn't speak with people normally. I didn't know what to speak about, it was a problem really. And then I joined the club, and when I was in this summer camp, I really changed a lot after it. I don't know, it means very much, a lot of things. I really have changed, now it is not so hard for me to talk with people, meet new people.
JL: When you were younger, were you a member of any organizations, or is this the first time?
Jelena: No, I started with Klubs "Maja", and now I am also a member of the European Movement in Latvia, and I am working in a newspaper. So, that was a good start…
JL: Did all that come after joining Klubs "Maja"?
JL: So when you joined Klubs "Maja"…
Jelena: I became another person, I started to take part in different events, and so on.
JL: So what is the difference between you now and the person you were then?
Jelena: I feel that I am a better person now, because I have information, I think about what is happening in the world. I have more high-level interests, and it is important for me to be like that. Before, when discussing something, I would say not what I was thinking, but what my father or mother thought was right. But now I have my own opinion. It's more interesting to spend time with me now, because I am not shy, I can tell what I think, and my thoughts are more interesting.
JL: How did that change happen to you?
Jelena: By meeting the people in Klubs "Maja". I don't want to be a snob, but - here you are talking to people who are interested in something, not just in hanging out, going to discos, to drink and smoke and so on. They have a lot of information, they think about what will happen with us in the future and what can we do for it, they are smart… so it's interesting to be with them. Then you understand that you yourself, you can do something interesting, you can make some projects, meet interesting people that are in the government and speak to them. But when you live in another city like Daugavpils [one of Latvia's largest cities, situated in the Eastern area which is poor and dominated by Russian speakers], that is completely another society, where people just think about how to get money. 'Cause they are very poor, so they don't think much about this [the social and political issues she mentions above].
I have shown that being an NGO member implies "being active" and making a break with "passivity". As "passive people" are often old and rural, NGO life is also associated with youth and urbanity. But in themselves, being young and urban also denote a potential foolishness, and elements of decadence and risk. In Jelena's story, joining the NGO allowed her to rise above these negative aspects to urbanity and youth. She emphasized the positive qualities of being young and urban, the initiative, and a political enlightenment which implied that she was unpolluted by the Soviet past. Her story made a break with national and personal past. Her new friends were smarter than the friends she had before, and so was she, since her life in the NGO had taught her to have her own opinions and speak them. The fun she had with her new friends was a respectable kind of fun. Unlike many teenagers in Riga, they didn't go to the disco and drink or do drugs together.
In Latvia, civil society was seen as something "new" which demanded skills that were not taught in the Soviet period. This created an obvious association between youth and civil society. My informants identified with both. But we have also seen, for example in my interview with Anita (chapter 2.3), that my informants saw NGO activism as associated with patriotism, responsibility and competence. Thus, my informants presented themselves not only as young, but as excellent, as leading members of their generation.
Again we see the gap between activity and passivity coming into play. Their identification with excellence - when they refer to being "patriotic", "active" and "responsible" - counteracted other, more inclusive lines of identification: They rose above the "Latvian people", and they also broke with the "passive" among their own generation, by emphasizing the things they accomplished and the high-level fora that this gave them access to.
While my informants aspired for high social status, they also had ambivalent feelings towards the EU and the state, the "real" foreigners and those classified as such. And while the state and the business sector were active and modern like they themselves, they were active for the wrong reasons: to gain power and material wealth, which my informants distanced themselves from by stressing the moral purity of civil society.
Through NGO activism, my informants navigated the social divisions I have outlined, in a way that allowed them to see themselves as being active for the right reasons. To feel excellent among the young and young among the excellent. In their ongoing re-combination of identifications, I see a trajectory: They strove upwards in terms of social status, and inwards towards ever more exclusive spaces - but when they reached these fora, they sometimes faced a corruption, arrogance and power-hunger which they perceived with feelings of disillusioned mistrust, and turned away from. There was a movement towards the more exclusive, but counter to that, a regular " falling back on" the national realm, the common denominator of "Latvian people". It did not take long, however, before their search for excellence made them initiate a new round of social climbing, to rise above the passivity and moral decline that they perceived among their own generation. Moral purity, enlightenment, modernity, uncorrupted patriotism - it was their desire to find these qualities in others, and acquire them themselves, which configured the landscape of social and political groups that they saw around them.
In the previous chapter, I showed that my informants encounter various other political actors and social groups with feelings of mistrust, sensual desire, cultural superiority and moral purity. I then outlined the identification with, and distancing from, these various actors and groups by which my informants learn to see themselves as "civil society".
In this chapter I discuss my informants' life stories. In these, as we have seen in Jelena's story in the previous chapter, joining the NGO appears as a turning point. Central elements in these stories are the division between rural areas and capital, and between national and European space. In the previous chapter we saw such divisions aligning with others to constitute moral dichotomies and social gaps between various kinds of people. In this chapter, I discuss these divisions as narrative themes.
Arendt describes storytelling as the act whereby man "identifies hims elf as the actor, announcing what he does, has done, and intends to do" (Arendt 1958:179). Vieda Skultans sees the telling of narratives as the act of creating coherence: the narrator gains a presence to and recognition by others, by presenting them with a coherent story about his or her past. In the act of storytelling, the narrator interprets and partly molds past events according to the assumed expectations of the listener and of the narrative community with which the narrator identifies:
"[the narrative's] allegiances are not towards the past but towards other narratives. It seeks for connections and where it succeeds in making these we as listeners and readers recognize coherence" (Skultans 1998:xiii).
Storytelling is an act of becoming present to others, by presenting oneself as the agent of one's life. In Skultans study, many of her informants, the majority of whom are middleaged Latvian women, are unable to tell a story about events such as deportation in a way that includes themselves as an agent. When they fail to create coherence and agency, they experience a social isolation, an inability to make themselves present to others. Skultans shows the impact of political changes on the women's bodily experience, as they conceptualize their isolation as a nervous disease, neurasthenia.
Skultans also says that "many people with a terrible past do manage to author lives which give a sense of satisfaction and completeness" (op.cit:xii, my emphasis). It is not the amount of "actual" suffering undergone that determines people's illness, but whether they have the cultural creativity to author a life story, which is individual in the sense that it deals with the particular events of their life, but also shared and thereby connected to the public realm in that it uses themes from Latvian social memory.
Skultans shows that there is a strong potential, in a context of Latvian social memory, for individual life stories that touch upon themes of recognition and isolation, to refer metaphorically to national history (see chapter 2.1). In her informants' stories, themes of recognition and isolation conceptualize national destiny but also their own individual agency. Among her informants, those who are competent storytellers avoid illness by authoring life stories about returning, through their own agency, from suffering and isolation to enter the public realm. They author a story that expresses a "quest for recognition". In this way they inscribe their own life, the choices they made, the hardships they suffered and the risks they took, in the wider narrative of nation building that unfolds around them.
My informants tell stories about entering the NGO, becoming "active" and experiencing personal change. While they have not had personal experience of occupation and deportation, I argue that their life stories also refer to a Latvian social memory in which themes of recognition and isolation are central. They, like Skultans' informants, use cultural resources to conceptualize social change. I will now discuss these life stories in more detail. First I bring up the rural - urban theme, which I discussed in the previous chapter as a social divide, and which I will now analyse as a narrative theme about moving.
I met Annette on a summer camp which was her first with the Club, and a couple of months later I interviewed her. Many of my informants had moved from the rural areas where their childhood and early teens took place, to settle in the capital and enter university. So had Annette, in the time between the summer camp and our second meeting. We were sitting in a trendy café in downtown Riga, and she talked about the town where she lived before. The people there were poor, she said, and the boys in school were stupid and just wanted to drink. They had no goals in life. They walked so slowly around the streets of the town, doing nothing. Annette said that "my life will not go higher if I just go on the street and talk to other people. I want to be something - not more, but I want to understand".
She then recounted her first contact with Klubs "Maja". The NGO came to the local school that Annette attended, and organized a competition on EU-knowledge for everyone who felt like joining. It sounded like similar events I had witnessed myself: an auditorium decorated with blue balloons with yellow stars, snacks on the tables and a stereo playing pop music in the breaks.
Like virtually all of my informants did, Annette referred to herself as one of the most active students in school. When the NGO activists showed up with their competition, Annette said, "the boys who drink" thought they were "too smart" and that the competition was "boring". But Annette became interested. "When Klubs "Maja" came with this test, it was very unusual, because something like that never happened, so therefore I saw it and I filled it in," she said. A few months later, Klubs "Maja" sent her an invitation to join the summer camp.
In Annette's story, the NGO reached out for new members and she approached it, at a time when she was ready for something new. She actively tried out new possibilities because she wanted to leave the town, get an education and be surrounded by a different kind of people. Like Jelena, who said "I wanted to make real, important changes in my life", Annette presents approaching Klubs "Maja" as one of the steps she took towards a new kind of life. This choice set her apart from the other young people in her town: "Many of them are so passive…they don't see the world opportunities, the life opportunities" .
For many NGO members and other young Latvians I met in Riga, coming of age had meant rising above the rural, as a habitat and as a stage in their development. They saw the capital as a setting where they personally underwent an enlightenment. But they also went from being among the most active and academically gifted shool pupils, to the capital where there were rigid hierarchies in terms of status, style, wealth, and access to the system of tertiary education that they sought to enter at the highest possible level. They approached Klubs "Maja" at a time in their lives when they felt a need for new friends and new competences.
Having moved to Riga, Annette thought about her old friends who had stayed in her home town: "I just can't understand them anymore, we have no things to speak about. They think so small, they don't understand about the world and just need their small town". She said that in Riga you become a "more global person with a bigger view, and then you really see, what is this world and what is Latvia".
When my informants told me about joining the NGO or doing NGO work, moving was a common theme. For Annette, it was her move to the capital. Other informants moved as they travelled to political events and seminars around Europe, as part of their NGO work.(39) Eva (whom I accompanied to the reception in chapter 5.3) said: "I just love that international feeling, speaking in different languages. Tu parles Francais?" She told me that a few years ago, when travelling with her family to Paris, she felt she was being seen by people on the streets as "a poor Eastern girl". She described her fascination with the style of the Parisians, and with everything French and European, mixed with a sense of humiliation which was clearly an unpleasant memory.
Since then, Eva had grown and made the passage from "poor Eastern girl" to European cosmopolite. She now travelled a lot, mainly as part of her NGO work. I was often struck by how, when she brought up highlights from her NGO career, she dwelled upon East - West comparisons between herself as a Latvian and other people. She told me that she recently attended an international NGO seminar in Azerbaidjan, and showed me pictures from the trip. One was of a local monument commemorating the national independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, "Like we also have, it gave me strong feelings" she said. But while Eva was conscious of her and her hosts sharing a Soviet past, the trip also confirmed to her that she was a modern European, compared to them. The basis for this comparison was the NGO concept. "They [the local NGO activists] ask their government for permission all the time, I had to tell them that this is not really NGO". This seemed a pleasant memory as compared to her Paris fashion disaster. "Suddenly I was the European, I was looking at the East. I felt I had a way of thinking about NGO work, which had more in common with someone from Norway than these people from Azerbadjan". Clearly, Eva's travels in Europe had been significant in setting the East - West coordinates of her self-image.
We see that in my informants' life stories, moving somewhere often seemed to offer an experience of personal change. We can see Klubs "Maja" as a narrative community where people exchange stories of such moves. In the following, I will interpret stories about rural - urban moves, and about national - European travels, as expressing the same paradigm of moving and growing.
For organizational culture to have a mobilizing effect, "participants must believe that others feel or can be induced to feel similarly" (Fine 1995: 132). This belief, that others share one's experience, arises when a political organization works as
"a bundle of narratives, which when expressed within an interactional arena by participants strengthens the commitment of members to shared organizational goals and status-based identities" (op.cit:128, emphasis original).
Within Klubs "Maja" as a "bundle of narratives", my informants see their friends as having shared the general experience of moving and growing. The "bundle of narratives" comes into being as they exchange their own stories and identify with those of others. For example, in Jelena's story in the previous chapter, she referred to the Eastern city of Daugavpils, where according to her, people were uninformed and poor and therefore did not "care about" the political issues that the NGO members engaged in.(40) But she also told me that before joining Klubs "Maja", she had never actually set foot outside Riga. The country beyond the capital was entirely imagined to her.
While Jelena drinks tea and eats cake in the NGO office, she may listen to Annette's story, for whom the rural areas were the setting of her childhood. Annette has not been to Western Europe. But she can imagine herself going there, especially when listening to Eva, who tell her stories from global space while in transit between international events.
Taken together, my informants' stories describe a "hierarchy of spaces" (Gupta & Ferguson 1997), which they pass through in their coming of age from the Latvian village to the capitals of Europe. My point with stressing the existence of a narrative community, is that one particular member may not have a story that covers the entire hierarchy of spaces. But as people tell their stories to eachother, that which one imagines is somebody else's past, and that which one anticipates is lived right now by the person in front of one.
In the narrative community of Klubs "Maja", the NGO members' stories about becoming NGO activists, about growing up to face the new times and be part of the "return to Europe", expressed personal enlightenment in terms of movements. The were movements from the poverty-stricken countryside to the modern capital, and from Latvia to foreign, predominantly West European countries. In my interpretation, their travels around Europe appear as symbolic extensions of their move from countryside to capital. While for most young people, free travel to foreign countries in the company of good friends is a greatly valued thing, for my informants it became a particularly meaningful practice, as an extension of their own story of moving socially and physically from countryside to capital. Travelling to Europe became the ultimate experience of "this is me, this is how far I have come".
For the NGO activists, travelling further and further away seemed to appear as a measure of their development as a human being. When I remarked to Eva how fond she seemed of travelling, she said " Yes, maybe someday I will even go to Kosmos! Why not?". For her, not even the sky was the limit of her social climbing and personal growth.(41)
In their stories about moving, there was a tendency for my informants to recount their personal enlightenment as an ongoing appropriation of new, ever wider contexts. They felt that they went through an awareness raising, and started to understand the world of today and tomorrow. They attained a wider frame of reference for interpreting the signs they encountered in their daily life and the media. This was what Annette described, when she presented her move to the capital as a broadening of her view. In the city, she said, "you really see, what is this world and what is Latvia".
Eva's words about going to Kosmos represents an extreme example of this tendency. While I am not sure that Eva will ever actually reach the orbit, she did seem to rise through one context after another, even beyond European space. She went to Australia for an international Youth Convention, and after returning home, she told me about it. It had been a wonderful experience. On the one hand, there was the thrill of presenting herself to young people from all over the world, telling them that "I am from Latvia and that is in Europe". That felt very important to her, she said. On the other hand, she had the experience I am discussing here, that her perspective widened. During the convention, she met young people from Asia, Africa and all over the world, and they discussed global problems like famine, war, AIDS and pollution. Suddenly, she said, she saw Europe as a small and self-obsessed place, its problems insignificant from a global perspective.
In chapter 2.1 I analysed my informants' political worldview as based on seeing that EU accession "is happening". Their internationalizing gaze, as I call it, sees a global field of relations and processes which is connected to local objects and institutions in Latvian everyday life. When they inform people about the EU, my informants try to transmit their knowledge about this field on those who cannot see it. Extending that analysis in the present chapter, I see their stories of growing, moving and acquiring an ever broader view, as accounts of achieving the internationalizing gaze.
The acquisition of this gaze was not only connected to dramatic personal transitions from rural to urban, or spectacular international events like going to Australia. When in the previous chapter Jelena talked about her new friends, she said that she appreciated their company because "they think about what will happen with us in the future and what can we do for it". As she describes them, they have the internationalizing gaze. They care about the scenarios for their society that appear in a long-term, large-scale perspective. She also described them as "the kind of people who read only Diena", Latvia's most respected newspaper. This relates to my discussion in chapter three and four, of how a political awareness springs from everyday sociality: Rather than having an explicit ideology as their basis for political action, what distinguishes her new friends is an "enlightened style": the issues they speak about, the media products they consume and the way they choose to spend their time on voluntary work. Jelena acquires the internationalizing gaze, and enters a lifestyle of political action, by immersing herself in the style of this everyday sociality.
In chapter 2.2 I stressed that the knowledge about the world, which my informants saw themselves as possessing, was not only based on seeing what happened in the international realm around Latvia, but on living it in the lifestyle of Keane's "European civilians". What we see here is that everyday NGO sociality in itself was a setting, where abstract notions of international cooperation became tangible, also for those who had not yet enjoyed such international experiences themselves, but had heard about them in the stories of their friends. Klubs "Maja" is a Europeanized space, and joining was experienced and recounted by them as a turning point in their life.
As Jelena described her joining the NGO, it marked an "opening up" of her person, not only towards the people in the NGO, but towards society at large. She achieved an ability to be heard by people as a person who had an opinion, a position which she spoke from. Even in her family, she now asserted herself.
In chapter 2.1 I refer to Arendt on the ontological need to avoid isolation. People need to be seen and heard by disclosing themselves through public speech and action. Referring to Skultans, I also mentioned the quest for recognition and fear of isolation as central themes in Latvian social memory.
Skultans sees the narrative as a cultural practice that embodies, in the form of a lifestory, particular social constructions of agency. Joining Klubs "Maja" is in many respects a move that lives up to Latvian conceptions of competent agency, because it counters isolation. Jelena told us about being a competent agent in terms that have particular significance in a Latvian context: She is a person who has decided to open up.
Jelena said she joined the NGO because "I wanted to make changes in my life, real, important changes". She was authoring her story in a way, that made her opening up appear to be the result of her own choices. I see a general pattern in Jelena's narrative presentation of self: When my informants presented their embarking on an NGO career, and consequent personal changes, they presented themselves as agents of their own destiny.
In chapter 2.1, we saw how the metaphor of openness denotes enlightenment and sorts people who see reality from people who do not. The theme of opening up does not only mark a social division, but also runs through my informants' narratives. Moving to the city, acquiring a modern political worldview, being internationalized, learning how to be with other people, achieving the competences necessary for being seen and heard in public - these "victories" were experienced and presented by my informants as a process of opening up.
When we compare with other groups in the social landscape of Latvia, we see see how rare my informants' ability to see their own lives in this way is. Through NGO activism they gain access to a crucial existential resource: a social position from which they appear to the world as competent authors and agents. They are able to author the kind of life stories which a lot of Skultans' informants cannot tell: "Victorious narratives - in contrast to illness narratives - are characterized by symbols of belonging and recognition " (Skultans 1998:128). My informants' social and historical experience is far removed from those Latvians who conceptualize their past experiences and current social isolation as having destroyed their nervous system. In contrast to my informants, the latter see no possibility to change their own lives, nor can they muster the experience of belonging to a community where people share their story.
In terms of authoring victorious narratives, we are not only talking about a generation gap. As I have shown in the previous chapter, my informants sometimes identified with their generation, while at other times they broke with this identification to emphasize the "excellence" that they saw themselves as sharing with the higher echelons of Latvian society.
The contrast between my informants and other young groups becomes clear when reading Talis Tisenkopfs' article "Search for the center in a peripheral society: A case study of youth identities in Latvia" (1995), which compares the lifestyle and narratives of lower-class street boys in Riga with those of the young elite.(42) As Tisenkopfs shows, both groups share liberal and materialistic visions of the post-Soviet future, and values like "individualism, initiative, and activity", but are divided when it comes to formulating and implementing coherent strategies for realizing these visions. (op.cit: 18). Concerning one of his street-boy informants, Tisenkopfs writes:
"…he lacks coherent ideas of self, society, time and personal future. Valery is undereducated and socially unable to define any clear goal and action to break from his present status. An identity crisis and conflict with society are hallmarks of his self-image" (op.cit: 9)
The social gap between Tisenkopfs' street-boy informants and the members of Klubs "Maja" is obvious. The NGO is a viewpoint from which my informants see the transition of their society as a positive, necessary process, and look ahead to the future of their society and their life with hope. Of course, the reason why the street-boys do not have this positive outlook, has to do with the economic inequality and poor social policy of Latvian society. I am not suggesting that, in the face of such odds, the street-boys could change their stories and visions by joining an NGO like Klubs "Maja". Still, it is worth observing that the NGO is one of those places where my informants meet and internalize the coherence of "ideas of self, society, time and personal future" that street boys do not have. Europeanization appeals to "future-oriented narratives" (Borneman & Fowler 1997: 492), and so does Klubs "Maja" as a Europeanized space that points towards the person one might become, and the ways in which this goal might be attained. This can be seen in their narratives about growing as a person, and the way they anticipate a future life within the upper social structures of Latvian society and abroad.
The experience of personal development is probably universal to the career of most young NGO activists. And it is a general aspect in the lifestories of youth that movement "embodies freedom, independence and self-determination… growing up is interwoven with the need for self-determined movement" (Tully 2002: 20). But making these moves, and authoring a life story about them, has a significance to my informants that is specific to the post-Soviet Latvian context. Their "victorious narrative" tells of an enlightenment that takes place at the level of the individual as well as of society as a whole: by moving towards Europe, opening up, learning about the global forces that work on one's everyday life. In the context of post-Soviet transition, these are terms that describe the European enlightenment demanded of East European nations as well as individuals. When my informants told their life stories, these were terms by which they described their personal passages, characterized their friends and the activities they shared, and also provided an idealized account of the nation's accession to the EU.
Through their NGO activism, my informants build what I see as an interface with national history, which mediates between the political changes that Latvian society is undergoing, and their lives as a group and as individuals. They establish symbolic links between their life and the political process taking place in society, engaging succesfully in the Latvian quest for recognition. Joining the NGO is an act of "wresting control from the master narrative", it marks one's escape from the tragic pattern of Latvian history (Skultans 1998:59). It also marks one's entry into the public sphere, as performer and creator. This connecting-to society makes NGO activism valuable to my informants. They experience becoming, and being seen as, a moral and rational agent of the nation's destiny - and their own.
The NGO life my informants live and the stories they tell are possible ways of making sense of their society's post-Soviet transition and EU accession. My study of their political activism confirms Melucci's observation that the building of self is a central element in political work and mobilization (Melucci 1988:340, Melucci 1995).(43) I think that building a self-image in the way my informants do goes a long way toward explaining the attraction that NGO activism holds to them, and why it mobilizes them.
If NGO activism is so great, then why are not all young Latvians involved in it? If we take the street boys described by Tisenkopfs, it is common sense that even if they wanted to join Klubs "Maja", which I am sure they don't, they would encounter multiple barriers in terms of style and social background for doing so.
But even among youth who shared many social characteristics with Klubs "Maja", there was not necessarily a sympathy for them and their actions. My 20-year old friend Edgars, in whose house I stayed during my fieldwork, was at least as "westernized" as my informants. He studied mathematics at university, had lived in Scandinavia and worked for the American Embassy in Riga maintaining their computer software. He shared all the characteristics of age, ethnicity, urbanity and high education with the members of Klubs "Maja". He spoke the same languages and had travelled to many of the same places. But Edgars was definitely not an NGO activist. He turned my informants' activism and patriotism back against them, and complained that they were "so mainstream". The word "patriot" reminded him of middle-aged men getting drunk on independence day, yelling curses against the Russians while stumbling around with a Latvian flag in one hand and a beer in the other. He even criticized the idea of democracy, which for him evoked images of a small Swedish town he once went to, where you couldn't paint your house unless all the neighbours agreed to the colour. With his alternative, "independent" style in clothes and music, he looked like any young guy you might see on the street in Copenhagen. He never smiled, and detested as kitchy and shallow the NGO members' attitude of "smile to the world and it smiles back". He said that his friends used a hard language and cultivated an ironic humour, and were devoted to fulfilling their own satisfactions, with no trust in others or thoughts for the future. "I am not a patriot, and none of my friends are". He found the activists of Klubs "Maja" naïve in their uncritical belief in values, not because they were Western values, but because they were values as such.
Just as my informants' identifications and stories are one way of ascribing meaning to their social and historical context, Edgars' view of them is one possible reason why their way of life is not attractive to everyone. Among young people, nation building and voluntary work connoted a "mainstream" style that made it uncertain whether such activities were positive at all. And when my informants counteracted their generational identification by emphasizing activity, responsibility and patriotism, members of their own generation also turned their backs on them.
I have asked what mobilizes my informants to do pro-EU NGO work. What I find most important in terms of political mobilization, is that it is barely experienced as "political" but very much as an immersion into everyday sociality. By involving themselves in the company of their NGO friends, my informants partake in an outgoing political awareness. Pro-EU NGO work offers them a shared experience of creating something new: a post-Soviet public sphere, where the EU is symbolically present.
Thus I have argued against the modernist rationalism that sees political actions as motivated by long-term political goals, but also against the opposite tendency to see the enjoyment of face-to-face sociality as antithetical to a political awareness. Mobilization comes about because the orientation towards an "abstract" political realm is an element of "concrete" face-to-face sociality. Because NGO sociality is centered on the creation of public political events, an "inwards" movement towards the group goes together with an "outwards" movement towards the public sphere.
As I have shown, the EU is an object of ambivalent fascination. The EU has both positive and negative meanings, and these are not only distributed as divisions among "yes" and "no" groups among a voting population. They exist as doubts and ambivalent feelings within the individual as such, even among people who are active in voluntary pro-EU work.
Rather than being motivated by explicit ideological concerns, NGO activism satisfies an existential need to enter the public sphere. This need is universal, but intensified under post-Soviet conditions, where civil society offers a way of reconnecting the public and the private sphere.
In motivating pro-EU political activism, national history is also a strong element. I contribute to an anthropological understanding of European integration in discussing the existential significance of EU accession within a post-Soviet context. This significance a rises because EU accession is conceptualized as equal to recognition, and the opposite of isolation. In the Latvian national narrative of conquest and suffering, isolation is equal to unpredictability and danger. Isolation must be avoided by gaining a presence to the world, which arises with international cooperation.
As Eastern Europe enters the EU, new symbolic practices become modern forms of patriotism. NGO activism allows my informants to see themselves as "modern patriots" whose lifestyle is both radically modern and has a symbolic continuity with a national, social memory of past struggles for recognition.
NGO activism is meaningful to my informants because it allows them to feel a personal connection to the processes their society is undergoing. They become able to author coherent narratives about social and personal change which involve their own agency. The anthropology of post-Soviet Latvia shows this to be a rare existential ressource, which is denied those who are alienated from the transition.
Mobilization also resides in a personal identification with political processes. My informants tell their life stories in a way that shares central themes with the nation's history of EU accession. Openness is such a theme. It describes both the modern nation and the enlightened individual.
Movement is another theme. Partaking in international NGO work, my informants constitute their national identity by crossing borders and entering European spaces. This is an experience of lived EU accession.
In the NGO activists' life stories, getting involved in pro-EU NGO activism appears as a process of personal enlightenment. Through their NGO work, they gain access to European spaces, which is experienced with feelings of pride, anxiety and sensual desire. Many recount their joining the NGO as part of a personal move from village to capital, towards European spaces within Latvia and abroad. These narratives are meaningful in that their themes of enlightenment, of gaining access, of being in charge of one's destiny by choosing to open up, are parallel to an idealized history of the nation's EU accession.
Anthropology can contribute to our understanding of EU accession because it has a sensitivity to how people agree on "what is real". I have described pro-EU NGO activism as the acquisition of a particular "internationalizing gaze", which sees the realm of everyday life as penetrated by global processes. Anthropology can also conceptualize, as I have attempted to, the symbolic means whereby EU accession is made present in the public sphere.
In particular, anthropological fieldwork can show how the world displayed by such symbolism is, for the internationalized elites who do the displaying, a lived reality. By participating in the sociality of political activism, fieldwork shows that political actors live their ideological discourses as everyday, emotional and embodied experiences.
I can not judge the extent to which my informants' NGO work has a political or social effect, but I can conclude that in the attempt to change their society, they change themselves. The enlightened social life of the NGO is place where they acquire the ability to understand, criticize and perhaps influence the changes that their society is going through, while also benefiting from them. They are driven by concerns for their own future career, their enjoyment of everyday friendship, a fascination with places and people European, as well as a sense of duty towards contributing to the building of a Latvian nation within a European community. They are offered the experience of opening up and connecting to the world, and a lifestyle which provides an emotive, embodied confirmation that the "return to Europe" is a reality.
I have touched upon many questions that deserve further exploring. It would be relevant to see how political mobilization in Latvian civil society unfolds in a wider variety of settings, irrespectively of the EU factor, and go deeper into the moral experience of taking up political work. Some of the former members of Klubs "Maja", who were active in its founding, clearly had strong moral meanings connected to a life of activism.
It would also be valuable to hear about similar experiences from people who exert state power, or those who have pioneered the business sector. To ask them how they see the political landscape and acquire the competences they need.
A fuller anthropological understanding of EU accession would be acquired by comparing my informants' experience of EU accession with that of the social groups they face, such as the farmers. In order to understand how the EU appears from other perspectives, by people who relate to the Latvian national narrative.
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Web resources (all accessed November 22nd 2002)
Klubs "Maja" - Youth for a United Europe
JEF-Europe - Homepage
Latvian Statistical Agency
European Integration Bureau, Riga
The Baltic Times
policy.lv - Latvian public policy site
NGO Centre, Riga
Royal Danish Embassy, Riga
EU Commission Enlargement Research Bulletin
Central Europe Review
EU Parliament Enlargement site
1. In this thesis I refer to EU accession, which is a common term in political science and journalism. Many readers will be more familiar with the term EU "enlargement". But in my opinion the latter signifies a West European act of "admitting" and "taking in", whereas the former allows one to emphasize how an East European historical awareness orients itself towards the EU, and how individuals and groups gain access to European spaces.
2. EU membership for the East European "candidate countries" has been a topic of broad political debate in Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the formal accession process started a few years later: Latvia applied for EU membership in October 1995.
3. I mention two presidents of Klubs "Maja": Nora who was president when my fieldwork began, and Eva who took over the position three months later. All my informants' names have been anonymized except for the Director of the European Integration Bureau, whom I consider to be a public figure in the debate around Latvia's EU accession, and who understood that he would be quoted by name.
4. I have been involved in various kinds of NGO work involving international organizations and NGO-networks. Most intensely during an internship in the Danish United Nations Association in the Autumn of 1999, where I was working mainly with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
5. That the Soviet state allowed Latvian literature to reappear, along with Latvian dictionaries and academic work on the pre-historical Latvian tribes, may seem to counter claims of Russification. But what it points to is rather the complex interrelation in the republics between Soviet political power and national culture, the historical fact that Soviet policies came in "waves" (Grant 1995), and that a "thaw" within one policy sector would often be contradicted by the increased centralization of another.
6. Except for Jews and Tatars, "ethnic" classification of immigrated Russianspeakers refers to their nation of origin, or that of their parents. In censuses, a person's ethnicity is not necessarily the same as his or her native language, and is also independent from a third issue; whether the person has Latvian, Russian or no citizenship (Latvian Statistical Agency).
7. Ethnic composition aside, the rural-urban demography of Latvia is in itself dramatic: In a newspaper article, Latvia is referred to as a "one-city country" because 820.000 of the country's population live in Riga, with the second and third largest cities having no more than 120-130. 000 inhabitants (Jacobs 2002).
8. Many of my informants' practices and values, which they direct towards the EU, have a historical background in Soviet internationalism, in that "Soviet society may be regarded as a two-tier society: each person belongs to a national tradition and inherits its language, but at the same time that individual has the feeling of belonging to a far vaster community whose processes gradually threaten to engulf the frailer national cultures, chiefly because of their rural origins" (Kerblay 1983:49). Russian language and popular culture continues to plays a subtle role among young Latvians, also in their relations to other East Europeans. During an NGO project in Denmark, my informants and the present Estonians and Lithuanians had a lot of fun sharing references to Russian cartoons they knew from their Soviet childhood.
9. This may seem low, but it is not much lower than Denmark. In a Danish survey from 1998 "71% of youth [born 1975-80] can be characterized as politically passive… only 7% can be characterized as active. On that background, it comes as no great surprise that for example political youth organizations have difficulties recruiting members and activists outside very narrow circles, which are to a high degree dominated by people, who through their education are closely preoccupied with social and political issues" (Andersen 2000:152, my translation). Like the Danish activists mentioned by Anderson, the majority of my informants study political science or related subjects.
10. During the period of writing this thesis, these issues have been the subject of a tense trade-off between the EU and the applicant countries. The applicant countries have argued for transition periods, in which foreigners cannot purchase land in Eastern Europe. Some West European countries want to limit the right of East Europeans to get work permits in Western Europe, barring job migration. As this thesis goes to press, the major issue is the extent of economic support that East European farmers will receive after their countries join the EU, and how fast this support should increase to reach the level of the rest of the EU. The issue is sensitive because not receiveing full support can appear as a "second class" membership.
11. When I presented for my informants the observation that their travels signified an elite lifestyle, one remarked that not all NGO members travelled, and that when I went travelling with them, I was studying "the elite of the elite". I will add a few remarks to hers. One is that on a trip to Nice, two of the five NGO members who went there were new in the Club. Due to refunds from the European Movement, to members of Klubs "Maja" the Riga - Nice return trip with six nights of hotel accomodation cost only 525 FIM (655 DKK/ 88 EUR/ 50 Lats) which makes it relatively affordable (see note 20 p. 43 on student scholarships). Secondly, while the actual number of NGO members who travel may not be high, these trips have a large effect in constituting Klubs "Maja" as a Europeanized space. At the NGO office people's stories, and their pictures on the walls from trips around Europe, tell the members that an international NGO youth culture is within their reach (see chapter 6.4 on the organization as a "bundle of narratives").
12. These (inter)national identification processes are typical to EU-related social spaces, where European nationals interact over longer periods of time. Zabusky asks "are there people anywhere who feel European?", and describes how professionals working at the European Space Agency have at the core of their social life a "confusion of the national and the international". In a similar way to what I have described, their rituals involve displays of national food, and their humour is based on national stereotypes. Their "freedom to manipulate national tastes" allowed them to emphasize national grounded-ness, while simultaneously being involved in a European adventure that "liberated them from their national differences" (2000:194). Their way of being European and national at the same time shows many parallels to my informants' practices.
13. As Borneman & Fowler say, "Identifications are always marked by a fascination with the possibility of resembling or, in the extreme, replacing the Other" (1997:493).
14. This discourse is in accordance with the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which states that the "objectives of the Latvian foreign policy… all have the strengthening of the Latvian independence in common, which should be reached by integrating into Europe" (www.mfa.gov.lv).
15. Many of the European NGO activists belonged to national minorities such as Basques, Frisians, Cornish, Albanians from Serbia, Hungarians from Romania and Romanians from Hungary. My informants clearly had sympathy for the minority activists' attempts to gain recognition and autonomy, probably because of their own social memory of national struggle during the Soviet period. In the stories that people told in morning plenary sessions, there was a remarkable similarity in that both my informants and the ethnic activists documented the existence and history of their ethno-national groups with statistics about native speakers, and historical chronologies of conquest and struggle dating back thousands of years.
As Keane says about the European civilians: "They value nests, such as national identity, in which citizens are warmed and nourished and gain confidence in themselves. Yet they also recognize difference as a right and duty for everybody… They have an allergic reaction to nationalism, and deep empathy for people suffering discrimination or enforced exile from their cherished nations or identities" (Keane 1998: 110-2). This description captures the simultaneous internationalism and worship of local history and culture, of national or ethnic rootedness, among my informants and their European friends. My informants shared with ethnic activists the urge to avoid isolation, and the active attempt to make their culture and history known to the world.
16. Benedict Anderson describes how civil servants who travelled extensively in colonial empires were pioneers in forming a national awareness (1983:53). His concept of "the pilgrimage" seems apt in describing the meeting between my informants and their European "travelling companions ". In response to the question "Why are we…here…together?" (ibid), the consciousness of a shared connection to an imagined European community emerges. As Bellier & Wilson say, "What is at stake is the possibility for individuals to project themselves into and over the mental and geographical territories in which they were born, to imagine themselves as being in commune with other Europeans in affective associations which transcend the instrumental institutions and relations which heretofore have cemented the parts of the EU together" (2000: 22, my emphasis).
17. During my fieldwork I tried to contact Klubs 415 - the name seems to refer to the street number of its office - but my email was not replied to, and then I stopped trying, since for lack of time I abandoned my idea of comparing their stories with those of Klubs "Maja". I have recently read newspaper reports about them that confirm Klubs "Maja"'s accusations of nationalism. They were active in organizing a demonstration commemorating the Latvian soldiers who fought against Russian forces as SS-soldiers during the German occupation from 1941 to 1944.
18. At the time of writing, statistics show the Latvian population to be the most EU-sceptical among the "candidate countries", with 45% saying yes, 35% saying no, and an unpredictable factor in whether the largely sceptical rural population are going to cast their vote. Taking these numbers into consideration, the silent EU scepticism I met among people, who were officially working to join the EU, would be an important object of study in its own right. Clearly, my informants' concern about their continued national existence could lead them to feeling strongly both for and against the EU. As Wilson writes about the Irish, "national identity can be articulated as the rationale for diametrically opposed political actions" (Wilson 2000: 151), and Jenkins says about the Danes that "the arguments for a 'yes' reflected the same popular concerns as some of the 'no' arguments" (Jenkins 2000: 174).
In this thesis I use my observation of covert political dissent mainly to confirm that friendships among the NGO members foregrounded issues of EU-political opinion.
19. The coexistence of feeling good and doing good is even recognized by the UNICEF. In a report on youth in the post-Soviet transition area, on the subject of "youth participation in civil society", the UNICEF observes that "In these settings, young people can find platforms where their opinions can be articulated and expressed and where they can simply enjoy being young" (UNICEF 2000:110, my emphasis).
20. Latvian undergraduate students each month receive 8.50 Lats (1 Lat is the equivalent of 13 DKK/ 1.66 EUR, November 2002), with an extra 3-4 Lats awarded the best students by their faculty. Students who are not from Riga can request support for travelling to their home town, and can collect these refunds, a sum equivalent to their stipendium, without actually showing tickets. Graduate students do not receive anything (personal communication: Klavs Sedlenieks, Department of Sociology, University of Latvia).
During my fieldwork a beer in Riga cost 0.7 Lats, a meal 2-3 Lats. The monthly rent paid by students ranges from 20 Lats in hostels, to 70-90 Lats for a single room in a shared suburbian flat. Students can rarely afford to live in the centre of Riga. Among the Baltic countries, Latvia has the lowest general wage but the capital with the highest cost of living (Jacobs 2002).
21. I refer to my participation in this event in chapter 2.2 on European civilians and community nationalism.
22. Under references I have listed a JEF homepage for project E-day.
23. The suggestion was a little less farfetched than it sounds when one considers that at the time, the monument was entirely hidden by a wooden scaffolding because it was being restored in preparation for Riga's 800 years anniversary.
24. The reader will notice that I write "we", "us" and "our" in this chapter, especially when I describe the collective enthusiasm around organizing project E-day and "going public". In terms of participation, project E-day was a major experience for me. I experienced a rapid, short-lived commitment-building to the organization and the particular project, and this shows in my fieldnotes from this period, where "we" has been substituted for "they", or the plural "you" in conversation. This public "we" arose in a complex relation to a public "me", since at the meeting I am describing here, I took on the task of writing an English press release to The Baltic Times. The newspaper responded with a large article about Klubs "Maja" and project E-day, most of which consisted of an interview with me (Arklina 2000). Thus my own commitment-building was effected not only by going public as a part of the group, but also as an individual who represented simultaneously myself and "our" organization. I see my own experience as significant because my informants' stories suggest that they reach an important stage in their NGO carreer, when they experience "going public" as a representative of the organization. During their NGO career, and within the organizational universe of Klubs "Maja" as a whole, mobilization arises in the interrelation between the "we" and the "me"'s: The NGO activists see themselves as playing an individual part within the whole, realizing their (changing) personal interests and abilities and thereby contributing to a collective project. For reasons of space, I cannot elaborate on this argument or the case of my own participation, which involved a lot of subsequent events.
25. I describe such competitions in the introduction, and in chapter six in Annette's story about Klubs "Maja" visiting the school of her home town.
26. Terms like "sacred " and "profane" suggest a Durkheim'ian approach, and I will bring up Durkheim later in this chapter. I will not go into the sacred - profane distinction as such, but in my interpretation of project E-day as a representation of historical "force", idealized democracy could be seen as a "higher" order which is "sacred" in contrast to the "profane" political realities of Latvia-in-transition. When in the following I suggest that democratization is experienced by my informants as an "impure" stage between Soviet past and European future, that term is also inspired by a Durkheimian, namely Douglas (1966).
27. In creating a public sphere through their own presence, and also in living European integration as a lifestyle (chapter 2.2), we may see in Klubs "Maja" an instance of what Melucci calls the prophetic model of communicative action: political actors "carrying the message that the possible is already real in the direct experience of those proclaiming it… their chief message is that they exist and act" (Melucci 1996: 11).
28. Well, not all of us: Groups like Roma and nomads are not strangers in the sense that other nationalities or ethnicities are. They present a much more dangerous challenge to the basic ethno-national principle of territorially bounded collective identity. They are persecuted because they perceived as dangerous "dirt" in the sense that Douglas describes that which can not be classified. They are "slimy" as Bauman says about perceptions of the Jews. He sees the challenge of the "wanderer" Jew to the settled nationals as the main reason for the Holocaust, which should therefore not be written as a story specific to the Jews, but as an example of modern state bureuacracies' classification of human kinds (Bauman 1994, see also Herzfeld 1992).
29. I do not mean the state in a strictly defined sense, but a spectrum of Latvians in high positions: Government ministers and civil servants but also academics affiliated with institutions involved in state policy making. What defines them is that their power and status derives from the democratic legitimacy of the state, which requires the "dialogue" through face-to-face encounters with NGO's, such as those meetings I analyse here.
30. In an exchange analysis of my informants NGO work, it would be important that they mention a gain called "useful for my future". This clearly refers to job opportunities, and we could speculate that gains that approach the financial or material are legitimate if they derive from NGO activism, but are deferred to a later stage in one's life. Another interesting category, because it comes close to money, would be "reimbursements" of expenses for highly valued travel activities (Linnet forthcoming). There are two reasons why I am not analyzing my informants' activism in terms of gains and reciprocities: firstly, we are still faced with the question of why these "goods, material and symbolic… present themselves as valuable within a particular social formation" (Bourdieu 1977: 178), in this case what travelling to Europe signifies to the activists (see chp six). Secondly, any analysis of exchange practice runs the risk of committing a "teleological description according to which each action has the purpose of making possible the reaction to the reaction it arouses" (Bourdieu 1977: 72-3), which, as Schieffelin says, would lead us away from capturing the performative immediacy of practices like project E-day. An exchange analysis that avoided these traps would surely be valuable, but I have chosen other approaches for this thesis.
31. I am working with a quite simple typology of perceptions of social and political spheres, because my aim is to arrive at my informants' perception of themselves. I would think that popular perceptions of the business sphere are more sceptic that I can go into here. The word "business" also has the meaning of the Russian term "biznes", and thereby has connotations to the mafia. Many people in Latvia, Russian-speakers and Latvians alike, see the asociality and brutality of capitalism as embodied in the style of the "Russian biznes men" (e.g mafia) who drive around Riga in fast, shiny cars (Rosengaard 1998). Like politics has dirty associations to corruption, so does business in its meaning of organized crime.
32. "Cash in an envelope" refers to the practice of handing over to an official a moneyfilled envelope. This payment "circumventing official accounting procedures" may be regarded as a bribe, or as a fee for services rendered that avoids taxation (Sedlenieks, forthcoming).
33. If we use the metaphor of "democratic trinity" (Larsson 2002) to conceptualize the relation between civil society, state and market, we could say that in the case of state corruption, the trinity collapses. Civil society instead faces an unholy hybrid, driven by market greed but armed with a state monopoly on violence.
34. One could interpret this desire as an encounter with magic. According to Sørhaug (1996), magic always promises to restore unity. So do the rhetorics of EU enlargement (see chapter 1.2). The analytical connection to desire arises with Sørhaug's observation that the magical restoration of unity is an "applied erotics": the attraction to EU representatives is based in the EU's promise to restore unity.
35. A basic reason why they could achieve this access was that Latvia is a small country, with a small elite. Compared to the US, China or any large nation, a young Latvian social climber, or a visiting foreign researcher, can gain access to the highest social levels with relative ease.
36. Löfgren (1999) shows that by crossing boundaries we experience categories such as "home" and "abroad" on a sensual, bodily level, as we face otherness. Abstract political concepts and large-scale social processes become an emotional experience and an orientation towards style. He shows that one particular emotion, "nationalized" anxiety, dominates people's experience of border-crossings, because in such moments they perceive themselves solely as national. My informants cross boundaries in a literal sense when they travel, and in a metaphoric sense when they dress up in a Chanel suit to step into Riga's European spaces. In these occasions, grand, abstract questions about national destiny, and visions for one's own future, are intertwined and made concrete as an awareness of appearances.
37. According to Gal, in linguistic analysis the concept of "shifter" denotes terms which "do not have single fixed meanings but change their valence and content according to the context of use" (Gal 1991:444).
38. I am aware that the difference between Olga and Andra in terms of trust and courage does not only have to do with generations, that is, social layers defined according to their differential experience of particular historical events. What we see here is also "simply" an age gap, an expression of the tendency for young people to orient themselves, more than the elderly, towards the future (Melucci 1996, Leccardi 1999). Because I analyse the interplay between my informants' post-Soviet historical experience and their everyday life, I focus more on generations than on age.
39. Regular travels around Europe were mainly undertaken by those with long-term experience of NGO work, but not only. I took part in a trip to Nice, to demonstrate during the EU summit in december 2000, on which two of the five Latvians were new members.
40. I am talking about rural - urban passages, but Daugavpils does not actually qualify as rural. Perhaps it would be more precise to say that anything outside the capital, except perhaps a few rich cities like Ventspils, is perceived as totally "offline" compared to the concentration of knowledge, capital, style and contacts of the capital. Mentioning Daugavpils as a place where people are poor shows how the perceived desolation increases eastwards.
41. I spell Kosmos with a K, because it makes sense that Eva would use the Russian word for outer space as a metaphor for her own achievements, and a way to visualize a victorious and succesfull life course. I believe that her use of the term had symbolic resonance with the imagery, whereby the Soviet state glorified the space exploration that was one of its highest achievements. Remarks such as Eva's suggest that the internationalism heralded by Klubs "Maja" has symbolic continuities with the Soviet period.
42. Tisenkopfs studies the business elite, who would probably place money a in more central position than my informants do. But beyond their different conceptions of morality and material wealth, both elites share an ability to author their own life story, and build their visions for their future, according to the enlightenment paradigm that describe the changes happening in their society.
43. The articles I have referred to by Melucci (1988, 1995,
1996) and Fine (1995) are about "social movements". This concept could be applied
to Klubs "Maja", but only by opening up a comprehensive academic debate that
I will not go into here.