Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Eastern Europe

Adelina Marini, September 5, 2005

Media are basically an indicator for the maturity of a society. Probably you will be surprised to know that Latvia is actually a very European country. The progress which this little Baltic country has made for the last 12 years is enormous. But still it is interesting to know what the situation with media is and is Latvia really that mature democratic country as it seems when watching the quite and clean little streets? Here is the opinion of the media sociologist Sergeys Kruks: - After so many and diverse impressions, meeting the specialist of media sociology Sergeys Kruks, who graduated the Sorbonne and is known as the brilliant representative of the new generation of intelligence in Latvia, I think was absolutely necessary. I needed to know a little bit more about the success of Latvians and it happened so that I came across …. Let’s say a nihilist. For him everything was mainly black and bad rather than nice, as I saw it. So my first question was what’s the situation of media today?

SERGEYS KRUKS: Media need a civic society because this is what they are – media is the mediator between someone and somebody but we have a very week civic society, which is the reason for media to play a very specific role in it. Sometimes they just present government events and practically don’t know what is going on in the civic society. The journalists, on the other hand, also don’t have a clue how to present this lack of civic society – they are just individuals with their own personal problems. We still cannot get organized in something like a social movement. There are rudiments though.

- What do you mean by a weak civic society? Unwillingness of people to participate in social life or?

SERGEYS KRUKS: Exactly. We don’t have this tradition of participation and people have been for too long afraid to express their individual point of view and this is clearly seen in the political transition in the last 15 years. Because everyone believes that the previous soviet regime is wrong and justified and that it was necessary to be replaced and for us to have a democratic society.

- Do you think that this is a problem only of our countries which develop as democratic?

SERGEYS KRUKS: Yes, this phenomenon is observed in most post-communist countries.

- What can we do to overcome this disadvantage or this is a natural process which we have to get used to?

SERGEYS KRUKS: Yes, this is a natural process in which people have to realize themselves and to understand that it is much better to have a feeling of solidarity, to act together and not to tempt to corrupt politicians just to get what they want.

- In my country (Bulgaria) I can divide journalists into basically three groups – the first journalists-idealists who believe in the main aim to be mediators and to help people. The second group – journalists who think that being a journalist is a very big carrier achievement and this is most important and the third group – people to which this is just a job as any other job. How is the situation in Latvia?

SERGEYS KRUKS: A good example which might respond to your question is that here we don’t have a journalistic union. In fact we have but it’s just a remnant of the soviet trade union. Actually we do not have any journalistic activity; we don’t have courses, meetings, debates where we could discuss events from the past week, for example. We don’t have a common understanding for the code of ethics, for journalists’ behavior and this is because our journalists have overestimated the role of the market as well as their financial freedom from the state. Even this, I think is the most important that they believe they the journalists are free and independent if their media is independent from the state. But this is not true because they are dependant on the owners of the media who follow their own economic interests. Journalists don’t understand both that they have obligations to the society and they are not just informers of some particular events. They have to shape the society, to communicate and to fulfill their social function. Let’s take as an example the comments and analyses that are published – they are a rudiment of an action.

- But here we face a paradox – whatever we do we can’t make people who are not interested in the information to start listening to the radio or watching TV, reading papers. What can we do then?

SERGEYS KRUKS: This is what I meant in the beginning of our conversation – the lack of civic society. While people can solve their problems by themselves, they don’t need media. Maybe this explains the high level of corruption in this country – the visible high level of corruption because since the Soviet time we know that we don’t have the legitimate right to do a lot of things, but if personal contacts, corruption, relationships can solve our problems, then this is ok. One of the gravest inheritances from the soviet times is that we still haven’t learnt what does the universal principle of law means. We learnt the individual approach – I cannot solve all my problems but I don’t care.

- You just touched a very sensitive issue, especially at home, in Bulgaria. People do not trust in laws, in rules. I explain this to myself with a somewhat pervert vision of freedom which turned into something monstrous – we call it excessive freedom. And we always find the most brilliant explanation – I was forbidden to do that for years.

SERGEYS KRUKS: One of the most popular sayings here in Latvia until recently was an inscription in the hall of the Council of Ministers – “One law for all” – this is something which Latvians are trying you achieve but still fail. And here, I will mention again the helplessness of media because if I don’t accept the universal rules, then I don’t need the collective, social support and therefore I don’t need media.

- At this point Sergeys told me about the practice, especially in the country, local authorities to be bribed for issue of licenses, permissions and things like that instead of creating a social movement or provoking public debate. The individual approach is much easier. I myself am not inclined to believe in all this and I explain to the media sociologist that during my tour through Latvia I saw real progress which couldn’t have been possible with such a level of corruption as he’s saying. Besides there is a visible change in mentality. Sergeys told me about his conversations with local journalists who don’t publish the so called successful stories, especially about the European money. Of course he refused to debate about the scale of the problem but for him the phenomenon was real. Even if so this still results in a visible positive result, isn’t it?

SERGEYS KRUKS: There are tactical and strategic results. If we take the tactical the Soviet Union also had tactical success in economy but did Stalin manage to modernize his country, to industrialize it, make it especially in military terms a superpower? We learned how not to obey laws, that the state usually is unjust because everything is done with some secret thing in mind and so on.

- Here we come to that more philosophic area – the problems in our countries happen in the same time with global changes like globalization, economic and political merges.

SERGEYS KRUKS: Yes, probably because we have to solve a double problem – to fight with global challenges and in the same time to solve our little local problems. At the moment these are brand new problems for western democracies which we have admired for such a long time. On the other hand, these processes of modern change are the result of hundred year’s evolution. For us it is even harder because we have to compress this evolution and accomplish it for 10-15 years. One of the problems in this regard is that vision of freedom for which you also talked about – the lack of whatever form of control which in western understanding means freedom of initiative and conscience and everyone knows the limit of his freedom.

- Let’s take a small example. I see that here people do not litter because they know that garbage should be thrown in the bins and they also don’t want their streets to be dirty. This is a form of freedom – you might like dirty streets but I don’t so you shouldn’t intervene in my freedom to have clean streets. This is why rules had been invented. With this example I challenged Sergeys who momentarily argued that Paris, for instance, is not clean at all. He said that the issue with littering is that in Paris, as the authorities cannot force tourists not to litter, they have created a perfect system for cleaning of the city which we don’t have in Latvia. Latvia is more or less a northern country and problems occur when snow begins to melt. In winter it is difficult to clean garbage because of the snow. Sergeys told me the following story: In 18th century Berlin was a very dirty city. The then Kaiser decided to created something like KGB – a small patrolling group which toured the streets and threw garbage on the street back in people’s yards. Thus he taught a lesson to all those citizens not to litter the streets. Sergeys is convinced though that cleanness is not an indicator for democracy. Probably it is a combination of ideology, education, public behavior. Maybe explaining to our children how all of us should behave is a good solution. The approaches for educating the nation are many and media are the tool for creating an atmosphere of intolerance towards a socially irritating problem.

- I decided to give another example to Sergeys – aggressive driving. This is how he responded:

SERGEYS KRUKS: For people in Eastern Europe it is very important to look masculine. For example a proof of such muscularity is this denial of rules. I am a real man if I don’t obey rules on the road. I drive like mad in the streets and thus I proof that I’m a real man. We had big problems, especially on holidays, when people drive drunk with high speed and we had a very big black statistics. Then the influential newspaper “Diene” started a campaign against mad drivers. This was in the end of the 90-s and little by little the image of the good driver appeared – the one who gives advantage of pedestrians, who obeys laws. And mad drivers were defined as stupid, simple and criminals. At the end certain atmosphere was created which, together with respective amendments in the law created this intolerance on Latvian streets that impressed you so much. We also had a hot line and everyone could call and report disobedience to rules.

I argued that maybe we cannot achieve what in Latvia people did because we have a big problem with corrupt traffic police. He told me that this is not a specific Bulgarian problem and offered the following solution – don’t take anything for granted, talk about it constantly. Here I put an end to my conversation with Sergeys Kruks, media sociologist and very interesting person, hoping that one day someone would come to Bulgaria and we will be able to tell him about all our problems in Past simple tense.