The Days of the Barricades
Twenty years ago this month a phenomenon took place here in Latvia that is known as the Days of the Barricades (www.barikades.lv). It was a time when “citizen soldiers” erected barriers around the parliament building in the old city and were ready to battle tanks with their bare hands. It was a time when the people of Latvia felt more united than ever before.
Patriotic feeling all across the Baltic’s had been rising since the late 80’s. The tiny Soviet occupied states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were growing bolder and bolder in their attempts to gain freedom from the USSR. Needless to say, the Communist Regime was not pleased. While the world’s eyes were turned to the War in the Gulf, Moscow made its move. In Mid-January Soviet troops stormed the TV tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. Fearing the same would happen in Latvia, ordinary citizens flocked to Rīga to stand guard at the parliament building, radio and TV tower. No one really knows how it started. People went to work in the morning as usual on January 13th, but by the afternoon were driving by the busload to the capital to defend a freedom they didn’t even have yet, and to preserve a hope, they could only dream of.
This week as we here in Latvia remember the events of 1991 I’m left with questions unanswered. What happened to those dreams and hopes? In some ways these hopes and dreams have come true – Latvia is free and independent once again, a member of Nato and the European Union. It has once again joined the West and embraced its culture to the extreme. But in many ways the hopes and dreams of those days have been left unanswered, unfulfilled. The unity of those days is lacking. The hope of a brighter tomorrow is dimmed.
Perhaps the answer is in the atmosphere of those days themselves. From what I’ve been told from eyewitnesses – there was a feeling of self-reliance in those days, that each and every person had a job to do and a responsibility to be there.
Fix it for me
Many times in the past and present of Latvia’s history our people have looked to others to come and solve the problems for us. In the Soviet times everyone waited for what Moscow said. Today – it’s Brussels. But then, those days in January the people knew that no one would save them. Not Europe, not the US, no one. Either we do it or no one will. Maybe that’s what’s missing from our mentality today. Nothing in this world that’s worth having will be handed to you on a silver platter. Personal responsibility and accountability go hand-in-hand with true freedom. The sooner we come to realize this the sooner we’ll come to understand the meaning of the Days of the Barricades.