Pavel Pjatakov: Mural by Kristians Brekte, Riga, 2021 (Unsplash)
According to Article 166 of the Criminal Law, Brekte could face up to three years in prison for his mural, becoming the first artist in post-1991 Latvia to face substantial criminal proceedings driven by political grievances. The controversey has been enflamed by the depiction of silhouettes of naked women with a glowing quote from Skulme—”We are all earthworms who must dig through the ground”—a pledge to uphold a healthy civil society by constantly probing uncomfortable truths and contributing to societal good.
Even with a fluctuating but omnipresent populist force, it is unlikely that Stabilitātei! or any other political party will succeed in next year’s parliamentary elections. With the crumbling of KPV post-2018, populist parties are now growing cautious about their prospects of gaining power and, more importantly, maintaining it if elected to the legislature. Popular opinion and electoral results in a politically divided country like Latvia will almost always guarantee that a rainbow coalition, rather than a consolidated one, will remain in power. Latvian voters have clearly established the country’s many centre-right and centre-left parties as their prime electoral preferences for years, stalling any prospects of a marginal radical party suddenly usurping power.
However, Latvians will still need to remain vigilant. As shown by the experiences of their neighbors, populist takeovers do not happen in a matter of days, weeks, or months. They often start with an insigated conflict between political groups, a hostile media takeover, or an antidemocratic judicial reform.
Art, it seems, has become a new venue for populists to build their power, proliferate discord, and sow the same divisions that once brought Poland’s and Hungary’s civil society to its knees.