Latvian Earthworms


Pavel Pjatakov: Mural by Kristians Brekte, Riga, 2021 (Unsplash)

From Harvard International Review:

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.

“Earthworms and Breasts: What Controversial Art Reveals About Political Polarization in Latvia”, Ricards Umbrasko, Harvard International Review

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