Drawing on Norbert Elias’s writing and sociology of emotion literature, this study proposes viewing neoliberalization as a “civilizing process,” which is enabled by politics of shaming. By tracing two streams of protests triggered by neoliberal transformations—by farmers and schoolteachers—in the 1990s and how they were handled by the ruling elite publicly in the mass media, this article finds that, in post-Soviet and neoliberal Latvia, in moments of tension between the state and society, rule occurred through a politics of shaming that utilized three instruments: the neoliberal ideology of a good citizen, essentializing language, and dividing language. This article contributes to the post-Soviet studies’ scholarship, the growing body of scholarship that explores relationships between neoliberalization and emotions, as well as social movements literature.
This article seeks to highlight the emotional mechanism that ruling elites rely on to establish neoliberalism in their societies. There is vast literature exploring the genesis and shaping of neoliberalism as an elite project (e.g., Harvey, 2005; Birch & Mykhnenko, 2010), as well as exploring the global spread of neoliberalism by such international organizations as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) (e.g., Robinson, 2003; McMichael, 2008), as well as the European Union (EU) (Lütz & Kranke, 2014). Broad scholarship focuses on neoliberal subjectivities, or how people are socialized in neoliberal norms (e.g., Read, 2009; Wacquant, 2010; Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald, 2016). Recently, literature increasingly explores emotional underpinnings of the neoliberalization process. Scholars not only analyze the “affective context that precipitated” the rise of neoliberalism (Gammon, 2013, pp. 518–525) but also explore the emotional dimension of the formation of neoliberal subjectivities (Hoggett, 2017), particularly so from the perspective of governmentality studies (e.g., Kiersey, 2014; Voelkner, 2014; Pultz, 2018). This study, in turn, focuses on the ruling elite as an agent of socialization in neoliberalism and the emotional aspect of this agency. By examining the ruling elite’s public responses to protests in post-Soviet Latvia, I found the ruling elite used politics of shaming to discipline people into neoliberalism. Theoretically, I draw on Norbert Elias’s “civilizing process” and sociology of emotion literature. Stimulated by Elias’s writing, I propose to see neoliberalization as a “civilizing process,” which is enabled by politics of shaming.
Latvia is an exemplary case to examine the introduction of neoliberalism because the establishment of neoliberalism in Latvia and two other Baltic States—Lithuania and Estonia—is theorized as the most radical among other Central and Eastern European societies (Bohle & Greskovits, 2007; Aidukaite, 2009; Sommers, 2009). All three Baltic countries were more market radical and less welfare-oriented (Bohle & Greskovits, 2007, pp. 443, 449; Aidukaite, 2009). Throughout the 1990s, the state-defined minimum wage in Latvia remained significantly lower than the state-defined subsistence-level consumer basket (Central Statistical Bureau, 2021a, 2021b).1 Based on the Latvian Household Budget Survey 1996, “67% [were] poor, taking the value of the crisis subsistence minimum as a yardstick” and “40% of the population [were] poor” if “the minimum wage poverty line” was taken as a yardstick (Gassmann, 2000, p. 5).
Vast scholarship from various parts of the world demonstrates that neoliberalization efforts were usually faced with popular resistance. Despite well-founded reasons for economic grievances caused by neoliberalization, Baltic citizens and labor generally have been characterized as having low protest activity against introduction of neoliberal policies in the 1990s (Bohle & Greskovits, 2007; Vanhuysse, 2007). This characterization seems paradoxical since successful social movements led to independence from the Soviet Union (Karklins & Zepa, 2001). The literature also suggests that subsequent to the 2008 crisis, when Latvia and Lithuania finally faced austerity protests (Barry, 2009), this was seen as the exception and not the rule (Park, 2015). Although protest activity against neoliberalization has been characterized as low, Latvia has high emigration rates. It is reported that since 2000, 10.9% of the population have left Latvia to live and work elsewhere (Hazans, 2015). Some scholars, influenced by political economist Albert O. Hirschman, have declared Latvian emigration as an “exit” from unsatisfactory state–society relationships in the context of neoliberal austerity (Sommers, 2009). Surveys persistently show low levels of trust in the Latvian government and parliament. In 2004, 28% of Latvians trusted the government and 20% trusted parliament, whereas by 2009, only 12% trusted the government and 9% trusted parliament (European Commission, 2009). This was one of “the highest distrust percentages in Europe” (2009, p. 8). Trust levels are even worse among Latvian emigrants in England: in a recent emigrant survey, 61% expressed 0% trust in their state (Kaprāns, 2015, p. 118).
Although the literature conveys that there was a lack of protests against neoliberalization in the 1990s (Bohle & Greskovits, 2007), newspapers of the 1990s, or the times when neoliberalism was introduced, explore how various groups raised their concerns through state protests. People from various economic sectors protested about declining wages and low public funding for the health system, schools, and agriculture (e.g., Gefters, 1991, p. 1; Priedīte, 1994, p. 2; Piketā pie Saeimas pulcējas mediķi, 1994, p. 1; Dmitrieva, 1994, p. 1; Karklins & Zepa, 2001, pp. 341–342). People also protested against the privatization of telecommunication services (Mednis, 1994, p. 2). Certainly, it is debatable what would count as enough protests against neoliberalization and what would count as a lack of them, but in this article, I want to show that there were such protests and, based on the newspaper accounts, explore how the ruling elite responded publicly to them. I particularly trace two streams of protests—those by schoolteachers and those by farmers in the 1990s.
Drawing on David Ost and Norbert Elias, I first analyze the role of emotions in elite shaping and behavior and situate it in the context of neoliberalization more generally and in post-Soviet Latvia specifically. Then, I theorize the politics of shaming as an important mechanism the ruling elite rely on to establish neoliberalism. This theoretical discussion is followed by a data demonstration and conclusions.
The Ruling Elite, Emotions and Neoliberalization
Emotion in the Formation and Power of the Ruling Elite
A decade and a half ago, Ost (2004) stressed that social science literature tends to view emotions “as a problem power has to deal with” but not as “something power is itself intimately involved” (p. 229). Ost problematizes that emotions in political sociology and particularly protest movement literature are mostly attributed to irrational masses or citizens as opposed to rational elites. By contrast, he theorizes how ruling elites use emotions both to gain power and to remain in power. He particularly proposes anger as “the emotion central to politics” (p. 230). From the perspective of conflict theory, he argues that the ruling elite construct an enemy to channel its constituents’ anger at. This enemy is constructed as the cause of constituents’ grievances. Ost (2005), for example, finds that in post-Soviet Poland, anger was used by the ruling elite to disrupt solidarity among workers by dividing them along noneconomic lines. A long time before Ost, Elias (2000 ) underlined “the structure of fears which is experienced as shame and delicacy” (p. xiii) as central in the shaping of the ruling elite and its standards of behavior and gradual normalization of these standards among other strata.
In The Civilizing Process (2000 ), Elias uncovers how elites’ standards of behavior were consolidated and homogenized historically in the modern West and how this process was intimately related to emotions or what he calls “the psychical process of civilisation” (p. x). He traces how, in post-medieval Europe, the behavior and manners of court society were standardized. According to Elias, this standard was also based on a certain psychic structure, particularly “the feelings of shame and delicacy” (p. x) or a “threshold of shame” (p. 414). Those nobles, and with time the bourgeoisie as well, who wanted to belong to court society, followed these manners because of fear of losing their upper-class status by doing something regarded as shameful. Such standards were internalized and became a reference against which court society members monitored and disciplined themselves. Courtly standards of behavior and the associated “threshold of shame” were subject to social change. As social conditions changed, standards of what was considered good as opposed to shameful behavior advanced (e.g., 2000 , pp. 174–175). Gradually, parallel to the processes of state formation as well as international communication, such courtly standards of manners spread and homogenized across Europe (2000 , pp. 189–190).
Importantly for this study, with the rise of capitalism, formation of states, urbanization, increased division of labor, and resulting mutual interdependence among people, standards for good behavior became even more important, among not only the upper strata but also the lower strata of society (e.g., 2000 , pp. 368–384):
Usually under heavy social pressure, members of the lower strata grow more accustomed to restraining momentary affects, and disciplining their whole conduct from a wider understanding of the total society and their position within it. Thereby their behavior is forced increasingly in a direction originally confined to the upper strata. (p. 381)
Thus, if for Ost, the ruling elite made people support their politics through strategic construction of anger against a concrete enemy, then for Elias, people from various strata became complicit to the rules of conduct and ways of thinking of the dominant upper classes as a result of broader social change and the rules of conduct or culture this change demanded from the upper classes to frame.
Yet, when Elias further explores how such a civilizing process or homogenization of rules of conduct, consisting of social and emotional processes, increasingly took place not only in the West but also in “the rest of the world” (2000 , pp. 381–386), he argues that it was not only the result of a historical tendency toward increased global interdependence (2000 , e.g., pp. 381, 384), but also a result of historically shaped power relations and ambitions of the Western ruling elite (p. 446). Such homogenization of the rules of conduct and ways of thinking ensured the stability of international and national power hierarchies.
At first, non-Western ruling elites internalized Western standards of conduct as their own and later socialized in these standards the lower social strata in their societies (2000 , p. 384). Elias found that non-Western elites in this process were guided by the anxiety of not looking good in the eyes of the more developed and powerful West (e.g., p. 446). If Norbert Elias is right that a certain “threshold of shame” played an important role in the “civilization process” or homogenization of behavioral standards across the globe, then we should also be able to see neoliberalization in such terms.
Neoliberalization as a “Civilizing Process”
Following Elias, in order to understand how ruling elites across the globe got socialized in neoliberal conduct, as well as further socializing the rest of their citizenry, it is necessary to underline the cultural dimension of neoliberalism since any standard of conduct is a cultural issue. Several scholars have identified that the way we see the economy, politics, and the social landscape is shaped by the cultural distinctions people have made and were socialized in (Sahlins, 1976). By the same token, neoliberalism works not only at the level of social and economic policies but also at the level of culture (Centeno & Cohen, 2012).
Neoliberal culture prioritizes “aggregate growth, stable prices, productivity, and efficiency enhancements” and private property but neglects “distributional equality, guarantee of personal income or access to essential goods and services, leisure (or nonwork) time, and environmental sustainability” (Centeno & Cohen, 2012, p. 328). More importantly, for this study, it “depolitiz[ed] political economy” (Centeno & Cohen, 2012), and cultivated individualization and the marketization of social problems, constant competition, and entrepreneurship as the best means for a better life (Centeno & Cohen, 2012; Joseph, 2013).
Such neoliberal ideas spread to ruling elites across the globe through academia (Bockman & Eyal, 2002; Babb, 2004), diplomatic encounters (Sommers, 2009), as well as powerful international organizations (McMichael, 2008). Ruling elites across the globe were susceptible to neoliberal ideas both because they seemed trendy and relevant, and when promoted by powerful organizations, such as the IMF and WB, also seemed legitimate. In this context, following Elias, to refuse Western neoliberal guidance can be seen as losing respect in the eyes of the West. In what follows, I contextualize neoliberalization as such a “civilizing process” in post-Soviet Latvia.
Neoliberalization in Post-Soviet Latvia
There are several overlapping explanations of why the radical adoption of neoliberalism took place in Eastern Europe and in Latvia particularly. Studies show that it was due to the aligning convictions of American and Eastern European economists before the dissolution of the Soviet Empire that neoliberalism and its focus on financial capitalism was the best possible way to solve the crisis of industrial capitalism (Bockman & Eyal, 2002). According to Bockman and Eyal (2002), the adoption of neoliberalism in Eastern Europe was so “rapid” because Eastern European economists, through their dialogue with American economists during the Soviet era, learned to see their “socialist econom[ies] as chaotic, inefficient, and in need of shock therapy” (p. 338). It was difficult for Eastern European economists to resist dominant Western economic thinking because, comparatively, Western countries indeed seemed more prosperous and developed. Such evidence was a crucial source in trusting the advice of Western expertise. There are data that the post-Soviet Latvian ruling elite also learned their economic thinking through their engagement and meetings with experts from abroad and particularly the Latvian diaspora abroad (Sommers, 2009, pp. 131–132; Bennich-Björkman, 2011; Ķešāne, 2016, pp. 84–87).
The introduction of neoliberalism was also a result of borrowing from the IMF and WB, which in return expected austere policies, for example, fiscal discipline, trade liberalization, privatization, openness to foreign direct investment (FDI), and shrinking of the welfare state (e.g., Aidukaite, 2009, p. 109). Latvia, in comparison with the two other Baltic countries, “has adopted some of the most neoliberal policies in order to attract foreign direct investment” (Aidukaite, 2009, p. 110). In the 1990s, the ruling elite did not question the loan requirements of such powerful organizations but trusted them. To follow their instructions accurately was seen as a matter of Latvia’s Western belonging.
Latvia’s eagerness to belong to the West has been related to a strong security and cultural dimension. Up until 1994 the Soviet army was still present in Latvia. Then, but also in the subsequent period, there was some fear that not complying with the Western rules of conduct could threaten Latvia’s Western belonging (Ķešāne, 2016, p. 88). Specifically, admission into the EU and NATO was regarded as a guarantee for Latvia’s future security. For example, in 1994, Latvia signed a free trade agreement with the European Union that went into effect on 1 January 1995 (Deksnis, 1998, p. 347). In 1995, Latvian authorities signed the European Treaty to become a member of the EU (Deksnis, p. 347). This meant that Latvia had to gradually adjust its standards to fit the norms of the EU, which, in terms of economic governance, was also driven by neoliberal ideas and language (Rosamond, 2000).
Research has also shown that neoliberal culture has been particularly pervasive and domineering in post-Soviet Latvia, due to the seemingly stark contrast with the Soviet communal values that had to be abandoned as they were considered the leftovers of a Soviet past and not compatible with the new Western identity (Aidukaite, 2009; Ķešāne, 2016; Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald, 2016). Thus, following Elias, the Latvian ruling elite became complicit in neoliberal thinking not only because of pragmatic (for example, financial) needs but also because of psychological considerations—fear of Russia’s repeated invasion and fear of the Soviet cultural remnants as incompatible with the new Western identity. This latter factor was particularly important as it generated a sense among the ruling elite that Western experts know how to guide the post-Soviet transformations better than national experts (Ķešāne, 2016, pp. 88–91). All the governments in the 1990s in Latvia were pro-neoliberal in order to satisfy requirements by the Western experts and earn entrance in the Western community, particularly the EU, as well as NATO.
The pervasiveness and emotional underpinnings of such neoliberal aspirations among the ruling elite in post-Soviet Latvia influenced the ruling elite’s framing and imagining of the good post-Soviet citizen. Within the state institutions, as well as broader society, an expectation circulated that people or good citizens should be active in order to solve their misfortunes themselves (for example, through the practice of entrepreneurship), without expecting any help from their state (Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald, 2016). Such domineering neoliberal cultural values contrasted with the everyday practices of the state. Based on ethnography at the State Employment Agency, Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald (2016) finds that, in a post-Soviet context, neoliberal politics on citizens works as “the double-move of activation and imposition of waiting” (p. 456): instead of allowing people to move forward and improve their employment chances efficiently, the state employment system put many in a situation of limbo and waiting. Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald theorizes this as a “politics of waiting.” Stimulated both by her findings and by Elias, as well as based on my own data in the realm of political protests, I theorize that neoliberalization in post-Soviet Latvia was also accompanied by “politics of shaming.” Despite a convention that people in a now-democratic Latvia should be active participants in the making of their well-being and their state as they wished, when they did so through the means of protest and strike, the ruling elite sought to shame them for this behavior as it threatened Latvia’s Western belonging and neoliberalization.
“Politics of Shaming” and the Good Neoliberal Citizen
In Elias’s (2000 ) writing, people complied with the dominant standards of conduct socialized in by the upper classes or elites by self-disciplining against this standard. To deviate from this standard was not accepted behavior in society. In that sense, this standard contained a certain “threshold of shame” and, as such, implicitly worked as a moral instrument. After Elias, several scholars (Katz, 1997; Kemper, 1987; Scheff, 1994) have emphasized feelings of shame as a signal of “the possibility of moral trespass” (Scheff, 1994, p. 53). Shame that is triggered by such trespass may weaken the social bond between the parties (Scheff, 1994) and serve as a self-disciplining mechanism (Katz, 1997; Kemper, 1987). When shame is provoked, Katz writes, “it is through the implication that one lacks a fundamental capacity of self-control that would be required when interacting with any set of others” or community (p. 236). Neither Elias nor his followers discussed how such shaming could also be used by the ruling elite in public rhetoric to repress certain behaviors and discipline others. In other words, shaming, similar to anger, as pointed out by Ost (2004; 2005), can be used more strategically by the ruling elite to achieve their goals. Following Morris (1992), I call it “politics of shaming.”
Morris (1992) shows how “politics of shaming” has been used in public to “separate ‘good’ women from ‘bad,’” in modern feminist discourse. Similarly, this has also occurred historically among “puritan colonists and other English immigrants to North America” who, “in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought with them legal, moral, and religious codes of conduct severely limiting female behaviour” and particularly what they saw as rebellion (pp. 200–203). These moral boundaries of what was considered acceptable in a community or society were culturally coded and often institutionalized. Public shaming served as a moralizing instrument: it signaled that moral and normative boundaries within a particular society or community were breached. For this study, I consider politics of shaming as a strategy of power intended to discipline people in neoliberalism by utilizing shaming rhetoric. Such a strategy is moralizing in the sense that, through such shaming, the ruling elite signals to people what a good citizen should be, and what and how he/she should think and behave.
Various instruments can be used to carry out the politics of shaming. Such instruments “directly or indirectly injure [people’s] sense of self” and “determine their behavior” (Rothbart & Poder, 2017, p. 36). For this study, three instruments are relevant: “ideologies of rank and ordering”; “essentializing language” (Rothbart & Poder, 2017); and dividing language. Ideologies of rank mean that people are categorized as superior or inferior, good or bad; and those who are not categorized as good enough are stigmatized. Rothbart and Poder discuss how a classifying ideology usually happens within “the categories of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or national origin” (2017, p. 40). Essentializing language refers to the power of words to make one feel inferior or impaired (2017, p. 41). To these two instruments, I borrow from Rothbart and Poder, I also add dividing language, which is designed to make people feel ashamed of their behavior and positions it as destructive to others.
Through my data analysis it will become evident that the ruling elite rhetoric, in its ordering of what is and what is not a good citizen, resonated with neoliberal ideas. This neoliberal ideology was accompanied by essentializing language in which the ruling elite labeled protesting people as a problem and a threat to national development, to Latvia’s Western orientation, and to other people. This essentializing language was bolstered and supplemented by a dividing language, designed to make people feel bad about protesting as worsening the position of other societal groups. All three instruments were aimed at inducing shame in protesters by making them feel that their actions were morally wrong and disruptive to national development or, more crucially, to neoliberalization.
This study is part of a broader project designed to explain high emigration rates from post-Soviet Latvia from the perspective of state–society relationships (Ķešāne, 2016). Based on in-depth interviews with emigrants, alienation in state–society relationships emerged as a particular phenomenon and, therefore, it was useful to examine where this might have originated from. In order to explain state–society relationships, I have chosen to examine moments of tension in these relationships and how these were handled by the ruling elite. Such moments of “tension, unease, and crisis” or “liminality,” following Alexander and Smith (1993), can be seen as strategic as they render visible the underlying meanings (p. 166) that structure state–society relationships. Specifically, I have chosen to examine the protests of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The period of post-Soviet transformations can be seen as another such moment of “liminality.” These protests emerged at a time when the state, or ruling elite, was attempting to forge new democratic relationships between the state and the citizen and had chosen to follow a neoliberal course of development. Based on a newspaper search, I selected the two most repetitive protest streams in the 1990s—protests by schoolteachers and by farmers—where teachers protested against low public funding for the school system and low wages, and farmers asked for the protection of internal markets, better subsidies, and lower taxes. Their repeated occurrence was significant in that they signaled ongoing problematic state–society relationships. Although for my larger study I have studied newspapers since 1990,2 the time frame of the schoolteachers’ and farmers’ protests selected for this analysis lies between 1994 and 2000.
In order to reconstruct and study these protests, I rely on data available in the most popular mass media in the 1990s. I selected the two largest Latvian-language newspapers (Diena and Neatkarīgā Cīņa/from 1996 Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze) and the largest Russian-language newspaper (Panorama Latvii) in the 1990s.3 I selected also the Russian-language newspaper since Russian speakers constituted a third part of Latvian society in the 1990s. In 1989, 34% of the population was ethnically Russian; in 2000 this share was 29.6% (Central Statistical Bureau, 2021c). I collected the data by taking photographs4 of articles at the National Library of Latvia Periodicals Reading Room (on Jēkaba Street, Riga Old Town) in the summer of 2012 and 2013. In total, I have selected 191 articles: 108 for schoolteachers’ protests and 83 for farmers’ protests.
I did not intend to compare the content of each newspaper against the other but rather, with the help of all newspapers, to reconstruct the unfolding of protest events and the ruling elite’s response to them and the emotional dimension of this response. For the data analysis, I use an ethnographic content analysis (EDA), also known as qualitative document analysis, which has emerged as a response to a situation where perceptions about reality are increasingly shaped by the media (Altheide et al., 2008). EDA is relevant to study trends “over a period of time, across different issues, and across different news media” (p. 130). This method is not numerically driven but focuses “on discovery and description, including searching for contexts, underlying meaning, patterns, and processes” (p. 128). It serves to detect “trends in communication patterns and discourse” (p. 128). This approach allows the uncovering of cultural and ideological representations (p. 128) that guided the ruling elite in their response to protests, as well as the identities and relationships (p. 132) the ruling elite cast in their response to the protests.
In order to reconstruct how these protest streams unfolded and how they were settled, I selected articles that present, describe, and refer to these particular events, including interviews with politicians and involved actors, as well as columnist and editorial narratives. I also paid attention to the pictures depicting protest and strike events. Consistent with ethnographic content analysis, I initially took notes on what I saw in the protest-related articles and only after that began more “systematic and focused” analysis (Altheide et al., 2008, p. 135). By reading the articles and observing related photographs, I took notes with an aim to track how the events and the ruling elite’s discourse unfolded and what patterns I observed (linear reading). Yet the process of analysis was also nonlinear as I often went back from my notes to data to search for more information. Relying only on the selected newspapers limits me to exploring the public representations of the ruling elite’s response to protests but not broader discussions these protests might have provoked among the ruling elite. Nevertheless, since I look at the data over several years or protests, I am still able to find a general tendency on how the ruling elite communicate with citizens in moments when they challenge neoliberalization. My data interpretation is guided by the theoretical lens I use.
In what follows, I structure my data around the two streams of protests and how they unfold chronologically. The schoolteachers’ protests took place in the autumn of 1994, 1996, and 1999. The farmers’ protests took place in the spring and autumn of 1997, in the spring of 1999, and in the summer of 2000. The chronological presentation of my data helps to better reveal the persistent use of politics of shaming.
In all the schoolteachers’ protests, there were concerns about deteriorating working conditions and low wages. All of the following schoolteachers’ strikes took place in the autumn, coinciding with the beginning of the school year in Latvia and the parliamentary budget debate for the following year. In August 1994, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Education and Science made a decision to increase schoolteachers’ salaries by the end of the year, but budgetary debates showed that this might not happen.
To emphasize the troubling socioeconomic conditions of schoolteachers, on 2 September, which is the second day of the academic year in Latvia, schoolteachers organized a warning strike. Jakovs Pliner, a director of a private secondary school, “Evrika,” explained to a journalist the situation schoolteachers and schools were in:
Schoolteachers are humiliated economically—their salary is below the average in the country. Today they survive, or in other words, it is hard to put in words their situation. They need to buy books, go to theatre, travel but their salary is not even enough for bread and utility fees. (author’s translation from Russian, Pliner, 1994, pp. 1–2)
He also explained that the funding allocated to schools is so low that it is not even possible to buy books, or do necessary renovations, and that there are not enough teachers, including Latvian-language teachers in Russian schools. In another case, a schoolteacher explained to a journalist that items, such as chalk, had to be paid for from their already low incomes. Despite this warning strike, by December, salaries had not been increased and, according to the teachers, nor had any realistic offers been made by the government. In December, a strike that continued for over a week was organized by the Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees (LIZDA).5 In a letter to Panorama Latvii, schoolteachers from Secondary School No. 80 emphasized that theirs was a “fight,” not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of their “common future.” Schoolteachers not only demanded that the government begin wage reform but also that it allocates more funding to the school system in general. The schoolteachers’ strike was also supported by people working in the field of culture and by medical employees. These groups also participated in the street protests, showing solidarity across various professional groups.
The representatives of the Cabinet of Ministers did not try to negotiate with the protesters, but instead tried to prevent further protests through shaming. On 25 November, on the first page of Neatkarīgā Cīņa, the second-largest daily newspaper in Latvia at the time, the press department of the cabinet, led by the prime minister, Māris Gailis, from the majority party, Latvijas Ceļš, issued an announcement: “The Cabinet Knows and Understands the Problems in Education.” Although the title of the announcement appears empathetic, the content of the article sounds more like a threat. Representatives of the cabinet were not empathetic or understanding toward protesters, but instead used dividing language and pitted various groups—such as pensioners, doctors, and the needy—against each other. This was intended to make protesters feel ashamed that their demands may worsen the situation of other societal groups. The dominant view of the cabinet’s announcement was that the conditions of schoolteachers and their families could be improved only at the expense of other societal groups:
In order to economise 50 million lats, we have to revise social security, including pensions (it is planned to allocate [Ls 320 milj.], health care [Ls 45 milj.], state security [Ls 23 milj.], or legal security or internal security [Ls 59 milj.]).6 Which finger to bite? Unfortunately, none of them will be less painful than the others. Should we cut child benefit, pensions or salaries of doctors? (author’s translation from Latvian, Valdības preses dienesta paziņojums, 1994, p. 1)
Later in the announcement, another alternative to dealing with the limited budget was offered:
We can significantly increase expenses for education only when we achieve an increase in industrial output and improve tax collection. (Valdības preses dienesta paziņojums, 1994, p. 1)
Consistent with the neoliberal creed, this alternative shows that the funding to education was seen as dependent on the results in markets and taxation. At the end of this announcement, the use of essentializing language projected prospective strikes as the key danger in this problematic budget situation. Teachers, consistent with neoliberal ideas of individual responsibility, were also invited to give up the strike and instead focus on their work as a strategy to improve their situation and the educational situation in general.
The cabinet will do everything possible in order to find a solution for the imminent danger which could come out of a new strike of teachers.…[At the end of the announcement:] Strikes can only deconstruct. In order to build something—one has to work! (ibid.)
Given that one of the major issues raised by schoolteachers was that they were working two shifts in order to provide for themselves and their families, this suggestion by the cabinet was a disparaging one. The announcement, to some extent, was humiliating for the claimants who were already working hard.
Some leading politicians in media interviews showed arrogance and ignorance of the socioeconomic circumstances of the protesters. They threatened schoolteachers with the collapse of the national budget if they continued to strike. The leader of the leading political party, Latvijas Ceļš, Valdis Birkavs, in his response to the protesters in December, used essentializing language and labeled them “little men,” implying that schoolteachers were somehow impaired and were not capable of understanding the overall socioeconomic and political situation as did the ruling elite:
To fulfil the requirements of the teachers would mean to destroy the whole structure of the national budget. It creates more problems than it solves, but it does not worry a little man. (author’s translation from Latvian)
Photographs on the front page of the newspaper Panorama Latvii, on 8 December, depicted schoolteachers with posters that responded to this humiliating statement: “Big man, you are not aware of your mission on behalf of your people!” and “Mr. Birkavs! How may a little man become big with 45 lats per months?”7 Although the statement by Valdis Birkavs attempted to silence people through shaming them, these counterstatements reveal their denial of this shame.
Such politics of shaming was primarily a characteristic of the ruling elite and did not necessarily apply to all politicians. For example, politicians from opposition parties who were not part of the Cabinet of Ministers showed support for the protesters. Opposition politicians warned the ruling elite that the “voice” of the people signaled that the course of development Latvia had chosen was problematic. For example, in a political debate with other politicians, the future speaker of parliament, Ilga Kreituse, a representative of the Democratic Party, stated that “teachers, by protesting the cabinet, have demonstrated that the economic policy of the government is wrong” (in Seleckis, 1994, pp. 5–6). A former minister of human rights additionally agreed that the treatment of schoolteachers by the ruling elite was humiliating and that he, as a deputy, was ashamed that his salary was four to five times greater than that of schoolteachers and academics (Lapidus, 1994, p. 1). Nevertheless, the dominant view among the ruling elite was that striking and protesting was not an acceptable way to communicate concerns.
Shortly after the December strike, on the eve of 1995, the prime minister, Māris Gailis, gave an interview to the largest newspaper, Diena. In the interview, he used neoliberal ordering of a good citizen and stated explicitly that the current socioeconomic situation resulted from the behavior of each member of society—thus absolving the state of its responsibility for the issues raised in the protests:
In a period of one year, we have to achieve consciousness by the people that this is their state. They themselves through their action or inaction are responsible for national development of this state. I am most concerned about the alienation between the citizens and the state. What concerns me is that they [the citizens] just look on and judge whether it [the situation in the country] is going well or badly. Ok, they identify that it is not going well, and it is with good reason. However, if they won’t participate, they won’t achieve anything. Thus, I always repeat—everything depends on you. If you will allow racketing8 yourself, then it will remain like this. If you don’t understand that taxpaying is a patriotic duty, then none of the state institutions will be able to collect anything. (author’s translation, Gailis, 1994, p. 2)
In the interview, he preached for people’s participation without acknowledging that, in the months leading up to the interview, several protests had taken place. In December 1994, not only schoolteachers and medical staff, but also large families, had participated in strikes, raising concerns about worsening socioeconomic conditions. Protesters were also demonstrating against the privatization of the largest telecom company, Lattelecom, a process that lacked transparency and accountability. During his interview, the prime minister did not acknowledge the December strikes, demonstrating that this was not the participation he was expecting from the people. Although the journalists tried to ask about the strikes, the prime minister was very formal and did not elaborate on them. Instead, in accordance with neoliberal ideals, he emphasized individual responsibility and taxpaying as the most significant aspect of citizens’ participation and patriotism.
Groups, such as medical employees and people working in other fields of culture, supported schoolteachers since they shared sectors that were equally poorly funded. Despite their wide resonance and support from these other sectors, schoolteachers’ protests in 1994 did not bring about much change. In the autumn of 1996, schoolteachers raised the same demands as they had during the 1994 strikes. At the beginning of October 1996, pedagogues, together with local government representatives, gathered near Saeima (the Latvian parliament) and asked for a revision of the national budget, an increase in their salaries, and funding for education in general. Unlike the 1994 protests, this time the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) also got involved in the organization of the strikes and raised concerns about overall poverty in the country. On 3 October 1996, the board of LBAS9 delivered an announcement to Saeima, saying:
Unorganised national economy and calamities have influenced almost every family. Workplaces are decreasing, salaries remain low, pensions and social aid are below subsistence, while prices for goods and services are continuously increasing. There is a lack of funding for housing maintenance, health care, and education, and for one out of eight families—even for food. In the country, mortality rates are double the birthrates. The number of children who do not attend school is increasing.…We have 89 thousand who are unemployed, and only a third of them receive unemployment aid. The average aid for unemployed people is Ls 31 or 59% of the crisis subsistence wage and 42% of the ordinary subsistence wage. (author’s translation, Olmanis, 1996, pp. 1–2)
This announcement signaled to the government not only that the education system was problematic but also that the overall course of development was becoming problematic. In this case, development was understood in terms of the social well-being of people, which was in conflict with the neoliberal understanding of development among the ruling elite. On 7 October 1996, schoolteachers and other groups picketed in front of the parliament responsible for reviewing the budget for 1997 in order to make sure their claims were considered in the national budget (Paparde & Zebris, 1996, p. 1; Lapidus, 1996a, p. 1). On 10 December 1996, Saeima began to review, for the second time, the project for a fully balanced budget for 1997 and LIZDA organized a protest asking for the government to increase wages in such public institutions as education, health, social care, culture, and art. In this protest, not only schoolteachers but also medical employees participated. The posters represented in the media carried statements that pointed to inequalities and a denial of the existing state of affairs: “Give us a normal life!”; “For the folk that becomes extinct government is not needed!”; “My salary equals one dinner meal for a deputy!”; “The government—in Europe, the people in poor man’s shoes!” The circumstances did not allow for people to believe that their everyday struggles would lead to a Western standard of living, much promoted and desired by the ruling elite. Panorama Latvii ironically commented that the prime minister, Andris Šķēle, was only concerned that the budget was fully balanced and not about the people (Lapidus, 1996b, p. 1). Subsequent strikes in the following years signaled that the state–society dialogue had not been successful in achieving meaningful change.
The same scenario repeated itself in the autumn of 1999. On 1 October 1999, LBAS organized a walk in the city center of Riga to draw attention to policies concerning pensions, social reforms, deteriorating demographic indicators, and privatization. Schoolteachers’ trade unions, as well as medical and power industry employees, were represented in the walk and several thousand people participated (Skrebele, 1999, pp. 1, 6). LBAS submitted a request for the government to increase minimum wages, introduce a progressive tax system, and decrease social inequality and poverty. LBAS also requested that the government engage in social dialogue (ibid.). On 21 October, the trade union of schoolteachers, LIZDA, organized protests to demand salary increases and funding for school infrastructure.
The request by LBAS for dialogue between the state and the schoolteachers’ union did not bring the expected results in November, and thus on December 1, the day parliament discussed the budget for 2000, a nationwide strike of schoolteachers and an additional protest of some medical employees took place (Prokopova, 1999, p. 1; Mediki i uchitelia slilis′ v obshchem pikete [Medical employees and schoolteachers united in common picket], 1999, p. 1). Again, the ruling elite settled the issue by employing condemning and dividing rhetoric. Gundars Bērziņš, the leader of the major coalition party, Tautas Partija (the People’s Party), announced that schoolteachers would be required to work during the summer break without pay in order to make up for the days they were on strike. He also tried to pit schoolteacher against schoolteacher by saying that teachers would be rewarded for working diligently and not participating in strikes—thus, consistent with “ideology of rank and ordering,” clearly drawing a line between what he regarded as good and bad conduct. By attempting to punish protesting schoolteachers through making them work during the summer break, the government sought to injure their self-respect even more. Although the people attempted to engage in dialogue with the state, the state (or ruling elite) was resistant to these attempts. The ruling elite’s strategy was to disrupt schoolteachers’ efforts to achieve change and, instead, shame them by insisting they work diligently and avoid protesting.
In the 1990s, farmers had also repeatedly raised concerns about national development and the agricultural policy, particularly issues such as protection of internal markets, state subsidies, and taxation. The neoliberal economic policies that sought to significantly reduce state protection for agriculture and subject it to global market competition put Latvian farmers, and farming more broadly, in jeopardy. At the very beginning of the 1990s, farmers did not voice their concerns actively because there was hope that the situation might improve. The ruling elite kept repeating that social change and development would not take place instantly—that it needed some time.
It was in the spring of 1997 when the first protests by farmers took place. Farmers from the Vidzeme area initiated the first protest. They met on 11 March 1997 in order to list their claims to the government and parliament (Šteinfelde, 1997a, p. 8). They submitted their claims and allowed a one-month period for the government to respond. If no response was received within a month, they would organize a strike. Primarily the farmers were demanding agricultural protectionism, which was in conflict with neoliberal policies.
One month after the claims were made, farmers from Vidzeme, led by a farmer named Andris Kāposts, announced that the state had not responded and their attempts at communication with state representatives had thus failed (Spandegs, 1997, p. 2). As promised, farmers organized a strike. In order to plan the strike, 300 farmers from 16 districts of Latvia met on 18 April 1997. In order to gain the attention of state representatives, they agreed to block strategic roads with their agricultural machinery in various places throughout the country. Several hundred farmers with agricultural machinery gathered on 30 April in towns such as Ķekava and Skrīveri and on the Vidzeme highway, sites through and along which import and export goods are carried, to show their discontent, which was highlighted on one of the posters with the words “Claim free market also for Latvian farmers!” (author’s translation, Shutenkova, 1997, p. 2). What the ruling elite claimed to be a free market, was not perceived as such by these farmers.
The farmers were disappointed with the low attendance by state representatives, which, in turn, limited prospects for mutual communication (Krautmanis et al., 1997, p. 2). Policemen, who were there to contain the strike, were the primary representatives of the state (Ermansons, 1997, p. 1). Instead of recognizing farmers’ claims, the ruling elite policed the protesters, which had the effect of shaming them for their claims—thus, consistent with the rhetorical instrument of “rank and ordering,” showing that protesting was not an acceptable behavior.
In a speech on 4 May, the Day of the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, the president of Latvia expressed disappointment about the lack of dialogue between farmers and state representatives:
I do not understand at all how politicians can avoid seeing people, who after a long contemplation and hesitation have decided to strike, and how they can avoid listening to them. This is not even about whether the claims of these people are economically grounded and feasible. This is about whether the state feels that it has become distanced from society in the same way that society does. Patience while explaining the laws of development is the main characteristic of true politicians. (author’s translation, italics added, Ulmanis, 1997, p. 2)
The president as the head of the Latvian state recognized the alienation between citizens and the state. While the president required the state representatives to do more to explain “the laws of development” or, in fact, neoliberalization to the people, he also requested that the people trust their state more and question it less. In line with essentializing rhetoric, he did not admit that the farmers’ claims were good or well-founded but rather projected their claims as somehow impaired. He implied that the chosen “laws of development” were the right ones and that they only needed to be explained more clearly to the public.
In September 1997, several thousand farmers gathered in front of parliament, Saeima, to show their disappointment about the state’s lack of intervention in the agricultural market (Šteinfelde, 1997b, p. 1; Fedotov, 1997, p. 1; Lapidus, 1997, p. 1; “Sel′ski chas” v Rige [“Rural hour” in Riga], 1997, p. 2).10 Posters on display asked questions such as “Does the government stand for the people or for businessmen?”; “How shall a Latvian farmer—a beginner and poor, compete with the European farmer—one who is subsidized and experienced?”; and made statements such as “Election law shall permit people to fire Parliament members!”
In 1999, farmers went on strike again and asked for limitations to be placed on the import of pork, sugar, milk, and eggs. Farmers explained that they were not able to compete with the imported pork from countries such as Estonia, the Netherlands, and Poland. This time farmers allied with the Latvian Farmers Federation, the Rural Support Association, the Farmers’ Parliament, and the Association of Latvian Agriculture Limited Companies (Šteinfelde, 1999a, pp. 1, 6). They expected and demanded economic protection of Latvia’s agriculture against foreign imports. During the governmental meeting on 11 May, farmers expected that some crucial decisions would be made, but this did not happen. They also expected that representatives at the meeting would examine their concerns and provide some real solutions. In the meeting, it was proposed that a Committee of Internal Market Protection would be formed. Farmers found this proposition to be insufficient (Šteinfelde, 1999b, p. 4) and decided to strike by blocking strategic roads, particularly routes used for importation. Some of the posters on the agricultural machinery used in the blocking stated: “In Latvia with pastalas,11 in Europe with bare feet!” (Krumin, 1999, p. 1). The reference to Europe is meaningful since farmers also perceived that it was due to the EU entrance requirements for Latvia that farmers found themselves incapable of competing with foreign imports. It did not mean that farmers were against Latvia’s membership in the EU, but they expected their state to make sure that the entrance requirements did not harm Latvia’s agriculture. The minister of agriculture, Pēteris Salkazanovs, regarded the strike as necessary and publicly showed his support for the protesters. He admitted that the farmers’ grievances were well founded; it was very hard for farmers to compete with foreign producers under the free trade agreements of the state when Latvia’s internal market was not strong enough. The farmers’ claims were also supported by the chair of parliament (Saeima), Gundars Bērziņš, who himself was a farmer:
There are many strong and talented farmers who will participate in the strike; if they participate in such strikes, this is not a good sign for the government. (author’s translation, in Šteinfelde & Kārkliņa, 1999, pp. 1, 4)
Other leading politicians such as the minister of finance, Ivars Godmanis, the minister of foreign affairs, Valdis Birkavs, and the prime minister, Vilis Krištopans, did not support the farmers’ protests (Pētersons & Šteinfelde, 1999, pp. 1, 5; Zemnieki demonstrē spēku [Farmers show their power], 1999, pp. 1, 4). For them, the farmers’ claims conflicted with national economic policies that were formed according to neoliberal principles. Instead of engaging in a productive dialogue with farmers, the prime minister used shaming in a form of essentializing and dividing language: he implied that farmers were destructive and, with their behavior, threatened the well-being of other societal groups:
I would like to say something about the unrest among farmers. The most aggressive farmers say that they will sit on the railroad and block the trains. I have to question whether these farmers have thought about those 18,000 railway employees and their families who will suffer the most from railway stoppage. This stoppage will cost millions, and this might cause a salary decrease for railway employees and layoffs. Somebody will suffer for these damages and it won’t be farmers but railway employees. This is destruction of the national economy, and, since I am the leader of the government, I have to say it. (author’s translation, Krištopans, 1999b, p. 10)
The prime minister refused to discuss any of the economic protection measures being demanded by the farmers. Democratic dialogue and substantial questions, such as “What was the best solution to allow farmers to continue farming without going bankrupt and railway employees to continue their work simultaneously?,” were hidden. Instead, in order to tame the farmers’ protests, the prime minister chose to pit farmers against railway employees and displayed farmers’ actions as destructive to national development.
As a result of pressure by farmers, parliament eventually introduced a temporary law that would limit the importation of pork for 200 days beginning 1 June (Pētersons & Šteinfelde, 1999, pp. 1, 5; Pētersons, 1999a, p. 1). Foreign ministry representatives were not satisfied with this decision and warned that these measures could worsen Latvia’s relationships with the EU, neighboring countries, and Latvia’s development prospects more generally (Bernere, 1999, pp. 1, 5). In an interview that took place one week after the protests, the foreign minister, Valdis Birkavs [the same person who had called protesting teachers “little men”], stated that
farmers understand very well that Latvia has good land for agriculture, and they know that if the state follows the right policy, he [a farmer] will be able to produce not just for the internal market they want to protect now, but also for the world market. The question is which policy do we choose? Whether the one implemented by the poor countries that protected their internal markets but at the end of the day remained poor? The higher tariffs, the less developed country, because the consumer has to pay more…Free trade agreements increase competition, decrease the price for consumers, develop the country, and increase the welfare of the people, but this has to be applied properly. (author’s translation, Birkavs, 1999, p. 3)
The foreign minister’s essentializing rhetoric was linguistically well organized to convince readers that the current state policies were right and farmers were wrong. Was it really true, however, that poor countries, which protected their internal markets, remained poor? The rhetoric was not well grounded but, coming from the minister, was powerful enough in terms of its consequences. However, from the history of development it is clear that maximizing market exchange will not necessarily improve well-being for all. Many developing countries that have opened themselves up to free trade agreements and global markets have remained poor. Free trade agreements, low tariffs, and competition per se do not guarantee development and improved well-being for all (e.g., Robinson, 2003; McMichael, 2008).
The minister of finance, Ivars Godmanis, explicitly announced that no extra funding would be allocated to the needy ministries (including the Ministry of Agriculture) because it would violate the austerity measures required by international donors. The finance minister argued that the state seeks to “adjust” requirements of international experts to “our needs,” but he did not elaborate as to what these common needs were. From the farmers’ point of view, which was based on their everyday experience and knowledge, different measures needed to be taken by the state in order to develop Latvian agriculture and the national economy (e.g., the previously mentioned import restrictions, subsidies, and control of tariffs for vital farmers’ services). Development sociologists from various contexts have demonstrated that, if properly applied, subsidies or state protection may, in fact, trigger development. Bohle and Greskovits (2007), for example, in their comparative study on CEE countries, evidenced that Slovenia applied economic protectionism without compromising its national development and integration into the EU. This kind of state intervention, however, in Latvia was predominantly ridiculed as impeding Latvia’s Western and neoliberal orientation and seen as a remnant of the Soviet past and thus had to be discarded.
On 28 May, several thousand farmers from all over Latvia and equipped with agricultural machines again strategically blocked important national roads. Farmers were not satisfied with the temporary policy measures introduced after the previous strike (Šteinfelde, 1999c, p. 5). Similar to previous protests, these were also supervised by the police force. After the strike, a newspaper published an article by the prime minister, Vilis Krištopans, “Thoughts after Farmers’ Strike.” The aim of this article was again to shame the farmers. Krištopans’ essentializing rhetoric depicts farmers as unreliable partners in negotiations. In the article, he insists that the government “has kept its word” but that the farmers had not kept theirs. He depicts government representatives as reliable and eager to help: “despite this, the government and [he] as its leader will continue dialogue with farmers.” Vilis Krištopans also sought to downplay the role of agriculture by stating that, although it was an important sector, it was not the only one contributing to rural development; there were also sectors such as “fishing, logging, entrepreneurship and craft, etc.” (Krištopans, 1999a, p. 2). Although this rhetoric again pits various sectoral groups against one another, the facts show that fish farmers were also dissatisfied with national policies. In June, fish farmers turned to the government’s consultative bodies to report the critical conditions of the fish farming sector. Fish farmers warned that they would block strategic ports in Liepāja and Ventspils if no governmental support was provided for them. According to the fish farmers, the fish farming industry was in jeopardy because of low subsidies and widespread illegal fish farming.
The prime minister concluded his paper with another neoliberal invitation to work hard: “however, aside from working hard every day, I do not really see any other solution to how we could become wealthy in our country” (Krištopans, 1999a, p. 2). This might have been humiliating for farmers who, indeed, worked hard but with no results—something was clearly beyond their control. Instead of raising a substantial debate (and thus recognizing protesters’ claims) about what could be changed in the country’s overall course of development, in order to improve the situations in various sectors of the economy, the prime minister, in line with the neoliberal creed, relegated farmers’ misfortunes simply to a matter of their individual conduct.
On 2 June, parliament discussed a new policy initiative that would aim to gradually decrease duties for all imports (Pētersons, 1999b, p. 5). This legislative initiative indicated that all efforts by farmers were fruitless endeavors. In 2000, farmers protested again with the usual concerns and, in order to ensure that results were achieved, this was made an open-ended strike (Šteinfelde, 2000a, p. 4). At the end of the first day of the strike, farmers were not satisfied with the negotiations. After farmers had been on strike for 31 hours, the government promised to look for solutions that would satisfy their demands by 1 August (Šteinfelde, 2000b, pp. 1, 4); but such governmental promises were again not fulfilled.12
Neoliberalization, as a dominant mode of being, embodies certain standards of thinking and acting. Broad literature has explored how such a dominant mode of being has been disseminated by the global and national ruling elites. This study adds an emotional perspective to understand “how” the ruling elites did it in post-Soviet Latvia by seeing neoliberalization as a “civilizing process” (Elias, 2000 ) enabled by politics of shaming.
Through the case of the post-Soviet Latvia, I trace how the ruling elite used shaming rhetoric to tame the protests against neoliberalization in the first decade of post-Soviet transformations. Consistent with the neoliberal creed, the ruling elite discursively promoted individual solutions to what, sociologically, were considered to be social issues. The ruling elite repeatedly invited protesters to work hard (and not to protest) and not to question the idea that the state’s neoliberal policies were the route to prosperity. Correspondingly to neoliberal ideology, ordering of what is, and what is not, a good citizen, took place. A good citizen was one who was considered to be hardworking and who did not expect any help from the state. This instrument of ordering was accompanied by essentializing language in which the ruling elite labeled protesting people as a problem. Described as “little men,” they were depicted as individuals who did not understand development and politics and, as such, were considered to be a threat to national development, to Latvia’s Western orientation, and to other people. This essentializing language was bolstered and supplemented by a dividing language. This was framed to make people feel bad about protesting as it worsened the position of other societal groups and pitted those groups against one another. All these rhetorical instruments shamed protesters by making them feel that their actions were morally wrong and disruptive to national development, particularly Latvia’s membership in the EU.
This study highlights the emotional dimension of the post-Soviet transformations and neoliberalization in the Baltic States. Only a few studies focus on emotional aspects of post-Soviet transformations (e.g., Ost 2005; Bloch, 2017) and particularly in the Baltic States (Klumbytė, 2010; Mihelj, 2017; Dzenovska, 2018, ch. 1; Ķešāne, 2019; Ķešāne & Weyher, 2021). Ost (2005) studies post-Soviet transformations in Poland and finds that anger was used by the ruling elite to disrupt solidarity among workers by dividing them along noneconomic lines (for example, in terms of pro-life vs. pro-choice). He argues that such diversion of anger and subsequent collapse of workers’ solidarity interfered negatively with democratization in Poland. This study invites us to think also of shaming elite used to tame the schoolteachers’ and farmers’ protests as disruptive to solidarity and democracy. Dividing language and individualizing rhetoric prompted people not to solidarize and protest but find individual solutions to social problems. Politics of shaming therefore can be read as a discursive instrument to silence democratic voice that challenged neoliberalization in the post-Soviet Latvia. Ķešāne and Weyher (2021), in turn, analyze how the ruling elite’s confidence to the Western expertise and standard worked to undermine the self-confidence of Latvian people fostering their emigration. This study sheds light on how the politics of shaming in the post-Soviet era might have also contributed to the injured self-confidence of people and their emigration. All three instruments of politics of shaming, which together cast protesters as somehow impaired in terms of their expectations toward the state and national development, might have worked to enfeeble people’s initiative to stand up for themselves in Latvia and socialized them to see protesting as morally wrong. Such shaming to suppress people’s actions might have injured people’s self-confidence. Yet self-confidence is important for one’s “willingness to act” (Barbalet, 2004) and, for instance, willingess to form a democratic dialogue with their state. Although I have studied the Latvian case, seeing neoliberalism as a “civilizing process” with uniform norms and standards spreading across the globe, allows me to assume that similar processe of shaming took place also in other neoliberalizing societies.
Although this study primarily focuses on the emotional dimension of neoliberalization in the post-Soviet space, it also adds to the protest movements’ literature in the Baltic States in the post-Soviet era (Lagerspetz, 2001; Karklins & Zepa, 2001; Juska, Poviliunas & Pozzuto, 2005; Uhlin, 2006; Kārkliņa, 2014). Most of this literature discusses that, subsequent to the strong social movements that led to the independence of the Baltic Countries, protest activity in these countries was low and only toward the end of 1990s some protest and community activity began to emerge. Karklins and Zepa (2001) report that “since 1998 one can note an increase in mostly spontaneous and vocal protests of dissatisfied social groups, in particular farmers, medical personnel, pensioners, students, and ethnic minorities” (p. 341). Juska, Poviliunas, and Pozzuto (2005) report protest activities of agricultural workers in the late 1990s in Lithuania. Similarly to Latvian farmers, they protested against free trade policies and demanded more protectionism (p. 4). Lagerspetz (2001) identifies weakness of civil society also in post-Soviet Estonia and explains this is, first, related to the Soviet heritage where class and interest based action was overshadowed by common Soviet ideology (p. 411); second, the discourse that invited people to “subsum[e] immediate individual and group interests to the long-term common goals of the nation” and particularly membership in NATO and the EU (p. 412); and, third, the interpretation, which is consistent with neoliberal guidelines imposed on the post-Soviet Baltic countries by the IMF, that social policy “interfere[s] with market mechanisms” and may “slow down the pace of economic development” (p. 412). The fear of the ruling elite to somehow impede admission into the EU and NATO if requests by the protesters were satisfied and subsequent individualizing rhetoric (as opposed to more socially engaging language) is visible also in this study. Yet this study demonstrates that economically motivated protest and strike activity and professional solidarity in the first decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union were there but that the ruling elite tried to tame it by politics of shaming. This study prompts us to think that if the ruling elite instead of politics of shaming chose more recognizing discourse toward people’s struggles and needs, democratic voice in the post-Soviet Latvia (and possibly also other Baltic and post-Soviet societies) would be more vocal. Thus, instead of conventional blaming of people for not being politically active due to their Soviet heritage, this study invites us to see also the state or the ruling elite as responsible for taming democratic voice. The ruling elite as embodiment of the state shall also be seen as “responsible” for politics “pertinent to shaming and blaming” (Scambler, 2019, p. 98).
The author would like to thank Liene Ozoliņa and Maija Spuriņa for comments and advice in the process of writing. The author would like to also thank anonymous reviewers for their comments, which helped to improve the article. Various stages of this work were supported by the Fulbright program and the Jānis Grundmanis Fellowship.
This discrepancy remained in place until the first decade of the second millennium.
See information about the whole study and data at Ķešāne (2016).
Newspapers’ circulation: In 1993, Diena between 69,300 and 103,600; Neatkarīgā Cīņa between 71,605 and 90,315; Panorama Latvii – not provided. In 1995, Diena between 52,030 and 91,900; Neatkarīgā Cīņa/Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze between 46,451 and 67,748; Panorama Latvii between 29,100 and 30,780. In 1998, Diena between 52,238 and 92,487; Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze between 20,757 and 39,867; Panorama Latvii between 24,500 and 37,500.
Currently, most of this data is digitized.
An article in Panorama Latvii illustrates the scale of the strike. From Liepāja district, out of 34 schools, 30 participated in the strike (e.g., Fedotov, 1994, p. 1).
By racketing, in this context the minister means the combination of demeaning behavior and exploitation.
LBAS is a confederation uniting other trade unions. It has a long history and was established in 1869 in order to protect employees in weavers’ workshops (Latvia as an independent republic was established in 1918); it existed throughout the Soviet system and become an independent organization again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. LIZDA, the organization in charge of the strike in 1994, was established in 1990 to represent scientists and educators. It is a member of LBAS.
Farmers voiced their concern about the lack of subsidies and low purchasing price for grain and milk.
Pastalas are very simple and traditional Latvian footwear.
Media reports that the situation was most critical for small-scale farmers, who were the majority in the countryside and who had the least support (Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, 3 July 2000, p. 2).