Another matter arising out of the Latvia trip was a prevailing discontent among the supporters about the confrontational and corrupt policing they faced.
Undoubtedly this was justified to an extent, bribes were extracted and some people had very unpleasant experiences. The Latvian police could teach some people here a thing or two about what the word “heavy handed” really means. When you’re told to keep off the grass in Latvia, a baton around the head and being bundled into an unmarked van can be the sanction applied if you choose to persist.
Admittedly as well, there is an increasing element of uncouth louts following the Northern Ireland team abroad. They pay no attention to local custom, show no basic social manners, have no interest in the culture or history of where they visit and flaunt their comparative wealth in the faces of those who host them. When they aren’t welcomed with open arms or find themselves laid open to exploitation, they whine about it or act aggressively. To them I would suggest – stick to Santa Ponsa.
No-one expects football supporters to be abstentionist, opera watching angels – but an open mind and a little consideration for locals sensibilities means standing a much greater chance of having a successful and enjoyable trip (the result not withstanding).
I detected that perhaps the aggressive policing in Latvia was a symptom of a state not yet at ease with itself. Certainly the traditional GAWA parade passed a demonstration of ethnic Russians which was particularly heavily policed. Despite the fact that Riga is a predominately Russian city the symbols of Latvian statehood were asserted with a great deal of aggression and the national story is told with unrepentantly partial spin.
The Museum of Occupation provides an interesting insight into the Latvian psyche. Understandably the Latvians are aggrieved at German and Russian oppressions suffered and the exhibition is interesting in outlining the extent of these. The presence of Russian speakers in Latvian society though is presented as an affront to Latvian statehood with no allowance made for these people as individuals. There was no sense that I could discern that Latvia had any plans to tolerate or accommodate the Russian minority.
Wailing police sirens, a substantial minority who are being made to feel unwelcome, the subjugation of the individual to the ideal of an ethnically pure nation, a failure to acknowledge anything but the most partial reading of their own history. All of these traits are redolent of a country where nationalistic values prevail and whose civic society is as yet immature. Given a turbulent and war torn history this is more than understandable, but becoming reconciled to accommodating and including the large minority within her borders should be the first stage toward Latvia addressing this immaturity. Perhaps a realistic assessment of some Latvians culpability in supporting and participating in the Nazi regime might be a second.