I don’t review books on here often – okay, this is the first review – but I think it might be something I start. This book in particular I think is very valuable for understanding the tricky nuances of Latvian history.
The book is called The Case for Latvia: Disinformation Campaigns Against a Small Nation by Jukka Rislakki. Rislakki is a Finnish journalist, and therefore removed from the major debates that swirl around in popular culture regarding Latvian history, politics and culture. (Sidenote: While this book is about Latvia, much of the information presented therein applies equally to Estonia, and often also to Lithuania.)
He goes through Latvian history (with a firm focus on the 20th century) and separates fact from fiction by answering 14 sets of questions, starting with “Are minorities, especially the Russians, discriminated against in Latvia? Is it very difficult for them to become citizens? Do they have political rights?” to “Have the new leaders of Latvia privatized state property for their own use and are they guilty of massive corruption while the majority of the people live in poverty?”.
I knew before reading this book that Latvia was the victim of a number of disinformation campaigns, be they intentional propaganda put out by governments (mainly Russian) or inaccurate portrayals in movies or television. What I didn’t know was just how many of these campaigns were out there, or how vicious and concentrated they really were and are. I came to realize that much of the world has been misinformed about Latvia and Latvians for quite a long time.
Now, this is not to say that Rislakki doesn’t point out unpleasantries or failings – he certainly does. Latvia is not perfect, and there is a lot of work to be done, particularly with regards to living standards and political corruption. But he does point out that a lot of what is spread around as historical “fact” about Latvia is really nothing of the sort. He also says that a lot of this disinformation has also been internalized by Latvians themselves, so that we do not really know our own history – and this is the really dangerous part. For it is important to know history.
The most poignant quotes from this book are with regards to the importance of knowing history, and knowing the real history. He writes: “I find it sad that a small country is often robbed of its independence and in addition, of the right to its own history… more than most nations, Latvia and Latvians have seen their history written by others.”
Now, with that in mind, it’s ironic that I recommend this book, written by an “other”, as a good guide to separating fact from fiction regarding Latvian history, but in this case, I think it is important to do to be able to start to change hearts and minds about Latvia and Latvians, because with all the hostility out there, people are more likely to believe an outside source. I highly recommend this book. Read it, give it to a friend, and let the truth spread. Everyone should read it.