Monday, April 23, 2007

A word for the wise in Alununa iela

In all of the time I have been having my little say on the world and life in Riga I have never directly copied previously published material - however this week I will.

Much has been written and spoken about the behaviour of the "Brits" when visiting Riga, and we have all had our say as to what should be done - but the following letter, written by the Earl of Carlisle, was published in last weeks Baltic Times - and it one which I wholeheartedly agree !!

Authority without responsibility

Apr 18, 2007
The Earl of Carlisle Patron, The Baltic Council of Great Britain

I write to apologize to the Latvian nation, her president and to the citizens of Riga for the disgraceful and inexcusable misconduct of a small, but also growing number of British subjects who have desecrated your Freedom Monument and abused your hospitality.

Having arranged a sister monument in St. Saviour’s Church in Riga, with the agreement of your Church of State, to honor the 112 British sailors and airmen killed in action in Latvia and Estonia’s War of Independence, I fully sympathize with you and well understand your irritation and contempt for those from my country who have disgraced us and themselves in your capital city for whose freedom our sailors’ blood was shed 88 years ago.

I am also displeased that the current British ambassador has neither publicly apologized nor set in motion a workable plan to prevent a reoccurence of such an outrage. I detect arrogance and indifference.

We learn that His Excellency will place beer mats, on which will be written exhortations, in the open-air hostelries in Riga urging British tourists to conduct themselves with decorum whilst in Riga. An insult to bona-fide tourists and a provocation to louts. What is to be done? How to do it? Try this tale. It is true.

In Tallinn, three years ago, I observed a group of my fellow countrymen behaving in an untoward fashion. I courteously but firmly remonstrated with them with good effect.

Later I met with the Defense Attache from Britain to Riga and Tallinn. I enquired, “First Dublin, then Prague, now Tallinn and Riga. What is your answer to this little local difficulty?”He replied, “On Friday afternoon, in summer, I remove my uniform. I don civilian clothes. I make my way to the places in Riga where the young men have congregated. I say to them, ‘Good afternoon, gentlemen. Welcome to Riga. I see that you are enjoying yourselves. I feel that I should introduce myself since I am the person on duty at the British Embassy this weekend. Should anything untoward befall you, I am the person summoned to assist. I wish you a happy visit and for myself a good night’s rest. Any questions? Gent-lemen.’”I suggest that the Lieutenant Colonel has showed far more leadership, firmness, tact and common sense than His Excellency with his beer mats.

The continent of Europe was plagued for nearly two decades by a minority of British football fans who disgraced themselves, their nation and their football clubs in the cities of Europe. Lives were lost. An untold amount of damage was done to people and property, as well as to Britain’s reputation. Action was taken at government level. National and regional police forces through Interpol, working with football clubs and travel agencies largely solved the problem. The miscreants were punished. Some lost their jobs, had their passports confiscated, were blacklisted, ended up in custody and missed their flights home. I suggest that this is the correct way forward. It requires coordination.

Our diplomatic service has to play a role here. I write at Eastertide. Should the British Ambassador to Riga have attended divine service at St. Saviour’s Church, Riga, he would have observed the consecrated and not desecrated memorial to the British sailors who contributed to Latvian independence with their lives. He would have also heard the tale, should he have chosen to listen, of the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate who, 2,000 years ago “washed his hands” of a matter which he found too difficult, and walked away. I apologize again to the citizens of Riga.

On this occasion for the British ambassador who has vested in him the authority but neglects to assume the responsibility to take timely and effective action to rid Riga of this pestilence.

So the Earl I say well said !!

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