There are two different versions of the Beatles’ Revolution. The one most often heard is the upbeat single version in which Lennon’s lyrical delivery is at its sarky best as he savages the self-importance of ideologues.
But there’s also a laid-back, stoner version in which the refrain “Cos you know it’s gonna be… alright” becomes the most important lyric, a thought which the ideologues would rubbish as passive fatalism but which – when said the right way by the right people – exudes a sort of effortless confidence and sense of perspective that in the end makes it a better song.
It was the latter version that was buzzing in my head yesterday when I attended what was probably the mellowest revolutionary gathering on record.
Around 5,000 people gathered in a small park on the left bank of the Daugava to protest against the continuing influence of Latvia’s crooked, self-serving oligarchs. There were barely any banners, just a few remarkably intelligent speeches by non-political figures and a few witty put-downs of the oligarchs themselves by means of a celebratory “corruption pyre”, a flotilla of model boats launched onto the river and an hilarious maquette of Aivars Lembergs that drifted among the crowds like a malevolent leprechaun.
As people lounged on the grass in the warm evening sunshine, the mood had a hint of Woodstock about it and was remarkable chiefly for its optimism. The consensus was that the oligarchs’ days are alread numbered, and the gathering took the form of an ironical send-off into the afterlife.
Significantly I think, the very few wackos who bothered to walk across the bridge sensed that they didn’t really belong and stayed very much on the fringes of the event. Their aggression and narrow-mindedness, whether directed at this or that ethnic group or historic event, was so out of keeping with the pervading spirit of laid-back optimism that one could almost have felt sorry for them… if they weren’t such twats.
And looking at the people lying on the grass or trundling past on bicycles, I found mysef drawn into the optimistic mood. These people knew the oligarchs better than anyone – they had been putting up with them for 20 years – but they no loner felt threatened or scared by them. Messrs. Lembergs, Skele and Slesers no longer seemed like big, influential figures but rather vulgar gatecrashers at a party who had overstayed their welcome and were now being asked politely to leave.
As a true republic, Latvia is in many ways a “classless” society, but yesterday showed that a different sort of class does exist. There’s the gaudy grubbing of the oligarchs and their serf-like cronies which is all short-term and obvious. Then there is true class – the sort of thing that cannot really be taught: the difference between merely having good manners and being a gentleman, or between doing what’s good for you and what’s better for everyone. Or perhaps the difference between “pilsoniba” and “tautiba.”
Even while lazing on their backs in the warm Pardaugava grass, the demonstrators had somehow managed to claim the moral high ground. And there was absolutely nothing the oligarchs could do about it other than look on with no hope of comprehension. A bit like Revolution Number 9.