Editorial: Be Nice To Your Village Nazi

Take note – story published 9 years and 2 months ago

I was recently asked if I would be interested in refuting “lies” about Latvia in the international media. It was an unusual request. As a journalist you are more used to being accused of distortions than correcting them – and that applies whether you are writing about businesses, politics or doing restaurant reviews.

One of the biggest journalistic bust-ups I ever had was when I wrote about a restaurant mocking one of its customers as soon as she had paid the bill and left – which I witnessed with my own eyes. It hadn't happened, and I was trying to destroy his business, the manager told me - though the manager hadn't been there that night. He also said it had been very unfair of me to remain anonymous and pay for my own meal rather than taking a freebie to ensure a positive review.

So I gave the offer to right the wrongs perpetrated against Latvia some thought. The trouble was, I couldn't really think of many lies, and if I was to be paid per lie, like some sort of bounty hunter, it would make pretty thin pickings.

The only real lie I could think of was so crass and stupid it hardly needed refuting. It's the lie, repeated so often in Russian state media that it's become a sort of Gregorian chant, that everyone in Latvia (and Estonia, and Lithuania) is a Nazi.

Everyone in Latvia is not a Nazi. So that's one lie dealt with.

But then something occurred to me. Actually, I do know a Nazi.

In all honesty “know” is itself stretching the truth. This Nazi lives in my village, which is why every time I see him I say: “Look, there's the village Nazi!” in the same way a hundred years ago they might have pointed at some hayseed chewing straw while falling off a gate and said: “Look, there's the village idiot!”

It's not politically to correct to talk about village idiots these days, but then it's not particularly politically correct to be a Nazi either.

I know this man is a Nazi because he usually wears a Nazi party membership badge. It's one of the real ones from the 1930s, the sort German industrialists used to wear in their lapels if they wanted to win a contract to build Messerschmitts.

Of course, just because you wear a swastika doesn't make you a Nazi (particularly in Latvia where arguments about Latvian folkloric symbols have some validity). You might be a punk, a childish art provocateur or just an ordinary kind of idiot. But in this case, the fact that my Nazi also likes to sport a German army jacket and field cap adds to the likelihood that he is a National Socialist of sorts.

But what about Lemmy? you might argue. He likes dressing up in WWII German uniforms and singing songs about bombers, and he's not a Nazi.

That's also true. But Lemmy also has a superb Zapata mustache that would never have been allowed in the NSDSP. My Nazi has a proper Hitler/Chaplin toothbrush mustache.

I first saw the village Nazi at the bus stop. He was waiting for the same bus as me. He smoked a cigarette. He paced up and down. After a few minutes I pointed at his Party badge.

“Are you a Nazi?” I asked.

He just carried on pacing up and down. Maybe he is hard of hearing. Maybe he doesn't like being addressed by Untermenschen, particularly when they look like they are about to laugh.

It's a shame he didn't reply. I'm a bit of an expert on army surplus gear and all I wanted to tell him was that his field cap was actually Swiss and his jacket was Bund-issue so was actually rather anti-Nazi. I was trying to be helpful.

And as Nazis go, he's not exactly the Aryan Superman. Short-ish, fat-ish and middle-aged with longish hair turning grey at the ends, a stoop when he walks, and eyes too close together, he looks like he would have trouble ascending an Alp while singing the Horst Wessel song unless he could have regular cigarette breaks on the way.

I did my best to dislike him, but somehow I couldn't. He was just too innocuous, too ridiculous. Then a few weeks later I saw him at the school my own children attend. It was the Christmas concert.

He'd tied his hair back in a pony tail and put on a white jacket. He'd grown and combed his mustache so it didn't looks quite so Hitlerish. There was no Nazi party membership badge in the lapel and with the sleeves rolled up his arms he looked less like a sad stormtrooper and more like a minor Mexican drug baron from an episode of Miami Vice. A definite improvement.

He didn't give any straight-arm salutes during 'Jingle Bells'. He just sat there looking proud of his kids like everyone else and with that slightly worried look all parents have until the January pay packet arrives.

Does he yearn for genocide and dream of bogus racial purity? I don't know. Perhaps he's only a weekend Nazi, not in for the whole nine yards. But I do know that in Latvia hardly anyone takes the fantasies of such a man seriously, and certainly no-one in a position of real authority.

So, dear Russian state media, I admit that Latvia is not a completely Nazi-free zone. This is one lie I cannot refute. But if we must have Nazis (and there's no reason we should) then at least make them these silly, slightly pathetic sort of Nazis rather than the ones who get paid to go to hate conferences in St Petersburg or who murder people in forests outside Moscow then post the crimes on YouTube.

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