Chapter Three: Lietuvēns
Do you want to know what I really hate? I hate the way everybody assumes that I would know everything there is to know about the supernatural world. Just because I’m a demon, humans seem to take it for granted that I am privy to all of the mysteries of life and death. They assume that I know about those things that mere mortals can’t see with their own eyes nor touch with their own hands. Well, I don’t.
I spend much more time observing the human world. One of the privileges of being a demon is that I’m not reliant on public transport to move around. Let me make it perfectly clear that I don’t want to say anything bad about public transport in Latvia. It’s actually pretty good. I’m just glad I don’t have to use it myself. Aside from my ability to move around quickly, I’m also a time traveler. To top it off, nobody can see me. Consequently, it’s dead easy for me to find out about everything that’s going on, so there’s no shortage of action-packed entertainment for me. Trust me, when you you’re like me and you have a front row seat to watch the machinations of Latvia’s oligarchs, it’s so much fun that I’m glad I’m a demon. I shudder to think how dull life would be for me if I was dependent upon the Latvian media for facts about the biggest criminals in the nation. Instead of reading the watered-down reports that they write, I get to see how much money is paid in bribes to the senior editors to ensure what they don’t write. Despite my backstage pass in the human world, it is a sad fact for me that I don’t have the same reach into my own realm – the realm of supernatural beings.
For example, I have no idea whether there is a “God” or not. I’ve never met him. I haven’t met any of the so-called “angels” either. I don’t even know whether those wing flapping do-gooders exist. And don’t get me started on vampires; I would not be able to sit through another Twilight movie.
I couldn’t even tell you if Satan really exists. Now, you probably think I work for him, but I don’t. Mind you, I have to admit, if he is real then I wouldn’t mind meeting him. I would love to appear in a selfie with Satan, just to prove that I met him once. Then again, cameras can’t photograph demons, so that’s the end of that dream.
Let’s get back to this tenuous subject of God. I’ve noticed that some humans believe with all their hearts that he’s real. I can remember a time when I used to torment a certain young Latgalian woman while she slept. Let’s call her “Mārga”. That’s not her real name, by the way. She was a regular customer at a pub called Krogs Kuilis on Augusta Saulieša iela in the town of Cesvaine and she was obsessed with a nearby castle called Cesvaines Pils, which I have to admit is a beautiful structure. If you ever go to Cesvaine, the castle there is a “must see”. Mārga would make daily trips to that castle documenting every aspect of it in her sketchbook, taking many notes, as she tried to authentically capture the castle’s Gothic, Romanesque, and Art Nouveau style in her drawings. I used to see her doing this all the time and I often wondered if she was suffering some kind of mental disorder. After a day of sketching Cesvaines Pils, she would sit at a table in a pub called Krogs Kuilis with a pint of her favourite beer, Brenguļu alus, and continue to work on her sketches while munching on Ķiploku grauzdiņi. Then, as closing time approached, she’d head home to bed.
Oh, I’m sorry to digress, but if you’ve never had Ķiploku grauzdiņi, you’ve got to try it. A better snack to eat while knocking back some of Latvia’s finest ales has never been invented, in my humble opinion. You just need to get hold of some of the traditional rye bread that Latvians refer to as ķieģelītis. Just slice this bread up and fried it in oil or butter and then rub the fried bread with a cut garlic clove afterwards. It’s even better if served with some sour cream enhanced with garlic and dill. Delicious! Anyway, back to our tormented friend, Mārga.
Every night, just for fun, I came to her and afflicted her with sleep paralysis. It was driving her crazy and her parents, who were very religious people, concluded that she was being tormented by a demon. Ten out of ten for them.
Normally, when people in Latvia want to avoid a visit by me, they post the symbol of Auseklis on their doors. Auseklis, in Latvian mythology, is the male god who personifies the planet Venus. Supposedly, I’m very scared of Auseklis and that is enough to keep me away. I’m not going to confirm or deny that. However, Mārga’s parents weren’t particularly interested in Latvian mythology. They were strict Roman Catholics and they ended up asking a Catholic priest to come to their house to expel that demon that was haunting their daughter.
So, this old Catholic priest from a nearby town in Latgale region arrives at their apartment on Celtnieku iela and commences to peform some kind of ritualistic exorcism. At first, I was trying not to laugh. This was one of the funniest things I had ever seen and I was so glad I’d turned up to see it. That was until he started calling upon his “God” to expel me.
I got the hell out of there as fast as I could, vowed never to go near Mārga again, and thanked my lucky stars my escape was fast and efficient.
You see, I mean it when I say that I don’t know if that “God” he was carrying on about is real or fiction, but I sure know that he believed in it without the slightest doubt in his heart and I was not sticking around to see if his God was going to surprise me by showing up unexpectedly just to deal with me. Seriously, you pick your battles in this world, and the next, and there’s a limit to what kind of gambles I’m wiling to take. As they say, “better safe than sorry”.
The point I’m making is, even we demons, as evil as we might be, are quite easily frightened by the unknown. So much so, even humans can scare us away if they give us a big enough fright. We know when it’s time to pack our bags and hit the road.
However, there is one demon in this world that is steadfast. This demon can possess an entire nation, take a government into its stranglehold, distort the economy, pervert the police, and push the most decent people to do the very worst things. This demon is powerful, selfish, and highly destructive. This demon is unshakable in its commitment to its own cause. This demon is called “Corruption”.
Corruption cannot be avoided by posting a picture of a mystical symbol on the front door of a government office. Corruption cannot be expelled by the incantations of a religious man. Corruption cannot be cleansed by the angels. Corruption fears no God. Corruption is a furious genie that, once released from its lamp, poisons what is best about humans and reacts with violent retribution against anybody who should try to challenge it. Corruption can expand, grow, and become stronger. Like the Lernaean Hydra, if you lop off one of its heads, more heads grow in its place. In medieval legends, even this character Satan would sometimes run away to hide. Corruption has greater resolve to stand its ground than even Satan himself. Corruption isn’t a mere demon; it’s a Devil. It’s an indefatigable Devil that must be seized by mighty force, cast down in chains, and then imprisoned in the harshest most inescapable prison ever built, as it will never leave by its own will.
Corruption is a most powerful Devil, and it has many servants. If I was asked to name one of Corruption’s greatest servants, it would have to be Aivars Lipšitzs.
Aivars Lipšitzs was a powerful businessman who reigned over a billion euro business empire centred on the western Latvian city of Ventspils. He was a graduate in economics at the Latvia State University during Soviet times. Mind you, one would have to ask what was taught in an economics degree awarded by a university that was beholden to the ideologies of the Soviet system. After all, the Soviets were motivated by the outdated, irrational writings of that ratbag called Karl Marx and then, later on, they gave their loyalty to an anti-intellectual, murderous thief and torturer called Josef Stalin. You might as well say that Lipšitzs obtained his qualifications out of a Kellogg’s Cornflakes packet.
He had been a fairly significant member of the Communist Party in the Soviet occupation regime that had despoiled Latvia prior to the Republic of Latvia regaining its independence from the USSR in 1991. Like all Soviet stooges, he had complicity in destroying more than he created. Then, magically, within only a matter of years of Latvia seceding from the USSR, he went from being a Commie official to being a centimillionaire in next to no time. To this very day, there appears to be no logical explanation as to where he got all his money.
Where did all his money come from? Did he invent Facebook? Did he invent Google? Did he create a new product or service that revolutionalised the Western World? No, he didn’t do any of those things. Nobody in Latvia seems to have any rock solid explanation as to how Lipšitzs became so rich, so soon. Even more remarkable, Lipšitzs acquired his great wealth in an economically depressed post-Soviet state as if it was as easy as opening a fast food restaurant in Singapore.
I’ve heard some apologists for Aivars Lipšitzs argue that he has done great things for Latvia. Yes, he helped negotiate with various Russian oligarchs to direct their exports through the port of Ventspils and to receive their imports through the same port. And, yes, this brought some revenue into Latvia. Now, let’s have a reality check: Ventspils is an ice-free port with first class access to Baltic shipping lanes. It allows Latvia to function as a cross roads between the very rich Scandinavian economies and the economies of Russia as well as Eastern and Central Europe. No port in the entire Baltic region is as blessed as Ventspils for its strategic location and year-round access to Baltic Sea trade routes. To be quite frank, Mickey Mouse could have negotiated such deals with the Russians. And maybe if Mickey Mouse had been the principal negotiator on behalf of Latvia, he would have stolen a lot less money.
Aivars Lipšitzs was also credited as a “philanthropist”. I get a big, big laugh out of that one. All the big oligarchs like to pretend that they are. So, here we have a man who has spent three decades stealing hundreds of millions of euros worth of assets from the Latvian people, and every year he hands out some free chocolates to children in poor families. This, somehow, is supposed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Everybody is forgetting that men like Aivars Lipšitzs are the reason why we have poor people in Latvia in the first place and I’ve never heard of any family being elevated out of poverty by having their children get free chocolate every Christmas. If ever there was a man who thoroughly deserved to one day join Valērijs Kapustins in prison, it was Aivars Lipšitzs. But this was never going to happen because Lipšitzs, like Kapustins, had all the key doyens of government thoroughly bribed. Everybody else who might oppose him on legal or moral grounds simply feared being murdered.
Even in a regime of bribery and fear, you are always going to find those people who are so sick of being urinated upon by rich criminals that they will feel they have to start doing something about these brigands. It just takes that little spark that lights the fire.
The day that Sanita found her housemate, Elena, lying dead in a bath full of cold, soapy water and blood was the day that a spark was ignited inside her. She had become good friends with Elena while they worked at Rimi together in Vecrīga. They often spent their weekends skylarking around Rīga, meeting handsome young men, and bonding the way young women do. Sanita believed she had found a friend for life when she met Elena.
That sad and tragic morning when Sanita found Elena in her deathly state imposed a vision she could not remove from her memory. That which had been seen couldn’t be unseen. Sanita eventually met with Delta shortly after he took leave from the Army and she read the letter that Elena had left behind. It was devastating.
Sanita went on to study information technology at Latvijas Lauksaimniecības universitāte, which is the Latvian University of Agriculture in the city of Jelgava. It has since changed its name.
During her time at university, she befriended a number of intellectuals who were very much opposed to corruption in Latvia and who used to get together to discuss the situation and what might be done to rid Latvia of this pestilence. At that time, this informal group of people was little more than a gathering of very clever geeks who fancied themselves as caped crusaders for justice. You get that from reading too many Marvel comics.
However, with the passage of time, our anti-corruption geeks had grown a little older, matured a little more, and found reasonably well-paid jobs in Rīga. They hadn’t seen much of each other since graduating from university until the day when one of them suggested the group get together again, just for old times’ sake. A date was set and Sanita met with her old friends one Tuesday night at a place in Vecpilsētas iela called The Armoury Bar.
You should see that place. It’s as much a museum for military firearms as it is a bar. The walls are adorned with authentic Soviet and Western weapons like the AK-47, the M16, the Bren gun, and the Fabrique Nationale FN-FAL to name a few. There’s even a Czechoslovakian ZB-53 medium machine gun sitting on the bar itself. What’s more, the staff there are positively charming.
During the evening that Sanita and her friends had their reunion, the social intercourse was lubricated somewhat by the high quality whiskey on sale in that bar. One of the attendees floated the idea that they should do this every Tuesday and get back to their original dreams of fighting corruption in Latvia. Somebody even suggested a secret name for their group, “The Jelgava Circle”, in honour of the times when they used to meet in Jelgava, and maybe a little inspired by the famous Kreisau Circle that had formed in Nazi-controlled Germany during World War II. The Kreisau Circle was a secret meeting of German dissidents who conspired to form a new German state after the end of the Third Reich. The newly formed Jelgava Circle was to be a secret coterie of Latvian intellectuals committed to bringing down the criminal junta that controlled Latvia like a shadow government.
If you feel that they were dreaming, you’d be forgiven. But they took their mission very seriously, and they started putting their collective brain power into it.
The Jelgava Circle was nothing like the Prometheans. None of them had a military background, and they were not proposing to resort to violence. They did have something in common with the Prometheans: they had little faith that due processes of law and justice in Latvia would ever bring the oligarchs to their knees. That’s because the oligarchs collectively owned and operated the criminal justice process in Latvia. There was nothing they couldn’t buy. They believed that the oligarchs would have to be tricked into their own downfall by a committed group of people who were more intelligent than the oligarchs, and who could devise a very clever plan of attack. They believed that anything can be achieved provided you can find a way to go about it.
The question was, how were they going to go about it?
The Jelgava Circle racked their brains trying to come up with ideas. Certainly there was nothing particularly brilliant on the table for the first few weeks. Then, one Tuesday night, Sanita dropped an idea that was to shape the destiny of all plans made by the Jelgava Circle.
“You know how people like Lipšitzs and Kapustins rely on shell companies and offshore jurisdictions to hide money, to appear less rich than they are? Well, what if we were to form a company that did exactly the same thing, except to make our company appear richer than it really is?” asked Sanita.
“Oh that would be a smart move!” interjected an accountant called Tomas. “So we’d have this company that has falsified its accounts to look really rich, even though it probably has about 20 euros in the bank, and then we’d have the State Tax Service chasing us for millions of euros in taxes that we don’t have!”
Sanita’s eyes flared.
“It wouldn’t have to be a Latvian company. We could register it in Hong Kong, or Belize, or the Seychelles, or somewhere like that. It would be outside the jurisdiction of the Latvian authorities. We could give it a really flashy website that boasts all kinds of fake assets around the world. How would anybody know otherwise?”
Tomas was not easily convinced. “Even if we successfully created this sham company that looks like something Donald Trump owns, what would be the point in that?”
Sanita went on to explain the outline of what the Jelgava Circle should do. She spoke at great length of a strategy that was on a similar scale to the story of the Trojan Horse. Her compatriots were on the edge of their seats as Sanita described a bold and daring scheme that could very well leave Aivars Lipšitzs exposed for the world to see. The best thing of all was that Lipšitzs would be completely unaware that he has an enemy group called the Jelgava Circle lining him up to fall from a great height, and he had no way of knowing they were coming his way. Sanita wound up her detailed description of her wonderfully mischievous plan. Most of the group were left in silence. Tomas, who had previously been skeptical, seemed to have changed his tune.
“Like a sting operation?” asked Tomas.
“Yes. I mean, why not? Why should sting operations only be done by police? What would be so unorthodox about a group of private citizens setting up a sting?”
Nobody would deny it was an ambitious plan proposed by Sanita. Yet, several rounds of whisky shots later, the Jelgava Circle were warming to Sanita’s plan. Of course, it would need some tweaking.
As Aivars Lipšitzs sat in this office that same evening watching a Russian porn film, he had no way of knowing that he was about to be the target of a plot to financially destroy him. He didn’t even know the names or faces of the people who were conspiring to sabotage his house of cards. With a knock on the door interrupting his impending orgasm, he quickly pulled up his pants, switched over to the evening news, and invited the Latvian Finance Minister in for a cup of coffee. They had something to discuss.
(to be continued, Friday 29th June, 2018)