(No. 5 from Mao Tse-Tung by Andy Warhol (1972), a series of ten colour screenprints.)
by Imants Ziedonis (my translation from the Latvian original)
It is a curious tradition of this country. To the joy of the populace. Each year, on New Years Eve, they hold the birthday lottery. (A similar lottery is held before Women’s Day - in the beginning of March.) You have the opportunity to enter, and if you’re a lucky winner, the paper will write and the radio broadcast, that on such and such a date your birthday will be celebrated. The whole of Latvia knows this, that again three people have won this year: a low-power engineer N. from a hardware store, pensioner S., and some girl from Viljaani. Or some other three, according to the year.
This birthday will be recognized in Riga on widely-viewed podiums. You will be honoured and congratulated by delegations (including government members among the well-wishers) - all that, simply for being. That you work hard, and are a sociable person. And now, if you are actually a loafer and anti-social, the organizing committee will by-the-by find out and declare, that you have something good and laudable. For in the world there is no person so pitiful, that we each cannot be their comrade, friend and brother, somewhat as said by Francois Villon. And so there is something about you that can be congratulated. For example - perhaps you have never left a rake in the yard with its prongs pointing upwards. One has such a firm grip - another, has good taste. One is so quick-witted, that they are laughing before the joke even starts, another so righteous that not even a mad dog could deflect their path. You’ll be cheered and remembered, for the good you have done, and they will say you have not been born to the world for no purpose. And you are worthy! If your friends and relatives won’t tell you so, the organizing committee will discover it, formulate it and notify it on your birthday - to one and all.
Naturally, if you don’t want your birthday celebrated like a national writer, or a well-paid, commissioned artist, you can avoid the lottery, and just spent it with your wife and children, and with your grandma. I am talking about those who do participate in the lottery. Our birthday calendar will become richer and more colourful. It seems only artists, scientists and such folk, are those whose worth is such, that we should gaze at their advancing age with wonder! Hence this interesting custom of our land - chance will lift you up, place you upon the stage and say: young he is and unseen, old he is and forgotten, ordinary he is like all our neighbours - come and tell him, that just so, he is worth something.
Imants Ziedonis (1933-2013)