It was a beautiful sunny morning in Salaspils today. Yesterday I was woken up by Tiit Karuks from Estonian Radio Plc., and the last "free NATO Summit day" was partially spent creating this weblog. It is a unique experience and there are so many issues I have not spoken about since June 2005 when I am back in Baltics. Since I have this diary now I can at least try to reach out, because e-mailings do not provide fruitful thoughts. I remember that last time I sat in the chat room was back in Budapest in 1996, although sometimes it is cool to chat simulataneously with someone when you are actually skyping:) Allright, enough about the technologies and lets get back to the thoughts I shared with Latvian people today.
I participated in the program "Krustpunkti" in Latvian Radio and we had a jovial wrap - up about, guess what, the 2006 NATO Summit! Together with the Minister of Defence Mr. Atis Slakteris, former Latvian Ambassador in NATO Mr. Aivis Ronis and radio journalist Mr. Kārlis Streips we were discussing myriad of issues concerning Latvian involvement in out of area missions, new challenges that NATO is facing and finally what are the tasks for Latvia whilst being the member of most Western Club organizations today (actually the last organization Latvian governments still wants to take part is OECD).
Latvian government decided and Saeima passed the law, that from November 23, 2006 there shall be no more draft army in Latvia. If one folows suggestions of Milton Friedman Latvia has made a very smart decision - abolished its standing army and in times of peace relies solely on professional recruits. There are about 150 Latvian soldiers serving in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia today. They are mostly serving within ranks of bigger army platoons. In Iraq they are with Poles and in Afghanistan with Norwegians. Bigger platoons provide Latvian army with so needed hardware and logistical support. Such situation can not last forewer, and at least Latvian government has increased military expenditures up to 2% from GNP. However, one day logistics, hardware and military equipment must come from Riga!?
NATO challenges are not just out of area missions or more crucially the mission in Afghanistan. Looking from Europe one of the most crucial issues is the difference of opinion about future development of NATO between the US and the EU. It is very simple to discount Jacques Chirac, because Angela Merkel cannot simply rebalance traditional strategic triangle without damaging its relations with Paris. That is especially important from todays perspective when Germany shall hold the EU presidency starting from January 2007 and the EU - Russian partnership ends next year. In addition to that, is militant Nicolas going to behave less militant or royal Segolene shall be in favour of liberal world order?
Regardless of this, there are still challenges for Latvia and Lithuanian alike. Transparency International latest index showed LAT and LIT in the same league with Russia, whilst EST was in a bunch with Slovenia and Austria. It is very easy to say that transformation of Latvia was more burdensome due to the comparatively huge number of non-Latvian population. But lets be honest, such talk reminds me of a person who pours ashes on his head while his fortunes are flowing past him in the river. Latvian problems today are very concrete and they need a political will to solve them. Major problems in Latvia today are - inability to execute territorial administrative reform in conjunction with the reform of the municipal electoral law, the universal mandatory revenue report system and overhaul of the Soviet education infrastructure!
Finally, I want to comment only abou the last issue, the need to overhaul the Soviet education infrastraucture. One may complain that education systems are the most copnservative ones, but what gives a sense to conservatism when Latvia is running empty of its population? The fact that there are structural and cohesion funds from the Brussels coffers are solutions for the medium term, but what Latvian students shall do in 4-7 years time???
Its not just Latvian or Baltic students competing with the West European, American and Japanese counterparts, NO, we must already compete also with the best Chinese (producing 327 000 "very hungry" engineering graduates annually), Indian and Russian students. We must not compete with Chinse in manufacturing or with Indians in software industry, NO! However, Latvian government may provide an infrastructure for Latvian universities and institutes, so they could innovate collaboratively for ideas - what could be a Latvian NOKIA!!! Latvian political elite - the only thing lacking is your political will to see the forest behind trees:) Lai veicas!!!