Friday, July 27, 2007

Summer gets shorter?

Industrial world's stock exchanges face remarkable slump this Friday. Pessimists might exclaim that it is the beggining of the end, while pragmatists would customarily utter - that we knew that this day would come one day. The reason for this whole talk is the cheap credit market the indutrially developed world (including the Baltic States) have enjoyed throughout the early 21th century. The fact that there is a global system of free trade, and, there are no restrictions for the free movement of capital made the whole present system running. But for truly free global economic system also such issues are essential - unrestricted movement of labour and transparency of the governance systems.

While there is free movement of labour in the Baltic States among majority of the EU member countries there are restrictions for outside-EU workers coming in. If one speaks about transparency on the way governments in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius are running then Riga has the hardest burden to bear. In my previous bliog entries I assumed that the summer vacation time would most definitely influence the relative inactivity of the governing coalition. Now, the interplay between internal developments and external pressure might foster the reshuffle of the Latvian government indeed.

These are postmen, nurses and doctors who are about to strike in Latvia. World stock markets are reflecting the bad health of the US housing/subprime market. Whenever the US market cathes bad health the rest of the world must feel it. The Economist wrote about the bad health of the subprime market and we shall see whether the bad health of the US market would make also the rest of the global markets contageous. Anyway, the housing market in the Scandinavian countries already experiences the slump and the Estonian and Latvian formerly booming housing markets shows first signs of the slowdown already.

The question now is whether governments are able to withstand the challenges posed by the possible global slump. Here we come back to the former discussion about the consequences of the irresponsible governance style in Latvia. While Estonian government has spared money with annual budget surpluses, it is Latvian government that still lives with the rozy shades and with the half baked anti-inflationary measures. The EU Commissioner of Finance Mr. Almunia, on his visit to Latvia in early July, warned Latvian PM about the excessive budget deficit. Nevertheless, the lack of fiscal discipline is endemic in this country and I wonder what the government shall do when in addition to postmen and doctors also other public sector workers would start reprimanding their due incomes? Latvian government faces serious challenges and there is still noone to face them seriously. Would the Summer vacation be cut short to someone among the governing circles, and government would start reshuffling already in August??

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Summer in Baltics

Because it is a summer time, I decided to publish another photo set made in the Baltic States by Mr Janos Soos in 2005. This time the set is published in the direction from the South in Lithuania to the North in Estonia. The photo-set includes Lithuanina hill of the crosses near Siaulia, Livonian Turaida castle in Sigulda, Riga Art Nouveau & Old Town as well as Hanseatic Tallinn and the Song Festival amphitheater.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New president chooses his team

Last Sunday I gave an interview to the Baltic Times ( where I expressed my thoughts about the new president. Talis Saule Archeadon made a good work and the only minor glitch in the interview is the term "night period", which in reality was thought as knight period (read...former Estonian president Arnold Ryytel translates as knight in Estonian, and he followed Lennart Meri's presidency, thus such term in Estonia:). My agument in an interview was that, if the new president wants to become an independent policy maker, then he must brake out from the circle of the governing coalition. Today the news came out that Normunds Beļskis (48, People's Party), who was assigned as his advisor prior his innauguration ceremony, would become member of his team in order to facilitate coordination of information between different government institutions, yet it was stipulated that he would not be chancellary staff member. Mr Zatlers already has his press secretary, Ms Inta Lase who can pretty well communicate with the "outer world" including other government institutions. Therefore, the legitimate question here is, whether it is a tactical manouver of the incumbent president and his chief of staff, Mr Stiprais in order to make everybody happy at the initial stage, is it thought that the snook is harmless, or president was giving in to the reprimands of the governing coalition?

Another designated member of the presidential team is the future security advisor, Mr Raimonds Rožkalns (50) has a rich history behind him. He is a former head of the security police, the post he had to leave after the alleged scandal linking him with the Soviet security services in 1996. During the high time of privatization (during the mid 1990's) charges were pretty much fabricated against anyone who was trying to make some sense in the murky post-soviet politics. After this scandal he worked in the Latvian Intelligence Agency (Satversmes Aizsardzības Birojs), becoming even an acting head of the agency in 2003, until after 2005 he became the Latvian representative in the NATO. There is not much information about the spooky world "out here", thus even more interesting piece for investigative journalists.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It is a summer time

Vacation time is in full bloom in the Baltic Sea area. Mobile home vans with the licence plates from all over the EU could be seen on the Via Baltica and elsewhere. Saaremaa is traditionally visited by Finnish and Swedish tourists, and in Jūrmala traditional Russian tourists are mixing with Germans, British, Finns and Swedes. Have not been on the Curonian side of the Baltic Sea and Lithuania yet this summer, but I assume that pretty much the same trend is followed also there.

NATO officials these days in Mons discuss with the Baltic States respective representatives about the future of the air surveillance. The latter is provided now by the NATO allies in rotating order, and this system is agreed to exist until 2011. The official results of this meeting shall be known later and most probably Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania should start to tinker about purchasing of figher jets. Joint efforts here would probably work best and customarily one could follow the good examples of BALTNET, BALTRON and BALTDEFCO.

Military defense is important and especially now, when Russia is turning more self-assertive every day. The traditional Russian pre-election sabre rattling tactics has not changed, and it seems now that Kremlin's closed circle of friends have decided to continue verbal confrontation with the West. Divide et impera strategy works for Vladimir Putin, and the best way to secure balanced development of the Baltic States societies in the framework of such Russian strategy is to make their liberal economies and governance systems more transparent, thus more competitive and able to withstand global challenges.

Estonia has the best track record here and it is reflected in most of the indexes (just see the latest IT technology rating in the Economist or Lithuania has its problems with minority government, but at least they have internal consensus in the society. Latvia is traditionally the weakest link and unfortunately there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The maire of Ventspils, who is charged with money laundering and graft, was released from the prison due to health reasons. The decision of the judge, Mrs Tamāra Broda to have a positive verdict in the sixth attempt of the Mr Lembergs defense team to bail out their client is still equivocal. There are rumours about possible reshuffle of the government because disatisfaction with the Minister of Economics is omniscient. Also the head of the PM's office Mr Māris Riekstiņš (former ambassador in the Washington D.C.) is considered as an underutilized asset in the Latvian governance system.

While the political elite tinker about best possible reshuffle of the government the Latvian political dinosaur, the Minister of Interior Ivars Godmanis (LC/LPP)
gave an interview to Latvijas Avīze today ( In the long & rich interview the Minister admits that the productivity growth has been outpaced by the increase in the rate of salaries. With the population hemorreaging out of Latvia minister concludes that Latvian goverment has painted itself into the corner called - unsustainable economic system. At least there is one minister who admits that overheated Latvian economy is a problem, but his suggestions about alleviating the situation are a bit bizzare. Answering to the journalist's question - what next? - minister suggests that the best economists should be employed similarly to Germany in 2004(!), thus they would be handsomly paid to show the government the way out! This is truly brave to admit that problems exist, but in the meantime Latvian ministers never accept that the leadership is to be blamed for inadquate results of the economy running. Among several reports of Moody's , The Economist, Den Danske Bank and others, the most profound evaluation of the Latvian present economic situation was made by Messrs Alf Vanags & Morten Hansen ( Instead of listening to the warning signals, Mr Godmanis blames the same economists as irresponsible theoreticians...yet, another example of "the responsible" Latvian government minister.

Finally, the question is why does the minister of interior have to come out with such "economic revelations"? Is it due to the fact that Mr Godmanis tries to position himself as the only one who understands the consequences of the irresponsible governance style of the government he is part of, or does he want to show that other ministers (of Economics, Finance and perhaps PM himself) are simply inadequate for their rank? It is widely accepted that monetary policy as well as major economic issues are made in Frankfurt & Brussels. The ECOFIN meetings are therefore utterly essential for every member state, but neither the Latvian finance nor economics ministers are able to converse in English... . Probably, this is another signal prior approaching government reshuffle, but slowly these signals come these days - because it is a summer time:)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Saaremaa is almost a PARADISE!

Allright lads & lassies, here we go in Saaremaa! If you want to discover differences between Latvia and Estonia then welcome to the Kingdom of Saaaremaa!! Everything is different here, even male and female relationships.... . All in all, it is almost paradise because of Kaali meteorite crater, the Kuresaare castle convent like structure, Panga pank (Madam Inguna Krīgere likes this expression in particular:), and never ending juniper forests are here, and most of the Saremaa visitors seem to just LOVE IT!!!

Enjoy your Sunday folks!!


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Before whining show me your passport!

Parādi savu pasi!

Veiko Spolītis, RSU mācībspēks

Referendums par valdošās koalīcijas vecgada vakara steigā izdarītajiem drošības likuma grozījumiem ir noticis. 338 765 Latvijas pilsoņi jūlija saulainā dienā sameklēja balsošanas birojus un parādīja, ka viņi nav apmierināti par to, ka varas turētāji atklāti izsmej savus darba devējus. Ir vasaras vidus, un Centrālās vēlēšanu komisijas lēmums par referenduma rīkošanu 7. jūlijā bija loģisks, jo pasaulē acīmredzot nav precedenta, kad valdība varu būtu atdevusi bez cīņas. Latvijas demokrātiskais režīms pilnveidojas, un tas, ka referendumā piedalījās vairāk cilvēku, nekā 9.Saeimas vēlēšanās par lielākajām opozīcijas partijām nobalsojušie (par Jauno laiku —148 602, par Saskaņas centru — 130 887), norāda, ka uz referendumu aizgāja arī vēlēšanās par valdošo koalīciju nobalsojušie vēlētāji. Referenduma kampaņā gan piedalījās tikai viena no opozīcijas partijām — Jaunais laiks. Saskaņas centra aktivitātes trūkums visizteiksmīgāk atspoguļojās šīs partijas tradicionālajā atbalsta teritorijā — Latgalē.

Masu saziņas līdzekļos intervētie pilsoņi kā divus galvenos argumentus dalībai referendumā minēja sekošanu aizgājušās prezidentes aicinājumam un nepatiku par esošās valdības stilu. Vairas Vīķes—Freibergas aicinājums tautai izmantot savas likumdošanas tiesības bija loģisks Satversmē noteikts likumdošanas solis. Nepatika pret valdības bezatbildīgo un vīzdegunīgo valdīšanas stilu ir visaptveroša. Tāpēc šajā rakstā centīšos apkopot iemeslus referenduma kvoruma trūkumam un iezīmēšu nelielas aprises, kā Latvijas demokrātiskais režīms varētu attīstīties tālāk pēc vasaras atvaļinājumu laika.

Vox populi vox dei

Tautas teiktais atbalso Dieva teikto, un gandrīz miljons Latvijas vidusšķiras pārstāvji, neierodoties uz referendumu, parādīja, kāpēc Latvija atpaliek no saviem Baltijas kaimiņiem un atrodas Eiropas Savienības (ES) ekonomiski attīstīto valstu saraksta lejasdaļā. Vispārējais izglītības līmenis par demokrātiska režīma pamatprincipiem Latvijā ir nepietiekošs, un tas joprojām atspoguļojas Latvijas sabiedrības vēlmē risināt problēmas ar stingrās rokas palīdzību. Neizprotot līdzdalības jēdziena nozīmi pārstāvnieciskās demokrātijas apstākļos, Latvijā ir izveidojusies elitāra demokrātija, kur pilsoņi atstāj pilnvaras oligarhisku grupu rokās.[1] Kopumā vairākums Latvijas pilsoņu ir apmierināti ar savu pašreizējo labklājību, jo viņu pamatvajadzības ir apmierinātas. Veikali ir pilni ar precēm, pastāv neskaitāmas iespējas doties kādreiz liegtajos ārzemju ceļojumos, un tradicionālais trešdienu Kas notiek Latvijā? ir daudzkārt vienkāršāka demokrātijas līdzdalības forma nekā pašam uzņemties atbildību par sevi un valstī notiekošo. Nespēju uzņemties atbildību skaidro bailes, un šādas bailes arī skaidro lielākās Latvijas sabiedrības daļas rīcību. Bailes rada zināšanu trūkums, un to var viegli kompensēt ar aklu sekošanu tradicionālajai lietu kārtībai.

Sabiedrības lielākā daļa seko ierastajai lietu kārtībai, un tāpēc tā arī uzskatīja, ka šī referenduma gadījumā nav jāsaspringst. Pilsoņu vairākums, iespējams, ir noticējis varas turētāju divkosīgi sludinātajam, ka, iestājoties ES un NATO, Latvijas drošība ir garantēta. Diemžēl tas ir pašapmāns, jo drošība nekad nevar būt garantēta demokrātiskā režīmā, kura iedzīvotāju vairākums ir apātiski pret savu valsti. Šāda situācija nevar turpināties mūžīgi, un kādu dienu Latvijas stagnējošā politiskā kultūra var mainīt arī drošības alianses sabiedroto domas. ES arvien skaļākas kļūst runas par divu ātrumu Eiropu, kas ir sliktākais no scenārijiem Latvijai. Iekšpolitiski Latvija šobrīd ir sašķelta, un valdošajai elitei būs jāpaveic titānisks darbs, lai panāktu uzticību savam darbībam. Valdības pārstāvji varētu pārmest, ka šo rindu autors, jaunā prezidenta vārdiem, varētu darboties šīs lietas labā un beigt cīnīties. Darbojoties savā lauciņā un atbildot šādam hipotētiskam ieteikumam, teikšu tikvien, ka valdības nekonsekventā politika mani nekādi nepārliecina. Valdības vadītājs spēj dienas laikā nākt klajā ar trim dažādiem paziņojumiem par pretinflācijas plānu, bet parlamenta spīkers, atbildot uz politoloģes Vitas Matīsas jautājumu, pagājušās nedēļas, 4.jūlija, Domburšova laikā spēja mainīt savas domas vismaz trīs reizes. Un šie ir tikai daži no redzamākajiem piemēriem.

Ekonomika — biedējoša

Šī brīža ekonomiskā izaugsme ir šķietama un notiek, pateicoties ES iepludinātajiem līdzekļiem un Skandināvijas banku piedāvātajiem lētajiem kredītiem. Kad šo līdzekļu pieejamība beigsies, būs nepieciešama tāda Latvijas infrastruktūra un cilvēku resursi, lai spētu izturēt Latvijas tautsaimniecības globālos izaicinājumus. Kādi ir Latvijas ceļi, salīdzinot ar Lietuvu un Igauniju? Kādas ir Latvijas skolas, veselības iestādes un universitātes, un šajās iestādēs strādājošo algas? Šobrīd notiek ceļu remonti, bet atšķirībā no Igaunijas, kur ceļus jau neskaitāmus gadus atjauno gan somu, gan zviedru ceļa meistari, Latvijā nav dzirdēts, ka kādā no publiskajiem konkursiem būtu uzvarējusi firma, kura nav no Latvijas. Igaunijas budžeta pārpalikums ir daļa no stingri ieturētās labējās politikas, bet Latvijas budžeta deficīts turpretī ir tradicionāls. Sarunājoties ar kolēģiem no Igaunijas un Lietuvas, pārliecinos, ka izglītības sistēma šajās valstīs ir racionāli sakārtota, kamēr Latvijā izglītības sistēmā turpinās haoss.

Nepatika pret valdības rīcību parasti atbalsojas caur iedzīvotāju maciņiem. Šobrīd situācija Latvijas ekonomikā, salīdzinot ar pagājušā gadsimta deviņdesmitajos gados notiekošo, ir rožaina. Pieaugošās algas ļauj pirkt jaunus auto, iegādāties mājas hipotēku un visumā liecina par tautsaimniecības izaugsmi. Tomēr Latvijas ekonomikas veselība nav no labākajām, jo ko līdz 11% iekšzemes kopprodukta izaugsme, ja to “apēd” 8,8% inflācija? Nebeidzamais budžeta deficīts, katastrofālais tekošā konta deficīts un akūts darbaspēka trūkums visos tautsaimniecības sektoros ir patiesi biedējošs.

Izvēli atcerēsies rudenī

Šobrīd paliek atklāts jautājums, kas notiks tālāk? Nekas sevišķs, jo cilvēki turpinās iet uz darbu, kāds dosies atvaļinājumā, dzims bērni, un cilvēki dosies aizsaulē. Vienu vārdu sakot, dzīve turpināsies. Latvijas iedzīvotāji turpinās maksāt nodokļus, īsti nesaprotot, kā tos izlieto viņu ievēlētie priekšstāvji. Vasara Eiropas valstīm ierasti tiks pavadīta atvaļinājuma gaisotnē, un augusta beigās bērnu vecāki sāks gatavot savas atvases skolas gaitām. Septembra beigās rudens vēji atnesīs auksto laiku, kurš cilvēku maciņos liks sajust pirms vasaras sākuma palielinātās gāzes un elektrības cenas. Līdz ar enerģijas cenu kāpumu augs pārtikas cenas, un līdz ar to arī inflācija. Atceltie īres griesti kombinācijā ar pieaugošo maksu par apkuri liks pulkam ļaužu justies neomulīgi, un, iespējams, viņi jautās — kāpēc? Brīdinājuma signāli par Latvijas pārvaldes kvalitāti, kura neizbēgami iespaido Latvijas tautsaimniecību, ir bijuši neskaitāmi. Redzamākie no tiem ir Baltijas Starptautiskā Ekonomikas Politikas Studiju Centra (BICEPS) pētnieka un izpilddirektora Alfa Vanaga un asociētā pētnieka Mortena Hansena (Morten Hansen) pētījums[2], un The Economist analīze par Austrumeiropas pārkarsušajām ekonomikām, kur Latvija ir atklāti nosaukta par visproblemātiskāko valsti.

Sekojot ierastajām tradīcijām, Latvijas pilsoņi, iespējams, sunīs valdību un valsti par nespēju nodrošināt viņu labklājības nepārtrauktību, nesaprotot, ka arī viņi paši demokrātijas apstākļos ir daļa no valsts. Iespējams, apķērīgākie dosies jaunos darba meklējumos uz Eiropas Rietumu daļu, un visam pa vidu Latvijas pilsoņi gaidīs jaunā prezidenta spējas radīt sekošanai cienīgu ideālu. Rudenī būs atlikuši vēl trīs gadi līdz nākamajām vēlēšanām un premjeram, izmantojot Latvijas reālpolitiskās spēles noteikumus, iespējams, ienāks prātā, ka, tomēr ir jāatgriežas pie drošības likumu labojumiem. Latvijas pilsoņi, iespējams, rādīs nepatiku, aizmirstot, ka iespēja padarīt likuma grozījumus neatgriezeniskus tika dota simboliskajā 7.jūlija dienā. Lai tiem, kuri vaimanās visskaļāk, pārējie līdzpilsoņi palūdz parādīt pasi, jo tajā esošais zīmogs liecinātu par šādu vaimanātāju konsekventu godaprātu.

Ekonomikā mīkstas nosēšanās iespējamība ir tikai gadījumā, ja valdība aktīvi izmanto politiskās un ekonomiskās sviras, lai risinātu tautsaimniecības izaicinājumus. Aigara Kalvīša (TP) valdības politika aktīvu soļu speršanas vietā ir nolēmusi virzīties pa pussolim. Šādi tipinot, rudenī var sagaidīt, ka Latvijas sabiedrības lielāko daļu pamodinās tautsaimniecības smagā nosēšanās.____________________

[1] oligarchia grieķu val. - nedaudzu vara

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Oblivion in the post-soviet welfare society

Regardless of the numerous signals about a sick state of the Latvian economy (look just into the latest BICEPS report by Alf Vanags and Morten Hansen or latest synopsis of Edward Lucas in The Economist), majority of Latvian citizens (about 1 million eligible voters) feel satisfied enough and seem to be oblivious about the sorry state of their economia (houshold in Greek language). Current and trade account deficit, inflation rate, stalling economic growth and outpouring workforce are just the most visible data about the sorry performance of the delapidated Ms Latvia. Today, the new president would be oficially sworn into the office, and, that sets in the Latvian "knightly period" (knight translates as ryytel in Estonian) to paraphrase my good friend Mel's expression. In Estonia Lennart Meri established a rather high professional and moral standart for the Estonian presidency, thus the follow up presidency was simply classified as period of Arnold Ryytel. Similarly to its Northern cousin Vaira Vīķe Freiberga established high moral and profesional standards for Lavian presidency. The new president faces titanic task in order to match the previous record, and it will not be an easy task for Valdis Zatlers to consolidate the society where the 30 percent (323 000 people) are not happy about the sorry state of their houshold, and the rest of 70 percent (one million) are ignorant in their petit burgueois oblivion and led by the narrow group of smug manipulators.

The semi-official result of the yesterday's referendum voter turnout is 323479 persons. It is a good result considering that it was a bright and sunny summer day and shows that civil society exists in Latvia. The most active voters were in Vidzeme and Riga metropolitan area whereas the least active were in Latgale. In Ireland and the UK, where allegedly about 100 000 Latvian citizens reside, the turnout was about 200. The conclusion thus is, that the Latvian Irish and the UK contingent has left home very much due to the inability of the Latvian government to ensure their humane development. Adds in the www and radio were only in Latvian, thus native Russian electorate was not addressed at all. Just to compare the 9. Seaima parliamentary elections turnout with the yesterday's referendum one may notice, that the number of dissatisfaction in the society is growing, if one considers that referendum turnout is higher than voter turnout for opposition parties during latest parliamentary elections. Jaunais Laiks (JL) (148602), Saskaņas Centrs (SC) (130887) are opposition parties and together they got about 280000 votes. SC traditional voters reside in Latgale and Riga. It is hard to say, now whether SC electorate was active in Riga or not, but at least all is clear about Latgale. Thus, very robust analysis shows that probably some voters who voted in parliamentary elections for the governing coalition (Tautas Partja (TP) got 177481 and ZZS 151595) showed their dissatisfaction with the bahaviour of the government yesterday. Aye, also the votes of parties that did not overcome the 5% threshold (LSDSP-31725, Visu Latvijai-13469, Jaunie Demokrāti-11505, Pensionāru kop-7157, Eiroskeptķi-3365 =circa 67 000) were divided between other parties that overcame the threshold, and they most probably were among the 323 000 participants in the referendum. vox populi vox dei...and life still goes on after the referendum. Therefore, the question is why the oblivion of the majority of the society persists, and how to develop further in the situation where Kremlin hawks incresingly rattle their sabres, and the US is still bogged down in Iraq and Apghanistan?

The answer to the first part of the question is rather obvious - majority of the Latvian electorate are not educated about the basic principles of self-government in liberal democracy. Together with Dr. Axel Reetz we have investigated reasons for this phenomena and you may read it in German in Aktuelle Probleme postsozialistischer Laender Das Beispiel Lettland (Verlag Wilhelm Surbir, Wittenbach/SG:2007)Axel Reetz (Hrsg.) or in Latvian (Ilgas pēc nevainīgas politikas) in However, there are such trivial issues we did not even investigate, and they are cheating at school, at university and to oneself. When person is not sure about him/herself it tries to find several excuses not to face the real facts. Such lying to oneself is endemic in Latvian schools and universities. For several years Latvian Examination Test Centre cannot prevent test information leaking prior the highschool final exams. There were complaints of graduates from the Riga 1. Gymnasium last year, but to no avail, the Minister of Education is indispensable. Average or outright bad students get good grades at the final examination, and they are whopped into universities. Cheating continues there as well, and overstreched staff tries to promote the best minds while mostly burdened with comparing latvianized essays with the English ones in Such half-baked underachievers find their way through the traditional networks of the Latvian society, and the result is that those who cheat believe that everyone does the same, thus promoting the culture of cheating. Thus, the legitimate question now is, for how long can such society that openly preferres vices to virtues carry on like this? I believe not too long.

To answer the second part of the question one must analyse what is going on in the international arena. Russia prepares to go to the State Duma election spectacle at the end of this year and the new Russian president would be elected on March 2008. There will be elections in the US next year as well. Russia has its strategic interests in the Baltic states and they never hid it plus Latvia is the weakest link among the Baltic sisters. The US power is overstreched and supporting weak and corrupt members of the Coalition of Willing cannot continue indefinetly. In order to stand independent in the changing world there must be an orderly situation at home, thus society would be proud about their leadership and easily follow it in order to face the upcoming challenges. Society that does not trust its leadership has no future and ancient Greek struggles between democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta serves as a very good example here. What do we have at home in Latvia???? You know the answer:-)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Choosing between oligarchy and Western democracy

Latvia äänesti oligarkkivallan ja länsimaisen demokratian välillä
Julkaistu: 7.7.2007 19:37

Kaja Kunnas

RIIKA. Kymmenettuhannet latvialaiset äänestivät lauantaina kahta turvallisuuslakia vastaan, jotka olisivat taanneet hallituksen ja parlamentin jäsenten pääsyn maan suojelupoliisin tietorekistereihin. Käytännössä moni äänestäjä ei ollut perehtynyt lakien sisältöön, vaan äänesti valtiojohdon yleistä korruptoitumista vastaan.
"Kyllä, korruptio on hyvin yleistä Latviassa", sanoi Porschella äänestyspaikalle Riikan 1. lukioon hurauttanut projektisihteeri Ramona Agruma. "Olen Latvian kansalainen. Halusin sanoa, että olen kyllästynyt", hän sanoi.
Äänestyksessä mitattiin myös kansalaisten luottamusta viime syksynä toiselle kaudelle valitun hallituksen ja parlamentin suhteen.
"En siedä hallitusta", sanoi tutkija Janina Briede, kun oli pudottanut äänestyslippunsa uurnaan ja saanut merkiksi osallistumisestaan leiman passiinsa.
"Pääministeri sanoo meitä koiriksi", Briede sanoi.
Pääministeri Aigars Kalvitis nimitti hiljattain televisiohaastattelussa räksyttäviksi koiriksi kaikkia, jotka arvostelevat hallitusta ja uutta presidenttiä Valdis Zatlersia. Hän uhkasi myös rangaistusta arvostelijoille.
"Vaakakupissa on, haluaako Latvia olla demokratia vai entinen neuvostotasavalta, jota hallitsevat oligarkit. Se on äänestyksen ydin", sanoi politiikan tutkija Veiko Spolitis Riikan Stradinšin yliopistosta.
Oligarkeilla tarkoitetaan hallitsevaa pientä poliitikkoryhmää, jolla on tiiviit suhteet liike-elämään. Nimitys on käytössä etenkin Venäjällä.
Latvialaiset äänestivät lauantaina myös suositun presidentti Vaira Vike-Freibergan puolesta, jonka virkakausi päättyi äänestyspäivänä.
"Rehellisesti sanoen, en tiedä, minkä puolesta sanoin kyllä", sanoi opiskelija Agata Branevska, joka kertoi äänestäneensä tukeakseen presidentti Vaira Vike-Freibergaa.
Kansansuosikki Vike-Freiberga oli virkakautensa loppuajan välirikossa hallituksen ja parlamentin kanssa, kun hän kieltäytyi hyväksymästä kiistanalaisia turvallisuuslakeja.
Hallitus ja parlamentti halusivat lisätä valtuuksiaan suojelupoliisin suhteen vain pari päivää ennen, kuin öljysatamakaupunki Ventspilsin kaupunginjohtaja Aivars Lembergs pidätettiin maaliskuussa. Häntä epäillään asemansa väärinkäytöstä, rahanpesusta ja korruptiosta.
Lauantaina virkakautensa päättäneen presidentti Vike-Freibergan mukaan "poliitikkojen yllä leijuu Damoklesen miekka".

NO democracy, just Fishermen's FEST

In this day of reckoning I was heading back from Tallinn this morning and streams of cars were heading to the Fishermen's festivities (Zvejnieku svētki)* in Salacgrīva. It made me cautious about the ability to collect 455000 votes to dissalow quick steering of dilapidated Ms Latvia into murky lands of typical post-Soviet anemie. Now it is 23:23 local time and there is still no news about the end result of the referendum, but it seems that the final score would be short of about 10000 votes. There are Messrss Arnis Kaktiņš, Kārlis Leiškalns (TP) and Mrs Solvita Āboltiņa (JL) in the Latvian TV direct emission now, and the incumbent PM is having his incomprehensive contemplations on the telephone, whilst I am writing this piece into my blog.

While coming back from Tallinn, Estonian countryside reminded me about the fact that Estonia bypasses Latvia in terms of countryside development of about 3-5 years (just compare the almost non existent number of asbestos roofs in Estonia). Agricultural sector is struggling in both states, but there is budget surplus in Estonia since 2001. Thus, there are budget allocations for alleviation of social depression in the Estonian countryside. And why is there budget surplus in Estonia? I am coming back to the , AYE, AYE, the same rule of property and tax declaration system that was introduced in Estonia back (!!!) in 1991. Such system still does not exist in Latvia, and it is still a root cause of the political infighting in Latvia. To put it simply, while there is no mandatory tax declaration system Latvian public is not informed about the basics of the capitalist economic system. Therefore, how come Latvian citizens could keep their public servants&politicians accountable, if they have no clue how their taxes are even collected (remember, that only holders of the public office are obliged to fill out annual tax reports)! I must come back to this discussion a bit later, but right at this moment the fact is, that members of the Latvian post-soviet elite are doing their utmost to secure their posh economic wellbeing prior implementation of the mandatory tax reporting system on January 1, 2008 (at least PM promised that the system shall be introduced that day).

The 300 000 voters who came to the election booths during this sunny day were courageous enough. Preliminary results show that barely 5 % of the public were against the stipulations in the law of the security organizations. Those who were against were perhaps mislead by the question appearing on the election bulletin that was hyper-complicated to the most people I talked to. I am pleased to learn that out of the active part of the demos (about 906 000 voters who appeared at the booths during last parliamentary elections) there are about 30 % of the society who showed their dissatisfaction with the cynical behaviour of the governing coalition. Aye, the result is what it is now (about 330 000 AYE's), but I must come back to the basics of the problem again later (on Sunday:).

Lack of the electors turnout during the summer time means that the timing of referendum was not good at all. The referendum date was decided by the Central Election Bureau, and, show me a government that gives up their power without a fight! In the meantime the existing situation reminds me about the reality, that there are always two two make a tango. Even thou referendum did not pass, it would be strategically very unwise for the government to underestimate dissatisfaction of the 30 % of the very active part of the Latvian society. Vox populi vox dei........and summer time should be spent in preparations for the worst scenario - thus Baltics PREPARE FOR THE AUTUMN!!

In September energy taxes that rose prior the summer should be reflected in increased inflation rate, food prices, and utility bills. Also, subsidized rents for tenants apartments were abolished prior the summer, and when the fall sets in tenants should start to learn about sharply increased rate of their bills. The health of the international economy is not the best one, and after a summer long party I expect a long lasting economic and political hangover in Latvia.

After all, most of those German, Japanese and French new car leasing rates would become hard to bear and probably next year participants of the Fishermen Fest should consider bying a bus ticket or not going to the fest at all....

* Fishermen FEST has its roots in the traditional lifestyle of this hard working profession. The summit of the fishermen festivities were during the Soviet occupation, when fishermen collective farms were hyper-rich in comparison with other sectors of the Soviet agriulture. Thus, they were able to afford excesses of Byzantium like bakhanalias that lasted for many days in a row.

Friday, July 6, 2007

One day until crossroads...

The day of reckoning is on the threshold. There is one day left until Latvian citizens can openly say whether they want to live in democracy or ever increasing traditional and post-Soviet oligarchy. About 455 000 AEY's are needed to make the democratic regime irreversible. Latvian incumbent PM and MP's openly laugh about basic principles of the liberal democracy. What the PM calls a smear campaign against the incoming president in reality is a logical process of inquiry, that could not happen otherwise because governing coalition simply introduced and quickly pushed him throught the parliament in record 10 days. Ever since election of Mr Zatlers as a the youngest Latvian president ever, everybody in Latvia learned that the omenous inscription above the Council of Ministers grand hall - viens likums, viena taisnība visiem (nobody is above the law) - does not work at all. The Internal Revenue Service first accused the president for not paying taxes on additional incomes, but then it revoked its initial statement. In reality I feel like Alice living in a Wonderland.

Perhaps I am too harsh in my predictions, but I do not see any reasonable solution for consolidation of Latvian demos without internal implosion. The governing elite has lost legitimacy in my eyes, and the question now is, whether majority of Latvian citizens shall reckon in similar way tomorrow? One issue is sure, after 070707 we shall not witness the same Latvia anymore, and the Latvian civil society is on the crossroads now! Either the civil society shall be arisen like phoenix from the ashes or helmsman of Ms Latvia shall steer all of us directly into the murky waters of NEVERLAND (remember the German movie with the lead song of Midge Jure Never ending Story).

Heading to Tallinn now to see my ailing grandma and shall be back in Riga to go to REFERENDUM.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The July 4

It was the US Independence Day yesterday. In ten days another country that celebrates its revolutionary anniversary would be France - une journee de Bastille! The July 4 is celebrated all around the world due to the US soft power. However, I have not vitnessed that Bastille Day would have been openly celebrated in Riga before (but I might be wrong as well, because there is centre culturel francais en Riga after all). Celebrations are nice events, especially during the summer time, because in Latvia most of state celebrations happen to be during the cold winter time. So, if there are no Latvian state celebrations during the summer, thus there is a possibility to laud revolutionary powers that brought democracy to the wider world - the USA and France!!

While some folks celebrate American and French independence days there are others in Latvia who fume about the possible resignation of the incoming president Valdis Zatlers. While there is a discussion about the pros & cons of the candidate, freedom of the press still exists. In the meantime, the Latvian PM has made rather cautious statements warning "those institutions that tarnish the fame of the newly elected president with possible and harsh punishments". Bad, very bad, and its seems that the present Latvian leadership preferres to emulate not Scandinavian or West European best practices of governance but the ones of Byzantium instead....sad

In the meantime Alari, Signe & their two boys are visiting me here. We are going to Rundāle palace rose garden to have a pick-nick. There is still sun outside, thus lets get bagette, wine and good mood, thus the Estonians might learn about another Latvian marvel in the thick forest!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

NO broad party membership, NO demo - cratia

Yesterday there was a public discussion in the Riga New theatre organized by the Latvian European movement, ELJA, LATO and Transparency Internatioal local organization Delna yesterday. The forum was well attended, but the size of the meeting hall did not allow to grasp the real size of civil society in Latvia. The intelligentsia, emigree Latvians, and leaders of the opposition party Jaunais Laiks (New Era) were omnipresent and discussions were rich. Most of the panelists, profesionally moderated by the TV journalist Baiba Strautmane and using quotes from the George Orwell's Animal Farm, expressed their disatisfaction with the present style of governance. At least two of the panelists, Arta Ģiga and Edgars Šīns, rather omenously pointed out that one issue is the upcoming referendum, but quite another one is what would happen after it?

For the yesterday's forum the major issue was to consolidate dissatisfied part of the society, thus mobilizing them as agents of support for the upcoming referendum. For this purpose actually half an hour would have been enough and, therefore, the forum actually achieved its purpose! But what next? Shall folks be continuously lulled into another oblivion of the slow growth of the middle class, or they would be active deciding for their own future in the globally changing world? Being pragmatist I assume that the first option is the most probable, and the omnipresent oblivion of the "seven fat years" would be shaken off only due to tremours of the international economic system.

Edgars Šīns rememered his on-plane discussion with a European bureaucrat prior the May 1, 2004, and the eurocrat expressed his view that the Baltic States would not join the EU due to the huge size of its agricultural sector. According to international standards the agricultural sector in Latvia is really peanuts, and regardless of the fact, whether you are an efficient entrepreneur or a peasant, the Brussels monies are actually endowing Latvian agricultural sector in a very distorted way today. Aquis communautaure seems not so effective tool to ensure good governance of the new EU entrants, thus the graft and dissatisfaction amidst the overheated economy in today's Latvia. The promulgation of laws as well as civic control of the public servants depends on knowledgeable human resources, but they are hemorragheing out of Latvia (also Lithuania and to lesser extent Estonia)! This allows the governing post-Soviet elite to number crunch any public problem, because they know and scan the ability of the general public to bear the ineffective and robust style of crony capitalism. Therefore it is not internal dissatisfaction but external shocks that would probably change the traditional style of governance in Latvia.

Tremours of the international economy combined with Latvian inflation (8,2%), current account (26%!!!) and trade deficits should in principle make Latvian present political elite members cautios. However, when I follow the reclessness of the economic policy, timidity of the anti-inflationary measures, and behind the screen crony deals I feel really uneasy. Macroeconomic situation in Latvia and also Estonia (it must be admitted) is out of sync due to the cheap credits from mostly Scandinavian banks, and loundered taxes of Russian businessmen. What if cautious Scandinavians would start pulling their monies out? I do not see any reason for this, but they must be convinced otherwise if Russian asertivenes should start boiling over, and the question is when? What, if the Russian depositors in Latvian banks decide unanimously to withdraw their renumerations? There are many whats and ifs in Latvia today. Therefore, it is paramount to keep at least an order in ones own home, which essentially means that in the long term Latvia needs good governance for its very survival as a nation state!

After all, it is probable that the 450 thousand or so citizens would appear in the voting booths in Latvia and its diplomatic representative offices abroad, but then we should return to the question about what happens next? The international system is reshaped today but Latvian political elite has put all its golden eggs in the US basket only. The health of the international economy although prudent is not the healthiest one. One must just follow what happens in the US, Scandinavian and Baltic housing markets and worrisome signs are in all of them. In the meantime, not the best sailors are at the helm of the Ms Latvia rudder. Recless sailing on the board of the dilapidated Ms Latvia in rough waters of international economy may finish on the rocks of economic decline very soon.

To legitimately change the helmsman now, and to prevent similar situation repeating in the future, there is a need for active civic participation. There is also need for people to decide which political party they participate in, because political parties in the representative democracy are the only legitimate contenders for power in the political system. Ilma Čepāne (JL) in the last statement of yesterday's forum reiterated my thoughts, that without broad participation of the Latvian public in political parties there would be neither acountability of the political process within Latvian parties nor in Latvian political system as a whole. The participation of the Latvian public in the public life once during the four year election cycle is among several causes that made the outgoing president to veto the law of security organizations. Latvian citizens once and for all must decide which spectrum of the political system they belong to. In this way they could either found the party of their own, or join existing parties en masse and through the intra-party political debate get rid of the demagogues and oligarchic idiotes (using the meaning of its original meaning in ancient Athens:) Thus paraphrasing the omenous expression of the 19th century founder of the Latvian seafaring Krišjānis Valdemārs there should be slogan for majority of Latvian citizens today - "ejiet latvji partijās!"

P.S. Just after posting this piece of writing into this blog I learned that Alan Johnston (for 140 days kidnapped BBC correspondent) is FREED, good Lord!