Sunday, November 25, 2007

Party Consultations

Last Friday President V. Zatlers held consultations with the Harmony Party (SC). On Monday he should continue his consultations with New Era (JL) and People's Party (TP) representatives. The Riga District Court starts processing the Kempmayer Ltd vs Latvia court case and among the accused there are two former prime ministers - Vilis Krištopans and Andris Šķēle. In the meantime Latvian Trade Unions continue signature collection for the constitutional amendments, that would give 50% of electors the right to disperse the parliament.

On Saturday there were two party congresses. The only grassroots right wing political party in Latvia (all others are formed by charizmatic leaders) - Fatherland Union (TB/LNNK) - chose Roberts Zīle (MEP) as its head. The new leader of the party won the race with 4 votes ahead of another MEP, Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis. The result pretty much shows that the Old Guard of the party have an upper hand in the party. Therefore we can not exclude that the fraction voting for Mr Kristovskis might split off and join the newly founded political force, that is formed by the TP "dissidents" Messrs Pabriks and Štokenbergs.

TP congress in Valmiera legalized decisionmaking rights for the founder of the party, Mr Andris Šķēle. The highly expected event very much showed the behavior of an average Latvian voter - almost total following of a strong leader. At the closing speach of the congress Mr Šķēle skillfuly confronted the delegates and asked whether they considered it wise that he should resign from the party in order to avoid tarnishing TP? Out of 400 delegates (that is a one fourth of the total membership of the TP) only 4 hands were raised and Vaira Paegle was among them.

There were discussions in both congresses about the state of Latvian economy and also self reflections considering bad ratings of both parties (according to latest pollsters neither of them would get into the parliament now). Funny enough, but among the major hindrance for the "normal" functioning of the Latvian democracy delegates found - you guessed right - the media or a fourth power as it is nicknamed in Latvia. Instead of dissecting the undemocratic decisionmaking process within parties the delegates lazily accepted existing reality as "normal" and foolishly painted the media as a scapegoat for the ills of Latvian political reality. At least it is openly known now that two parties of the governing coalition are conservative enough (what does it mean to be conservative in the post-Soviet society after all?) to comprehend dynamic events in the common European space. Rearangement of the centre right political forces must follow from the events following the December 5 stepping down of the PM and probably initiation of snap elections. Questions when and how it will happen are still open and will be decided by the fact whether New Era (JL) designated candidate would lead the new government. This decision is for the incumbent president to decide however.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Latvian party political discussions prior leaving for Tallinn

Latvian politics is slowly evolving from the low ebb. President announced that he would like to see public discussions about future candidates of the PM. Meanwhile the speaker of Seaima announced that Latvian parliament would hold public debates about best possible candidate for Latvian premiership. Political parties are holding debates and also members of the New Era (JL) are included in discussions about new premiership. Opposition Reconciliation Party (SC) is being quiet and JL repeated that mandatory tax and property declaration system as well as new party financing is still high on agenda.

There are several conferences in Riga this weekend. The party financing discussion with guest presenter Marcin Walecky will take place and conference participants would discuss best possible schema for party financing in Latvia. In University of Latvia there is Baltic futures conference organized. In the meantime I am taking off for Tallinn tonight to take part in two conferences this weekend.

Prior going to Tallinn I managed to write a piece for Estonian Delfi (in Estonian) and you may find this article at - . There will be the party congress of the Fatherland Union party (TB/LNNK) this weekend, and People's Party (TP) congress would convene within week. Political debates are hot on the screen of the Kas notiek Latvijā? TV LIVE show and transport supreme is learning the mastery of demaguery. Valdis Dombrovskis (JL) is spectator's leader after the first half an hour leading with 4343 calls ahead of next candidate Ivars Godmanis, with mere 169 calls, and simply incognito candidate getting 210. This telephone voting is mere pollster, but tonight the mood of distrust conttinues to prevail among Latvian public. Valdis Dombrovskis just told the audience that JL and governing coalition still does not have agreed on basi principles of the rule of law. Out of this disucussion I still do not see other options than snap elections, because illegal elections cannot be fixed with illegal MP's legislating.

P.S. For those of you reading in Estonian I wrote a piece for Delfi today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quasi - monarchy or republic?

The incumbent PM in Latvia would step down in three weeks (at least that is what he promised). The president V. Zatlers has left the PM with initiative to form the new cabinet. I personally could imagine such steping down of the government in the situation where state macroeconomic situation is sound, finances in order and society satisfied with government's work. In Latvian wonderland we see 25% current account deficit, 13% inflation, PM ratings collapsed, and the government has degraded to 20% approval ratings whilst an average EU-25 approval for the government is 47%. The same incompetent government led by Aigars Kalvitis wanted to amend constitutional safeguards for security organizations, and wanted to put the head of the Anti Corruption Agency (KNAB) on the altar of their political lobbies.

The same government now holds consultations about possible way out from the looming economic distress. In the meantime the govenor of the Bank of Latvia keeps reiterating that there would be economy's soft landing. Instead of understanding that their incompetence and graft is the primary reason for the political turmoil in Latvia, the ruling elite continues to live in the power bubble. There is no place for discussions. Also the incumbent PM reiterated in his SWH radion interview that the New Era (JL) party reprimand for snap elections would bar them from being included in the new government formation. To be honest, in these consultations that take place between JL and the existing coalition today, I would suggest that JL would not back off from their initial reprimand - to agree to participate in the post December 5 government ONLY, and only if it will be led by the JL designated prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, and also finding the initial aproval for the three fundamental principles to be passed in Latvian legislature.

JL was once (April 2006) already sidelined from the very same coalition and I hope it should have taught them a lesson. Second, the looming economic distress would not fare well for any party for the upcoming municipal and European Parliament elections in July 2009. If the prsident would assign JL representative to form the new government, the new PM should take this offer only in case three fundamental principles would be pushed through the legislature - tax and property declaration law, law stipulationg that political parties receive their funds from the budget, and finally ensuring the legal independence of the KNAB. In case these FUNDAMENTALS do not go through the parliament there is no other way out, just snap elections.

In case scenario of JL led government would take place (which is very improbable right at this moment) it would be a sign that those Latvian MP's who are elected have learned lessons of the late demonstrations (it looks though more like wishful thinking). If such idealistic scenario would not come to a fruitition it would be a sign of Latvia ruled by quasi royal political wannabies. Simply refurbishing the existing government with new faces from the same coalition members on December 5, would be an example of the 19th century monarchy or some authoritarian statelet somewhere, but not of the 21st century liberal democracy. The strategic choise between quasi-monarchy and republican ideals are at stake in Latvia for upcoming three weeks. Very much would depend on the mounting pressure of the civil society groups against the governing elite, because without it participatory democracy is impossible. Participation of civil groups however, is the very basis for thriwing liberal democratic regime!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Presidential games in Latvia

All is quiet in Latvia and most news start coming from Frankfurt these days. In there was an article about Latvian financial situation and it is widely believed that the ECB is willing to see the Bank of Latvia decrease the value of the Latvian currency. Danske Bank still continues to talk about the devaluation of lat and weakness of the Latvian economy is the major reason for that. In the meantime Latvian political nomenclature still carries on as before.

The president of Latvia had an interesting announcement today. Valdis Zatlers reprimanded the head of Latvian intelligence agency Mr Kazocins to explain why there are unqualified members of the presidential gueard. The reprimand came after the police today announced that the former head of presidential guard Mr Edgars Gulbis is felon and crook. Even though Mr Gulbis would be faking his behaviour his decrepet looks and public pronouncements of his lawyer Mr Pleps confirm, that police tortured him and forced him to digest drug substances.

The fact that president quickly follows in the footsteps of the police make me worried. It would take a long judiscial discussion to decide what really happened on the bridge of Daugava river. When Mr Gulbis mysteriously fell out of the police car right in to the autumny river (he was saved by a sheer accident of fishermen boat being next to him while he plunged into the river) nobody could really know, and we stil do not know what happened.

BUT if the president openly questions the head of Latvian secret service Mr Kazocins (who replaced shabby and Mr Lembergs &Co payrolled Mr Lainis Kamaldins) PRIOR court session, then it makes me REALLY WORRIED about impartial stance of the president zatlers. He was elected under shabby circumstances and more secretive his governance style becomes now (he openly refused to dislose the bill of refurbishing the presidential residency today). Shall see, what else his presidency would bring, because it seems that ideals of western and liberal democratic ideals are foreign to him, unfortunately...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

All is quiet on the Latvian front...

For those of you waiting for fresh news I have nothing new to say because, first Latvia is covered in snow, and, second its the PM who is assigned by president to negotiate basic outlines of the new government. Corrupt deals are still managed by Latvian politicians and the new Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that the exchange of signed and ratified border treaties between Russia and Latvia should take place only after the decision of the Latvian Constitutional Court at the end of this month.

Winter arrived to Latvia unexpectedly (as always:) and customarily Latvian hotspur drivers had about 75 accidents yesterday. Part IV Art. 56 of the Latvian constitution outlines that it is the president who nominates and asks the prospective prime minister to form the cabinet. Instead of consulting with all political parties in Latvia the president allows the incumbent PM to lead consultations about the next cabinet (PM has even created a special task force for that purpose) with the pretext of need for the stability of the government. If there is one cause for instability in this country then it is the PM and his incompetent governance style, and until now president pretends not seeing it. Perhaps, the president Zatlers wants to outsmart his dons with double tactics outsmarting them and then showing how incapable politicians are thus having an excuse for dissolving the Saeima? Shall see, because there is a time till the omenous date of December 5, 2007, when incumbent PM should leave the office.

Former maire of Riga Mr Aivars Aksenoks has inquired the State Audit office and the Anti Corruption bureau about the decision of the former Maire of the Riga Cith Mr Gundars Bojars(LSDSP but LPP/LC now) to sign a "dumpster" deal with the Ekodoktrīna Ltd company, that strangely enough belongs to guessed right...the founder of the People's Party Mr Šķēle and his family. The craziest part of the deal is that the deal forces the Riga or any other regional municipality around Metropolitan Riga to pay fine exeeding 50 times the official rate, in case they do not deliver trash to the Ekodoktrīna Ltd. And where are the talks now about the business talent of Mr Šķēle??? He knows how to get cheap and sell darn expensive due to the political contacts. He has not enough of it, in the latest schema he wants to have all inhabitants of the Riga metropolitan region as pawns in his machinations, thus the question is whether he will succeed in this.

The ratified border treaty between Russia and Latvia should not be exchanged according to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Reasons for his contemplations are many and I shall elaborate about them in Estonian first.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Agony of the present political elite continues

The 2008 budget was voted into law with 54 AYES and 39 NAYS. In the meantime three news ministers for the existing government were voted in - Foreign Minister, Māris Riekstiņš (TP), Minister of Regional Affairs Ms Zalāns, and Ms Purne (ZZS) as a new Minister of Welfare.

After the vote in the parliament the former minister of foreign affairs Mr Artis Pabriks quit the People's Party. Thus, the question is who will quit or who's going to be thrown out of the People's Party next - Dz. Ābiķis, J. Lagzdiņš or V. Paegle?

The situation is funny, because the People's Party seems to be losing its best brains and the Soviet Latvian Stahlhelm still holds strong, but for how long???

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

No budget OR agony until December 5

Meeting between the PM and the president just finished. The PM presented his plan for the next six weeks to the president. After the meeting was over the president Zatlers resolutely announced that he is not content with the plan of the PM and reckons that the PM should resign tomorrow. The PM after the meeting announced that he plans to resign in December 5, 2007.

It means that the PM and governing coalition wants to bundle the budget vote with the vote of confidence for the renewed cabinet of Aigars Kalvītis. As I said already yesterday, proposed ministers are Māris Riekstiņš (TP) for the Foreign office, Madam Purne (ZZS) for the Welfare office, Mr Broks (TB/LNNK) for the Ministry of Economics, and Māris Krastiņš (TP) for the Ministry of Regional affairs.

It is rumoured that one of the major actors of the Jūrmalgate Mr German Milušs ir intorrogated by the Anti Corruption Agency (KNAB). Mr Milušs performed the role of transmission belt between the former prime minister Šķēle and Latvian transport supremo Mr Šlesers in the affair of buying votes for the Maire of Jūrmala election. Perhaps, there is also some new information coming out finally?

Anyway, there are already 4 members of the People's party (TP) who have publickly announced that Mr Šķēle should quit the party and that TP needs new leadership (internal revolt on the deck). The four members are Dzintars Ābiķis, Jānis Lagzdiņš, Artis Pabriks, and Vaira Paegle.
Does it mean that the governing coalition is in dissaray, no I do not think so, but confused they are! Nobody really knows how badly the coalition is damaged. Nobody knows official names of "Lembergs stipend receivers" yet, and thus it is impossible to predict the voting result for the 2008 budget. One issue is sure - the opposition parties should vote AGAINST. And tonight Kas notiek Latvijā? TV show will be specificaly devoted to THIS VERY BUDGET VOTING issue, and after the TV LIVE show it will be possible to start analye and predict tomorrow's events.

A bientot! Talk to you soon! Kuulmiseni! Uz drīzu saredzēšanos!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The PM blessed forewer (updated)

Yesterday an ignorance of the PM could be explained by transatlantic flight. Today's announcements is an example of the tactics of the governing coalition. Such a tactics should be called a full blown onslaugt of their agenda with tactical retreats.

The incumbent PM announced that he does not plan to resign after budget hearings in the parliament. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs is publickly questioned ( about his loyalty to the People´s party (TP). In the meantime the post of the minister of Foreign Affairs is offered to the head of the PM bureau, Mr Māris Riekstiņš, the Welfare Ministery should be led by Farmer&Green representative Iveta Purne, and the ministry of Regional Affairs would be awarded to the TP member Māris Krastiņš, who had to give the MP membership due to Mr Artis Pabriks renewing his mandate (

Cardinal of the Catholic Church Jānis Pujāts in this morning's LNT '900 seconds' morning news show pleaded the common folks to trust their parliament and let them continue with all the good works the MP's have started in strenghtening family values. Oh, la, la, and Latvian constitution still reads that church and state are separated in this country!!! Now also the president Zatlers has agreed to participate in Friday's prayers with religious leaders in Latvia, huh, uhh, just ludicrous! The fight for survival of the governing nomenklatura gang has started, given that even the special representative of the Roman pope giveth aigarus massivus de letonia and his retinue his blessing...

Simultaneously the Chairman of the Council of the Board of AS Ventbunkers, Mr Rudolf Meroni announced that AS Ventspils Nafta and Vittol Group made an inside deal prior privatization of this oil transit giant( The court session in Lichtenstein capital started yesterday, and it means that very soon we should really start to learn WHO IS WHO in the Latvian political playground?


The PM accepted the resignation letter of the Minister of Welfare, Ms Dagnija Staķe today after all. It seems that yesterday Aigars Kalvītis was still jetlagged and thought that his authority on the home turf is omnipresent. The reality slowly sets in for the PM and we should see his next moves soon. Today LETA announced that another shady LVL3 mlj. deal is being discovered by the State audit office (Valsts Kontrole), thus no wonder Dagnija Staķe left her office.

Last week also the extraordinary conference of Latvian judges took place in Reval Hotel Latvia conference hall. The common resolution did not reveal anything new. The wish to give cover to the corrupt members of the guild prevailed over the common sense to start cleaning their own ranks. This summer bestseller "Home made adjudication" revealed how judgements were bought at will in the Riga District Court, and the Prosecutor General confirmed that such telephone conversations (revealed in this book) took place, ad that the book should not be considered as a pure fiction. Also, unfortunately, it shows how traditional are majority of Latvian judges. Aye, aye ther are rare gems among them, but the most enlightened of judges do not form a critical mass in order to change ethical standards of travails of this honourable profesion yet.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Latvian MP's are poor...

To make the exiting atmosphere bearable we played Bohemian rhapsody another night with my colleague Jānis Bērziņš from Riga Stradiņš University. Two weeks ago I promised you to translate the speech of one of the most prominent Saeima demagogues, Mr Juris Dobelis (it is translated now:). Out of sheer interest we checked the address - - and made sure educational background and financial situation of the aforementioned Latvian MP.
And what did the official declaration reveal - aye, the wellknown demagogue is pennyless!

Because Latvia still does not have mandatory property and tax declaration system, the Latvian Internal Revenue Service actually does not have neither system nor manpower to realize who owns what in Wonderlatvia. If you are interested to learn about financial background of Latvian politicians you may go to the following address - .

After reaching this address just click on the party name and then there shall be names of MP's. Continue clicking on them so you could learn about officially declared wealth of Latvian MP's.

P.S. Latvian Radio morning news just announced that the PM asked the resigned Minister of Welfare Ms Dagnija Staķe if she could still reconsider her decision to resign....the vicious circle of existing government continues...

After Saturday mass rally budget still to be passed?

The mass rally is happily over. My apprehension about the rally turning out to be only ethnic Latvian fest was groundless. Actually, I was happy to see the leader of the Reconciliation Centre (SC) Nils Ušakovs being in the rally with other members of his party. It means that the dissatisfaction of the society is running accross socio-economic as well as different ethic layers of society. I saw also the New Era (JL) party flags mixing with the multitude of Latvian maroon-white-maroons, Russian military St Andrews, one Estonian, and one Bulgarian tricoleurs. Those of you willing to see the 8000 or about persons event may have a glimpse of it in the following address -

There were several speeches and while translating those to the correspondent of the Helsingin Sanomat I realized, that only those of the businessman Edgars Štelmahers and writer Laima Muktupāvela were structured and spiritually elating. Many speakers of little known NGO's were unexperienced, and several members of the intelligentsia tried to bring memories of the late 1980's back or simply used the traditional East European anarchistic attitude against the governing elite (Andra Neiburga in particular). I had to leave the rally early and moderate the MA student seminar. I managed to be in time for the seminar and municipal police did not even fine my overstayed parking limit, so, either mass rallies or bad weather make policemen more humane:)

The rally is over and considering the bad weather I reckon that 8000 demonstrators was an impressive number indeed. Whilst talking to the rally participants I realized that the dissatisfaction with the style of governance does not actually diminish but only increases. The funniest comment I heard from an old man whilst standing in the queue for signing for the constitutional amendments propsed by the Trade Unions. The old man rather omenously sighed: ''we thought that it will be a long haule to get the Soviet army out, but alas, its even harder to get rid of the corrupt elite of your own''. And the only thing I could retort to the old man was, that we do not choose our own relatives, they just are there...

Events in Riga were transmitted also through the major TV channels. I was told that CNN was having a newsreel and I personally saw BBC coverage. I did not have a time to check other media channels, but I gave several interviews to Estonian press (
& Most hectic time at the university is getting over and most probably I shall write something for Estonian and Finnish media starting from the next week. Also we have blueprint ready for the articles about the contents of the political discourse in Latvia with my colleague Dr. Axel Reetz.

Several ideas for research articles depend now from events inside and in front of the Saeima this Thursday. It should be the 2008 budget passed in the second reading, and the life of the existing government very much depends on it. It is at least how it is understood by most of liberal media, opposition parties, even some members of the coalition government (head of the fraction Augusts Brigmanis (ZZS), head of the fraction Māris Kučisnskis (TP)) and the president himself!

The PM announcement on November 5, 2007 just after return from the United States was guessed right...unchanged - he would not resign from the office until he has not finished his good tasks!

While answering to the journalist's question, that even president Zatlers has such opinion (meaning that he should honourably resign after passing the budget) the PM retorted that he has not heard such announcement from the president, and asked the media to stop fruitless speculations and better start working. Right upon his return from accross the Atlantic the PM openly scolded the head of the KNAB as if nothing had happened in between, reminding the fairytale: `` and ever since we live happily in peace ever after... The PM considers as the most important good works the Russian-Latvian border agreement, the territorail administrative reform, and the Lattelecom privatisation. Utterly suspicious seem the tasks if you want to seriously judge the work of the present government. Those of you willing to follow the busy work of our PM in more humorous atmosphere can easily look at the sketch in -

The budget should be passed the coming Thursday. Nobody really knows today whether it is possible (meaning what the governing coalition plan really is, and whether the cracks in once solid structure have widened?), particularly after such announcement of the PM on Monday (051107). It is hard to predict rational moves now, because the PM has painted himself into the corner. All demands of the opposition for amendments of the next year's budget were declined, thus the opposition should be voting NO. Trade unions already announced their dissatisfaction with the first Latvian post-independence buget with the fiscal surplus, because the surplus if formed while scrapping social benefits. And all this during the time when labour is hemorragheing out of Latvia and the PM has announced austerity measures.

Lack of coherence in the government's work is endemic. Nothing is being expected out of the purposeless and free riding government. In the meantime the Latvian Employer's Confederation (LDDK) appealed not to create new schemas by secretely privatizing the only official publisher of the government's and parliamentary decrees - ''Latvijas Vēstnesis''. LDDK is worried that about LVL3 mlj could be wasted in support of unnecessary government intervention in a situation when market participants could simply fullfill the tasks. So, instead of austerity measures and other tasks the PM still has appetite for shady deals. Funny indeed, and the question is for how long it can carry on like this? I believe that such governance is not just against good European governance principles but that it is also irrational. However, for members of the Latvian government it seems that the dissapearance of grey matter from their brains has destroyed the last bits of rationality...

P.S. Good news were received from Fürstentum Lichtenstein because Vaduz Court presented Mr Lembergs and his son charges about money laundering. This week barrister Mr Mārtiņš Kvēps from AS Ventbunkers should announce official announcement about the ringleaders of AS Ventspils Nafta making the insider deal with the Dutch/Russian Vittol group prior privatization last year. It is rumoured that about USD 15 mlj were laundered through Vaduz bank back to Latvia in order to buy Latvian ministers and MP's. When this information should become public it could start causing tremors of the entire Latvian political edifice.

Interesting, what else the incumbent president needs to make up his mind and initiate the dissolution of the parliament?

Friday, November 2, 2007

National Council meeting?

It is Saturday morning but this blog entry will appear as Friday's entry. The week has passed peacefully with multitude of Latvian citizenry preparing for the mass rally in the Dome square. As I said before the decision of the Reconciliation Centre party to abstain from the demonstration shows that there is actually no genuine reconciliation between ethnies in the Latvian society yet. However, the situation with several thousand citizens standing united against illegally elected government is a rather unique occassion for the Northern European nation.

The Latvian media calls the mass rally "tautas sapulce" or the National Council. Would it be the real national council that would make the U-turn in Latvian politics and clean up the political playground? For the mass rally to acquire the name of the national council there is a need of genuine political activity of civil society to follow up after the rally, all the way up to the dispersal of the illegaly elected MP's. It means that new kind of politics is needed to be continued after the post-Soviet crony capitalist enrichment politics. This is THE question to be answered after Saturday's mass rally. I am now going to take part in the demonstration, and shall write my reflections and conclusions afer the end of demonstration and subsequent seminar to my MA students.