Thursday, January 27, 2011

Debates in the Lettish parliament

Foreign policy debates in the Lettish parliament are back to stay! One may wonder why I am so confident about it? Answer is rather simple, because the logic of political debate determines that one must discuss something that is appealing to the average voter's ears and foreign policy issues will always sound better than marginal change of value added tax or change of transformation of urban zoning law etc. It was positive to witness thus many ambassadors present in person and swarming of TV crews which tried to make yesterday's event into media event.

Even though the Minister of Foreign Affairs slipped his tongue in a funny way the debates in the parliament showed consensus - that irrespective of the political affiliation all the political groups in the parliament publicly support ongoing and present strategic goals of the Republic of Latvia. Debates looked dry from the first instant and if not Atis Lejiņš public speech endowments the whole event could be characterized as a dry bureaucratic occasion.

Also the former prime minister created quite a stir when contrary to his party traditional position he came out of a closet to support the creation of the United States of Europe. Janīna Kursīte tried to keep her Baltic line and referred to the problems stemming from the irony that Latvians and Lithuanians have to mutually learn about the developments in neighbors' country through the means of Russian media. Several MP's and the Minister of Defense emphasized the need to invest more in programs of development assistance particularly keeping in mind Latvian efforts with other coalition partners to reconstruct the civil war torn Afghanistan. Debates lasted almost five hours and institutionalized a new tradition in the Lettish parliament. Gradually Latvian political life returns back to normal but to announce that normalcy has returned to the economically worse hit EU member state there are still very specific structural reforms to be done.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Foreign policy continues the domestic one

Exactly ninety years ago Entente powers recognized Estonia and Latvia de jure. Due to such an important commemoration there were special events organized both in Latvia and Estonia. Personally attended the occasion in Riga, which was jointly organized by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassade de France a Riga, and well attended. Presentations were extremely rich with historic data that was arbitrarily "forgotten" or not known in the Latvia during the interwar period and the following Soviet occupation. To commemorate this date also foreign policy debates are back in the Latvian parliament. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced a document and yesterday the Foreign Affairs Committee held its preliminary session with the most prominent Latvian foreign policy experts present.

Today there will be a possibility to observe public speech endowments of the Latvian MP's and ministers. The reason why I said that foreign policy debates are back in the parliament is the fact that from 2005 - 2010 rational and productive debates about any policy issues were actually absent from the Latvian talking shop (parliamentary debates in old democracies are mostly used to discuss policy issues and not only to push YEA and NAY buttons). Since the 2010 parliamentary elections the culture of political debates is back in the Latvian parliament, and I have witnessed it for the last 2 months. Foreign policy debatee in today's parliament could institute a tradition to have annual foreign policy debates in the parliament not only to commemorate foundations of the republic, but also to give the law giving branch of power to exercise its powers at its fullest. Also it is symbolic that due to this special occasion the speaker of the Latvian parliament was in Tallinn to discuss the upgrading of the work of the Baltic Assembly in order to give a new dimension for the good neighborly relations between the Baltic States.

All the previously mentioned events signify reappearance of fresh ideas among Latvian policy makers. However, they also signify that there are still ample to do in Latvia in order not only to have wholesome foreign policy debates in the parliament, but also to provide the Latvian public with means to discuss foreign policy on daily basis and to enable them to understand the fast changing global environment. This fact actually makes Estonia thus different from Latvia even though my Estonian colleagues would remind me that the Estonian situation is far from perfect. Indeed, Estonian situation cannot compete with Scandinavian countries or world's traditional powers yet when we want to analyze possibilities and mechanisms for wholesome foreign policy making, nurturing foreign policy experts, and enlightening the general public. Also the last argument is contestable because there is no country in the world where governments should take a duty in enlighting its general public about foreign policy issues, because those are mostly travails of free media.

And free media is the fact that distinguishes Latvia from Estonia among many other things. There are objective reasons for Latvia falling in a Freedom House rankings during past years. But my personal observations during last twenty years allow me to conclude that structurally media environments in two countries differ. It is not even the issue about the social science journals which have gradually evaporated into thin air in Latvia. The best example is if one compares contents of the Latvian and Estonian public media - in the Latvian TV there is one and half (!) program about foreign affairs if one considers the weekly De Facto as a program that from time to time covers also foreign policy issues. Also there is no such thing as the Estonian KUKU radio with its culture of political debate in Latvia. Finally the creation of the Estonian Public Broadcasting have started synergy on news making and allows to capitalize on being the best global source of the Estonian language news & culture. At the same time Latvian Public TV and Radio must compete with other commercial TV and radio stations in already lost battle for better ratings.

Also after the Latvian TV went digital there are still households who cannot adjust their old TV sets and thus afford viewing TV, and there are still areas particularly in Eastern Latvia where Russian and Bielorussian TV and radio reign supreme. Whenever you cross Latvian border to Estonia or Lithuanian the Latvian radio literally disappears from car radio after some ten kilometers of drive. Quite the contrary is with the Estonian and Lithuanian radio, because I use to listen Lithuanian news in my car in Riga and Estonian radio all the way until Bērzukrogs. So much about the technological capacity of the Latvian public broadcasters and I better wrap up in order to participate in today's debates in Saeima.

Traditionally the foreign policy starts at home with continuous increase of the governing capacity. Local public broadcasting is a particular area that has been neglected in Latvia for quite some time. Institution with a funny name - the National Electronic Media Council - is independent entity by law, but still being politically influenced without much transparency in their deliberations. In order to see new electronic media law being passed, the previously mentioned institution upgraded, and possibly new Latvian Pubic Broadcaster formed an agreement must first be formed in the present governing coalition. Until there is no such agreement it is futile to expect positive and Europeanized transformations in this field. After hopefully fruitful debates in the Saeima today it could eventually turn out as a next priority for the Unity political union in order to transform the Latvian public broadcasters into news source which could ensure continuation of broadcasting of an informed political debates and gradual transformation of the culture of political discussions.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chips fall whenever an ax cuts...

I have resumed posting... Interrupted my blogging activities because of my new duties and learning new responsibilities took some month to learn. Because I am combining new duties with my academic work there was the end of the year duties grading student's exams and essays, then Season's holidays and now finally there is a time and reasons for resuming blogging activities.

In the first post since resuming my blogging activities I have to write about events in Latvia again, even though there are several positive developments in the three Baltic States lately. Estonia joining Eurozone is just one example and my longer analysis will soon appear in pages of the Baltic Times. Also the prime ministers of 3B just returned from a very laborious visit to London which would possibly turn quite an interesting page for the development of the European North.

But now lets get down to business, because even though at the first instant the news would sound as a rather insignificant skirmish it eventually could turn out as another pseudo scandal in Latvia. After last parliamentary elections the opposition Harmony Center (HC) party increased its representation in the 100 member Latvian parliament to 29. The fact that opposition party increases its ranks is nothing new, because in the meantime HC also mismanaged its possibility to be a part of the expanded national unity government.

The present problem with the HC leader foaming and populist politicians increasing their political capital continues the inertia of uneducated political discourse in Latvia. The problem with MP Kravcovs not knowing Latvian language is primarily his personal problem and the fact that Mr Kravcovs was included into the party list shows also rather peculiar attitudes of the HC party. To those who have not followed development of this pseudo problem MP Kravcovs Latvian language abilities are thus scanty, that he needed translator's aid while being member of the Liepaja Town Council. The problem is that there is different legal regulation and while translator can take part in town council meetings it becomes problematic in the parliament sessions due to the intensity of work. Instead of leaving the problem for HC to solve internally the members of another opposition party and the State language inspection have started procedure of determining whether MP Kravcovs follows the law. I think that the opposition MP's and Language inspection with their latest activities give a wrong signal, because they want to deal with effects and not causes of the problem. MP Kravcovs pseudo problem is something that should be discussed from the point of view of efficiency of the parliamentary work not knowledge of language.

Therefore I want to reemphasize that the problem of MP Kravcovs not knowing the Latvian language is primarily his and his political party problem, because in reality there are 29-1 HC members of parliament, when "language less" MP Kravcovs in reality is able to perform only his stunt duties. It also shows that Latvian language is not an issue the HC party really care, if they did not filter skills & abilities of their candidates prior including them into the election lists. Or maybe HC party was thus upbeat, that they really thought that they will simply cruise to home base in 2010 October elections and did not pay attention to such issues?

Anyway, the MP Kravcovs pseudo problem is an example how during the last twenty years both the Russophone and Latvian populist politicians engineered profitable discourse that allowed them to get elected. The chips fall whenever ax cuts to paraphrase the all problematique here, and unfortunately traditionally Latvian politicians have focused only on chips... Since last elections, when Latvian electorate showed its mature determination with assigning sixty percent of the former MP's into the heap of history, Latvian civil society witnessed certain rebirth. Therefore I hope that the MP Kravcovs pseudo problem would naturally get extinct, and MP's would continue to work with policy issues that would ensure Latvian politicians to focus also on ax & tree or overhauling stagnated political and economic structure.