Monday, March 31, 2008

March 2008 polling data

For which party you would vote, if Saeima elections would take place tomorrow? (Latvian citizens)

"Diena" published "Latvijas Fakti" latest gallups today. The pollster clearly outlines the trend leading to the end of the Godmanis government. While the PM is touring Sweden, and meeting Telia-Sonera and Swedish government officials with half baked assurances about possibility to build coal powered station and willingness to extend elctricity cable to Sweden, the situation is heating up home. The green, yellow and red lines in the graph above you show the undecided voters, supporters of opposition, and finally fans of coalition parties accordingly. It seems that by the choice of red color the authors of pollster are ironically pinpointing to the zone Latvian governing coalition happens to be endemically in.

In January the governing coalition was able to rise their approval ratings above the slump where the former PM Kalvītis had led the government. Latest trends, however, show that 2 out of 5 voters are undecided, almost 2 voters out of 5 would vote for opposition, and 1 out of 5 trusts present governing elite. In short, the government of Ivars Godmanis definitely will be short lived and the only question is whether the government would fall already this Spring or later this Summer? Linda Mūrniece (JL) in her blog reiterates rumours whirling in Saeima about not giving the PM more time than couple or four months. One of the JL heavyweights Mr Dans Titavs is spreading news that opposition JL could actually work together with TP, thus creating another storm in the Latvian political teacup. In order to understand where do Latvian political parties stand now, there is another graph from "Latvijas Fakti".

For which party you would vote, if Saeima elections would take place tomorrow? (Latvian citizens)

There are actually two very interesting parts on the graphs. First one is at the very end of the graph showing the percentage of undecided and disillusioned (nav izlēmis and nepiedalītos vēlēšanās) voters. The second interesting point is consists of three different trends, and certainly correlates to the simultaneous increase and decrease of the undecided and disillusioned voters. First, if one has a look on New Era (Jaunais Laiks) support then one may notice that it is collapsing. Second, the support for the biggest left wing and russophone party Reconciliation Centre (Saskaņas Centrs-SC) is steadily leading polls. And finally, the support for newly created organizations (they are still not official parties yet!) Kalniete & Kristovskis "Conservative Democrats" is steady, and Pabriks & Štokenbergs "Centre Party" support is rising.

What do I conclude from those graphs is that lack of clear ideologies is simply disorienting voters in Latvia. While the number of undecided (swing) voters decreases due to "new kids on the block", the number of disillusioned voters (who would definitely not go to elections) is increasing. Reason for that?

Many voters in Latvia unfortunately believe that politics shouls be morally sound as in the "West", and previous reasearch of A.Tabuns and T.Tīsenkopfs attest to that. Thus, instead of mutually working for betterment on ideological clarity of party programs there is still endemically low membership rate in political parties and also party leaderships follow the "iron rule of oligarchy" first pronounced by Gaetano Mosca.

Ethnic Latvian parties are still scrambling for spoils in the right wing. In the meantime the globalisation impact, trade liberalization, and transformation of economic system has increased voters appeal for liberal and leftist worldview. This political niche in ethnic Latvian political landscape is empty however, and it clearly correlates to the leadership of left wing SC on the top of the polls. The fact that leftist politics is led by russophone party in Latvia does not allow traditional ethnic Latvian voter to go after it, and unfortunately the ethnic divide makes the policy making as ridiculous as it is today.

Even though proposal of forming joint JL&TP government (such possibility was uttered by Dans Titavs(JL) and Gundars Bērziņš (TP)) sounds ideologically sound, it would be hard to salvage the lack of trust that has stagnated below 20% support of the electorate. Transfiguration of Latvian political landscape is ongoing. I would predict several unexpected surprises ahead of us in short term, and ironically the fall of the existing government would be the least surprising.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Gaspromisation of Latvia - full speed forward!

The stability of the Godmanis government in Latvia is being tested. Today the government would discuss how and to whom state telecommunications giant Lattelecom would be privatized. Almost all media channels in Latvia today are discussing the plans of present government to give up the idea of diversifying energy sources. It is the minister of economics Kaspars Gerhards (TB/LNNK) who is PRO coal station and also Roberts Zīle (TB/LNNK=MEP) supports him. The PM reiterates that Latvia should build both coal and gas powered stations. Andris Šķēle in his interview to Latvijas Avīze openly stands against the coal powered station and proposes to use the peat instead. Also Minister of Finance Atis Slakteris (TP) and former PM Aigars Kalvītis believe that Latvia should build gas powered electricity station.

If Gazprom & Itera Latvija lobbied project would succeed then Latvian electricity generating capacity would be about 60% dependent on Gazprom, or to use the expression of my colleague Andris Spruds, Latvia will be gazpromised. Success of this project is almost accomplished because Latvian present government stands against the EU energy commissioner (Andris Piebalgs!) promoted policy, that energy producers and providers in the EU should be split, in order to prevent creation of natural monopolies (so called Gazprom clause).

In addition, I live in Salaspils and Riga Termoelectric Station (TEC2) is in my municipality. Already 1,5 years ago a new gas turbine was shipped by sea here (got a lot of Latvian media attention) and all 2007 they were constructing the gas pipeline leading to the new energy producing facility within the same TEC2.

It means that the building of the new gas powered station was probably financed by the Latvenergo Plc, or Latvian taxpayers even without parliament giving it a green light? Anyway, the guarantees of state funding for the newly built and gas powered station was declined in the Latvian parliament in the first reading. It is not yet approved by the MP's and only God knows when it will be discussed?

In the meantime the Minister of Economics tries to promote the coal powered station in Liepāja, and even thinks bout linking this station with electricity cable to Sweden. It seems that these efforts are too late, and Lithuanians managed to agree with Swedes before. Actually the comment of Vytautas Landsbergis last week attest to that. In his interview to Diena he openly scolded Latvian government for being too lenient to the whims of Gazprom. In addition to the prominent Lithuanian MEP there are other news about gazpromisation of Latvia.

Last week the Head of Latvian Ice hockey Federation Mr Kirovs Lipmans agreed with Russian partners about participation of Dynamo Riga ice-hockey squad in the newly created Russian Continental Cup competition. According to Lipmans the newly created, or to be precise the reanimated Soviet era ice-hockey squad, would be sponsored by Gazprom.

There are too much news to comprehend how exactly the new gas powered station would be legalized in Latvia? Also the stability of Godmanis government is fragile, if the founder of People's Party Mr Andris Šķēle openly argues that inability to sucessfully accomplish the administrative reform would prove lethal to the present cabinet. Lets wait and see, because governing fractions in Latvia are arguing today like gangsta members not only about future spoils, but also about the ability to stay clear from possible imprisonments.

P.S. Rather unexpectedly also my colleague Andris Sprūds in Poland had the same apprehensions today. Thus, those of you reading in Latvian are welcome to read his contemplations

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Another referendum?

There is a strong possibility for holding two referendums in Latvia this year. Causes for holding constitutional and consultative referendums are different, but it all started in the October 2006 parliamentary elections. After the elections it was widely acknowledged that clear winners (People's Party (TP) and Union of First and Latvian Way parties (LPP)) breached election campaign limits. The case was brought to the court and the Senate of the Latvian Supreme Court made the decision on 13.11.2007 stating that those parties breached the law, however, breaches were not as significant as to invalidate the election result.

Aigars Kalvītis government aparently did not pay attention to previously mentioned court's decision and followed customs of realpolitik - to pass as many unpopular laws during the first year of governance as possible. The government folloved this custom, but in most cases totally disregarding existing legal norms, thus the discontent about the Kalvītis government culminated in the November 3, 2007. With the snowy sleat pouring from the sky, that gave the event famous "Umbrella" or Cappuchino revolution name, about 9-13 thousand members of the civil society gathered in Riga dome square and among many other issues also caled for snap elections in Latvia. Amidst rising inflation and with unreformed salary system for state employees [that Kalvītis government smugly refused to revise] the Union of Free Trade Unions started collecting signatures to amend articles 78 & 79 of the Latvian constitution (Satversme)at the end of October 2007.

Those amendments are specific technical issues. According to present script the only power able to initiate snap elections and dissolve the parliament in Latvia is the president. However, in order to dissolve the parliament the president risks his own position, because if president's motion is not supported by the 50% of all eligible voters then the president should loose his post (Art. 48). Union of Free Trade Unions proposed that not only president should have the right for initiating the dissolution of the parliament, but also 1/10 of electorate.

In December 20, 2007 the required number of 10 000 signatures was collected to initiate the procedure for constitutional referendum. Just prior that date on December 17 the president created the constitutional commission. The commission of prominent legal experts has to give their legal opinion about the articles 48, 78 and 79 of Satversme. The commission published their initial conclusions last week, stating among other coclusions that the position of Union of Free Trade Unions is fully comaptible with constitutional principles. The final document of the commission should become public in about next two weeks. It means that the collected and verified 10 000 signatures already have their legal weight.

In order to hand those signatures for verification to the Central Electoral Bureau (, however, the Trade Unions had to wait till February 1, 2008 because in the meantime Latvian new government was formed. There are another two weeks left till the deadline of April 10, 2008, when the collection of signatures should end. The latest data from shows that 45 773 signatures are already collected, and that is about 30% of the circa 150 000 signatures needed to initiate the referendum for constitutional amendments.

Today the "Kas notiek Latvijā?" TV discussion was devoted to the referendum. Overwhelming majority of the telephone voters agreed with the popular motion that the 1/10 of the electorate should have the right to dissolve the parliament. In order to understand where would Latvia find itself after April 10, 2008 it is essential to know positions of major political parties.

Political party positions

The existing Quadriumvirate (Peoples, Latvian First, Union of Greens & Farmers and Fatherland parties) is strongly opposing the referedum. It should be like this because TP+LPP+ZZS+TB/LNNK (governing right wing conservative coalition parties) "won" elections in 2006. However, and as I said earlier, the election campaign rules were breaced and in reality TP+LPP simply stole elections. When the incumbent PM formed the government during last X-mas, Ivars Godmanis considered the issue of snap elections simply unacceptable, because according to him "it would create chaos in Latvia". Even most of politicians in their speeches accept that citizens should have the right to dissolve the parliament, still they say that they will not sign to initiate the referendum.
The former MP Māris Krastiņš (TP) in the TV show said that instead of this referendum there should be greater participation of citizenry through the political parties, thus he suggested that the official number that has a right to form a political party in Latvia (presently inexcusably low 200) should be amanded.
Former PM Andris Bērziņš (LPP) suggested that folks should worry more about inflation and low wages. So the customary muddling of issues at stake is continued. It is no wonder, if the Latvian minigarch Andris Šķēle in his long and informative interview to Latvijas Avīze openly mocked not only organizers of the referendum but also the persons who left existing parties and are now organizing parties on their own. It means that also he feels that the Latvian political landscape is being transformed at the moment you read these lines. TB/LNNK has already ceased to be parliamentary party, and gallups show that most probably three out of existing four coalition members would not even squeeze into parliament if elections should take place tomorrow.

Thus the newly formed Center party by Messrs Pabriks & Štoekenbergs as well as newly founded Conservative Democrats party (Kalniete & Kristovskis) are openly stating that they are PRO referendum. It is only obvious, because they have to create their party support base and there is no better opportunity than an upcoming referendum. In addition, also the second referendum signature collection for change in pension laws should start in two weeks. Promoter of the second referendum is Messrs Pabriks & Štokenbergs newly founded party support organization "Other politics". The Godmanis government behaved extremely irresponsibly, however, because they failed to hold both signature collection campaigns simulatenously and thus to save considerable expenses (about 1 mln Euro) to the state treasury.

On the wave of upcoming referendum also existing opposition parties New Era (JL) and Reconciliation Centre (SC) try to mobilize their rank and file members. JL is organizing the informative campaign, and apparently the biggest campaign should start during the last week of the signature collection process. During the TV show tonight the new leader of JL Ms Solvita Āboltiņa said that the strategy of JL is to focus their propaganda campaign on the last week. The predominantly ethnic Russian represented SC is holding low profile so far however.

Future scenario

Governing Quadriumvirate is loosing members but still somehow holding to the power [even Andris Šķēle in his interview to Latvijas Avīze revealed that dissagreements about the end of the administrative reform would initiate the fall of the existing coalition government]. Opposition is divided, and the whole Latvian political landscape is being reconfigured, thus what about chances for the positive outcome in the referendum? Not big would be the simplest answer considering the outcome of the last year's referendum. Nevertheless, most of the signals seem to be good for the positive outcome of the referendum at this moment.

Approval ratings of the government & parliament have stagnated below the mark of 19%, and it means that only about 1 out of 5 persons considers present Latvian "governors" as legitimate. Inflation is the highest in the EU, corruption is endemic, rural folks are hemorragheing out to Riga and further to Ireland, and price hikes for electricity and gas are expected in May 2008.

The understanding of the general electorate about peculiar details of constitutional changes are vague however (therefore the need for informative campaign). Such position was underlined tonight also by the leader of Trade Unions Mr Pēteris Krīgers. He stated that those who give their signatures for the upcoming refrendum should give it in spite of the cynicism of the governing elite and thus for salvaging people's own conscience. I gave my own signature and the reason I signed for the upcoming referedum was simple.

Because there is no precedent of snap elections in Latvia there is kind of wrath of untouchability above Latvian politicanos. MP's simply believe that they can do whatever they want, and till next elections voters shall simply forget about their misdeeds and vices [it has unfortunately followed such trend all these years]. Thus, I believe that with snap elections it is a perfect occassion not only to empower the civil society, but it would also break the artificial spell of untouchability among the mandarins of post-Soviet nomenklatura.

The head of the Central Electoral Bureau Mr Artis Cimdars mentioned that during signature collection campaign prior last year's referendum 30% of the needed number of signatures were given during the last three days of the campaign. Thus there is a widely held belief that Latvian citizenry shall leave the issue till the last moment, and somehow collect circa 150 000 signatures needed. Probably the signatures would be collected, but the issue is also about the positive referendum outcome, and here the participation rate for positive outcome is 454 490 (half of electors participating in the October 2006 elections). The way for snap elections would be open, if half of the previously mentioned number (227 246) would say - AYE - in the referendum. Interesting detail is that the 227 246 electors would be only 15% of the total numer of electors in Latvia, and reason for such a low number is the participation rate in the last parliamentary election (60.98% = 908 979 electors).

Nevertheless, next two weeks are essential for positive outcome of the referendum. Even more, during the two weeks there is a need for someone among opposition statesman/women to show strong leadership, and, so convince the citizenry that change of the existing situation would not culminate only in referendum, but that there is someone to lead the country out of political and economic malaise also after hypothetical referendum.

P.S. For those of you reading in Estonian I wrote a piece last week (March 12, 2008)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Skewed tenets of political ideologies in Latvia

It was after resigning from the post of the PM last December, when Aigars Kalvītis said that he would henceforth concentrate not only on the parliamentary work but also on promoting conservative ideas in Latvian society. Last Saturday’s week Diena quoted ex-PM saying, “liberalism of George Soros has gone too far in Latvia”. Also the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, as if echoing his former boss [Maris Riekstins was the PM bureau chief when A.Kalvītis was PM], spoke out the idea about a need to establish a conservative think tank in Latvia.

I have always wondered about the inability of Latvian present politicians to manoeuvre in literature of Western political science. If it is the former head of Latvian Dairies Ltd., then I do understand that he might not be accustomed to nuances of political science terminology. Therefore, I am not apprehensive about A. Kalvītis demagoguery and ability to compare Karl Popper’s idea about ”open society” with extreme market liberalism. The fact is that in most of the former Soviet Union (fSU) the student of Karl Popper, Mr George Soros is associated with the liberal ideology. But ironically it was and still is the excessive capitalist market ideology that G. Soros has been trying to argue against during the last two decades. The whole Open Society Network actually was founded in order to mitigate excesses of the liberal market economy in territories formerly run by the gang of “communist mandarin class”.

In reality the excesses of market liberalism or euphemistically called conditional reforms of Washington consensus were brought by the interplay between the International Monetary Fund and decisions of the ruling nomenklatura. Obviously the Washington consensus “one size fits all” approach did much damage, and there are volumes of scholarly literature written about it. Also, one should not forget the policy planners in the US State Department, who found it very convenient to hold on principles of liberal internationalism, and that was propagated by works of Francis Fukuyama or Kinichi Ohmae.

However, I still believe that harsh effects of reforms today are felt in fSU were not forced to accepted stringent reforms not so much as forced designs of development from the West, but mostly because of the bankruptcy of the centrally planned socialist economy, and oversize and ineffective state administration. The fact that one country in Central and Eastern Europe did better than other very much depended on several factors and institutional and administrative culture of the state was paramount here. For more detailed research one may look through very informative article by Oleg Havrylyshyn, but in a nutshell ongoing problems of states across the Central European region are still caused by the same old lack of rule of law, corruption and lack of administrative capacity.

Present members of the Latvian political elite try to solve problems of slowing economy and alienation of populace from the state. Instead of looking for primary causes of problems, the members of Popular party (TP) have decided to start to deal with secondary causes first. Instead of eliminating primary causes for the high level of corruption and lack of trust in society, members of the present political elite are looking now for means of conserving the existing situation.

Latvian conservatism

Former PM and present Minister of Foreign Affairs believe that liberal reforms have disoriented Latvian electors. Prevailing values of market liberalism according to ex-PM Kalvītis deteriorate family values, there is lack of traditional authority so there is nothing that holds the society together. But whilst speaking only about family values former PM is no different from all the other politicians. First, politicians of most political shades support family values, and second, from A. Kalvītis speech it does not become clear what else the newly formed organization should cherish or conserve? Traditional conservative values are associated with small government (Anglo-American example), although the US neo-conservatives have deviated from this important predicament lately. Continental Europeans try to preserve conservatism by preserving religious and family values. Conservatives traditionally do not believe in complicated policy proposals, and try to keep the small and efficient state administration as an arbiter and away from mingling into economic affairs.

Speaking about Latvian parliamentary political parties then at least five of them deem to defend conservative values in one way or another – People’s Party (TP), LPP/LC (Union between Latvian First and Latvian Way parties), New Era (JL), Fatherland Union (TB/LNNK) and Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS). All of previously mentioned parties deem to be conservative in defending traditional Latvian values, LPP/LC defends conservative Christian values, and ZZS defends conservative values of Latvian peasantry.

It might seem to be clarifying, but I have never really understood what does it mean – traditional Latvian values? Even if it comprises family values and promotion of Latvian language I am still puzzled about what kind of values those parties and particularly TP wants to conserve apart prom previously mentioned? Small government has never been on agenda in Latvia and what about low taxes? And how to finance the present unreformed and bloated governemt with low taxes of the upper quintile of society?

After all the word conservatism (conservare – to preserve in Latin), means that those using word conservatism want to preserve existing order, because they consider it being good enough in serving their needs. In Latvian case, when the country had to go through several forms of authoritarianism, what is the basis the traditional authority, efficient state apparatus; family values will be based upon? Would they trace back their roots to Ulmanis traditional authority, efficiency of state apparatus to the Soviet era, and family values to the last fifteen years? All in all, there are several questions that the newly founded conservative think tank ideologues would still have to answer prior making to understand on what values the future conservative party consolidation would be based on.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

March 16 - deadline for Latvian fringe party show off?

There is little more than a week left until the March 16 deadline, which is one among many days remembering war dead in Latvia. There are several reasons why World’s media pays thus much attention to this date, and in this blog entry I shall try to look back in recent history and find causes for that. However, the fact is that Latvia differently from its Nordic neighbours is still struggling with legacy of the Soviet past. It means that instead of commemorating all the soldiers who fought for Latvian freedom, regardless of uniforms they wore, Latvian political elite has not thought about consolidating on its complicated past and therefore allows unnecessary extremism to flourish. I was advocating in “Diena” to reassess the need to have thus numerous state commemoration days (June 19, 2007 blog entry in Latvian), and proposed to establish November 11 as the commemoration date, when everybody is given a chance to remember Latvia’s sons and daughters who fell for freedom of their state. Also prominent Latvian journalist Kārlis Streips supported my idea last June in his daily blog in The discussion emanating from my article and Kārlis Streips blog entry was positive, however there were no changes proposed in the Latvian legislature last year. Mostly it was due to the fact that liberal minded folks prepared to take a part in the 07.07.07 referendum about changes in the law on security organizations. It means that Latvian present elite still not only annually commemorates the occupation by USSR in June 16, 1940, but also flags must be in half – mast by law in four more occasions on all the buildings in Latvia.

March 16

In March 16 surviving Latvian Legion members commemorate their fallen brothers in arms. The commemoration day was founded in 1952 by the “Daugavas Vanagi (DV-Daugava Hawks)” organization in the US. The primarily concern of DV was about humanitarian help to those Latvian soldiers (legionaries), who had fought in German army, and found themselves in the West after the end of the World War II. The March 16 commemorates fierce battles at Velikaja River, when from March 16 – 19, 1944 Latvian 15. and 19. Latvian divisions of the German army on the Eastern Front at the Velikaya River were fighting against the Red army.
This commemoration day was founded in order to remember extremely high number of fallen soldiers. Motivation of legionaries and attitude about fighting with the Axis powers were different. Rather many considered it as a useless bloodshed for wrong cause, but were forced to fight. In 1944, immediately after the Red army crossed Latvian border, forced mobilization started into the Soviet forces. Here also an ideological indoctrination did not have an appeal. Rather often members of the same family were fighting on both sides of the frontline, and there were cases when the same person managed to serve both Soviets and Nazis. Mobilization into German army touched almost every family in Latvia, and not only ethnic Latvians, but also Russians from whom several police battalions were formed.
Probably gratifying DV donations the Fatherland and Freedom Party TB/LNNK included March 16 in the official list of state commemoration days. Thus, the commemoration of war dead took place throughout the 1990’s. Nobody outside Latvia really paid attention to this date, and the biggest critique of the Latvian government was about the fact, that the March 16 was included into the list of official commemoration days even though it was requested only by a mere NGO [Daugavas Vanagi].

Snowballing Latvia to the centre of media attention

In 1998 many simultaneous events just happened to initiate the snowballing effect that finally capitalized the world media attention on Latvian events. It was a time when Guntars Krasts (TB/LNNK) was Prime Minister, when talks with transatlantic partners were laborious and proposed security assurances from Russian Federation were openly turned down. Russian oil giant Lukoil during early 1998 was not allowed to take a part in the Ventspils Nafta privatization process. On top of it, Latvian police dispersed protest demonstration in central Riga, when mostly Russian pensioners demonstrated against the rise of utility bills. The way demonstration was dispersed happened to be the central news item in most of the Russian TV channels.
In March 16, 1998 allowed Russian propaganda machine to amplify formerly uttered accusations about discrimination of non-citizens and ethnic minorities. Russian accusations, about Latvian government supporting Nazi SS veterans who were responsible for holocaust, appeared to be rather effective in discrediting Latvia in the eyes of its Western partners. Latvian political elite was caught unawares, and was surprised that groundless Russian accusations (as Latvian elite perceived them) found an attentive audience in the West. The US State Department, Israel, Simon Wiesenthal centre and others criticized events of the March 16 and especially participation of the state officials in them. The image of Latvia was tarnished furthermore by a bomb blast in the front of the Riga synagogue in April 2, 1998. As a result several Latvian officials (Head of Armed Forces Mr Dalbiņš among them) had to resign because of participation in the March 16 commemorative events, as well as due to failed implementation of anti - terror policies.

Media event for fringe parties

Starting from ominous events in the March 16, 1998 Riga is crowded now with reporters from the major world media and TV stations. It is a very comfortable opportunity for any sort of political radicals, who are not part of mainstream political culture, to draw attention and appear on the newspaper front pages. For example, Latvian Socialist party and the Equal Rights Movement (FHRUL) started to be known from the excesses during the March 16 commemorative events. Such movements as Russian Diaspora, Russian National Bolsheviks, as well as followers of Alexander Barkashov fascist movement in Latvia (Russian National Unity) came on stage. In 2005 huge media event was crated by “antifascists”. The latter were mostly members of the Equal rights movement (FHRUL), and defenders of the Russian Schools who dressed in striped cloth of the death camp inmates and who tried to prevent former legionnaires from laying flowers in front of the Freedom Monument. In 2007 a radical Union of National Forces (NSS) came into existence. In 2007 rather ominously members of far right and far left, NSS and National Bolsheviks respectively, reeled about the decision of the Riga City Council to secure the area around the Freedom Monument, thus allowing official demonstrations to take place only in Riga outskirts away from media attention.
Ever since ominous events in 1998 the government and mainstream political parties avoid events of the March 16, and now they are extremists and radical political groups that have monopolized this event. Obvious part of latter is media frenzy, thus extremists try to escalate confrontation in order to draw attention and such tactics appears to be successful. Thus, Russia used the March 16 as an event, when it could draw worlds attention to the “revival of fascism” and Latvia’s aspirations “to revise the outcome of the second World war”. History turned out to be an essential weapon in political battles. Latvian political elite and society had to admit, that events of the Second World War have not been fully investigated. An understanding set in, that there is a need to cover the gap about how results of the WW2 are remembered, understood, and interpreted by Latvians, and how they are perceived and interpreted in the West. As a result the History Commission was formed under guidance of the President Vaira Vike Freiberga, and it has been a constructive agent for fostering research about the WW2 and post-war history in Latvia ever since.

Concluding remarks

The deadline is approaching and there probably shall be some media attention this year as well. Vaira Vīķe - Freiberga is not the president anymore, but the History commission is continuing its work and clarifying persistent popular history myths. Also 2007 saw several developments that allow one to see gradual breaking away from the traditional post-Soviet political culture, thus not giving the media silly causes to blame officials for their inactivity or stupidity. Firstly, the Riga City government took the springboard of media attention away last year from the radical parties. Radicals tried to accuse the City Government in curtailing their basic freedoms, thus they were allowed to demonstrate near Riga Zoo instead of Riga Centre. Secondly, also Russian – Latvian relations have improved, and that was traditionally Russian media that inflamed the media frenzy in Riga. The fact that radical parties do not get traditional media attention in central Riga, or that Latvia-Russian relations have improved does not answer a very important question – what was the price to achieve it? My very short answer to this question is that the price Latvian citizenry paid was – postponed Europeanization of the Latvian political and administrative culture. I find it useless to elaborate in details what do I mean by the latter answer because data by several international agencies speak for themselves. Eurobarometer, Freedom House, UNDP, Heritage Foundation, Pisa and many others show that Latvia gradually lags further and further behind its neighbours Estonia and Lithuania. There are buds of hope, however, that not only could help to turn the tide of political nihilism in Latvia, but also finally put the Latvian governance on the stable and transparent European track. This is already another story and there will be a need to discuss it next time.

P.S. Whilst writing this piece I am also indebted to background information that was entrusted to me by my colleague Dr. Daina Bleiere.

P.P.S. Those of you reading Estonian may find my piece in Postimees.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Path dependent thinking

This week there were good news for the maire of Ventspils. After his imprisonment in March 13, 2007 this Latvian minigarch has suffered his calvary and he has been pretty vocal last week. Probably those were humanitarian considerations that made judges to ease his home arrest conditions and allowed him to relocate to his rancho in Puze (Ventspils region). Whatever humanitarian considerations of judges there were, I still do not understand Latvian president, general prosecutor and MP's - why the hell Mr Lembergs is still the Maire of Ventspils? Aye, the most widely used answer given by aforementined authorities is the presumption of his innocence until proven contrary. But for Gods sake, is it not possible to amend those parts of legislature that stipulate that the official who is imprisoned allegedly for serious crimes (misuse of his public office among them), is temporarily removed from his public office until the court verdict being read? After all it also challenges the principle of the law of the state and basıc pillars of democracy!!!

WHATTA HELL those Latvian officials think, that Lembergs has bought all the judicial system and would make a comeback, thus there is no need for his removal from maire of Ventspils office???? To me such wavering inactivity of Latvian officials is a full proof that, if they themselves are short of being involved into shady deals with Latvian minigarchic families, they still do not understand basic principles of European liberal democracy and are thus spitting into face of civil society.

Instead of temporarily removing ''the maire of Ventspils'' from his office the little ''big'' man from Ventspils is given a prime time in the Latvian public TV evening news to carry on with his demagoguery! Common, this man has his own newspaper (, thus why should such a person be given a cuddly reception after all? In his prime time TV interview and numerous newspaper sketches A. Lembergs has been ranting about almost all members of the Latvian post-independent time political elite. Apart from his lambasting what else did I read from his interviews?

The mind of the ''Maire of Ventspıls'' is wickedly Machiavellian. It is not a problem per se, because the rest of the world countries have their Machiavellian politicanos. However, when other members of society construct the legal system that restrains Machiavellian politicians, then the liberal democracy should work fine. BUT the Latvian problem is that numerous Machiavellian minds (ill famous AAA team) constructed the system for their own enrichment, and throughout the post-independence period they have promoted Orwellian demagoguery telling the public that the system they have created after the independence is liberal democracy (remember Goerge Orwell's Ninety eighty four....war is peace & slavery is freedom)...

Fortunately there is free press and Latvian folks can travel outside the AAA fiefdom, thus starting to doubt whether the traditional discourse promoted by Machiavellian politicians is really true. Unfortunately, there are numerous elderly folks who never had a chance to compare living conditions with ones outsıde Latvia after independence in 1991. Because they simply had and very often still dont have means to travel further than their provincial town, thus they are forced to trust the same crooks over and over again...

The ''small big man from Ventspils'' came out with the idea last Friday ( that participation of Latvian soldiers in foreign missions is a useless activity. He believes that such missions do not give any tangible results to Latvian soldiers and economy. Lembergs blames Latvian politicians for enriching only NATO member countries treasuries with foreign missions, because according to this demagogue Latvian army must buy German arms, the US vehicles, boots and uniforms...Very conveniently he forgets that experience of foreign missions is essentially important for operational readiness of the small Latvian army. Also Latvia does not produce arms&vehicles, and that also Latvian army uniforms are produced by Latvian prison inmates (perhaps he served his inprisonment in such posh conditions that he never met a inmate...). Mr Lemberg's way of thinking is populist and it is also an example of the kind of path dependent mindset exemplified also by his political buddies in Latvian parliament, government and business.

Thus, the legitimate question at the end of this piece still stands - for how long Latian civil society is ready to endure mockery of liberal democracy by a bunch of self-imposed tricksters??

P.S. Those of you reading in Latvian may find my contemplations in Diena.