Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Latvian Potemkin village

Yesterday habitually followed election results in Japan and Germany in order to keep me up to date with political events in world's leading export led economies. Results from the three German Länder (Sachsen, Thüringen and Saarland), except somewhat unexpectedly good results of Oscar Lafontaine and his Left Alliance, were predictable and gave a signal about the possible end of the German present grand coalition after federal elections at the end of the September 2009. The crashing end of the half a century rule of liberal democrats in Japan, however, was rather significant and bears several similarities with the present political situation in Latvia. The Liberal democratic party (LibDem) was a roof organization for several political groupings that kept together the conservative party of power. It was done in rather peculiar way and corruption scandals were a constant phenomenon in the country of rising sun. The LibDem party of power could manage their affairs well during the Cold War era, when Japanese economy booming, but the end of the Cold War and the rise of Chinese rival set in new realities for the Japanese policy makers. Basically the victory of Japanese Democratic party emulates events in South Korea back in 2000. The vigilance of the S-Korean civil society resulted in the black list of corrupt politicians and pushed a way for democratic reforms in the political culture of South Korea.
The vigilance of the Latvian civil society is constantly tested by new disclosures. The magnitude and number of abuse of power is thus great that sometimes there is a feeling that the civil society has given up on prudent change in Latvia. It is ominous that new political parties are crystallising out of the present political mess. Within liberal circles and some utterly base politicians (Aivars Lembers, Mareks Seglins) show their contempt for new political formations, but I am sure that they really do not UDERSTAND, how representative democracy should work for country to stay sustainable at the end! Politicians and top notch civil servants disdain for the rule of law is omnipresent and I would write about the role and peculiarities of Latvian burgeoned civil service in one of my next blog entries.
At the same time the Latvian Potemkin village continues to survive. The name Potemkin village dates back to the end of the 18th century, when the Russian autocrat Catherine II was fooled during the Russian military campaigns in Crimea by her trusted underlings in order to boost their rankings in the royal entourage. Similar attitude of traditional rule just in a more robust way are performed in Latvia today. Just Latvian politicians and top notch civil servants do not have to build ghost villages, but have to pretend that behind the walls of nicely painted Riga ministries and agencies there is a real policy making going on while in reality they participate in the reality show.
The present system is actually very simple. Contrary to numerous World Bank, European Commission and IMF recommendations the leaders of traditional parties, agencies, local municipalities and ministries (ill famous nomenclature) traditionally keep receiving hefty sums in bonuses and other means of gratitude while keeping the rest of the civil service on "diet" while sometimes throwing some "glittery chunk" (ill famous end of the year bonuses) to some of them. This traditional system kept perpetuating itself and now with the economic bubble burst the members of the nomenclature cannot agree on traditional rules of the game because there is not enough financial means. Some critique could remind me that the present 7,5 billion euro mega loan would be also squandered among the hungry Latvian cleptocrats as my colleague Janis Berziņš calls them. Yea, possibly so and only history would tell us how the money was spent, and that history would speak pretty soon, because Latvian political landscape is being reconfigured right at this moment.
At the end there is mush to do in order to turn the Latvian Potemkin ministries and agencies (please forgive me the generalization, because I know that rather many civil servants are devoted and patriotic working bees regardless of their incompetent and morally corrupt bosses) to work like the units of public administration. The process of overhauling the work of traditional nomenclature is not easy, and I am afraid that there is know-how and counter-balancing help from Brussels corridors needed. Simply the Latvian Satversme (constitutution) is the hybrid of the Weimar defunct Konstitution and the third branch of government - the legal one does not help us much here. Yesterday, the TV3 station weekend program investigative journalists continued to search for truth of the way, how the head of the Latvian Supreme Court Ivars Bičkovičs got his Latvian citizenship. According to the TV3 and other media channels today, the administrative procedures were not followed, archival documents have miraculously perished, and granting Latvian citizenship to the present head of the Latvian Supreme Court was illegal!
After such allegations interesting political repercussions should follow. Either the present head of the Supreme Court should step down (be fired by the parliamentary vote) or the former head of the Naturalization department Madam Eiženija Aldermane must change her announcements now. It is very important, because the head of the Supreme Court is the official who would have to announce the nomination for the new Prosecutor General in couple of month time. Another political scandal is gradually being formed, huh, uhh...

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Baltic Way 20th anniversary - post factum

The 20th Anniversary is happily over. Thanks to the organizers, volunteers , and orienteering enthusiasts in all the three Baltic States this rather sporty anniversary was a success. Unusually hyperactive Latvian electronic media channels were somewhat overflown with nationalistic utterances and thus the whole anniversary reminded me of the PR campaign for certain political class/es in Latvia. Throughout the August 23 the Latvian electronic media was reminding that there are about 15 000 registered participants from Latvia, while in Estonia there are 5000 and in Lithuania 3000 only. At the end corrections of participation numbers "made" Estonians into laggards of the Baltic Way 20th anniversary participation and Latvians came out as winners with about 50 000 participation rate and leaving Lithuanians in the middle. I felt that these constant reminders about high rates of Latvian participation somehow overshadowed very good speeches of Mr Toomas Hendrik Ilves in Tallinn and Ms Dalia Gribauskaite in Vilnius.

I ran my couple of kilometers in Ķekava (411 km of the Baltic Way), and rather expected, the feeling on the Baltic Way 2009 was emotionally and qualitatively different from the one in 1989 which I had near Tallinn. Sportsmanship was there and I saw several sports teams and families with their offsprings spending their Sunday commemorating the paramount summit of the Baltic unity that rather ironically commemorates one of the nastiest secret deals of realpolitik (Ribbentrop - Molotov Pact).

However, I was missing the feeling of Baltic unity. It is a fragile concept this Baltic unity, because its existence came about more like an historic paradox. And it was not missing just because Estonia and Lithuana in Latvia sounded just as a point of reference for the event commemorating the historic event, when about 3 million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined their hands in defiance of the Soviet empire of evil and so reminding the world that injustice of August 23, 1939 and subsequent June 16/18, 1940 would be undone one day. I missed the feeling also because I believe that the present governors of Latvia do not deserve neither to commemorate nor celebrate this event. First, they have miserably failed doing all the necessary homework required to enable sustainable governance of their represented nation state. Second, their complacent behaviour is far from over, because former ministers and present MP's still dare to speak out like boorish politicians from the state that just learns to coexist in the family of nation states. As a proof here you have just a quick excerpt from an interview of the worst Latvian minister of finance (Atis Slakteris) given to the July 2009 number of O KLUBS.

Q: What makes you to enjoy politics, why aren't you the simple Atis, who works on his farm?

A: (Waits for rather long time) "All in all I am still the simple Atis. (while laughing) I came to politics gradually, because I never aspired to be in politics. But I became a minister because I had mobile telephone (!transl. note), which I had because I bought a used one for 800 USD, and it had an antennae - like a big whip. You see, people could reach me, and so I became a member in the first Šķēle government."

Those are the former ministers who still kill their time shamelessly in the Latvian parliament that is habitually in recess when the worst economic crisis has hit Latvia. Politicians like the official court jester of Latvian Saeima Juris Dobelis happened to run with his family, and rather positively he did not start his filibustering diatribes on the route. Other politicians still believe that that they can continue their short term back stabbing policies and they believe that their mishaps are possible to undo with the help of some money and effective PR campaign. Probably, just like some of them did also during the 20th Anniversary of the Baltic Way celebrations. Anyway, end is good and all is good. Some 50 000 Latvian active citizens were shaken up from their daily routine and probably made to think also about how atomized the Latvian society is today. I hope that at least some of them thought about it prior the economically harsh autumn and winter sets in. Freedom, accountable political class, and rule of law does not land from heaven, those virtues must be won first and what is as important - those virtues must ensure continuation of the domestic checks and balances system that would enable the vigilant civil society to enjoy comfort of the commonwealth continuously.

P.S. Also Gatis Šļūka has added his poignant view on the Baltic Way 2009

Text in Latvian: EST & LIT talking about LAT: "She is absolutely sick! Should move farther away in order to not to get infected"

Friday, August 21, 2009

The 20th Anniversary of Baltic Way on threshold

I am about to return to the shores of the Baltic Sea tomorrow after having a very productive summer. The 20th Anniversary of the Baltic Way is under way, and I am going to participate together with my family in quite few of the events taking place throughout Eesti, Latvija and Lietuva. This entry is just a small reminder about my return from paradise into civilization. Concise updates on Baltic politics would definitely resume in September, because the coming autumn appears to be rather tough both for the Latvian people and leaders. Lithuanian and Estonian economies are surviving, and lets see how quickly the trend in the EU's biggest economies of slow coming out of the global recession would arrive to the Eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.

P.S. At the same time I am adding a piece that was commissioned by the Baltic Times and appeared in August 13, 2009 issue. For those reading Latvian there was a piece that appeared in Diena in early August.