Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 25
26 June 2000
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Latvian News Review News from Latvia
All the important news
since 17 June 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar hosted his Baltic counterparts, Andris Bērziņš of Latvia and Andrius Kubilius of Lithuania, in the "summer capital" of Pärnu for a regular meeting. The trio focused on how to better exchange information, especially on issues relating to EU and NATO integration. The prime ministers also discussed Russia and Lithuania's recent claim to damages from the Soviet occupation, which was supported in principle by all. Laar and Bērziņš, alongside several officials from both countries, opened a new border checkpoint at Ikla, before the trilateral summit.

Perhaps it's a Baltic trend, as a special session of the Saeima voted down proposals by opposition members on rural life. The bill called for increasing the budget allocation for agricultural subsidies to three per cent. However, more contentious is that several members of the coalition's New Party joined in with the opposition on this, a move that has been called a violation of the coalition agreement by some.

However, Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris said that starting in July pig farmers will get direct support from the government. Subsidies will be LVL (Latvian lats) 17 per month, per sow. This, effectively, ends the feud, which has led to a disastrous policy of import tariffs that the EU has all but said would jeopardise Latvia's EU aspirations. The Saeima also passed a bill on trade conditions with the EU, easing some tension. However, Slakteris also criticised the government for not doing more on the grain subsidies front.

Czech Defence Minister Vladimír Vetchý made a visit to Latvia to promote bilateral military ties. Vetchý reaffirmed the Czech Republic's support of the Baltic states' aspirations to join NATO.

Officials from the United States and various interest groups praised the move by Latvian prosecutors against suspected war criminal Konrāds Kalējs. Prosecutors say that charges will likely be filed by July and extradition will be sought for the suspected member of the notorious Arājs Commando death squad.

Prosecutors demanded five years in jail for Yevgeni Savenko, who is accused of genocide for his role in repressing Latvians during the early years of Soviet occupation. Prosecutors said that he was directly responsible for 57 repressions, which resulted in nine executions and nine deaths in detention. Savenko has maintained his innocence, saying he was only following orders.

Police have confirmed that the two who men who accused Interior Minister Mareks Segliņš of being involved in the paedophilia scandal have fled the country. Local press said they fled to Russia, just as prosecutors opened a case of perjury against them.

The press is rife with speculation over the murder of Ilona Skadiņa, the head of the Latvian Privatisation Agency's insolvency and liquidations department, several months ago. Reports indicate that several suspects have been caught, including the head of a law office linked by contract to the LPA department. The reports also suggest massive corruption and other scandalous bits, but no formal statements have been made yet.

The first class of the Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL) graduated this past week. The 32-strong group is composed of students from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the United States, Hungary, Germany and Sweden. Defence ministers from Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden attended the ceremony, alongside Estonian President Lennart Meri, British First Sea Lord Admiral Michael Boyce and Danish military commander General Christian Hvidt. Next year, two classes of 40 will study at the BALTDEFCOL.

British First Sea Lord Sir Boyce also made a quick visit to Latvia to discuss military ties with Britain.

Foreign ministers from the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) met in Bergen, Norway, to discuss regional co-operation. High on the agenda was the EU's "Northern Dimension" and the integration of Kaliningrad into the region. The council also approved a change to the mandate of the human rights commissioner, changing the role to that of a democratic development commissioner. Former commissioner Ole Espersen is completing his term. He will be replaced by the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Denmark's Folketing, Helle Degn. The members of the CBSS are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden, while the US, Britain, France, Ukraine and the European Commission are observers.


Economics and business

The producer price index dropped by 0.2 per cent in May, compared to April.


Social and local interest

About 500 people took part in the 17 June events commemorating occupation day, the day when Soviet forces rolled into the country to occupy it.

An anonymous group called the "Fighters of Democratic Latvia" issued threats to disrupt civil society with bombings, if suspected and convicted Russian war criminals are not freed. They took responsibility for a minor explosion on a rail track, but officials believe they were not involved.

In a highly controversial report, the World Health Organisation ranked Latvia's health care system 105th in the world. Many countries, including Britain, have complained of the methods used by the WHO in critiquing the state of health care in the world. Estonia ranked 77th and Lithuania was 73rd.

Travelling to Latvia soon? Choose Hotels Central at HotelsLatvia.com to reserve a hotel online at a great price.

The summer barbecue season has brought pain to many, as an outbreak of trichinosis in Baldone has made 25 people ill. Health inspectors have accused a local farmer of breaking the law by doing some DIY butchering at home and selling it to the store. Both farmer and store are in trouble with inspectors.

The official unemployment rate was 8.6 per cent at the end of May, down slightly from the end of April, when it stood at 9 per cent.

The two largest mobile phone operators say that 13.2 per cent of Latvia's population use mobile phones.


And in other news...

Though leading the Vuelta, a Columbian cycle race, for the first four stages, cyclist Andris Naudužs abandoned the race during the fifth stage. The reason perhaps being that the first four stages were flat, but the fifth involved a climb up the Andes.

The postal service, Latvijas Pasts, announced plans to issue a set of commemorative stamps, in celebration of the achievements of the Latvian national hockey team at the St Petersburg World Championships last month. The stamps will feature hockey greats, such as Carolina Panthers, goalie Artūrs Irbe, Colorado Avalanche defenceman Sandis Ozoliņš and past heroes, including Helmuts Balderis and Vitālijs Samoilovs.

The dark beer from leading brewery Aldaris won a silver medal at the prestigious World Beer Cup in New York. The beer is available in various places outside of Latvia, including the United States - notably in Washington.

And, speaking of the beverage, the Statistical Department said that in 1999 Latvians consumed 40.8 litres of beer per capita. This is still far short of other beer-loving countries, however.

The Stanford Club was officially opened in Rīga this past week. The club joins former associates and alumni of the prestigious Californian university, for there are several dozen in Latvia. Several prominent Latvians are also honorary members of the organisation, such as CER's own advisor, Ojārs Kalniņš.

For some odd reason telephone company Lattelekom seems to have bad luck. This past week, Uzvara (Victory), a front for members of the banned Russian extremist group, the National Bolsheviks, protested outside the headquarters of the phone company. The protestors shouted peculiar slogans and carried placards that read, among other things, "Lattelekom is a bunch of murderers!" and "Capitalism is shit!" As the young men marched down the street, observers said that some pensioners tried in vain to keep up with the fit lads. However, construction workers at a building across the street had a bit more fun, as they banged their tools to disrupt the group whenever they tried to speak. There were more media and police in attendance than protesters.

As the midsummer holiday weekend approaches, worries of unbearable heat have overshadowed the usual concerns of rain on the traditional all-night bonfire party. As temperatures climbed as high as 33 degrees in central Latvia, meteorologists told people to "take it easy."

Perhaps it's the summer heat that's getting to people, as the Latvian Handicapped Union and the condom company, Life Styles, have come up with an ingenious idea to build a raft made of 50,000 inflated condoms. The "Life Styles on Water 2000" campaign aims to raise AIDS awareness, as Latvia is experiencing an unprecedented rise in HIV infections. The raft will be tested on the Daugava River and the Gulf of Rīga, and, if it works, they'll build one with 250,000 condoms next year to sail to Sweden.

The Citizenship and Migration Department has admitted that there are still about 6500 deceased people on its population register. They have promised to update the list immediately.

And, finally, as Latvia celebrates the midsummer holiday, the Citizenship and Migration Department also came up with a great statistic for enthusiasts of Jāņi and Līgo. The Department said that about three per cent of the Latvian population, just over 70,000, are named Jānis, and another 10,000 or so women are named Līga. Happy midsummer!

Exchange Rates
As of 23 June 2000
Currency Latvian
1 US dollar 0.60
1 British pound 0.90
1 German mark 0.29
1 euro 0.56

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 23 June 2000

Moving on:


Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Sex, Lies but
No Videotape

Derek S Hutcheson
Voting in Tatarstan

Slavko Živanov
Sharing Blame

Oliver Craske
Knock, Knock

Catherine Lovatt
Championship Politics

Mel Huang
Assessing Allies

Sam Vaknin
A First Encounter

Jan Čulík
Czech Style

Brian J Požun
Wrong Place, Wrong Time


Marietta Stanková
The Prague Conference Reviewed

The Arts:
Culture Calendar:


Mixed Nuts