Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 26
3 July 2000
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Latvian News Review News from Latvia
All the important news
since 24 June 2000

Mel Huang

Political and Foreign Affairs

President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga said that a "balance sheet" is necessary to assess the damage of the Soviet occupation of Latvia, which would show the world the extent of damage done by the USSR. However, the President said that it is senseless to ask for compensation, since it would seriously affect bilateral ties and since Moscow has not admitted to the occupation of the Baltics [see an exclusive interview with President Vīķe-Freiberga to be published in CER's special Baltics issue on 10 July 2000].

President Vīķe-Freiberga made a visit to Germany to open the new Latvian Embassy in Berlin. The President linked the return of Latvia's embassy to Berlin (where it stood during the interwar years) to the recent development of history, noting that Berlin, Germany and Europe have all been reunited. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder showed up unexpectedly at the ceremony, which might have something to do with the negative press he has received recently with respect to the Baltics [see last week's Amber Coast, "Echoes of Joachim and Vyacheslav", for more]. The President also met with President Johannes Rau and visited Latvia's pavilion at Expo2000 in Hanover.

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson made a quick visit to Latvia to discuss the country's EU integration. Persson reaffirmed that each individual country would be judged separately but warned that Latvia may need to "change its internal administrative structures" to adhere to the "strict" conditions of EU membership. Persson also said that the Baltic Sea region could be the most dynamic in the world in 15-20 years.

Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš travelled to Warsaw to participate in the "Toward a Community of Democracies" conference.


Economics and business

The Statistical Office reported a sharp rise in Q1 GDP, as it increased by 5.3 per cent from the same period in 1999. Though the Office tempered it with slower quarterly growth expectations for the rest of the year, many analysts saw it as final proof that Latvia has weathered the Russian economic crisis. However, no one is raising GDP forecasts for the year just yet.

The working group for co-operation between Estonia's Eesti Energia and Latvia's Latvenergo supported the scheme of merging the two power utilities. The idea seems to be popular with politicians in charge, but the Latvian side is a little more apprehensive, as Latvia is a net power importer and Estonia is a net power exporter.

However, the issue of privatisation of Latvenergo still raises emotions, as the petition drive to stop the process will be over at month's end. Three days before the end of the collection period, supporters have gathered over 90,000 signatures. They are confident that they will surpass the 134,000 signatures needed to bring the issue to national referendum.

Thomson Financial Bankwatch has raised its credit rating for Latvia to BBB- from BB+. This came before the GDP figure for Q1 was released.

Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs said he is planning to file suit against Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter for running so many stories against the city. Lembergs even linked the ongoing feud he has with the leading Latvian daily Diena to that of Dagens Nyheter, since they are owned by Swedish media giant Bonnier.

The summer protest season is set to begin, as regional farmers called for protests at the Grenctāle and Meitene customs checkpoints starting 5 July. Grenctāle is the major throughway for transit between Rīga and Vilnius, Lithuania.

The latest move of the government, pushed by Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris, is likely not to appease many. However, the government ruled to begin grain intervention purchases, setting the intervention price at LVL (Latvian lats) 64 per tonne of grain.


Social and local interest

Latvia's Drug Rehabilitation Centre has warned of the rapid increase of drug use in Latvia. The Centre said that, in 1999, some 17 per cent of Latvian youths used cannabis, compared to five per cent in 1995. The figure for narcotics is also alarming, showing a rise from three per cent to 11 per cent in the same period. Authorities have paid extra attention in the campaign against drugs recently, especially with the rapid increase of HIV infection in Latvia this year.

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Over the holiday weekend of Midsummer, Latvia also faced a rash of drink-drivings and accidental deaths, as did other countries celebrating the holiday, such as Finland and Estonia. Reports showed that there were 25 fatalities and 108 injuries from 185 road accidents and a handful of drowning cases. Most alarming, however, are the 344 cases of drink-driving.

The normal SKDS poll on party popularity contained few surprises, as Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš's Latvia's Way remained most popular, at 15.5 per cent (up 1.4 per cent), followed by the Social Democrats, at 14.2 per cent (up 0.2 per cent), and For Fatherland and Freedom, at 12.8 per cent (up 1.3 per cent). The People's Party of ex-Prime Minister Andris Šķēle continues to tumble, as they dropped 0.3 per cent to 10.6 per cent. The "For Equal Rights in an Integrated Latvia" movement of leftists and socialists came in at 7.6 per cent (up 1.6 per cent).

Among all politicians, the same poll kept President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga on the top, at 51.9 points, down by 7.2 from previous month. Following her is central bank head Einārs Repše, at 46 points, up by 1.2, and in third place, for the first time, is new Rīga Mayor Andris Ārgalis. Ex-Prime Minister Andris Šķēle, for some odd reason, keeps sinking, as he is now at -50.4 points, down another 3.8 points - even further down than former Soviet-era Party boss Alfrēds Rubiks.

But strictly among ministers, Defence Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis remained most popular, at 41.2 points (down by 2.3), followed by Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš at 40.8 points (down 2.4) and Culture Minister Kārina Pētersone.


And in other news...

Latvia was ranked 63rd in the UN Human Development Report. Latvia was 74th last year and 92nd in 1998.

The French air traffic controllers' strike's impact has even reached Latvia, as several MPs were stuck in France, including Saeima Speaker Jānis Straume.

Four people - Olga Krūzmane, Bruno Rozentāls, Jadviga Arcehovska, Juris Bērziņš, and Ilga Krūmiņa - in Latvia are being awarded the highest honour in the country, the Tri-Star Order, for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Exchange Rates
As of 30 June 2000
Currency Latvian
1 US dollar 0.60
1 British pound 0.90
1 German mark 0.29
1 euro 0.57

[Up-to-date exchange rates]

Mel Huang, 30 June 2000

Next Week: CER brings you an entire special issue dedicated to the Baltic countries.

Moving on:


Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo


Wolfgang Deckers
Twin Souls,
Two Realities

Fatmir Zajmi
Defending NATO

Mel Huang
Done Deal

Focus: Cities
Wojtek Kość
After the Reform

Sam Vaknin
Time in a Bottle

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
More Than Salami

Brian J Požun
Second to One

and Analysis:

Oliver Craske
of the East

Židas Daskalovski
A New Kosovo

Jan Čulík
Mafioso Capitalism

Sam Vaknin
The Political Economy of
Post-Soviet Russia

Diane Strickland
Traveling Angels

Culture Calendar:


Mixed Nuts