Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 27
10 July 2000
front page 
sponsor us 
jobs at CER 
CER Direct 
e-mail us 
year 2000 
year 1999 
by subject 
by author 
music shop 
video store 


Latvian News Review News from Latvia
All the important news
since 1 July 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Head of the Zemessardze (national guards) Jānis Kononovs has tendered his resignation in a bitter row and war of words. Kononovs said he could not work under the present management, adding that it was offensive to an officer. Military commander Raimonds Graube fired back, saying Kononovs "broke down psychologically." Defence Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis also had harsh words for Kononovs in this increasingly public row.

Summer means only one thing: protest season for farmers. Farmers blocked two customs checkpoints, at Meitene and Grenctāle, for nearly two days, causing a queue of hundreds of vehicles at one point. Farmers were calling on the government to, among other things, spend three per cent of this year's budget on agricultural subsidies. After several rounds of meetings in Rīga and at the protest sites, the two sides agreed to the conditions, and the farmers unblocked the roads.

On 4 July, Holocaust memorial day in Latvia, a plaque commemorating the tragic event was vandalised. A Swastika and "der Untermensch" were inscribed on the monument. The defacing has been condemned by the country's leaders, and other sites of remembrance were under high security.

Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš made a trip to Georgia (Sakartvelo) to promote bilateral ties. Bērziņš met with the country's top officials, and co-operation agreements on communications and customs were reached.

Economics and business

An Estonian and Latvian working group on energy co-operation concluded that the best scenario for power companies Eesti Energia and Latvenergo is to merge. The deal, which could be worth hundreds of millions of euro when it is finally consummated, has generated increasing debate on the privatisation of Latvenergo (in Latvia) and the sale of the power plants to NRG (in Estonia). The early plan foresees an equal division of shares, and the registration of the company in a third country (ie. the Netherlands).

As mentioned, the privatisation of power utility Latvenergo could be in trouble, as a public petition campaign succeeded in bringing legislation on halting the sell-off. Nearly 300,000 individuals signed the petition, which is much more than the ten per cent of voters that it needed to bring the issue to the Saeima. Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš has all but suggested the privatisation is in trouble.

The central bank announced that the current account deficit in Q1 2000 is about LVL (Latvian lats) 37.7 million (USD 62.8 million), or about four per cent of the quarter's GDP.

A Danish investment group is due to take control over the small Latvijas Tirdzniecības Banka (Latvia Trade Bank), as the central bank gave them permission to take a majority stake in the bank.

Social and local interest

Tax inspector Uldis Mugins has been charged with bribery, after representatives of Dutch electronics giant Phillips reported the scheme. The company allegedly paid the wayward inspector LVL 55,000, though investigations are continuing into the bribery and also the suspected violations at Phillips that led to the bribe scenario.

Charges were also filed against businesswoman Astrīda Svipsta for putting a contract out for a hit against an official of the Latvian Privatisation Agency (LPA). The head of the liquidations and insolvency department at the LPA, Ilona Skadiņa, was murdered several months ago. Investigations are continuing, especially with the discovery of some LVL 100,000 in her office safe. The three perpetrators of the murder itself were apprehended in May.

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

A poll by SKDS shows that 49.8 per cent of respondents feel that religion is a big part of their lives. However, that is balanced by 46.2 per cent that say the opposite. Women seem to be much more religious than men, according to the survey results.

There was controversy and anger, as seven bus drivers bringing children to the children's song and dance festival in Rīga were found to be legally drunk. A bus checkpoint caught the inebriated (or hungover) drivers. However, since the checkpoint was in Rīga, the children had already travelled with a drunk driver. Adding to the trouble, about 25 of the children at the festival came down with Salmonella poisoning.

More controversy over sex abuse in Latvia, as a local Russian-language paper suggested that many of the children adopted by Swedish families are being sexually abused. Swedish officials also criticised their Latvian counterparts of doing little to solve sex crimes. This comes as the case against accused paedophile Vilnis Vorslavs continues and films like "Uncle Vilnis from Riga" are being circulated in Sweden.

The Welfare Ministry said that five to seven per cent of Latvians are living in extreme poverty. The report also added that some 80 per cent of the population can be considered "poor."

A poll by Latvijas Fakti showed that the Social Democrats are in the lead, with 13.4 per cent support, followed by Latvia's Way (of Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš) at 12.8 per cent and the People's Party at 10.4 per cent.

And in other news...

Police nabbed two people, who had 28,000 litres of grain alcohol in their house, in the town of Ķekava.

The Rīga city government officially sacked artist Maija Galdiņa over a series of unsatisfactory and expensive holiday decorations. The city's Easter decorations invoked anger because of their costs, but caused fits of laughter to those on the streets.

Famous conductor Haralds Mednis died at the age of 93.

Exchange Rates
As of 7 July 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, 7 July 2000

Moving on:


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



Baltic Focus:
Mel Huang

Prekevičius & Clark
Lithuania's Looming Elections

Aet Annist
Estonia: Progress without Protest

Mel Huang
Military Brass Shuffling in Estonia

Artūras Račas
Calvin Klein and Communism

Mel Huang
Lithuania: A bananos respublika?

Teri Schultz
Reflections on a Revolution

Meelis Kitsing
Online in E-stonia

Arnis Gross
Latvia Logs On

Razeen Sally
Estonia and the EU

Hubert Jakobs
Livonian folk band Tulli Lum

Mel Huang
Baltic BeBop

Bernd Jahnke
Lithuanian Jazz

Artis Pabriks
Rīga's Revenge

Kurt Mortensen
Estonia's Art Music Scene

Mel Huang
Schizoid Lamb

Howard Jarvis
The Writings of Jurga Ivanauskaitė

President Vaira

Prime Minister
Mart Laar

Lithuanian Military Commander Jonas Kronkaitis

Oliver Craske
Lords Return Roma to Skinheads

Andrew Cave
Poland's Collapsing Right

Catherine Lovatt
Next Target: Montenegro

Sam Vaknin
Balkan Faith

Wolfgang Deckers
Germany in the Balkans

Culture Calendar: