Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 14
27 September 1999

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Latvia

All the important Latvian news from 18 September 1999 to 24 September 1999.

Mel Huang

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga attended the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. During the trip President Vike-Freiberga also met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at separate meetings and discussed the language law and, with Albright, NATO enlargement and Kosova.

However, controversy brewed over confused accommodation arrangements for the President. The President's office blames the embassy at the UN, the embassy blames the President's office. What happened? In the end, the President took a room at the Waldorf - instead of something less elegant, as she insisted.

On a brighter note, a local paper reported that President Vike-Freiberga has begun to learn Russian.

Two brothers of US First Lady Hillary Clinton pulled out of a large investment deal in Georgia (Sakartvelo, not the one with Atlanta) after allegations about the dubious links of their partners were made. One link was named as a notorious Latvian mobster.

An investigator with the Economic Police was shot four times in his apartment bloc - but survived. Most officials link it to a smuggling case the investigator was working on. Prime Minister Skele declared "war" on the smugglers.

Youths linked to the Russian extremist group the National Bolsheviks of Eduard Limonov held an organisational meeting for the new group, Limonka. There is no indication of whether the government will register this group, but chances are it will not happen as the "Limonovites" are considered extra-constitutional in behaviour and are not legal in Latvia. A similar group called Kolovrat is waiting to hear back from the Justice Ministry on their registration. Kolovrat is formed by members of the rival Russian extremist group the Russian National Unity.

A recent poll showed that only one-third of Russian youths in Latvia feel they belong in Latvian society. A dangerous number, especially with the activity of all the various Russian extremist groups.

Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza continued his Baltic tour in Latvia in mid-week. Again, an agreement on the promotion and protection of investments was signed, as well as one to promote transit through Latvia's ports. The talks with Prime Minister Andris Skele, Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs, Economics Minister Valdimirs Makarovs, and other officials, all surrounded bilateral, especially economic, ties. Though the visit had an embarrassing moment when Russian-language daily Chas put a picture of Sturza next to a lingerie shop - with a strangely suggestive title. This comes at a bad time for sex-related themes as a paedophile scandal erupts (see below).

Transport ministers of all three Baltic states gathered in the port city of Ventspils to talk about co-operation and the "Via Baltica" transport link project. Latvian Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs hosted Rimantas Didziokas (Lithuania) and Toivo Jurgenson (Estonia) for the two-day talks.

The ferry link between Riga and Stockholm was stopped when the ferry Rusj was seized by Swedish officials. The crews have apparently not been paid and the company owes Swedish authorities money. The passengers were transferred to the normal ferry service between Stockholm and Tallinn and bussed back to Riga.

The press has been hounding the head of the "Mrs Latvija" competition, Ainars Eisaks, accusing him of rape and paedophilia. An investigation has begun but Eisaks denies the charges. However, the press is hinting that some of the evidence links members of the government, which the government has denied. This could become the biggest scandal in Latvian history. Several parties in the Saeima - the coalition members Latvia's Way and For Fatherland and Freedom, as well as the opposition Social Democratic Workers' Party - called for a full inquiry; however, the People's Party of Prime Minister Skele, as well as the opposition New Party and For Equal Rights in a United Latvia all opposed the special panel. This is leading to widespread rumour-mongering.

The Defence Ministry announced that defence spending will gradually be increased to 2 per cent of GDP, the "magic barrier" talked about by most politicians as relevant to NATO inclusion. However, the defence part of the 2000 budget totals only just over 1 per cent of GDP. The "magic barrier" will be reached in 2003, according to the draft plan. The membership action plan for Latvia, in a related story, would foresee a wartime military of 50,000 troops.

The Social Democratic Workers' Party announced that one-third of the needed signatures have been obtained for a proposed referendum on the changes to the pensions law. The campaigners for a referendum have until early October to collect signatures from 10 per cent of Latvia's voting public.

Latvia has issued 75 million euros worth of bonds at 4.98 per cent annually through Credit Suisse First Boston. The funds will be used to plug the budget shortfall due to the failure to privatise the Latvian Shipping Company.

Exchange Rates

As of 23 September 1999

currency Latvian lats (LVL)
1 US dollar 0.58
1 British pound 0.96
1 German mark 0.31
1 euro 0.61

Prepared by Mel Huang, 24 September 1999

News Sources

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

Neatkariga Rita Avize




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