Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 23
29 November 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 news from Latvia
since 20 November 1999

Mel Huang

Political and Foreign Affairs

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga signed both versions of the amendments to the law on pensions. As one overrides the other, the latter, with watered-down changes, will take effect. The referendum to cancel the earlier version failed due to low turnout. The changes will gradually raise the retirement age and place some restrictions on working pensioners (see Amber Coast from last week for more).

Following the one-day strike held earlier, teachers are now talking about a week of strikes to commence on 25 November. The government has revised their offer, but the amount still differs by several million Latvian lats (LVL). Prime Minister Andris Skele has said that there is no reason to meet with the union, which has resulted in more angry rhetoric.

In the mean time, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Education Minister Silva Golde. Golde tendered her resignation last week at the first teachers' strike, but Skele refused to accept it. Skele, however, did ask Golde to stay on until the 2000 budget is passed. Most believe that Gunars Berzins, Skele's loyal lieutenant, will take over the job.

Following that mess, Prime Minister Skele flew to France for a two-day visit. In Paris, Skele met with French Premier Lionel Jospin and European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici.

The Saeima called on the Citizenship and Migration Department to promote the exchange of old Soviet red passports for Latvian non-citizen passports. Under Latvian law, the old USSR documents become invalid in the new year. Estimates show that 113,000 non-citizens have yet to exchange their old red relic for the new documents, which are accepted across most of the world.

Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins attended the WEU summit in Luxembourg. Berzins reminded the WEU not to forget its associate members when it moves closer to the EU and its CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) arm.

The Russian Duma passed a resolution denouncing the pending Latvian language law. Lawmakers in Latvia questioned why a piece of legislation currently in debate is being commented on by the Duma.

The minesweeping exercise "Baltic Sweep '99" found 23 unexploded mines off the Latvian coast. The two-week exercise brought the German minesweeping fleet in to join the Latvian team.

Economy and Business

Latvia's consumer price index took a large jump in October, rising by 0.7 per cent. The high increase is being attributed to a significant 1.5 per cent rise in food prices.

Software giant Microsoft announced they will soon open their Baltic regional office in Riga. Their long-term plan is to have offices in all three countries.

Latvia's TV3 increased its modest hold on the country's audience with a 8 per cent stake of the viewing market. However, at the same time, advertising revenues dropped by 21 per cent. The Swedish owners of the many TV3 companies in the Baltic and Scandinavia regions said the Russian crisis has been the culprit in the falling revenues. Latvia's TV3 does not share the same success as its Lithuanian or Estonian cousins, which both hold around half of the TV market. TV3 has had problems in expanding their broadcasting outside of Riga, partly due bureaucratic problems with licensing.

Social and Local Interest

A survey by the Welfare Ministry shows that, in 1998, 37.1 per cent of children in Latvia were born out of wedlock. This is a dramatic rise compared to 1989, when 15.9 per cent of children were born out of wedlock. This seems to bring Latvia closer to the Scandinavian norm on the issue.

And Others...

The fat lady won't be singing, as the government allocates LVL 330,000 to the Latvian National Opera. The world-famous Opera was facing a possible shutdown, due to funding problems and a growing debt, which pushed Cultural Minister Karina Petersone to the brink of resignation. The government did call on Riga city officials to allocate another LVL 72,000, as the Opera Hall is city property.

Exchange Rates
As of 29 November 1999

currency Latvian lats (LVL)
1 US dollar 0.58
1 British pound 0.94
1 German mark 0.30
1 euro 0.59

[For continuous updates see the Bank of Latvia Exchange Rates page].

Prepared by Mel Huang, 24 November 1999

Archive of Mel Huang's Amber Coast articles.

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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