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latvia

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LATVIA


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
GDP
Millions of US $ 8,406 7,500 7,200 93
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 3,480 3,230 2,920 86
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Latvia

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
64,589

Population
2,348,784

Principal 
ethnic groups 
Latvians 52.0%
Russians 34%
Belarusians 4.5%

Capital 
Riga

Currency 
Lats

President
Mrs Vaira 
Vike-Freiberga

  

Update No: 285- (01/10/04)

The economy is bounding ahead
According to the Marxist view of things, economics is the key factor. All that is necessary is to dispossess the bourgeoisie and everything beneficial will begin to happen. There is a rich irony in this.
It is only since shedding Marxism that Latvia's economy has picked up. Its GDP is now growing at a ripe rate, 7.5% for 2003 and now 6% for 2004. Its GDP per capita, one of the lowest in Europe under communism, is now about to surpass the $10,000 threshold.
Incoming FDI has played an important role here. Now over $3bn. But most of it from the EU.

New European profile
As a new member of the European Union, Latvia has a commissioner in Brussels. But the nomination of Ingrida Udre for European commissioner is increasingly becoming an embarrassment for Latvia. It has already elicited protests, an ugly row between the president and the NGO community and, the latest, a flood of unflattering international press stories about the Baltic country. One even claims that Latvia is the "bridgehead of Russian corruption" into Europe. No doubt, if Europeans were concerned about EU expansion into poorer eastern countries, abodes of endemic corruption, then they need look no further than the drama surrounding the decision to nominate Udre as Eurocommissioner for their delectation.
At home, Udre's reputation is at best mediocre; at worst, highly suspect. Ever since her Green and Farmers Union came under fire for campaign finance irregularities, she has become all but inaccessible, staying away from the press and tough questions. As a former auditor-consultant on the privatization of Ventspils Nafta, one of Latvia's most strategic enterprises, and then as a founder of the aforementioned party, which is financially backed by Ventspils business interests, Udre is too close to the port city for many Latvians' comfort. Ventspils, after all, is home to some of the most non-transparent businesses in the country. 
As a consequence, Udre's approval rating has fallen so dramatically as to put only her just above local bogeymen Tatyana Zdanoka and Alfreds Rubiks, with a negative rating of 22.
But not so fast. In order to defend their "Euro-darling," Ventspils-supported publications - Neatkariga Avize, Vakara Zinas - have been spewing out tendentious nonsense about a conspiracy among Latvian NGOs, the newspaper Diena and George Soros to overthrow the government and get rid or Udre. Worse, top government ministers actually believe this garbage. As if the billionaire financier is worried about what's going on in tiny Latvia…. Anyone vaguely aware of Mr. Soros knows that he now has bigger fish to fry. 
Irrespective of that, if Udre is not an embarrassment to European Commission President Barroso, then she could be very soon. The doubts and questions floating in European papers about Udre are not likely to go away; and they could peak in the next couple of weeks as the confirmation hearing approaches. Even if MEPs disregard her eccentricities (fudging her resume, bringing her hairdresser along on trips), they have legitimate concerns about Udre's qualifications. She has little or no experience in her proposed field of expertise on the commission (taxation and customs) and has a notorious reputation for truancy at sessions of Parliament's European affairs committee. Her presence on the European Commission, the 25-member body that makes the union tick, does not imbue confidence.
Thus if he considers the weak-link-and-chain postulate, Barroso will see that he has reason to worry. And MEPs engaged in the confirmation process should take note of the inexperienced person that the town of Ventspils has sent them. 

Anti-semitism still an issue
The Baltic Times reports that the foreign relations commission of the Saeima (Latvia's parliament) recently hired a new secretary with the blessing of commission chairman, Aleksandrs Kirsteins, a member of the People's Party. This would be nothing extraordinary were it not for the fact of the young lady's political affiliations and personal record.
The new secretary is an activist in what is known as the Latvian National Front. The words "national front," strikes the fear of God into civilized people's hearts, but that is what the organisation is called. The LPF is a virulently anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic organization, one that insists Latvia is an illegitimate state because it has not gotten rid of what the organisation calls "occupants."
The LPF has its own newsletter called DDD, and the new foreign relations commission secretary is its deputy editor. In the latest issue, the movement's leader, book publisher Aivars Garda, explained what needs to happen in Latvia: "Ethnic Latvians need at least 700,000 occupants to leave Latvia. This will require 20,000 railroad cars. If we look at the issue, we see that that is not a very large number of cars. As far as I know, there are four trains that depart to Russia every day. One train has at least 20 cars, and 700 occupants can leave in each of those trains. That means that in order to deport 700,000 occupants, we need 1,000 trains, and these can be sent to Russia over the course of 250 days."
There are, of course, people in Latvia who are no friends of the country or its political system. However, there are also many, many non-Latvians (or whoever it is to whom the term "occupants" is applied by this extremist organization) who are at home there, who were born there, who are this country's residents in every sense of the word.
Then there is anti-Semitism. The newsletter DDD in 2003 blithely published, in serial form, the Bible of the world's anti-Semites, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," presenting this discredited garbage as God's truth. The new foreign relations commission secretary herself co-authored these words to the Israeli ambassador to Latvia: "It would be great if you explained to your nationals that they owe a debt to the Latvian people for the hospitality that we have demonstrated to them for centuries, when they were chased out of their fatherland. Your richest nationals must remember that they are aliens here, that they must say 'thank you' to the Latvians for having allowed them to purchase major properties in Latvia, turning the Latvians into farm animals. The time will come when the Latvian nation will nationalize all of the properties which aliens have grabbed."
This is a newspaper that has described Latvia's government as a "pederast-traitor regime" and a "Zionist-masonic" regime. It has published a reader's letter in which President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is described as "an active supporter and participant in the Euro-Mafia and the criminal regime; she is a criminal." Again, the deputy editor of this publication is now secretary of the foreign relations commission of Latvia's Parliament.
What is particularly shocking about this thing is that other politicians have reacted to the appointment in a completely blasé manner. Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks (also of the People's Party) told a newspaper that the woman had to be hired, because otherwise she might have sued the Saeima for discrimination. The chairman of the New Era faction in the Saeima said that "technical people don't determine policy." As Augusts Brigmanis of the Farmers' Union claimed, "We cannot limit her right to do this job if her qualifications are in order."
What are the qualifications? Aleksandrs Kirsteins has said that the woman was hired because she speaks French. Never mind that she is part of an organization that the commander of the Latvian Security police has described as "radical, with elements of extremism." But she speaks French! The equivalent would be a member of America's Congress hiring an activist from the Ku Klux Klan because the person knows how to type! 

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AVIATION

EasyJet to start flying from Riga to Berlin in the autumn


The European low-fares airline, easyJet, will start operating flights from Riga International Airport to the Schoenefeld Airport in Berlin on November 25th, Andorijs Darzins, head of the Riga International Airport's Public Relations Department, said recently, LETA reported.
The airline's statement said that after the European Union's May 1st enlargement, easyJet added Hungary and Slovenia to the list of its destinations. The airline believes that low-fares airlines have great potential for development in Eastern Europe, which is why easyJet wanted to include Latvia in its development plans.
The new daily flights from Riga to Berlin will also boost Latvia's business development, easyJet stressed. The price of one flight from Riga to Berlin will start from 20.49 Euro, all taxes included. Tickets can be booked on the Internet, at www.easyJet.com.
"Now is a very dynamic period for easyJet, as Europe presents many excellent opportunities currently," said easyJet chief executive Ray Webster. "The airline is pleased to add Latvia to its timetable, a country where the demand for low-fares airlines' services is increasing fast," he said.
"EasyJet is determined to expand its operations in Latvia in coming years," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister, Ainars Slesers, (Latvia's First Party) is also pleased at easyJet's decision to start operating flights from Riga. Slesers believes that easyJet's decision proves that the Riga Airport's development policy and cutting costs are already bearing fruit, as this furthers competition and makes flights available to a greater number of Latvia's residents. Slesers is confident that the entry of the low-fares airlines easyJet and Ryanair, and other airlines' decision to cut prices will prompt Riga International Airport to become one of the key air traffic hubs in the region.
Ryanair announced it would launch flights to Riga in July. The airline will start operating flights from Riga to London, Frankfurt and Finland's Tampere on October 31st.

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ENERGY

EU to fund Liepaja bio-fuel plant project

The European Union will be funding half of the 2.1m lats Canola processing project in Liepaja, New Europe reported recently. 
The project manager, Baltic Holding Company, said the EU has agreed to provide half of the necessary funds to launch the project. Construction works of the plant are scheduled to start in 2005, said BHC Marketing Director, Maris Binders. BHC industrial park will be part of the national bio-fuel programme. According to the project, BHC will form a plant of non-refined canola oil or semi-fabricated bio-fuel in the territory of the bankrupt Liepaja Grain Combine, investing 3.666m lats.

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Exigen Group, Dati to create largest Baltic IT resource

Exigen Group, a global provider of business process software and services, has announced a strategic partnership with Latvian IT services provider, A/S Dati, press reports said recently. The agreement will create the largest resource of IT software and services expertise in the Baltics, New Europe reported recently.
Under the terms of the partnership, Dati will provide outsourcing services to the two companies' extensive client base, which includes European organisations such as Software AG and Latvia SRS, and North American firms such as AIG, IBM and Wachovia Securities.
Dati will also boost R&D resources for Exigen's range of industry-specific business process software. Exigen will provide sales and marketing support from its 12 offices across Europe, the United States and Australia in order to drive joint growth opportunities. The combined strength of Exigen and Dati represents the largest IT resource in the Baltics, with over 700 employees skilled in application development, maintenance and operations. With its stable economic environment, advanced telecom infrastructure and state-supported focus on IT and innovation, the Baltic region is fast becoming a primary location for outsourced IT services.
"Our clients have already benefited from the specialist skills and resources available in the Baltics, via our Latvian office and our relationships with universities in the region," said Alex Poberezhsky, general manager of outsourcing services at Exigen Group. As members of the European Union, Latvia provides an accessible, stable, near shore alternative to the Asian offshoring market. "In partnership with Dati, we're now able to offer our clients in Western Europe and North America access to even greater resources. This partnership underscores our commitment to providing the highest quality IT services to our public and private sector clients," said Valdis Lokenbahs, CEO at A/S Dati. "By joining forces with Exigen we can offer our clients more extensive technology and industry expertise, as well as global reach. We're excited about the opportunities this presents for our clients both today and in the future."
Providers must have access to a critical mass of resources with industry and technology experience if they are to attract the attention of Fortune 500 CIOs, said Ian Marriott, research vice president at Gartner. Eastern European countries like the Baltics are increasingly an attractive outsourcing location for Europe as incumbents grow or establish presence there. With EU membership stability, language and culture compatibility, and favourable labour rates, it provides a competitive alternative or diversification for Asia.
Exigen Group is a global provider of business process software and services focused on lowering the total cost of operations for companies in services industries. The company applies industry-specific expertise to identify inefficiencies in core business processes and uncover likely cost savings or revenue growth opportunities. Dati has grown to be one of the leading software developers in the Baltics, with more than 350 employees. Since its foundation in 1995 the company has been orientated also towards the international market, focusing on public sector, telecommunications, insurance and banking, as well as tourism and logistics.

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