Books on Latvia
Update No: 295 - (26/07/05)
Latvia is securely inside the EU, which gives ethnic Latvians a great deal of
relief. All but the youngest can remember what it was like to have been inside a
very different entity - the USSR. As it so happens, Latvia has more detritus
from the Soviet epoch than any other Baltic state.
During the Soviet period hundreds of thousands of mainly slav people were moved
to Latvia by the Soviet authorities, bringing the share of ethnic Latvians
drastically down from 75% of the pre-war population to little over half
following the end of communist rule. Russians predominate in its seven largest
cities, notably so in Riga, its capital
Relations between Latvia and Russia, have long been contentious since the fall
of the Soviet Union in 1991. The two nations have recently clashed over the
meaning of the end of the Second World War. While the three Baltic States -
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - say it was the beginning of the Soviet
occupation, Russia denies this, saying they joined the Soviet Union of their own
accord, a view that surely only Russians would asseverate in all earnestness.
Even Russian-language mass media, however, were outraged by the statement of
Russian deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who had congratulated the Baltic people
with the anniversary of joining the Soviet Union. As one commentator put it,
"the Soviet interpretation of history is typical not only for Zhirinovsky,
but also for the Kremlin. The pseudo-opposition political clown may afford jokes
that are unacceptable for the official authorities."
Recently Moscow and Riga have been involved in a war of words over a border
agreement. A treaty with Latvia can only be signed if the government in Riga
relinquishes territorial demands dating to 1920, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow
said. At the centre of the dispute is the Russian Pytalovo region, which Latvia
calls Abrene. Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the Latvian land
claims as "idiotic."
Paegle casts off treaty deadline
Latvia is the only Baltic state not to have resolved its territorial disputes
with Russia so that signing the Latvian-Russian border treaty is a top priority.
Nevertheless, the new head of the Latvian parliament foreign relations committee
does not think that a specific deadline should be set for signing the treaty.
"Of course I want a border treaty in line with the Constitution and
national interests to be signed, but it does not mean that we should set
deadlines for signing the document," Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman
Vaira Paegle, an MP from the conservative People's Party, said in an interview
published by Latvijas Avize newspaper on June 29th. She believes that Latvia
"can wait for a favourable time for negotiations with Russia."
The Latvian government does not rule out that the treaty, which is being
discussed by the Constitution Court, may be soon put up for a referendum. Says
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga: "At referendums people usually
express their dissatisfaction with many issues. Now our cost of living is
growing. We cannot rule out that people will say no, only because they are
dissatisfied with their lives." The Latvian mass media actively promote the
thesis about an early collapse of the Russian economy. They publish data on the
decline in oil output, the high level of corruption and ensuing low investment
Into the EU
The two 'no's in France and Holland have put the EU into turmoil. Latvia, as it
so happens, recently earned its European spurs when its parliament ratified the
Also, more importantly, while other EU countries are wondering about the future
of the euro, Latvia in April joined up to the European Exchange-Rate Mechanism (ERM
11), the prelude to full membership in 2007. There is no doubt where Latvia is
heading - to the West.
Latvian talks focus on defence and Europe
This last, however, includes, not just the EU, but Switzerland. Swiss
President Samuel Schmid has wrapped up an official visit to Latvia after talks
with Defence Minister Einars Repse on July 5th. European issues, specifically
Switzerland's agreement with the European Union on the free movement of people,
were the focus of discussions during the two-day visit.
President Vike-Freiberga told Schmid she hoped Swiss voters would agree to
extend the treaty to the ten new EU member states, which include Latvia, when
they go to the polls on September 25th. "A yes vote would be in the
interests of Switzerland and the EU," Vike-Freiberga told a joint news
Latvian president meets with Pope
Pope Benedict XVI met on June 30 with President Vike-Freiberga. The Latvian
leader, who was making a state visit to Italy, met with the Pope privately for
about 15 minutes. The Vatican did not disclose the topics that were discussed.
President Vike-Freiberga, who was accompanied by her husband and small
delegation of Latvian government officials, followed their private talks with an
official reception and exchange of ceremonial gifts.
Latvia, which regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, approved
a concordat with the Holy See in 2000. The Baltic state, which joined the
European Union in 2004, has a population of 2.3 million, of whom about 15 per
cent are Catholics.
Polish president awarded for diplomacy
Relations with the Vatican are important, but those with the largest
Catholic population in Central Europe, Poland, are even more so. Polish
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who began his state visit to Latvia on July
6th, was presented with the Cross of Merit for his contributions to
Latvian-Polish relations. Kwasniewski's wife, Jolanta, was awarded with Latvia's
national decoration, the Tristar Order of Class I.
President Vike-Freiberga's spokeswoman explained that Kwasniewski had already
been given the Tristar Order of Class I earlier. Therefore, he was to be awarded
the Cross of Merit.
The Latvian Order Council also decided to award the Tristar Order of Class III
to a number of high-ranking Polish officials.
Latvia records most new cars in EU
Passenger car registrations in Europe this past May amounted to 1,290,933 units,
representing a decrease of 1.7 per cent with respect to May 2004, according to
the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association's (ACEA) report published on
Passenger car registrations in Latvia increased 70.3 per cent, the biggest
increase in Europe. The report covers data on all European Union member states
except Cyprus and Malta and the European Free Trade Association member states -
Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
Latvijas gaze profit rises 45%
The joint-stock natural gas company, Latvijas gaze (LG) posted 18.761m lats in
profit last year, 44.9% up from 2003 (12.989m lats), according to the company's
non-audited annual report, New Europe reported.
LG's turnover in 2004 amounted to 121.119m lats, 1.4% up from 2003 (119.435m
lats). The company's profit in 2004 was projected at 10.086 lats originally, but
near the year end the company said that the profit would be larger, thanks to
increasing natural gas sales and fluctuations in the lat/US$ exchange rate.
Gazprom to hike Baltic prices
Gazprom plans to implement a three-year programme aimed at equalling prices for
Baltic customers with those for European ones, Gazprom Deputy CEO, Alexander
Ryazanov, told a press briefing on June 7th. Currently, Latvia buys Russian gas
at US$92-94 for 1,000 cubic metres, RBCNews reported.
The rate for Lithuania and Estonia is US$85 and US$90, respectively. But the
price for neighbouring Poland is significantly higher. There should be parity,
Ryazanov said. The exact quantum of price increase has not been disclosed yet.
As for the possibility of finding other gas suppliers for the Baltic States,
Ryazanov said it was a good decision for every country to have an alternative
source of gas supplies. However, Gazprom believes that Russian gas will be the
most advantageous option even after the price hike. In 2004, Gazprom supplied
1.5bn cubic metres of gas to Latvia, 2.93bn cubic metres to Lithuania and 0.92bn
cubic metres to Estonia.