Books on Latvia
Update No: 313 - (25/01/07)
The Thatcher of the Baltic shore
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is a remarkable woman. She is a US citizen,
having lived out the communist period in exile. She has exacting Western
standards to apply to the current post-communist situation in Latvia.
She is only months away from the end of her second and final term. She is
determined to speak her mind before she bows out.
Vike-Freiberga criticizes all branches of government
In the span of two days in mid-January, she criticized the Cabinet of Ministers,
Parliament and the judiciary - all for various shortcomings - and by doing so
raised questions about overall competence of governance in Latvia. On Jan. 10th,
the president expressed consternation at the government's sudden decision to
pass "emergency" amendments to a law on national security given that
the prime minister failed to raise the issue at a meeting of the National
Security Council in December.
Vike-Freiberga told journalists after meeting with Prime Minister Aigars
Kalvitis that she had expressed surprise to the head of government, considering
that the amendments were submitted for consideration on Dec. 29th and passed on
the first workday of the year, or Jan. 8th.
"I would like the issue to be considered and assessed in parliamentary
debates, and I think it would be desirable to discuss and finalize those
revisions that appeared after consultations with the security services,"
the president said.
The government used Article 81 of the Constitution - which states that the
government has the right to pass laws while the legislature is on recess - to
pass the amendments.
In accordance to the changes, the prime minister will head the Council of
National Security Agencies, in which four other political positions - the
ministers of defence, foreign affairs, internal affairs and justice - will also
have a seat.
In addition, the council will now have the power to launch probes in to security
institutions, and more controversially, lawmakers on the national security
committee will also have the right to investigate national security agencies.
The amendments also elicited outrage among opposition politicians and pundits,
but Kalvitis defended the measures, saying they were necessary to
"coordinate activities" among the security institutions.
However, when asked why the Cabinet rammed through the amendments while
Parliament was in recess, Kalvitis was evasive: "Because normal
coordination of the security institutions is necessary," he said.
On Jan. 11th, the president dressed down the judicial branch, suggesting that
judges' work was sluggish and ineffective.
"It is surprising how often court hearings are being postponed due to
incomprehensible reasons - either the lawyer has not arrived, which is his core
job, or any of the defendants fail to show up," she said.
Vike-Freiberga said she received a complaint about a hearing that had been
postponed 15 times. The case is still pending, she said. "Such a system is
unacceptable - both the Justice Ministry and judges have to address it,"
The president also pointed out discrepancies in the criminal code that allow
"one law for the rich and another for the poor."
Finally, on the same day [Jan. 11th] Vike-Freiberga lashed out at Parliament for
failing to appoint an ombudsman, a new position that the president had been
instrumental in establishing, despite enjoying a 58-seat majority.
Lawmakers failed to support either Ringolds Balodis, a University of Latvia
professor, or Rasma Karklina, a professor of political science at the University
Saying Parliament behaved like "a dog in a manger," Vike-Freiberga
called the failed vote "a fiasco."
Two coalition partners - the People's Party and For Fatherland and Freedom -
proved incapable of agreeing on a common candidate. The People's Party, of which
Prime Minister Kalvitis is a member, threw its weight behind Balodis, a party
member, while the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom supported Karklina.
Responding to a suggestion that neither of the candidates was qualified for the
job, Vike-Freiberga said that the candidates should have been selected on
experts' advice from the start.
"As president, I was willing to assume the responsibility," she said.
Last year, Parliament passed a law on the position of ombudsman, who is to serve
as a go-between in conflicts involving the state and its residents and mediate
disputes. The office by law became functional as of Jan. 1st, 2007.
Analysts were reluctant to see a common denominator in the president's criticism
of the branches of power, saying each case was unique.
"I don't think this is something extraordinary," said Janis Ikstens, a
political scientist at the University of Latvia. As far as the slow process of
court cases, he said "we've heard these comments over the last
seven-and-a-half years time and time again."
The other two objects of criticism - the government and Parliament - are
different, Ikstens explained, in that the ombudsman's post is important to the
president and the "inexplicable" national security amendments raise
eyebrows among Latvia's allies, and these are relations that Vike-Freiberga, as
head of state, is supposed to nurture.
Support from the outside
Karlis Streips, a political commentator, said that the president's criticism
about the judiciary, the government and parliament "has been true
always," and that Vike-Freiberga is likely to use her last months as
president to make some comments that she may have been reluctant to do in the
past for political reasons.
"I hope she takes advantage of her remaining four or five months and lets
everyone have it," said Streips. "She's a wonderfully wise woman, and
she certainly sees what's going on in this country."
Baltic states develop common energy strategy
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have drafted a common strategy aimed at
boosting the energy security of these states. "The draft strategy has been
submitted for study and discussion by the relevant authorities and public in the
Baltic states," the Lithuanian Economics Ministry said on January 4th,
Interfax News Agency reported.
A ministry spokesman said that a conference will be held at the end of January
to summarize the proposals and in spring the draft strategy will be submitted
for approval at a meeting of Baltic prime ministers. The draft names as the
strategic objective of Baltic states the integration of power grids and gas
delivery networks with respective EU systems. The strategy also provides for
diversifying the sources and suppliers of energy, promoting fuel transit and
developing a common policy of Baltic states relating to energy imports from non-EU
countries. The strategy names among key objectives the development of
cooperation between Baltic states, the formation of a competitive environment,
the integration of the power systems of Central European and Nordic countries,
the construction and modernisation of power plants, power transmission and
distribution systems. It declares as key objectives in gasification the
construction of an NLG terminal and infrastructure as well as the connection of
the gas pipelines of Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Finland. The decision to
develop a joint energy strategy was made at a meeting of Baltic prime ministers
in February 2006.