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LATVIA


 

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,671 8,406 7,500 94
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 4,070 3,480 3,230 79
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Latvia

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
64,589

Population
2,306,306

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

Capital 
Riga

Currency 
Lats

President
Mrs Vaira 
Vike-Freiberga



  

Update No: 290- (25/02/05)

A sore history
There is no doubt that the Second World War is a very live issue in Latvia. The fateful occupation of the Baltic states by Stalin in 1940 and its attendant horrors as he created a police state colony, led many Latvians to regard the Nazis as potential liberators in 1941. Many collaborated with them, including in the murder of Jews and communists. There was a Latvian division of the Waffen SS and Latvian guards at some concentration camps. They were terrible times.
The commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps in January has raised the sore issues all over again. Latvia is the Baltic state with the most sensitive memories of all about this disturbing epoch. The sight and sound of local Russians, who predominate in its seven largest cities, including Riga, is a daily reminder of much sorry history.
Typical of all this is the attitude being taken up by the Latvian political establishment to its new obligations inside the European Union (EU) on ethnic minorities. Heated debates on the adoption of the European framework convention on the protection of national minorities are underway in Latvia. The country should adopt this document to meet the standards of the EU. 
In the New Year the new Latvian Prime Minister, Aigar Kalvitis, appointed on December 2nd, said that the convention should not extend to Russians and other national minorities, such as Ukrainians and Lithuanians, who came to Latvia from the Soviet Union. The convention should concern only Livs (the Finno-Ugric language group) and Gypsies living in Latvia for centuries.
The framework convention on the protection of national minorities in Latvia will concern only Livs and Gypsies, Karlis Shadurkis, leader of the New Time, the largest party of the Latvian parliament, said at a press conference. "The framework convention on the protection of national minorities should spread only on indigenous ethnic groups living in Latvia for a long time and has nothing to do with immigrants from the Soviet Union," Mr. Shadurkis said.
"I hear that Russians who lived here before 1940 (the year when Latvia joined the USSR) are considered a national minority in Latvia. However, we should not forget the goals of the convention - to protect small European ethnic groups having no statehood. These are not ethnic groups without states of their own. Therefore, the convention should not extend to these minorities," Mr. Shadurkis noted. 
This is not an issue that will quietly go away.

Cooperation treaty with Russia
Estonia is in the process of negotiating a border treaty with Russia that could have serious repercussions for Latvia too.There could still be a barrier to the signing of the border treaty, because Russia wants the pacts it signs with Estonia and Latvia to be part of a package deal which would include another pact, proposed by Moscow, on bilateral cooperation. Both Estonian and Latvian officials have said the Moscow-proposed cooperation declarations are no good and need a rewrite.
"The Russian declaration in its current version is unacceptable for Latvia, because the pact between Hitler and Stalin, which for Latvia meant loss of independence for almost 50 years, is not mentioned in it," Andrejs Pildegovics, an aide to Latvian President Vaira Vike Freiberga, told AFP. And Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts said Estonia should take its time to decide whether to sign a bilateral political declaration with Russia. "We are keen to keep the two things apart: the border treaty and any other document of a general political nature," Parts said. The same would apply to Latvia.

New book on Latvia's history humiliates USSR's victory in World War Two
It is hardly surprising in the light of its history that the government of Latvia stands out among other Baltic administrations when it comes to the expression of their personal opinion regarding the forthcoming celebration in May of the 60th anniversary of the Victory Day in the Second World War. Moreover, Latvian authorities are playing the game on a decidedly sharp edge, provoking a rumpus with Russia. 
The recently-published book entitled "The Story of Latvia: the twentieth century" has become another example of the Latvian government's not exactly Russophile perspective. The book on Latvia's history makes scarcely any mention of the Soviet Union. As it so happens, Latvian historians are not alone when it comes to assessing the now-defunct Soviet state. 
The book of course contains a chapter devoted to World War Two. According to the authors (Anatoli Zunda, the presidential advisor for history, is one of them), the Nazis were a much lesser evil than the USSR. The chapter about the Salaspils death camp is rather special at this point. Salaspils is the name of a railway station not far from Riga. Nazis arranged a concentration camp there in 1941-1945, in which over 100,000 people were killed. A monument in memory of those people, who fell victims to fascist terror, was unveiled on the territory of the former death camp in the 1960s.
The book says that the camp, which can be referred to as the "Baltic Auschwitz" was an "extended police prison, a work camp." One can hardly call this a correct formulation against the background of the anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Auschwitz death camp. 
The book gives a very brief summary of the Nazis' stay in Latvia. The authors did not think that it was important to write about the tens of thousands of Jews, Soviet soldiers and members of the anti-fascist resistance destroyed in Salaspils and other death camps. They did not say anything about fascists' experiments on children in Salaspils either. 
Of course this small nation was racked in turn by soviet occupation, with the murder and mass deportations of its middle class, followed by the Wehrmacht, who fully exploited the hatred of the Soviets. This followed yet again with re-occupation by the Red Army and another extended period of brutal repression, more deportations, etc.
According to President Vike-Freiberga, the "many-sided and objective interpretation of the Latvian history" of the last century is the most important issue. The president believes that it will assist in the proper perception of the Latvian history on the international level. The head of state particularly emphasized the fact that the book had been published in the Russian language, news agency Regnum reported. "Millions of people have never heard anything different about what happened here. They only heard one version and one explanation. We do not know any facts about the events that took place here, because history was disguised with ideological propaganda for quite a long time," she said. Vike-Freiberga was apparently guided by such ideas, when she presented a copy of the book to President Putin. It is noteworthy that the Russian president received the gift in Auschwitz.
Furthermore, the US embassy in Latvia partially funded the work on the book. Is it supposed to mean that American diplomats agree with estimations of these Latvian historians? 
The presentation of the book took place in Russia on February 2nd, in the Oval Hall of the Russian Library for Foreign Literature. It does not seem to be a particularly diplomatic idea for Vaira Vike-Freiberga to arrive in Moscow on May 9th, taking into consideration her recent pointed statement about Russian veterans: "Of course we will not be able to make elderly Russians change their minds, as they put dry fish on newspapers, drink vodka, sing songs on May 9th and recollect the time when they heroically conquered the Baltic states." One can understand the bitterness. Few Latvian families went unscathed by the long Soviet occupation.

Political crisis at home
Latvia is going through one of its periodic crises, in which a new coalition government is being formed. This time there are unusual features to the crisis. 
In an unprecedented move, the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party pulled out of government negotiations on Dec 1st, a day after it had agreed to a large ministerial portfolio and just hours after its close ally, New Era, also decided to join.
While the party, which has seven seats in Parliament, had repeatedly stated that it would follow alongside New Era either in the opposition or the next cabinet, it suddenly changed its stance and decided to go its own way after Aigars Kalvitis, the prime minister designate, offered the party three ministerial posts. New Era had just walked out of the bitter negotiations, and Kalvitis needed to entice For Fatherland and Freedom on board so that his cabinet would have majority support in Parliament. 
However, as soon as For Fatherland and Freedom leaders learned that New Era had changed its mind and would join the coalition after all, the right-wing party pulled out of the deal. "The government car will move along on four wheels, while we would be the fifth wheel," Chairman Janis Straume explained at the party's congress on Dec 4th. "Our one minister would have fallen victim to the strong hand of the premier." 
Negotiations on the new, four-party government were finalized on Dec 1st, and Parliament confirmed it by a vote of 75 to 23 the following morning. The coalition - comprised of Latvia's First Party, Greens and Farmers Union, New Era and the People's Party - will have 70 votes in Parliament.
Yet after a month of tense negotiations that were marred by name-calling, acidic accusations and even an unexpected cameo by former Prime Minister Andris Skele, the Cabinet is widely perceived to be vulnerable. Kalvitis, who is a member of the People's Party, said at the party's congress on Dec 4th that he could have left New Era out of the government based on "how they treated us, what words they used, and what lines they crossed."
New Era, which was created in 2002, earned its reputation by attacking the allegedly corrupt practices of traditional political forces such as the People's Party, and the two parties' presence in the same Cabinet has been seen as an inherent contradiction. Indeed, some observers did not shy away from speculation that this coalition could prove ephemeral, lasting only until the local government elections in four months time. 
Should such a pessimistic scenario bear itself out, For Fatherland and Freedom could be in the most beneficial position. The party is already branding itself as "the only national party in the Saeima" (Latvia's parliament). 
"The decision [to pull out of a coalition agreement] was most likely a calculation of net gains and net losses. They would have had only one post, and it would have been difficult to position themselves as a nationalistic force," said Arnis Kaktins, director of the market and public opinion research centre SKDS.
The Framework Convention on National Minorities, which has recently found support from the president and the foreign minister, was cited as another reason the party For Fatherland decided to stay out of the coalition. Party leaders can now woo voters in the heartland by claiming they did not sacrifice their nationalist credentials for the sake of an "unnecessary convention."
Nevertheless, For Fatherland and Freedom's seven votes are unlikely to be missed, and the party has agreed to cooperate with the government on many issues. Parliament faction head Maris Grinblats told party representatives that the new government was better than the previous one in that it did not have to rely on leftist support and Latvia's First Party, a centrist force, would have less influence.

Composition of new cabinet
As far as the cabinet itself, a number of personalities have caused widespread concern. Education Minister Ina Druviete was immediately decried by minority NGOs - particularly Shtab, the unregistered organization that opposes the school reform. Immediately after her appointment Druviete said she would answer questions addressed only in the state language, even if they were posed by minority school children and their parents.
Other ministers, such as Defence Minister Einars Repse, whose post initially caused New Era to pull out of coalition talks, said they would not answer questions in any language. Coming from an individual who preached transparency and televised all Cabinet meetings, this reversal indicated the degree of fatigue that has beset Latvian politics at the end of 2004. 
Other notable appointees include Ainars Latkovskis, who formerly worked in Parliament's anticorruption committee. Latkovskis took over for Nils Muiznieks as special task minister for integration while Janis Reirs of New Era was appointed to head the new Ministry of Electronic Affairs, a post created to accommodate the number of seats each party demanded during negotiations. 
Krisjanis Karins, who the president had considered as a prime minister candidate, will head the Economy Ministry.
The previous minority government saw all parties - including the People's Party - suffer from declining approval ratings, and the People's Party, which is not at the helm, will try to redeem itself in the eyes of patriotic Latvians.

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AUTOMOBILES

Latvia auto market bears fruit


The new automobiles market in Europe last year grew 1.8% compared to 2003, reaching 15.33m vehicles, New Europe reported recently.
The most dramatic increase in new vehicles market - 28.9% - was in Latvia, where 11,256 new automobiles were registered, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). A 28.6% increase was registered also in Norway with 115,645 new automobiles, in Denmark - 25.4% with 120,484 automobiles, and Lithuania - 24.7% with 9,408 automobiles. The largest drop was registered in the Czech Republic - 11.1% with 132,973, in Poland - 10% with 318,111 automobiles and Finland - 3.2% with 142,642 automobiles. In neighbouring Estonia last year, 16,513 vehicles were sold, which is 5.8% up from 2003. The major European automobile markets are Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, France and Spain. In Germany, 3.2m new automobiles were sold last year. As reported, last year's sales figure can be regarded as a record-breaking result since restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991. Latvian Authorised Automobile Dealers Association board Chairman, Olafs Ozols, explained the high figure last year with several circumstances - accession to the European Union, growth of gross domestic product, greater confidence of residents in themselves in taking out loans and using leasing services in car sales.

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FOOD & DRINK

Bryggerigruppen wins Latvian deal

Denmark's Bryggerigruppen completed its acquisition of a majority holding in the Latvian brewery AS Lacplesa Alus, just-drinks.com reported recently.
The Danish brewer said that it gained the green light from the Latvian competition authorities for the deal. In addition to the previously announced share of 83.5 per cent the company has now bought a further 14.6 per cent in Lacplesa. Its total holding in the Latvian brewer is now 98.1 per cent, the report said.

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