Books on Latvia
Update No: 318 - (27/06/07)
New president a leading surgeon
Latvia is fond of choosing an apolitical figure, with an engaging background and
personality, as its president. The last became a towering personality on the
world stage, as she grew into the job, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
Latvia's parliament elected a leading surgeon with no political background as
the country's next president on May 31st, despite widespread misgivings about
cash payments he accepted from patients. This was standard practice in communist
times, when salaries were meagre and often were very late - months indeed - in
being paid at all.
Valdis Zatlers, whose candidacy had been proposed by the ruling centre-right
coalition, received 58 votes in the 100-member parliament, while 40 lawmakers
voted against him.
His backers must hope that he grows into the job too. The presidency is what you
make of it. In Vike-Freiberga's case this was a great deal, as she came to
represent her nation abroad, settling contentious matters in the Caucasus,
becoming a well-known figure at international meetings and a stalwart of NATO
and the EU.
She has left Zatlers a hard act to follow. But his long experience at saving
people's lives or their organs makes him a humanitarian at the outset. Every
Latvian must hope he succeeds.
Petition launched for directly elected president
In the wake of Latvia's lacklustre presidential campaign, one political party
has revived the idea of introducing direct elections to chose the nation's head
of state. The Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party will circulate a petition
this summer calling for direct elections.
Similar attempts have been made previously, but have always collapsed over the
proposed model of election and the powers vested in the head of state.
Currently, Latvia's president is elected by a vote of parliament.
"The LSDSP is ready to return to the idea of a people-elected president,
but in a different form," party chairman Janis Dinevics said. "The
election of the Latvian president must be handed over to people. "He said
that amendments to the constitution would be necessary, but the functions of the
president need not be reviewed.
If the president were elected by the people, he would have the people's mandate
and a higher responsibility to the voters, said Dinevics.
He said that LSDSP would invite other parties of similar political orientation
to support the campaign, as launching several separate campaigns would be
illogical. "We will invite everyone who agrees to our position of a
president elected by the people without amending presidential powers," said
Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis from the People's Party said it was
necessary for the nation to discuss the issue.
Kalvitis can crow
The Latvian economy is one for any premier to be proud. It grew by 11.4% in
2006, and even faster on an annual basis in the first quarter of 2007, a
phenomenal achievement, bettered only be neighbouring Estonia's 11.9% among
Growth was driven by domestic demand for consumer goods, which rose by 15.9% in
the first quarter.
Of course an ecologist might say that the world has got to learn to develop a
no-growth economic order or our grandchildren will be incinerated. They may be;
but probably not the Nordic Balts in a very high latitude.
The Latvians were among the ten poorest peoples of Europe on independence. They
are rapidly putting that all behind them
An energy crisis ahead - indeed an energy black hole
But this very growth is contributing to a grave problem ahead. Less than five
years after the Baltic states joined the European Union, they are facing an
energy crisis which the EU has helped to create. 'In 2010, if we don't make
additional investments, the Baltic states will become an energy-deficit region,'
said Anicetas Ignotas, undersecretary of state at Lithuania's economics
At the heart of the problem is the Soviet-era nuclear power station at Ignalina
in eastern Lithuania. According to official figures, in 2005 the 1500-megawatt
plant supplied almost three-quarters of Lithuania's total electricity output,
with enough left over to export some to Latvia.
But under the terms of Lithuania's EU accession treaty, the plant, which was
built to the same design as the ill-fated Chernobyl reactor, must be closed down
by the end of 2009 - almost a decade ahead of the date which its builders had
In February 2006, the governments of the three Baltic states agreed to jointly
construct a new nuclear power plant at Ignalina. The decision was one of 'huge
strategic importance for the whole region,' Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas
But such a plant is not expected to open before 2015 - leaving the Baltics
facing a potentially critical shortfall. 'The shutdown will destroy the current
balance of energy supply in the Baltic states,' admitted Ugis Sarma, head of the
energy department at the Latvian economy ministry.
In the last year, each country separately, and all three together, have sought
ways to bridge the energy gap. Much of the attention has focused on linking the
Baltics' energy grids into European networks. Until recently, the trio formed an
energy island within the EU, with no physical links to the West. In December
2006, that isolation was broken as a 350-megawatt cable, Estlink, was opened
between Finland and Estonia.
The move proved the value of Baltic cooperation, but it should be followed by a
link between Sweden's national grid and either Latvia or Lithuania, Latvian
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said. Also in December, the Polish and Lithuanian
governments agreed to construct a bridge between their power grids - paving the
way to Polish participation in the new Ignalina project.
But cross-border linkages are seen as, at best, a partial solution. All three
countries are now planning new conventional power stations in an effort to boost
their energy independence.
Estonia is planning to build two oil-shale power stations, to replace two which
will be closed in 2015, while Lithuania plans to increase its capacity for
gas-powered heat and power generation.
And Latvia is debating the construction of a coal- or gas-fired plant, with coal
at present apparently the more likely choice.
But these plans are still in their infancy. The Polish-Lithuanian energy bridge
is not expected before 2011, while the Swedish-Baltic link and the Latvian and
Estonian power stations exist only on paper.
And with Ignalina due to close down in 2009, the Baltics may find it hard to
stop their tumble into the energy black hole.
First oil production in Latvia's Kuldiga District may start this autumn
The first oil wells could start functioning this autumn in Latvia's Kuldiga
District where geological prospecting had already been initiated in early 2007,
a Latvian newspaper reported on May 16th, cited by Rian.
According to research conducted long ago in the Soviet Union, there could be oil
reserves in the western Latvian province. The Russian-language Chas newspaper
said Latvian company Alina would deal with geological prospecting and
installation of drilling equipment, which would enable the production of a mere
1.5 tonnes of crude a month. The next step in developing Latvian oil deposits
could be drilling and geological prospecting on the Baltic Sea shelf. The small
ex-Soviet state, which joined the European Union three years ago, has estimated
crude reserves of 100 million barrels onshore and 360 million barrels offshore.
This volume would satisfy the world's oil needs for only five days, but it could
provide for Latvia's daily 40,000-bbl demands for 30 years, it was reported.
Experts assess the capacity of ground and sea-based wells at 10,000-15,000
MoU inked for cooperation with Casablanca
Casablanca Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services (CCISC) and Latvia Chamber
of Commerce recently signed a memorandum of understanding for fostering their
bilateral cooperation, English People's Daily Online reported.
The agreement, signed on May 14th by Casablanca Chamber of Commerce President,
Ahmed Qammous, and Latvian Chamber of Commerce Vice President, Zaneta Jaunzeme,
aims at facilitating trade between economic operators and encouraging exchange
of trade missions, according to Moroccan News Agency (MAP).
The agreement, which was signed during a visit to CCISC by a multi-sectorial
trade delegation led by Latvian Transport Minister, Ainars Slesers, also aims at
encouraging the participation of companies in fairs, exhibitions and seminars
organised in the two countries.
The two sides agreed to tackle the challenges posed by globalisation and
external trade constraints, said Qammous, stressing the two countries possesses
great potentials in different fields that needs to be utilised for the benefit
of bilateral trade and investments.
On his part, Slesers underscored the excellent bilateral relations, and
announced that direct flights between Morocco and Latvia would be established
from the next year to facilitate the movement of businessmen and other visitors
from the two countries.