Books on Latvia
Update No: 322 - (25/10/07)
Calls for premier to resign
Thousands of protesters called on Latvia's prime minister to resign on October
18 in a mounting political crisis over the government's efforts to fire the
Baltic country's top anti-corruption investigator.
Police said some 5,000 people, including leading academics, business leaders and
members of the opposition gathered outside Parliament for one of the biggest
political protests in Latvia since it regained independence from the Soviet in
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has come under heavy criticism for his decision
in September to suspend the country's top anti-corruption investigator, Aleksejs
Loskutovs. Kalvitis has asked lawmakers to vote to permanently to oust Loskutovs
from the job, and said he would resign if the vote fails.
Kalvitis' move came after an audit said the anti-corruption bureau, which is
tasked with fighting corruption and fraud, had improper accounting. However,
auditors said the irregularities were minor, and critics have accused Kalvitis
of exaggerating the issue to disrupt the bureau's work.
Kalvitis, who leads a four-party centre-right government, has been in power
since December 2004. He is the longest-serving prime minister since Latvia broke
free from Soviet domination.
Opponents believe Kalvitis' move had political motives, because Loskutovs had
been investigating alleged irregularities involving campaign contributions to
Kalvitis' People's Party before last year's election.
In the demonstration, protesters carried signs that read "Kalvitis Go
Home!" and shouted calls for him to resign. As lawmakers from the
four-party coalition government arrived, they were met with shouts of
"traitor" and "down with Kalvitis."
"Rising by the hour"
With pressure increasing on Latvia's ruling coalition government by the hour,
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has acknowledged that a forthcoming parliamentary
vote on the sacking of anti-corruption chief Aleksejs Loskutovs will also decide
his own fate.
"It's hard, but I am strong," Kalvitis said, adding that if parliament
does not vote to dismiss anti-corruption bureau (KNAB) head Aleksejs Loskutovs
it would force his resignation. Kalvitis added that a parliamentary
"no" to the proposed budget on Oct. 31 would have a similar effect.
Kalvitis reaffirmed that the government will not recall its decision to let
parliament have the final say on Loskutovs' dismissal, as it would amount to an
acknowledgement of its mistakes. Kalvitis stands by his decision to unilaterally
fire the anti-corruption chief, despite criticism that in doing so he was
exceeding his authority.
In a lengthy debate on TV show 'What's Happening in Latvia?' on the evening of
Oct. 17, the government wheeled out three of its big guns to justify the
dismissal of Loskutovs. Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, Interior Minister Ivars
Godmanis and Education Minister Baiba Rivza all defended the government's stance
and deflected accusations that whatever budgetary irregularities had occurred
within KNAB paled into insignificance besides the overspending and missing sums
in various government ministries.
However, by the next morning Pabriks appeared to have performed a humiliating
U-turn. Pabriks told the Baltic News Service that he would ask Kalvitis "to
call off the government decision," and consult with Prosecutor General
Janis Maizitis, who also appeared on the TV show to confirm that he felt
Loskutovs had been unfairly dismissed.
"The government's decision on moving Loskutov's issue to the parliament was
hurried and inconsiderate. I have to admit that I have taken a premature
decision by supporting our prime minister. The public attitude and study of the
issue have changed my mind on it, public opinion cannot be ignored,"
A telephone poll taking place during the live broadcast showed around 500 people
in favour of or neutral about Loskutovs' sacking, while more than 12,000 callers
registered the belief that it was illegal and undemocratic.
By the morning of Oct. 18, several thousand people had converged outside Saeima
despite driving rain to protest against the government and in favor of Loskutovs.
Holding placards saying "Kalvitis go home" and "Game Over"
they chanted anti-government slogans before retiring to Riga's coffee shops to
warm up, prompting some of them to dub their action "the cappuccino
Latvia's opposition parties are set to submit a letter to President Valdis
Zatlers calling for the dissolution of parliament.
After a meeting between the leftist Harmony Center and the right-wing New Era
factions, both sitting in the opposition in the Latvian parliament, New Era
faction head Dzintars Zakis told journalists that signals from the people
suggested that the present parliament had lost public confidence, and that the
two opposition parties had therefore decided to petition the president.
"The situation is so bad it cannot deteriorate further," Zakis said.
Janis Urbanovics, chairman of the Harmony Centre faction, said Zatlers has to
make up his mind whether he wants to be the people's president or a
"government assistant". If the president cannot fire the government
outright, he should at least initiate the dissolution of the parliament,
U.S. Ambassador to Latvia, Catherine Todd Bailey, finds herself an unlikely
focus of the nation's political life after delivering a speech at the University
of Latvia that included a strongly-worded attack on corruption and a warning
that the country could be backsliding on its commitment to democracy.
Speculation had been rife about the speech for some days after what appeared to
be leaked accounts of its contents found their way into the media, with the
result that the hall was packed with journalists, politicians and other public
figures as well as the intended audience of students. One of the highest-profile
attendees was Aleksejs Loskutovs, the KNAB anti-corrpution head who was being
controversially kicked out of his job at a cabinet meeting on the same day.
Todd Bailey started conventionally enough, noting that Latvia and the United
States share many common values and that so far cooperation between the two
countries has been dominated by "our shared commitment to freedom, to
democracy, to the rights of the individual and to basic standards of
The ambassador pointed out that Latvia has undergone an "amazing
"A market economy and free enterprise have replaced state command and
control. Free and fair elections have been held to elect members of Saeima
[parliament] and to resolve essential questions in referendums. New institutions
have been developed to ensure the protections of the rights of the individual.
As a result of this difficult work, Latvia took its rightful place as a part of
Europe and the Trans-Atlantic community, joining the European Union and NATO in
2004. Students here today benefit from this with opportunities of work, study
and travel available to them, that even five years ago seemed hard to
imagine," the American diplomat said.
So far, so predictable. But then Todd Bailey dropped the dull diplomacy and
posed some uneasy questions.
"Will Latvia, safe in the European Union and NATO, decide that it is has
done the hard work and let the state become the playground of a few individuals
where they go to line their own pockets and those of their friends?" she
"To put it a different way - it is hoped Latvia will continue the hard work
of building the institutions and judicial system that are needed to ensure a
democratic and prosperous future for the people of Latvia, or is there a
possibility Latvia will slide back and begin to resemble those countries that
have not undertaken extensive reforms?"
"Attempts to pack the courts, with judges who "will know what to
do," efforts to manipulate the laws governing the security services to
allow greater avenues for political interference in their operations, and,
public campaigns to discredit the institutions of justice and the rule of law in
"I have tremendous respect for so many Latvians, that I have met… These
are hardworking, committed individuals who want to see Latvia succeed and
prosper. But, I have to say, I have also seen them beaten down by having to take
instructions from unelected officials in the clouds or down by the sea."
That last, enigmatic phrase has caused perhaps more debate than any other of
Todd Bailey's words. Various theories as to what she meant are circulating with
the most persuasive being that she is referring to Latvia's two highest-profile
court cases, one involving shady dealings over digital TV rights (the TV
building is a prominent Riga skyscraper) and the other involving corruption in
the coastal town of Ventspils.
Todd Bailey also drew attention to the need to reassure potential investors that
Latvia is a good place to do business, saying: "The development of the rule
of law in Latvia is also an important issue for the global business and
investment community. I have actively encouraged American companies to consider
Latvia as a place to do business.
"But investors want to know that their money is safe and their investment
protected. They need to know that they will be able to do business without being
asked to pay bribes or 'protection money,' and that their bids for contracts
will be considered on their merits."
Clearly, the ambassador's speech must have been given prior approval by her
bosses in Washington and as such it should act as a huge wake-up call to the
After listening the speech, Latvian Institute director Ojars Kalnins told
journalists that the address was in line with U.S. President George W. Bush's
policy in the Baltics and the region in general.
"Americans have a tradition of influencing politicians in those countries
in which they have interest. If the U.S. did not have such an interest, there
would be nothing. It means that we are in the spotlight," Kalnins said.
"The speech was meant to remind [us] that we have agreed on common
values," Kalnins concluded.
Despite the presence of numerous opposition politicians in the audience, no
members of the government attended the address, and their reaction was generally
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said: "As to the imperfections of the
judiciary, we have identified them, and both the political power and judiciary
are aware of these issues. Such problems exist in many countries that have been
founded or restored recently."
The only real note of acknowledgement from the government came from Foreign
Minister Artis Pabriks.
"We appreciate the ambassador's willingness to meet with the public, and it
facilitates mutual confidence," Pabriks said. "The strength or
weakness of a state is based on trust, but the confidence of our society in
state institutions is not strong, and we politicians, must work to boost this