Books on Latvia
Update No: 320 - (31/08/07)
Vike-Freiberga ends presidency with historic security
Incumbent President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said that her last act before leaving
office would be to sign the referendum against two national security amendments
passed earlier this year by the government.
In her last speech to Saeima (Latvian parliament) on June 21st, Vike-Freiberga
said that she hoped that by making this vote her last act as head of state will
convey the importance of the referendum. She said that it is meant also as a
symbol that the government should not try to resurrect the bills at a future
date - under a more complaisant president - a possibility that has been widely
This is the last act of a great presidency. But history moves on.
Soviet memorial removed
Latvia's ethnic Russian community slammed the town of Bauska for relocating a
Soviet memorial stone to a local cemetery, sparking pleas from the new president
and prime minister not to politicize the event.
The monument, erected to honour Soviet soldiers who fought against Nazi Germany,
is a large boulder inscribed with the words "to the liberators of Bauska."
The relocation of the monument from a local garden to the Soviet military
cemetery was due to be completed on September 1st.
Russian media immediately linked the decision with the recent incident in
Tallinn, when a well-known Soviet memorial was relocated. None of the Balts
regard themselves as having been liberated by the Soviets. They merely exchanged
one type of totalitarianism for another.
It is this fact that makes Latvians so sensitive to the methods of their new
governance.Everything to do with the rule of law is precious to them. They lived
for long with a caricature of one.
Journalist Lato Lapsa has unveiled a series of transcripts that are allegedly
wire-tapped phone conversations among prominent figures in Latvia's judiciary
system from 1998 to 2000. Lapsa said he received the documents anonymously in
his mailbox at the end of last year - something that occurs regularly given his
propensity to publish anonymous material - and that he has no clue who may have
left the transcripts.
The journalist simultaneously released the transcripts to the Prosecutor
General's Office and published them in a book. Lapsa asked the prosecutors to
determine the authenticity of the tapes and check for criminal liability. The
tapes primarily concern conversations between high profile lawyer Andris Grutups
and high ranking members of the judiciary.
The mayor of Venspils suspended
In another judicial matter, the embattled Aivars Lembergs, who awaits trial on
charges of bribery and money laundering, was stripped of his duties as mayor of
Ventspils by a City Council decision on August 16th. The Ventspils municipal
press service said the local authority has received a ruling from the
prosecutor's office setting additional restrictions on Lembergs while his trial
on fraud charges continues.
The conditions included a ban on holding the posts of Ventspils mayor and
chairman of the town's port, the largest in Latvia, indeed in the Baltic States,
a sea route for Russian oil to the world market. The press office explained that
the decision is a formality following the request by the prosecutor's office to
have Lembergs removed.
The Riga Regional Court ruled on Aug. 9 to grant Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs
his request to have his house arrest transferred to his large country home in
the Puze district. Although the defense had asked the court to reconsider the
necessity of a house arrest, the ruling is seen as a victory for the mayor,
particularly since prosecutors had proposed that the judge force Lembergs to
return to jail for the duration of the ongoing investigation. Prior to the
decision Lembergs had been confined to his two-room apartment in Ventspils.
Bridges in a critical condition
Latvia is doing very well. Its economy is the fastest growing in the EU right
now, with GDP growth per year in double figures. But there is a risk of
developing 'public squalor amid private affluence,' as John Kenneth Galbraith
For instance, more than half of Latvia's bridges are in either poor or critical
condition, according to data released by "Latvian State Roads" and the
Transport Ministry on Aug. 10. In order to repair the bridges and return them to
normal condition, massive repairs are planned from 2007 - 2009. The highest
priority for repair will be bridges near the border, said the ministry. The data
revealed that of the 922 bridges in Latvia, 391 - 43 percent - are in bad
condition and 186 - 20 percent - are in a critical state. The report mirrors a
similar conclusion recently reached in the United States after a major
thoroughfare bridge toppled into the river in the state of Minnesota.