Monthly Archives: September 2010

Parliamentary elections in Latvia 2010

Next Saturday at 2. October  parliamentary elections will be held in Latvia. Parliament in Latvia is called Saeima. This word comes from ancient Latvian gatherings were local nobles held state meetings. In 1922. first Saeima elections were held. Since then nine Saeima’s have worked in Latvia in both periods of independence.  First four Latvian parliaments worked from 1922. to 1934. when Karlis Ulmanis took power by coop and dissolved the parliament.  This elections will have historic effect on future of Latvia. This article will show the main contestants in election their promises and real face.

In modern times Parliament is working since 1992. Many common difficulties have been shared since first 20 decades of independence. Parliaments have been fragmented by many parties that makes short-lived governments. Instability because of party rivalry slows things for Latvia especially in times of financial crisis.  Last parliament could fulfill dream of any Anarchist because the its have lost any creditability in the eyes of Latvian nation. Only 10% of Latvian people trust the parliament.

The winners of last election were Peoples Party (Tautas Partija TP) and Latvian First Party/Latvian Way. (LPP/LC) Both parties won election because of massive and fraudulent election campaign. Peoples Party leader Aigars Kalvitis promised seven fat years for Latvia if nothing stupid would not be done. But that is what exactly his party was doing. Both parties used relative economic growth to heath up the economy to the maximum. Banks had free hand to flood the country with loans. Latvian nation was living on credits hoping that economy is strong enough to repay them. Leader of LPP/LC Ainars Slesers declared that gas pedal needs to pushed at full strength.  Both parties planted the seeds for the financial crisis. The ignored the warnings of economic heath up and credit and real estate bubble. Now when this have happened both parties suffer from high unpopularity and mistrust. So to avoid defeat they joined themselves and formed new alliance called For Good Latvia (PLL). Party criticizes the present government lead by Valdis Dombrovskis from Unity of close corporation with International Monetary Fund. However it was LPP PM Ivars Godmanis and TP finance minister Atis Slakteris who first signed deal with IMF. They also blame Dombrovskis for lying to nation that pensions will not be cut. Instead after municipal elections last year pensions were cut leaving resentment in Latvian public. But in that time TP was part of the government.   In fact TP left government when they realized that more unpopular decisions will endanger  their chances of getting seats in next parliament. The leader of PLL Ainars Slesers have pushed ambitious policy for years. He always wanted Prime Minister seat but always stayed second.  Last year he run for Major office of Riga but became Vice-Major. Now he is having heavy task of getting both scapegoat parties of task of getting at least 10 seats in parliament. If both parties wouldn’t joined together they almost surely would not pass 5% barrier. PLL is giving all forces to win election, they have taken control over Latvian Independent Television (LNT) that shows positive information about them. Its responsibility of Latvian voters if they want to see the builders of crisis four more years in parliament.

Their main rival is Unity (Vienotība). The union is based on three parties. New Era (Jaunais Laiks JL) party is main core.  JL came to politics when Einars Repse the president of Latvian State Bank decided to come to politics. They won elections in 2002. but because of inability to reach consensus with other parties they lost power and lost many seats in 2006. When TP and LPP/LC failed Valdis Dombrovskis took power in most deepest point of crisis. He was forced to make drastic decisions but his actions stabilized the economy. Two other parties are formed from separatists from JL, TP and TB/LNNK. Civic Union (Pilsoniskā Savienība) is result of split from JL and nationalist party TB/LNNK. Party joined JL formed coalition. When election year came closer they realized that they need to re-unite with JL to get better results. Third party Society for Different Policy (Sabiedrība citai Politikai) evolved when two TP old-time members Artis Pabriks and Aigars Stokenbergs were kicked out for disloyalty. So they formed new party on leftist basis. Despite this they joined Unity which is right-wing party. The main reason why these three parties united is possibility that pro-Russian party Harmony Center will win the election. So to get more seats for Latvian parties they united together.

However there were two parties who wanted to join Unity but were left behind. These were two nationalist parties For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) and All for Latvia! (VL!) TB/LNNK are veterans of Latvians politics from very beginning in early nighties. They have taken part in nearly all Latvian governments. They ideology is based on nationalism and Latvian superiority. The address the problems of dangers for  Latvian language and openly speak against Russian  population and interests of Russia. Their weakest point is that they have been on top side for too long and have taken part in unpopular decisions. Their leader is EU Parliament deputy Roberts Zile. Zile is experienced economist a splendid polemic who always have the right answers. Zile is second best choice for PM office however is not sure whether he prefers work in Brussels more than House of Ministers. All for Latvia is formed of young generation nationalists. Their average age is 20 to 35. Their leader is Raivis Dzintars an inspiring young leader full of idealism and wisdom. VL! is more nationalist than their senior partners but  are not necessary radical. They are known for openly supporting veterans of Latvian Waffen SS Legion. They are visible in national celebrations when  they make marches with Latvian flags torches.  So far they had little luck in elections so they joined forces with TB/LNNK. VL! needs recognition in middle and older generation voters to gain better results.

Latvian Greens and Farmers Union (Latvijas Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība) or simply green farmers did not have any desire to join forces with Unity. Their rating has remained surprisingly stable despite the difficulties. Their leader is odious Major of Venstpils Aivars Lembergs. Lembergs is rich oil and shipping tycoon. He is named as most influential oligarch in Latvian politics. He is accused of widespread corruption, massive bribing of state politicians but despite that he is Major of Ventspils and most popular PM candidate. He has fanatic supporters in all Latvia. It would be interesting to see how he could manage work as PM and took part in corruption trial at single time. The party itself remains popular in rural areas. Party have taken responsibility for agriculture last twenty years. During this time they have made mistakes especially in coordination with EU agricultural policy. Agricultural minister Martins Roze destroyed sugar-beet industry with a free hand and put milk industry at risk. He only resigned when farmers in large masses blocked Riga with tractors and combines.

But the main contestant for victory is Harmony Center (Saskaņas Centrs SC). The left-wing party is based on various Russian parties lead by Janis Urbanovits. So far Russian parties never got chance to enter coalition.  But the growing size of Russian voters and declining popularity of right-wing Latvian parties have put them on the top of ratings.  Party is openly Pro-Moscow, they have official ties with Vladimir Putin party United Russia and China Communist Party. They promise stronger ties with Russia and wants to revise the talks with IMF. They want Russian language as second official language in Latvia.   Party is supported by national oriented Latvian Russians and Latvians who have nostalgia for times of Soviet occupation. Many promises of this party are biased like help from Russian economy that is weaker and unstable than its described. They promise not to make any more budget cuts despite the obvious reality that government needs to save 500 million lats for next year. If they form the government they will be forced to make unpopular decisions. So far they were comfortable in opposition criticizing the coalition acting like the saints. If they make in coalition and win the PM seat their real face will be shown. It’s the question if they are ready for this or they rather spend time in opposition once again.   In time of 1920.-1934. Latvian Social democratic party won every election but was unable to form coalition because they were afraid of disgracing themselves by working together with right-wing parties.

Another Russian party is For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL). They are openly Russian nationalist and have little chance to attract Latvian voters. For many years they were the main Russian political force in Latvia until Harmony Center took the upper hand. It seems they also have lost the favor of Kremlin. The election is dead and life question for them if they fail to pass 5% barrier they are likely to split and vanish from political stage.

These are potential parties that probably pass the 5% barrier and win seats in next parliament. This could be first time in Latvian history when left-wing Russian party may took power in their own hands. Or in other case if Latvian parties get more seats the things will go on usual. The biggest danger for Latvia is the rise of populist parties that will make country more unstable. Harmony Center are likely to form coalition with PLL that will mean the union of leftists and oligarchs. If Unity wins the upper hand and forms coalition with Green Farmers and Nationalists then Latvia may not have to go though any traumatic changes. The result will be known on 3. October. Latvians have 5 days to decide their country’s future.

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The Great Northern War 1700-1721

Peter I was main curator of Russian success in the Great Northern War

During the Modern ages the Latvian land was hit by three large international wars.  The Livonian war , Swedish-Polish war and the Great Northern War. All three wars were fought between rival empires in the Baltic region. The Livonian war made Poland-Lithuania as the main power in the Baltic region. Also Sweden took first steps to empower their dominance in the Baltic Sea. Russia did not gain anything, despite the fact that they started the war in the first place. Swedish-Polish war weakened Polish position in the region making Sweden the main player in the Baltic Sea. For 80 years Baltic Sea became “Swedish lake” because Swedes took power over many important Baltic ports. Swedish dominance was watched with envy from Poles but even more envious were rulers of Russia.

17-18 century was time of empire and absolutism. Kings of France, Austria, Spain and others took all power in matters of the state. The old feudal system was replaced by mercantile economy and colonization. European powers who in the past were less advanced than China started a wave of modernization that made them key players in the world scale. Europe became the center of the world. However at this time, Russia was still underdeveloped and far behind from other European rivals. Russia became united country under brutal rule of Czar Ivan IV Terrible who removed Mongols from power and started to interfere in European politics. However Ivan IV left no successor and Russia was thrown into civil war and attacked by the Poles.  Time of 1589-1613 was known as the Time of Troubles. In the end Russians managed to push away Polish invaders and elected Michael Romanov as Czar. He was succeeded by Alexis who first challenged Sweden in 1656. His army captured Dorpat (Tartu) but lost numerous battles near Riga and in 1658 was forced to give up. This showed that Russia needs strong modernization and political reform to equally rival the European powers.

Nothing much was done until new Russian Czar Peter I took power in 1682. Peter was a strong man with ambitions and will for knowledge.   He was crowned at age of ten years. His first year of title was colored in blood because of the inner family rivalries between ex wife’s of Alexis that resulted Strelsty uprising. Peter witnessed the bloody events and that left a deep scar in his personality. He was forced to wait many years for his full rights for power. At this time he got interested in ship building, army commanding and other military activities. In 1696 Peter I officially became the sole ruler of Russia.

Sweden in 1617 gained lands around Ladoga Lake that stripped Russia completely from the Baltic Sea. Peter I was obsessed with “carving a window to Europe”. The window was the shores of the Baltic Sea. Peter organized alliance against Sweden and succeeded by allying with Denmark and Saxony. In 1700 all three sides declared war on Sweden.

War first came to Latvian land when the Saxon army attacked Riga in February 1700.  Saxons attempted to capture Riga using disguise. At this time Riga was celebrating the Faslam celebration. Saxons hoped to disguise as peasants and enter Riga when its guards were at lowest attention. However they were discovered by Swedish patrol and alarm was raised. Then the Saxons attempted to cross the river Daugava and block the city. Finnish soldiers held the fortress of Dünamunde (Daugavgrīva) and inflicted heavy casualties on Saxons but were forced to surrender at the end. But the Saxons were too weak to make direct capture attempt on Riga and started a siege. Saxons lacked heavy artillery so the siege was hopeless.  In March Swedish king Carl XII ordered to send forces to Riga. A Swedish army came in March but did nothing despite the fact that their army was larger than the Saxons. In September Russians sent few formations to Riga but nothing happened. Then the Saxons decided to quit the blockade and return to Koknese. In November 19-30 Sweden defeated Russians in Battle of Narva. That was a heavy blow to Peter I but he was not ready to quit.

A Swedish army crosses the River Daugava to attack Saxons at Spilve

In 1701 Saxons again headed to Riga. A Swedish army prepared Riga for a coming battle very well. Carl XII was about to enter Riga himself to command the battle. His army arrived in June. He ordered to make landing boats to move troops and cannons across Daugava. When the king learned that strong wind has turned to the north, he ordered to send boats filled with humid burning straws and hemps in front of his landing force, to weaken visibility for the Saxons. In noun of June 9 Swedes crossed river Daugava and attacked the Saxons in grasslands of Spilve. In two hours Saxon army was split in half and was forced to retreat. About 400 Russian troops remained encircled in island of Lucavsala and fought for their lives two more days. Saxony was out of the game so Carl XII now decided to get down with Poland (king of Saxony Augstus Strong was also king of Poland) and then with Russia.

Russian army in 1701-1702 started to gain first victories in Estonian lands and in Vidzeme. The Russian army under command of Sheremetev destroyed Vidzeme. Russian army burned villages, churches and looted everything. People were captured and sold as slaves in Russian markets. Old people and children were killed and burned alive. Russian Feldmarchal Sheremetev reported to Peter I “Almighty God and Our Lady has fulfilled your wish. There is nothing to destroy in enemy land anymore. From Pskov to Dorpat, down by River Veliky, across the Lake Peipus to mouth of river Narva, across Dorpat and from Riga to Valka, everything has been destroyed. Castles have been blown up. Nothing has been saved except Pernau and Revel and some mansions near the seaside.  Everything from Revel to Riga has been cut out. Inhabited places are only found on the maps for now.”   Russians deported 12 000 people from their homes. Even more deadly was a Black Death epidemic that took the lives of 60% rural citizens.   Vidzeme and Courland was torn apart for many decades.

A Swedish army took too much time in Poland and in the depth of Russia. Peters I army grew stronger and confident and finally in 1709 Swedish army was destroyed in the Battle of Poltava. This marked end for Baltic provinces. Sheremetev’s forces marched to Riga. In October the hostilities started. Peter I himself came to Riga and ordered to siege. Riga was under heavy bombardment. Not only that – the explosion in Riga fortress caused heavy damage. In January 1710 encircled city lacked reserves of food and fuel. People died from starvation and frost. City streets were filled with bodies. The Siege continued until June because Russians themselves suffered from food shortages and heavy cold. The Russians decided to flat-out Riga and force it to surrender. In June 29 defenders of Riga finally decided to surrender. In July 10 last 5132 Swedish men most of them sick left Riga. In  July 14 Sheremetev entered Riga and received the keys of Riga. Fortress of Dünamunde resisted until August 8.

The war officially continued until 1721. But in Latvia it was all but over. Vidzeme and Riga were added to the Russian Empire. Peter I established a new capital in the territory that belonged to Swedes. It was named Petersburg. Peter I fulfilled his dream of making Russian empire and made Russia the global player in the  Earth. That was done by inflicting massive casualties on people of Estonia and Latvia. The Great Northern War was the most destructive wars in history of the Latvian nation. Only Second World War was more catastrophic to Latvia than Great Northern War.

Selected Sources:

Zeids, Teodors (Ed.) (1978). Feodālā Rīga. Riga: Latvijas PSR Zinātņu akadēmija. Vēstures institūts.

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1962) Latvijas vēsture, 1600-1710. Stockholm: Daugava.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda.

Frost, Robert I. (2000) The Northern wars: war, state and society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721. Harlow: Longman.

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