Tag Archives: Latvian political parties

Latvian Parliament and Governments 1920-1934

The main building of the Latvian parliament Saeima in 1920-1934

The main building of the Latvian parliament Saeima in 1920-1934

When on 18 November 1918 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed it was indented as a democratic republic with free elections and equal political rights for all. But, Latvians had no experience in this as they never had a real chance for the sovereign government for many centuries. Despite all the difficulties Latvians managed to make one of the most democratic constitutions in whole Europe. Five parliaments were elected without serious voting violations. The governments however were another story as rivalry between numerous political parties made short-lived governments and political instability. The intrigues, treachery and personal ambitions lead to end of Latvian democracy in 15 May 1934. However, we cannot say that Latvian parliamentary system was deeply flawed as Latvia managed to achieve many successes and could achieve even without the coup of 15 May.

During the war for independence the official pre-parliamentary body that was responsible for the Provisional government was the Peoples Council. On December 2 1918 council gave the order to its Constitutional commission in two weeks time to make provisions for elections of the Constitutional Assembly. In Latvian the constitution is called Satversme the word that originated from the early days of the Latvian ancestors. However, the Bolshevik invasion halted these preparations for elections. After Latvian Provisional Government returned to Riga on 16 July 1919 again a new order was made to prepare a special draft for the election law.

The law was issued on September 27 1919. The Constitutional Assembly was to be elected in general, equal, direct and proportional elections by voters of equal gender from 21 years. Citizenship was given to those persons and their descendants who lived in Latvia until 1 August 1914. Latvia was divided into five electoral districts with defined number of elected seats in Riga 22, Vidzeme 37, Semigallia 26, Courland 26 and Latgalia – 39.  The elections were set for a time when whole Latvia will be liberated from the enemy. There were still Bolshevik forces in Latgalia.

The liberation came in 1920 and Provisional governments issued the elections for the Constitutional Assembly on 17 -18 April. Two main contestants were the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDWP) and Latvian Farmers Union (LFU). LSDWP had its roots since 1905 and after falling out with Bolsheviks they supported the independent Latvia. LFU was lead by Kārlis Ulmanis the Prime Minister of the Provisional government. However, it was not a two-party contest as the liberal election law allowed only 100 petitions to form a party list and there was no percent barrier. Because of this numerous Latvian parties also took part, along with Baltic German, Russian and Jewish national lists. Also many regional like Latgalian parties took part. A two-party system in Latvia was impossible as there were too many personal interests and ambitions in many Latvian, not to forget the national minorities.

Despite the fact that some areas in Northern Latvia were unable to vote because of the presence of the Estonian forces, the election turnout was high: 84,88% of registered voters took part. There was some interference from Bolshevik activists, even failed assassination attempt of Kārlis Ulmanis. However the elections were successful and the LSDWP won by 38,66%, LFU gained 28,36%. Third came the Latgalian Farmers party. Many Latvian parties won three to single seats. Jews gained eight seats from different parties, six Germans and four Russians and one Pole also were elected. Six female deputies were elected including notable writer the wife of Jānis Rainis Aspazija (E, Rozenberga). Later in November after the Estonian army left the elections were held in areas where they originally could not be held. With that the first Latvian parliament had 152 members.

The new parliament was called to work for the first time in  May 1 1920. Jānis Čakste was elected the president of the assembly. Kārlis Ulmanis resigned from his head of the Provisional Government post. The main goal of the Constituent Assembly was to write the Satversme – Latvian constitution. The working place for the Assembly was the former house of Riga Chivalry at Jēkabs street 11.

The first session of the Contutional Assembly

The first session of the  Constitutional Assembly

On  June 11 1920 Kārlis Ulmanis again took the post of the Prime Minister. The first goal was to finish the peace talks with Soviet Russia and Germany that resulted in success. Then next and most important target was the Agricultural reform. Land had to be distributed to the Latvian nation to rebuild the country. Before the war the major part of agricultural lands belonged to Baltic German nobles. Now the Latvian government took away the most from them leaving only their mansions and land of 50 hectares. It was painful but right decision as Latvians at last could freely maintain their own land. That however left a rather hateful Baltic German minority.

The Satversme was passed on  February 15 1922. It stated that Latvia is a democratic republic in where the sovereign power belongs to the people of Latvia. The parliament was named Saeima and was to be elected for three years in the same matter as the Assembly. The size of the parliament was 100 seats. During the work of the Assembly first government change was witnessed as Kārlis Ulmanis was forced to step down leaving his college Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics to take charge. The LSDWP split in two fractions as more progressive right wing social democrats left the main party. Kārlis Ulmanis deeply regretted his loss of power and that was the beginning of his year long disappointment of the parliamentary system.

The first Saeima was elected in 7 -8 October. It was rumored that originally the election date was set for September 30, however because of the Jewish festival Sukkot the date was moved to October. It has been the official election month since then. 82,2% people took part in the elections. LSDWP won by 30,56%, their splinter party social democrats “minors” gained 6,26%. LFU won 16,77% seats. Their main rivals were the Democratic Center (DC) and Latvian New Farmers party (LNFP). Also Nonparty nationalist block and Christian Democratic Union gained scores. The Germans gained the most seats also Jews, Poles and Russians were elected. The Germans had united party list while Jews and Russians had many rivaling lists. No female candidates made in parliament.

The first Chairman of Saeima also the formally second man after the president was social democrat Frīdrihs Vesmanis. He was later replaced with party member Pauls Kalniņš. On November 14 1922 Jānis Čakste was elected as the first Latvian president.

Čakste was responsible for nominating the Prime Minister; the parliament had to approve his proposed government. After many failed talks with party leaders, the independent Jānis Pauļuks was chosen as the compromise figure. His government included LSDWP and worked for five months. After right wing activists caused riots in LSDWP lead demonstration, the social democrats left the coalition in protest. He was then replaced by LFU leader Meierovics on June 28 1923. After few months social democrats deposed him in revenge for assault against their two deputies done by the officers of the Latvian army. Social Democrats arranged government by independent Voldemārs Zāmuels, he was supported by them, but they did not part in the government. His government lasted from  January 24 1924 until  December 19 1924 when LFU again won the upper hand by installing their member Hugo Celmiņš as the PM. Despite the rivalry First Saeima managed to form the provisions for ministry work and passed the Conscription law. Also laws regarding unions, societies and political organizations were finished. The new law of the press was liberal and friendly to the emerging Latvian press industry.

The elections for the Second Saeima took place in 1925 3-4 October. The activity dropped to 74,89% 141 electoral lists were submitted and only 48 of them entered the parliament. That was usual for those times and nobody wanted to change that. LSDWP won again in 31,36%, the “social democrats minors” gained 3,61% much lower than last time. LFU won 15,3 %, Catholic and Christian Farmers Union was second in the right wing party list. DC and LNFP gained some seats along with many other single mandate right wing parties. Five Germans, five Jews, four Russians and two Poles were elected. Belorussian and Estonian lists failed to enter the parliament.

New parliament elected Jānis Čakste as the president for the second term; he died in office on March 14 1927. After many failed attempts an independent Gustavs Zemgals was elected.

The new parliament had problems forming a government as in the same night of 22-23 December two governments were proposed. First was Voldemārs Zāmuels who was declined and then Kārlis Ulmanis government formed a minority government. He could hold office for only four and half months. On 4 May 1926 LFU managed to form government lead by Arturs Alberings. On December 17 1926 he was replaced by the leader of the “social democrats minors” Marģers Skujenieks who formed the leftist government. LSDWP with the help of their splinter force again entered the government. After the DC who supported the leftists switched sides the government collapsed. On January 24 1928 DC member Pēteris Juraševskis formed the right wing government and included Baltic Germans in the coalition.

The greatest test for the Saeima was the amendment in the citizenship law that allowed people and their descendants living in Latvia before 1881 gain citizen rights. That sparked large protests from nationalists who feared that large numbers of Jews will gain citizen rights. Protests caused referendum against the amendment that was labeled “Jew law”. However, the protesters could not gather necessary votes to halt the citizenship reforms. Another issue was a trade agreement with the Soviet Union that caused large controversy. Achievement was reforms in social policies and healthcare.

Third Saeima was elected in October 1928. Despite obvious flaws in the election law little was done to stop the influx of the mini party lists and fragmentation of the Latvian political system continued. LSDWP gained 24,5% a great drop in popularity caused by failed government and appearance of more radical leftist movements. Leftist workers list gained 5%. The radical socialist movements were actually legal covers of the Latvian Communist Party that was illegal. Its main goal was the breakdown of the Latvian state. Right wing parties kept their ranks, LFU and DC had relative successes. The Latvian New Landowners and Small Landowners party (LNLSLP) became more stronger while LNFP fell out. National conservative lists gained strength. Russians and Germans gained six seats, Jews five but Poles two.

This was unusual Saeima as there were only two governments both lead by LFU. Hugo Celmiņš managed to lead the government for three years, a record only to be broken in the second period of independence. Kārlis Ulmanis took after Celmiņš government collapsed. The work of Saeima was severely disrupted by the radical Workers and Peasants fraction that openly supported the Soviet Union and condemned the independence. Calling for the establishment of the Worldwide Socialist Republic and singing the anthem of the Soviet Union in the parliament sessions, communist deputies made it difficult to make decisions. The Latvian legal system was struggling to find ways to stop them. In return far right wing nationalist members formed a National fraction.  The last legally elected president by Saeima was Alberts Kviesis in 1930.

The caricature depicting constant party struggle.The young woman representing Latvia wonders: "Who knows if they struggle for me or my dower?"

The caricature depicting the constant party struggle.
The young woman representing Latvia wonders: “Who knows if they struggle for me or my dower?”

The elections for Fourth Saeima took in the height of the Great Depression of 1931. Crisis took Latvia in 1929 along with the rest of the world. The economical situation worsened in 1931-1932. However, instead of greater gains the crisis only weakened the positions of LSDWP and their radical counterparts.  LFU also had losses. DC and LNLNSLP gained more votes. Many smaller crisis themed parties like Former depositors and the debtor’s party entered Saeima. The nationalist parties also suffered losses, the main force National Union fell out while Christian Democrats lost many mandates. Germans and Russians gained six seats, while Jews only three, and Poles two. The election turnout showed great dissatisfaction with all the leading parties and path to radicalization as former supporters on both left and right-wing official parties turn to support anti-governmental movements. This was the first and only Saeima with elected female deputy Berta Bīpiņa from DC list.

Instability returned to the governments. First government was formed by Marģers Skujenieks, an ex social democrat minor who shifted to progressive nationalism. On May 22 1933 he was replaced by LNLNSP leader Ādolfs Bļodnieks. The growing danger of right-wing radicalism became stronger as Germany was taken over by the Nazis. Latvian nation radical movement sympathetic to the Italian fascist regime “Thundercross” filled the society with anti-Semitic propaganda and national hate. They openly declared that they desire to overthrow the parliamentary system. Many other smaller radical Latvian movements as United Latvian National socialist Party and colonel Ozols movement also strived for this. Latvian Communist party on the other hand also took an active fight. In the end their elected deputies under the guise of “Leftist workers block” were removed from the parliament. The exposed Communists including famous writer Linards Laicēns moved to the Soviet Union where they perished in Stalin’s purges in 1937. Even more dangerous where the Baltic German Nazi movement.

In the end it turned out that destroyers of the Latvian democracy were the democrats themselves. Kārlis Ulmanis in 1918-1920 was the national hero. Leader of the Provisional Government he was one of the most influential politicians ever. However, the failure of becoming president and short-lived governments lead by him scorched his popularity. He was involved in many scandals and was the constant laughingstock of the Latvian journalists. The last elections showed a great danger for Ulmanis to not to be elected again in the next elections. Ulmanis was the example of what they call a “political animal” a man whose life is all about politics. Ulmanis had no wife and children and no other hobbies beside politics and financing. But his ambitions were still strong and seeing authoritarian regimes springing up all Eastern Europe, he saw no wrong by taking all the power himself.

So begun the plot that lead to coup in May 15 1934. Before that Ulmanis legally deposed Bļodnieks and become the Prime Minister. Using his administrative power and support within the army and Civil Guards (Aizsargi) he gathered enough power. To keep his actions in secret he derived the public attention to LFU proposed changes in Satversme that would greatly expand the presidential powers and weaken the parliament.  While parliament was caught up in heated arguments about this proposal for months, Ulmanis and his supporters without any causalities and heavy resistance deposed the parliament and forced president Kviesis to accept his power.

The May 15 1934 was bright and sunny day. Tired from the quarreling parliament the majority of the Latvian society welcomed or at least did not mind the coup. Kārlis Ulmanis stopped the work of Satversme and the parliament and formed his own government. He promised to cancel the state of emergency and rewrite the Satversme. None of these promises were ever made and Ulmanis was the leader of Latvia until 1940.

What could happen if the coup never took place? Latvian parliaments would probably work the same way with constant inner rivaling. The pressure from the radical movements of both the wings would become more dangerous. The reports from local newspapers on 1933 show rise of anti-Semitism and national hate that would grow larger if not sustained by Ulmanis regime. The parliamentary system likely would adapt to these threats and find legal ways how to stop them. The falling popularity of the old parties may open doors for new movements. But, how would democratically elected Saeima would respond to threats of occupation by the Soviet Union in 1939-1940? As Saeima was always caught up in quarrels it could lead to all kinds of things. The outcome would be even more complicated as Saeima was already entered by the Soviet agents that would stir up the process. Also if the national radical movements and Baltic German Nazis would enter Saeima the reaction to Soviet threats would be even more dramatic. However, it’s doubtful that Latvia would rather silently submit to the Soviet Union, like Kārlis Ulmanis government. But as in case of Czechoslovakia the democratic parliament was not enough to rescue the country.

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Articles

The 1905 Revolution in Latvia

Piektais gads (Cirulis)

The 1905 revolution in Russia is mostly known for its Bloody Sunday and the Battleship Potemkin and the Jewish pogroms. But in Latvia, then part of the Russian Baltic provinces the revolution of 1905 was a wakeup call and the beginning of social and national liberation. The revolution took place on the streets of the cities, rural areas and forests. Latvian revolutionaries fought Czarist police and Baltic German landlords. Not only that, the fire of the revolution lighted up in Helsinki and London as the actions of the Latvian revolutionaries reached international level. There are many aspects of this revolution that need separate articles. This is a concise survey of the 1905 revolution that took place in Latvia.

In Russia the causes for the revolution was the great social inequality, the defeat in Russo-Japanese wars, national divide and authoritarian government by Czar Nicolay II. For Latvia, one of the main reasons was the national inequality between Latvians, Jews and the Baltic Germans. Despite many Latvians enjoying relative freedom for education and carrier, the overall situation was still against them. In rural areas Latvian peasants were still fed up with the Baltic German landlords, from whom they had to rent their lands and work for them. The movement by intellectual Latvians faced many restrictions. Latvian press was censured; the rights for political activities were stripped down and the use of Latvian language was limited in public places. Latvians faced double oppression from Baltic German elite and Russian administration. Also Jews and Poles in many cases felt the same oppression. Latvians were also no strangers to war with Japan; many Latvians were sent to frontlines and the Russian navy that was destroyed in Tsushima, originally left from the port of Liepāja.

However, the main movement for revolution was not the nationalists, but social democrats who aspired from teachings of Marx. At the end of the 19 century the New Latvian movement had lost it original power for it could not answer the new emerging problems caused by industrialization. The New Latvians were mainly middle class intellectuals, descendants of the Latvian farmer families. Their main strives were education, making their own business and national conservation. The rising working class needed different answers and many found them in internationalist social democracy. The main pushers of this new kind of thinking were The New Current movement that expressed their views in the newspaper “Daily Sheet”. The main person behind the paper was the new student Jānis Pleikšāns who called himself Rainis. He and his colleges took the ideas of social democracy from Germany where there was already an official Social Democrat party. Their ideology was internationalist and was based mainly on working class of whom only 5,6% were Latvians. While they certainly talked about the rights of the Latvian landless peasants and Latvian education, their cosmopolitism did not go along well with Russification policies that weakened the Latvian national strength. Latvian social democrat slogan was: “The worker has no fatherland!”

On 1897 at Vilnius the Jewish social democrats founded the General Labor Bund party. In 1898 the Russian Social Democratic party was born. Latvian Social Democrats became more and more inspired by their Russian and Jewish colleges. On 1899 Russian Authorities closed down the “Daily Sheet” newspaper and forced Rainis and his colleges to exile.

The one of the first Latvian political movements emerged in 1903 in Switzerland. Latvian exiles founded the Latvian Social democratic Union. Their first congress took place in Riga on December 29-30 1905. The party did not last long and was outmatched by Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party that was founded in 1904. There was a great difference between these two parties: the LSDU was more national oriented while LSDWP was overall internationalist. Their main leaders were Miķelis Valters, Ernsts Rolavs and Kārlis Skalbe. Their political platform was full rights of self-determination, the formation of Latvian parliament, and in case of break up of Russian empire – the formation of independent Latvian state. The LSDWP did not believe in full independence, but fought for free Latvia in united free Russia. As their colleges in Russia they desired to overthrow the Czarist regime and then establish autonomous social democratic Latvia. In the end the LSDWP was the main force behind the 1905 revolution.

The start of the 1905 revolution in Latvia is considered the January 13 (26 January according to Western calendar) when in Riga a large crowd of people marched along the Moscow Street to the city center. A day before a general strike was called in Riga and other cities. The action was inspired by the bloody events in Petersburg at 10 (23) January. The crowd singing revolutionary songs and waving red flags were stopped by junior officer squad at the Iron Bridge near river Daugava. As the protestors tried to break trough the soldiers opened fire killing 73 protesters and injuring 65.

The general strike was one of the biggest in whole Russia. However, after winter passed the fires of revolution reached the country side. Thousands of landless peasants were united by the revolutionary ideas of equal rights and mainly the free land for all. Land workers started strikes against German landlords. Demonstrations waving red flags took place near churches sometimes protesters invaded the church mess and held revolutionary gatherings. Such sights were not common in Latgalia where Catholic and Orthodox churches were respected. The Lutheran church was associated with the Baltic Germans.

The peasant demonstration at Dundaga 1905

The peasant demonstration at Dundaga 1905

 

On 15 (28) June almost at the same time when mutiny on battleship “Potemkin” took place, the Russian sailors at Liepaja took arms. The reason was the same as in case of “Potemkin” – maggots in meat. Sailors took over the guardhouse and forced commanding officers to flee. However, on 17-18 (30-1) June reinforcements came from Riga and disarmed the sailors. 138 men were taken to war tribunal.

When Baltic Germans started to took arms to protect themselves, the blood spilled on the countryside. In Sesava church two barons opened fire against people calling “Down with the Czar!” and in return Latvians killed one of then injuring the other one. Baltic Germans asked for help from Russian army. Russia sent ruthless Cossacks, Germans themselves formed self-defense squads. Latvian peasants attacked the German mansions, took away their arms and money. In August LSDWP formed fight groups. In Riga 1000 men joined the ranks. On the night of 6 -7 September (19-20 Sept) a group of 52 men raided the Riga Central prison rescuing two of their comrades Lācis and Slešers. In this daring raid few Jews from Bund also helped their Latvian comrades. Latvian Jews took active part in the revolution. While in other places in Russia bloody Jewish pogroms took place, there was a relative unity between Latvian and Jews. Instead on 22-23 October Latvian social democrats helped to stop rioting in Riga Moscow district that could turn in Jewish pogrom. The main leader of the Latvian Jewish revolutionary movement was Simon Nachimson.

At 12-13 (25-26) October General Strike in whole Russian empire took place. Latvians also took place in it. Czar Nicolay II was forced to issue a “October manifesto” where he promised to give people freedom of speech and meeting. Also a freely elected State Duma parliament was promised. Latvians met this with great joy and gathered in many demonstrations. At the Grīziņkalns Park in Riga 80 -100 thousand people gathered to celebrate “freedom”. However, there were bloodsheds between loyalists and revolutionists. At countryside locals abolished local Czarist municipalities and elected their own people. The October Manifesto did not ease the situation but heated up it as people were asking for more. In the end Czar was forced to  use armed force and break up the revolt.

 At November great battles erupted in Courland. For a short time Russian authorities only controlled Liepaja and Jelgava. A large bloody battle took place in the city of Tukums. Latvian militia managed to chase away the dragoon squad and infantry. Then Russian forces tried to recapture the city, Tukums was bombarded by cannons. Revolutionaries were forced to retreat. Russian suffered great causalities. Similar events followed in town of Talsi. The last bloodiest battle took place at Aizpute on 16 (29) December. Revolutionaries lost 100 men.

On 17 (30) January 14 revolutionaries raided the Riga Secret Police headquarters. The aim was to rescue LSDWP Central Committee member Jānis Luters ‘Bobis’ and Pēteris Liepa. The Secret Police building was located at Aspazijas Boulevard in the city center. The building was guarded by 160 soldiers and there were more on the city streets. 14 men managed to slip trough the heavily guarded streets and invade the secret police building by surprise. Six men with them Jānis Luters ‘Bobis’ and Teodors Kalniņš were rescued. Police men fled the scene, but 160 Russian soldiers barricaded in their rooms.

Situation in Latvia was so extreme that the Russian authorities decided to send reinforcements. On 12 December 1905 a state of war was issued. The Russian punishment corpus lead by general Orlov entered Latvia to completely suppress the revolution. At the morning of 20 December revolutionaries raided the rubber factory Provodnik where 60 Russian dragoons were located. In four minutes 30 revolutionaries killed 17 and injured 20 dragoons.

General Orlov the leader of the Punishment corpus

General Orlov the leader of the Punishment corpus

In the country side the revolution had gone to extreme. Latvian peasants started to execute the German barons and burn down their mansions. Many architectural wonders like the castle of Stāmeriene were burned to ashes. 449 mansions were burned down. As the Orlov men came the bitter fights and executions erupted all around. The core of the Orlov army were Cossacks from North Caucasus. People were tortured and executed. For the first time some few thousand Latvians were sent to Siberia.

The burned down mansion of Stameriena

The burned down mansion of Stameriena

The revolution was completely defeated in 1907. 2041 revolutionaries lost their lives, 7-8 thousand men were imprisoned, 427 were executed and 2652 were sent to Siberia. The fires of the 1905 revolution reached the outside world in the following years. Latvian revolutionaries escaped Russia and continued their fight. Jānis Luters Bobis was the leader of the attack on Helsinki (Helsingfors) bank and lead the arms smuggling from the West. On 26 February 25-30 Latvian fighters invaded the bank owned by Russian state in the main city center. Their gain was 100 to 150 thousand rubbles. Social democrats called the bank robberies- “expropriations”. Joseph Stalin also started his revolutionary carrier with expropriations. Latvians managed to bring in to Latvia a large numbers of arms, explosives and money.

Some years later in December 1910 a group of Latvian anarchists lead by the Peter the Painter or Peter Piatkow started a wave of attacks on jeweler’s shops in London killing two officers. On 2 January 2 police became informed about their hiding spot at Sidney Street they blocked the street and started siege. Despite being outnumbered revolutionaries had superior weapons and showed stiff resistance. The Tower of London was called for backup and Home Secretary Winston Churchill arrived. He directed the siege and after six hours of shooting the field artillery strike set the building where Latvians were hiding alight. Churchill prevented fireman to dose the flames, instead he waited for Latvian attempt for escape. But, no doors ever opened and instead they found two burned bodies. There was no sign of Peter the Painter however.

The mystery of the Peter the Painter still lies unsolved. There are no clear facts of what happened to him after the Sidney Street siege or what  was real his identity. Some historians associate him with later Cheka agent Yakov Peters. British historian Philip Ruff first suggested that Peter the Painter was Latvian painter Gederts Eliass, however in his latest book he points to Latvian far leftist Jānis Žāklis.

The revolution in Russia in 1905 was a peoples and nations revolution. Similar national sentiment was present in Estonians, Lithuanians, Caucasians, Poles and Jews. Many Latvian Social democrat leaders exiled and continued their fight against Russian czarist regime. Some became anarchists. While others came to conclusion that international revolution is not the answer and started to fight for full national independence. In 1914 the First World War erupted and in 1915 it came to Latvia. It was the time of next Latvian national awakening – formation of the Latvian national rifleman regiments and the birth of Latvian Republic in the end.

Monument of the 1905 revolution at Grīziņkalns park in Riga where many demonstrations took place

Monument of the 1905 revolution at Grīziņkalns park in Riga where many demonstrations took place

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical Articles

Latvia 2011 The Year of troubles

The year 2011 will certainly go down in history as one of the most intense years in history. The Japanese Disaster, Arab Spring, US debt crisis and Euro zone problems. But, also in Latvia the year 2011 was time of important decisions, political and national collisions and even newer economic problems. This post is about the main events in Latvia in 2011.

1. The Decree Nr.2

Since 2008, Latvia have been deeply affected by economic crisis. In late 2008, state on the brink of bankruptcy. A deal with International Monetary Fund was signed. Since then all previous governments have done a large effort to consolidate the state budget. The consolidation means drastic cuts in all state sectors, high taxes and lot of unpopular decisions.  And that surely means a large public dissatisfaction with the government and the Saeima (Parliament). Calls for dismissal of the parliament has been popular since 2006. The 9. Saeima was met with protest because of the so-called Positivism campaign that allowed the wining Peoples Party to fund the election campaign by surpassing the official election funding limits. In result the prime minister Aigars Kalvītis kept its seat for another 4 years. But, his second term was unsuccessful and sparked calls for dismissal of Saeima. The acting president Valdis Zatlers who only had such rights hesitated to take this step. In 2009. he was actually threatening to do that, but again hesitated.

But in May 28, he suddenly lost any hesitation and issued Decree Nr. 2. The Latvian constitution allows the President to call referendum to dismiss the parliament. If the people vote yes the parliament is dissolved if no – president must step down. But why Valdis Zatlers choose to dissolve parliament only nine months old when he was asked to do this many times earlier.

The official reason was the vote in the parliament that prohibited the state anti-corruption service to make search in deputies Ainārs Šlesers home. Šlesers is well-known political player and oligarch and he was accused for corruption schemes. However, since he was an elected deputy, he had to be handed over by deputy vote. And his party voted no along with quarter of deputies abstaining. So his handover failed.  The ballot was hidden. Those who were abstaining were members of Green Farmers Union and the Harmony Center. By this the parliament got involved in conflict with the juridical power. Valdis Zatlers saw this as a important breach by the parliament and called to dismiss it.

But that was just the official reason. First, Valdis Zatlers was on the finish of his presidential therm and seek re-election. But, he must be elected by the parliament. And he got pretty unclear promises from elected parties. And then alternative candidate appeared. His name was Andris Bērziņš and he was elected deputy of Green Farmers Union fraction. In past he was director of Unibank or Seb Bank and he a shadowy figure that appeared from nowhere. Before 28, May Valdis Zatlers was more and more aware that he may not be elected. So he may decided to dismiss the parliament to punish it for not supporting him and form his own party to continue his political career.

Another reason may have been his sympathy for the Russian party Harmony Center. There are speculations that before his decision he had conversation with the Saeima speaker Solvita Aboltiņa and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis  where he demanded to form new government with Harmony Center that was in opposition at that time.

The very first result of his decision was that he was punished by dismissed parliament. He was not elected and instead with 50 votes for and 48 against Andris Bērziņš was elected. He is the oldest president in Latvian history with 67 years. Numerous controversies were associated with him. First that he was a henchman of the oligarch Aivars Lembergs, second that he hacked money from EU Development funds and the last that he may have more children that he claims. When he left the parliament house as newly elected president he was met by angry crowd that supported Zatlers. Zatlers suddenly became so popular, because he fulfilled the Latvian people’s dream to punish the parliament they elected themselves. In his first months as president Andris Berzins has shown itself as conservative and neutral president. He said no to many presidential privileges, like private residence, escort with sirens and even presidential salary. The last should not be problem since he is the wealthiest senior citizen in Latvia.

 The election campaign

The referendum to dissolve the parliament was met with great support and 94% of voters voted for. So again in few months a new election campaign was issued. A reminder that the last parliament begun work only in November 2010. The main question was the next move by Valdis Zatlers. The ruling party Unity asked him to join them. But, instead Zatlers formed new party called Zatlers Reform Party. He wanted to make new wining party from scratch and get as many people as possible. The initial outcome was dubious,  all popular members of Latvian intellectual elite declined to join his party. So his party was formed from amateurs and ex members from other parties.

The main slogan of the election campaign was to finally crush the so-called oligarch parties. The three main known oligarchs Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēle and Aivars Lembergs were the main targets. In one way Zatlers really succeeded to crush them. Andris Šķēle  dissolved his Peoples Party that had to pay million lats to state for breaking election funding limits. The same happened with Ainārs Šlesers, who took part in elections, but failed to surpass 5% barrier. He also put the end to his Latvian First Party/Latvian Way, that he had just renamed as Šlesers Reform Party to tackle Zatlers. In meanwhile Aivars Lembergs Green Farmers Union made it to new Saeima but with only 13 seats and remain in opposition.

Two main gainers from Zatlers Decree Nr. 2 were two opposite parties that each gained more prominence in the new elections. The pro-Russian party union The Harmony Center nearly won the elections of the 1o. Saeima, but failed to enter the parliament. By the years the Harmony Center has been the main supporter of Latvian Russian speaking population. However, also it has tried to gather enough Latvian support. Latvians who support Harmony Center are mostly nostalgic about Soviet times and has deep connection with Russian culture. Others, are moved by the social democratic ideology of the party. The Harmony Center was ready to win the emergency elections and finally to enter the government.

The opposite force against leftist Russian force financed by Moscow was the National Alliance, a force formed from two conservative parties For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and All for Latvia!. The main ideology of this party was to defend Latvian rights in Latvia and preserve the Latvian language.  In November 2010, they were excluded from the government now because of the growing support for nationalist ideas they also hoped to enter the government.

The election outcome and troubled government formation

The emergency elections took place in 16. September. As many expected or feared the Harmony Center won by 26%. Zatlers Reform Party came second, Unity third and National Union fourth. The Green Farmers were the last to score above 5% barrier.

By the tradition the wining party should form the new government coalition. But the scored majority of the Harmony Center was not so great to make free moves so they had to relay on support from Latvian parties. And the movement to keep Harmony Center into opposition was stronger than ever. The leader of Harmony Center Nils Ušakovs made many concessions, first he recognized the occupation of Latvia at NATO meeting before the election night. The party that for years was denying that Latvia was occupied in 1940, by Soviet Union no came out with slogan: “There was an occupation, but there are no occupants!”, and asked to include this phrase in new governmental declaration. This phrase actually means that thousands of Soviet immigrants and occupation force members who still live in Latvia are not accountable for the actions of the Soviet Union and are legalized to live her further without worry. Such position made a lot of opposition against Harmony Center to taken in government.

 However, Valdis Zatlers threw a rock in to the pound, when he issued that Harmony Center must be taken in government. He made this decision in middle of the night, and angered people even more when he said this decision can only be changed with use of tanks. The analogy with 17, June 1940, when Soviet tanks rolled into Riga was bad for Zatlers and suddenly the peoples hero who dismissed the parliament became the national traitor in the eyes of many.

Two other contestants for the government the Unity and National Alliance allied against Zatlers, and forced him to make government without Harmony Center. In the end Valdis Dombrovskis kept his prime minister seat and the Latvian right-wing government was formed. Zatlers however got double shot in the feet in the very first day of the parliament session. He was again turned down by the parliament when his bid to take parliament speaker seat failed. Solvita Āboltiņa kept her parliament speaker seat. If that was not enough, six deputies from Zatlers party fraction left his party putting the coalition to a danger. Zatlers was speaking about traitors and worms, but Dombrovskis arranged deal with the six independent deputies to support the government.

The start of the national confrontation

The decision not to take Harmony Center into government started a large stir within the Russian population. The leader of the party Jānis Urbanovičs again threatened to use a “non – parliamentary activities” to enter the government. Russians hold a 28% of the population along with other minorities that mostly speak Russian. Why the Harmony Center was not taken into government? The very first answer that the Harmony Center have large disagreements with many Latvian parties and their ideology is against the interests of the Latvian state. They were against many economical policies, they wanted to cancel the deal with International Monetary Fund and wanted more cooperation with Russia. In national issues they wanted more rights for Russian language and they always questioned the historical issues of Latvia. If that was not enough they have signed a cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin party United Russia and China Communist Party. Many sources state that the party is financed by the Kremlin.

 These events made Russian national radicals to organize a referendum for Russian language as the second official language.  The leader of this movement is the member of Russian neobolshevik  party Vladimir Linderman who was in past accused of terrorist activities and was deported from Russia. The idea of the referendum first came out in spring, when Linderman issued the petition for the referendum as the answer to National Alliance  petition signing to give lessons only in Latvian in schools. The National Alliance was intending to put the end to state funded Russian schools that still work in Latvia. That could be good move to end self-imposed school segregation in Latvia. While many Russians came to study in Latvian schools, many stays in Russian school and most probably finish them with bad Latvian language skills.  The petition failed as they failed to gather the required number of sing- ins for the referendum. Latvian population did not saw the issue important enough.

However, the Russian initiative was more successful since the question of Russian language as the official language was important for many nationalistic minded Russians. People who support this motion, are nostalgic for Soviet times, when Russian language was the main language and many were free from using Latvian. Many of them see Russia as their homeland. Others simply vote to protest against the existing state order that associate with Latvians and Europe. In so the referendum will take place in 18, February 2012. The prognosis of the outcome shows that the  motion will fail. To make such important change in the  constitution more than 60% of voters must vote yes. And this more than Harmony Center gathered in the elections. Russian speakers cannot gather more votes than the actually live in Latvia. And not all Russian speakers will vote for the motion. Meanwhile Latvian parties have asked all Latvians to take part in the referendum and vote no, to show Latvian unity.

The referendum issue sparks interesting question of what will be the future of the Harmony Center? At first Harmony Center was against the referendum, but actually it was secretly supporting it from the start. Then after staying in opposition the major of Riga and the leader of the party Nils Ušakovs singed for the referendum. To explained that he voted because of his conscience, but he was still in favor of one state language. Then other members of the Harmony Center also took part. In seems that Harmony Center took part in risky game to keep their voter sympathy. To enter the government they gave a lot of their demands and even recognized the occupation, but still remained in opposition. To rehabilitate themselves to Russian voters they again turned to national moves. Also it was important for Ušakovs to keep enough support to win in Riga Municipal elections, because the municipality has financial problems and their allies from Šlesers party have failed. But, by this move the Harmony Center has alienated the Latvian voters and made even better arguments for Latvian parties not include the Harmony Center into government.

Many liberals blame Latvian parties and Latvian nationalists for this situation. They say if the Harmony Center would be given a chance to take part into the parliament no referendum would not took place. Others blame National Alliance for their proposed referendum that provoked Russian radicals. But, in reality that is not the case. The petition would have happened even if Harmony Center would be in the government. That also would give good boost to gather necessary sing-ins. Also similar schemes happened in Ukraine and South Ossetia  where there no Latvian nationalists. The Linderman’s referendum is part of global politics of the Russian Federation to stir up Russians in the neighboring countries in the wake of the presidential elections.

More financial and economic troubles

At the end of the year the IMF mission in Latvia was finished. Latvia no more had to take more loans from IMF and organize the budget according to IMF demands. But, before it Latvia faced crisis in Air line and Bank sector. Latvian national Air Line Air Baltic nearly crushed, if had not be saved by the government and bank Latvijas Krājbanka went bankrupt because of forgery made by its owners.

Air Baltic was suffering from spending deficit already in 2011. At that time it was led by German businessman Bertold Flik  who got himself involved in corruption and conflicts with the government. After Minister of the economy Artis Kampars warned about possible bankruptcy of the airline, Fliks in fear from the anti-corruption service moved to Germany. Then later the government removed Fliks from office. After bank crush in Lithuania, whole Air Baltic was nationalized because Lithuanian Snoras bank had large share of Air Baltic stock actions.

Next big hit was in November, when the Lithuanian government nationalized the Snoras bank owned by Russian banker Vladimir Antonov. He and his associates was accused of looting the bank resources. The Snoras bank was in control of Latvian based Latvijas Krājbanka. Few days after the events in Lithuania the Latvian Financial Capital Trade commission came to conclusion that also  about 100 millions of Lats had been looted from Latvijas Krājbanka also. So also the Latvijas Krājbanka went bankrupt. Many thousand people had problems with their bank accounts and pensions. In rural areas where there was only one Latvijas Krājbanka ATM problems were severe.

In December, a rumors on social circles, Twitter, Draugiem Lv, spread out that also Swedish Swedbank has problems. That lead to bank customer panic and in one night more than 20 million of Lats were taken out by panicked customers. Soon it was clear that the rumors were spread out in purpose. No actual Swedbank problems were known and this was an intended scheme to make loss for Swedbank and Latvian economy. The Latvian security police has stated that the perpetrators may come from foreign country.

These were the main political and economical events in Latvia in 2011. It was the time of new political crisis, ethnic division and financial problems.  The next year will no be no less intense. As the astrologers say the 2011 and 2012 is the time of increased solar activity so its time of worldwide changes. Plus 2012. will be the year of the dragoon. Last time when I wrote report about Latvia in 2010, I expressed hope that this year would be much peaceful and wiser than the last. It however turned that the year 2011 was the year of troubles for whole the world. Next year will be the year of changes and I wish the Latvian people to be strong enough to survive these changes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events

Latvian Political Parties 1918-1934

The election poster of Latvian Farmers Union

As emergency elections in Latvia is coming close and another battle between present day political parties is fought, its worth to remember the times of the first period of Latvian independence from 1918 to 1934. What was common and uncommon in political party system in Latvia. And have present day Latvian politicians have learned something from the mistakes of the past politicians.

It was a peculiarity in Latvia, that very first Latvian political party was on the left-wing. Despite the roots of Latvian nationalism begun to rise in the last quarter of 19 Century it was not yet political, but more culturally based associated with middle class intelligence. In Russian Empire with no real hope for independence more important was the social matters. The growing worker class in the main cities of Latvia and their intellectual supporters found their ideas in teachings in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that seemed a perspective solution for those times. In 1903 in Switzerland Latvian Social Democrat Union (LSDU) was founded.  In 1904 many Socialdemocratic organizations formed the Latvian Social Democratic Workers party (LSDWP). The party was influenced by the Russian Social Democratic Workers party and joined its ranks as Latvian Social Democrats (LSD). LSDU was more nationalistic than LSDWP and desired independence from the Russian Empire. LSDWP strived for autonomous socially progressive Latvia in united Russia. In the end LSDU was a short lived project, however many of its original members like Miķelis Valters, Ernests Rolavs and Kārlis Skalbe became important personalities during the war of independence and later.

The Revolution of 1905 was the first active action time for Latvian Social Democrats. LSD organized demonstrations, strikes and violent actions against Czarist- Baltic German regime. The LSD was the main force behind the revolution. Their goal was to help to topple the Czarist government and fight against the privileged Baltic German minority. The independence was not the main goal at that time. The failure of 1905, a revolution made LSD to go underground. The main leaders were either exiled or sent to Siberia. Also a visible split was seen in LSD as the radical communists begun to gather majority in the party. At this time also few right-wing parties as the Peoples Party and Democratic Union emerged.

The collapse of Russian Empire changed the situation in Latvian politics. Latvian nationalist and right wing elites begun to organize their institutions for forming of national Latvian state. The LSD was against the forming of the Latvian Provisional National Council and stated that they see Latvia as part of a United Russian federation. Despite that LSD members took part in another right wing origination the Democratic Block.  However, a split happened within LSD as the majority of communist minded members broke away. Moderate social democrats remained under LSDWP name. Despite anticommunist notions LSDSP remained hostile to Peoples Council and Karlis Ulmanis Provisional Latvian government and remained in opposition within all War for Freedom.

First right-wing party after February revolution was a Latvian radical democratic party founded in St. Petersburg, its leaders were Gustavs Zemgals and others. The party was dissolved in 1920.  In same time Latvian Independence Alliance with leaders such as Fricis Trasuns. It was also a short-lived party. But it was the Latvian Farmers union (LFU) that become the main force. The main person Karlis Ulmanis became the first prime minister of Latvia. The party fought for national and especially farmers’ interests that were the majority of Latvians of those times. In Moscow prominent people like Atis Kenins, Karlis Skalbe, Janis Akuraters and Karlis Blodnieks organized Latvian National Democratic party. In 1918 in Riga Arveds Bergs and Voldemars Zamuels gathered in Latvian Republican party.

During the war for freedom all parties except LSDWP made national consensus. After the war was won, and parliamentary elections were to take place the consensus ended and fierce rivalry begun. Only LSDWP and LFU remained solid political forces and was to be the main rivals in the future. The first Latvian parliament was the Satversmes Sapulce (Constitutional Assembly)  its main goal was to write new a constitution and make reforms fort the new Latvian state.

Political party election posters in 1928

The law to make new parties was liberal – to register a party only 100 members were needed. And since not all Latvian citizens supported LSDWP and LFU it was an open door to find a countless political parties for elections. It was not only ideological minded parties them political interest groups like Teetotaler party and regional parties. To make it complicated there was no official percent barrier to prevent small time parties from entering the parliament. By this parties that could gather above 1,5% of the people’s votes could have one elected deputy in the parliament. It was a starting point for unstable parliaments and short lasting governments. Also it made possible corruption and machinations within the parliament. However a positive side was for national  minority parties that could get their nationals elected. But on other point it prevented minorities to form united political parties and because of this minorities such as Jews and Russians had dozens of rivaling political parties.

In all five elections on 1920, 1922, 1925, 1928 and 1931 the winners were LSDWP and LFU. Bet almost never they could form majority governments because of the other parties with single elected deputies. Plus LSDWP refrained from taking governmental position because it did not want to work together with right-wing parties and was more comfortable in opposition where it played a pitiful role of governmental destabilization.

LSDWP was the main left-wing party at the time. But their success was hindered by other left-wing groups. Its main rival was the illegal Latvian Communist Party that operated underground, under direct orders from Moscow. The communists made many attempts to form legal radical leftist parties to enter parliament. And in 1928, 1931 these attempts were successful however they ended when 4 members of Radical workers and peasant fraction were excluded from parliament. But it was a sheer truth that LSDWP actually had contact with Soviet secret service and many of them rushed to support the occupation in 1940.  Only two governments were formed together with  LSDWP.  The highest governmental seat they could achieve was honorary chairman of the parliament. Two socialdeomcrats Fridrihs Vesmanis from 1920 t0 1925 and Pauls Kalnins from 1925 to 1934 took the second highest post in Latvian Republic.

LFU gathered large support from farmer and middle class elite. Their main faces were Karlis Ulmanis, Arturs Alberings, Zigfrids Anna Meierovics and Hugo Celmins. Hugo Celmins was the longest serving prime minister in Latvia before the war. The LFU had great connections with big business and was the most wealthiest party at those times. From them Alberts Kviesis was the third president of Latvia.

The third main party was the Democratic Center (DC). They had a chance to form many governments. Within them the Gustavs Zemgals was second elected president of Latvia. DC politics were based on balancing therefore it was controversial and scandalous as they often got themselves caught in corruption scandals.

Latvian New landowner small landowner party was the fourth main party founded in 1924. Their leader Adolfs Blodnieks achieved prime minister seat in 4. Parliament and was a fierce rival for LFU.

An important political factor was the Latgalian parties. Even if Latgalians agreed on being part of Latvia, they’re wowed for autonomy and more political rights for them. The difference in language and religion made them against Latvian political parties and that sparked rivalry. One of the most visible Latgalian leaders was Fricis Trasuns. A load eccentric person Trasuns took part in many affairs about ownership of churches. But Latgalians were not united in their fight as they separated in many parties.

A common sight was many christian minded parties. Gustavs Reinhards led the Christian Union. He was a modern conservative, however also a staunch anti-Semite. He was also accused of supporting the Baltic German barons. Also important players were nationalist parties. National Alliance lead by Arveds Bergs was the main nationalist force in the parliament. Arveds Bergs was first who opposed the parliamentary system by claiming “The constitution is not working”. He however did not any steps to overthrow the parliament, instead he was who warned about the coming  coup in 1934. His main mistake was the support of German ownership of the main Riga churches as the majority was to give churches to Latvians. National Alliance was too moderate for many radical nationalist organizations like Latvian National Club and Thundercross who engaged in antisocial behavior and sparked pro fascist agenda.

Jewish party election poster

Latvia was home to many national minority groups. Germans, Jews, Russians and Poles were the most active of them in politics. Germans consisted only 2% of the population but could elect at least six deputies. This was due to their political unity.   All German political parties always formed a single list for the elections. Their main leader was Paul Schiemann an intelligent liberal democrat a staunch defender of minority rights. He supported the Latvian state but was for minority autonomy within it. The Germans did not have any left wingers because the majority of Germans were from noble families that we’re strictly against socialism. Jews consisted 4% the population but were divided between right wingers, religious, Zionists and leftists. Even so they always elected at least 3 deputies. Most visible Jewish leaders were  Modehai Dubin, Mordehai Nurok and Max Lazerson. Russians were the largest minority in Latvia a 10% of all Latvian citizens. Despite that they had very poor results in elections. Their parties were also divided and Russians were politically apathetic. Only 63% of Latvian Russians were literate so it was hard to get enough voter support. Plus since many them were simple workers they rather voted for LSDWP or supported communism. A minority of Russians were members of the old czarist elite or members of White guard exile. They were nationalist and monarchist minded  who dreamed about the restoration of the Russian Empire. The Polish minority was also active but their results were not consistent and also had issues with politic division.

The party system in Latvia was liquidated by Karlis Ulmanis in 15, May 1934. He dissolved the parliament and installed himself as an authoritarian leader with his loyal government. Later he claimed himself as the president of Latvia. Ulmanis banned all political parties including his own Latvian Farmers Union. It may be so that later Ulmanis planed to make his own single state party, but such plans were never realized.

In the times of Latvian democracy every major party had its own weekly newspaper. They were not just only one number editions before elections but regular editions with large reader audience. Also non party newspapers were affected by political parties. Money and power was not strangers to each other. Corruption, rich party supporters and even support by foreign secret service was a common sight.

From today’s perspective not much has changed. There are still too many parties. However modern-day parties are not mass parties, in past LSDWP and LFU had more than 10 000 members. Today the party member count does not exceed 1000  member count. Parties are still unfree from business interests and corruption. Also the Latvian society never has fully trusted and supported the Latvian political system. However before the war the participation in elections was much higher from 80% to 70″% where today is only about 60%. The number of parties was also higher in the first years after 1992, but now only 13 parties take part in emergency elections.   It’s mainly because of 5% barrier that prevents small time parties to enter parliament. Because of this during the last decade parliament is more stable and government crashes are more rare. But even with this  in the last election the election outcome paralyzed the stability in the parliament when the prime minister was forced to take pressure from the main Latvian oligarch that resulted the emergency elections.

Selected Sources:

Freivalds, Osvalds. (1961) Latviešu polītiskās partijas 60 gados. Copenhagen: Imanta.

Mednis, Imants, Antonēvičs Mednis.(2001) Politiskās partijas Latvijā. In book: Zīle, Ļubova (Ed.) Latvija divos laikposmos. 1918-1928 un 1991-2001. Riga: Latvijas Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds.

2 Comments

Filed under Historical Articles

The year 2010 in Latvia

Only few days have left till New Years day. The year 2010 will end bringing new year for us all. People will remember this year as time of stabilization and time of new challenges.  This year in Latvia was important as the election year and year of hopes of getting out of the crisis. Government worked hard to stabilize economy and keep good relations with international creditors. Also more steps was done to set new path in relations with Russia, will it bring something good for us – the time will tell. Year 2010 was also year of climate troubles for Latvia, the hot summer and harsh winter also the spring flooding. Luckily Latvia escaped harsher climate disasters that Russia experienced but global climate change will not spare Latvia in the future.

In this post we will see the main events in Latvia that happened here in Latvia in year 2010.

Election year

Elections was serious event for all political players in Latvia. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis from New Era party wanted to keep his seat after elections. But it was not an easy task since his strong rivals such as Harmony Centre wanted to win elections as well. The party ratings showed that current  government parties may lose elections and that could mean swift changes. To prevent such outcome three parties joined together and formed party union called Unity. It was formed from New Era party, Civic Union and Society for Different policy. Ironically the Civic Union was mostly formed from deserters from New Era party now they united again. SDP was even questionable project because it was formed from deserters of Peoples Party- New Era main rival. Peoples Party was conservative right force but SDP waged leftist liberal ideology. So Unity was a project to keep current coalition in power.

The Green Farmers union lead by Major of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs felt comfortable enough to go on their own. The two nationalist parties For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and All for Latvia! wanted to join Unity but were kept behind. So they decided to join forces together. It was a union of old and new. Fatherland and Freedom was the veterans of Latvian politics. They were part of almost every government. But because that they became bureaucratic and stagnate and lost popularity. All for Latvia! on the other hand was formed from mostly young generation idealists with no real experience in politics. For long time they were kept behind but their popularity grow steadily because of support from young generation voters. Both parties needed each other: Fatherland and Freedom needed to stay in parliament, the loss of Major seat in Riga showed bad prospects for them. All for Latvia! needed to finally enter real politics. Before they were known as marchers, singers and protesters but they strived for something more than protesting naked in frost against Latvia- Russia border agreement.

All these parties opposed the Harmony Centre- an union of pro-Russian parties. For 20 years Russian speaking politicians were left behind front politics. But now because of fall of popularity of Latvian parties and fanatical support of Russian voters the Centrer hoped for victory. They posed themselves as leftist party that opposes right party rule that could not handle the crisis. By this they hoped to attract Latvian voters with leftist feelings. However their leader Jānis Urbanovičs confused everyone when he warned of “Bishkek in Riga” if his party will be in opposition again. He was referring to revolution in Kyrgyzstan that resulted in ethnic violence. After that he had trouble to explain whether he was warning of ethnic conflict between Russians and Latvians or he was talking about social riots.

The elections brought surprise for Harmony Centre. Before the declared that are 100% sure that they will win. But it was the Unity who scored 31% of vote and grabbed 33 seats. Unity won because of promises to keep Latvia stable  and get everyone out of the crisis. Also majority of Unity voters voted to keep Harmony Centre out of the government. It was an ethnic vote but  the voters of Harmony Centre  was no better, they stripped out almost all Latvian candidates from the party to get more Russians in the parliament. Harmony Centre won 29 seats. But Green Farmers Union won the jackpot- the 22 seats meant that they could enter any government and overthrow if they wish. In Aivars Lembergs hands now lays the fate of current government by Valdis Dombrovskis. National Union won 8 seats. But old Fatherland and Freedom won only 2 seats the rest was given to All for Latvia! Nationalist voters wanted new blood in the parliament. From them the most youngest deputy in Latvian history Jānis Dombrava was elected at age 22. Also in the same ranks the oldest deputy Visvaldis Lācis a war veteran and publicist was elected at age 86.

Latvian nation allowed Valdis Dombrovskis to keep his coalition. But it turned out not so easy as it seemed to be. Dombrovskis did not wanted to disappoint Harmony Centre and keep them loyal. At first he offered cooperation deal to them, but then allowed them to join coalition. However to this they must finally recognise the occupation of Latvia and withdraw the demand for Russian language as second official language. These were demands they were not ready to met and choose to stay in comfortable opposition where the can criticise the government as they did last 4 years. Dombrovskis had also trouble setting things with nationalists. Many people in Unity were afraid from young idealists from All for Latvia! To keep them out of the coalition their rivals made campaign against them. They were accused of  cooperation with Chechen Mafia and anti-Semitism. All this accusations were false but was enough to keep them in opposition. So first in Latvian history the coalition was formed from only two political forces- Unity and Green Farmers.  Biggest losers of this all was union between Peoples party and Latvia First Party who won 8 seats despite their massive costly election campaign. Ainars Slesers who was the vice-Major of Riga now became only a deputy. It was a failure for both oligarchs Slesers and Andris Skele who were man of importance for many years.

The economy

Since 2008 Latvia had signed deal with International Monetary Fund, EU Commission ad World Bank that summed credits to save the government from bankruptcy. Surely the creditors interfered much in Latvian affairs and some parties wanted to change the deal. First of them was Peoples party that wanted to cancel the deal or at least revise it. This was an election trick to attract anti-creditor voters. Peoples party voted against the authorization for the government to deal with creditors, but since Harmony Centrer did not participate in the vote, the authorization was accepted.

Since than Peoples Party and Latvia First Party that joined in the union called For Good Latvia strived to cancel deal with the creditors. Similar propaganda came from  Harmony Centre who offered the “vast economical possibilities”” from Russia. In short they wanted turn Latvia from West to East. All of this was bitterly opposed by Unity who promised to keep contacts with creditors. In the end Unity opinion won.

But the main concern was the state budget. Last time in 2009 right after the municipal elections the  government made sudden changes and made big cuts in pensions and social payments. Unity promised not to do this again in after next election, but it was a hard promise to keep since it was clear that large cuts are still needed to balance the state deficit.

After the elections despite promising not to rise the taxes government raised  value added tax from 21% to 22%. Also the tax for private property was also raised. However, there should be no illusions that this would not happened if Harmony Centre would be in charge. They would do the same because economic situation would not allow any other option. That is a reality in politics that before the election there is one reality, after them there is other.

Hard situation in economy has led to bitter problem- “the shadow economics”. Business companies and taxpayers choose to not pay punitive taxes and make large illegal fortunes.

Despite all of that last year brought the growth of 2,7 % of the  GDP. Industry has started to grow in Latvia also. However in fields such as book publishing and culture things are not so good because of taxes and cuts in education and culture. National book publishing is at risk in Latvia today.

Scandals

It would not be Latvia without scandals and affairs. One of the most scandalous ant-government protest was so called Neogate. It all started when one gifted PC specialist discovered a hole in the State Revenue Service database. He then decided to publish the payment register of state owned services. He called himself Neo and communicated with the public using Twitter. He revealed that despite government calls to cut pays in state sector , state officials still received large pays despite the crisis. It was another let down by the government who could cut pays for teachers and doctors but could not cut their own spending. State police declared that Neo is a criminal and caught him after three months. But not only the Neo was arrested by the police but also a state television journalist who first revealed that there is a leak in the Revenue Service database. It turned out that Neo is academic worker in University of Latvia Ilmārs Poikāns. He was freed very soon but the police search in journalist apartment left a shadow on the freedom of press in Latvia.

Another scandal took place in The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. The director of the Bureau Normunds Vilnītis had been know for his authoritative job style and was hated by other top workers in the bureau. Finally the accused him of attempting to destroy the bureau and wrote a report containing 60 accusations for him. It was clear that Bureau is not capable of doing their task because of deep mistrust between boss and his colleges.  However Vilnītis sees no problem in his work and is not ready to step down. In January parliament commission will decide what to do with the bureau workers.

During the year the media constantly watched the events in state airline AirBaltic. Its director Bertolds Fliks is an attractive businessman from Germany who is know for making scandalous schemes all year round. First he secretly bought the AirBaltic brand after it was revealed the Minister of Transportation demanded to give it back. He also wanted to make his private airline in Lithuania that would be rival for AirBaltic. He used airline planes for his private flights. In this all he saw no problem and why should he? The airline legislation is so good to him that only Fliks can remove himself from the office.

Foreign Relations

Most important matter in Latvian foreign affairs was relations with Russia. Russian government had invited Latvian president Valdis Zatlers to Moscow and all year round preparations for the visit was underway. Since Latvia regained independence there has been a tensions in both country relations. In 1994. Russia and Latvia agreed on withdrawal of Russian armed forces from Latvia. On 2006. both sides signed border agreement. It was met with angry protests since Latvian government lead by Aivars Kalvītis decided to give up all claims on lost city of Abrene now known as Pytalova. Abrene was border town that Soviet Russia handed over to Latvia in 1920. However, after occupation of Latvia in 1944 Abrene was annexed in Russia Soviet Socialist Republic and after 1991. remained in Russian side. Despite this rather shameful agreement the situation on Latvian-Russian border is worse. Transit trucks going on route from Russia to Europe always gets stuck on border checkpoints. Eastern side of Latvia is plagued by Russian contraband that is harming Latvian economy.

Russia has always troubled Latvia with claims of harsh discrimination of Russian minority. Life for Russians in Latvia certainly is no harder than Central Asia of Chehnya  were Russians are fleeing to Russia. Russians can watch Russia TV channels in Latvia and use of Russian language is not prohibited. In fact Russians are eagerly enforcing Latvians to speak Russian causing conflicts on both sides. This means that Russia is using Latvian Russians as tools for their geopolitical games. Russia certainly hoped for Russian party victory in elections, but after their failure it seemed that Zatlers will not be going to Moscow this year. However, with help of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Zatlers with large delegation of 120 people went to Moscow right before Christmas.  He was greeted warmly, but no important deals were signed. However both sides praised this visit and Russian gas giant Gazprom even lowered gas tariffs for Latvia. It is question what vent on behind the scenes on Latvian-Russian talks. Lets hope they were more civilised than talks with Stalin in 1939, when Molotov declared that Latvian foreign minister will not leave Kremlin until he gives up to Soviet demands.

Next important question was Latvian partnership in international mission in Afghanistan. Just right after the elections the parliament had to decide whether to continue participation in the mission. Leftists and Green Farmers wanted to remove troops from Afghanistan. It was important theme in election campaign but right after the election the parliament decided to extend Latvian partnership in the mission.  Latvian soldiers are doing various tasks in the war torn country. Last task was to educate Afghan soldiers. Latvian men took part in rough battles with Taliban and received public praise from parents of US soldiers whose life’s were saved by Latvians.

Mysterious and loud event happened in December in Sudan. Latvian civil support helicopter crew was taken hostage by local insurgents. Latvian government showed stiffness in handling the crisis. It was because of lack of experience in such situations. After few weeks it was declared that crew was rescued in international rescue mission. However, soon media spread rumours that crew had broken out of the captivity themselves. The managed to grab weapons from the captors and get to nearest rescue point on their own. Latvian Foreign Ministry is still reluctant to reveal the truth. This event shows the weakspots of Latvian diplomacy.

Climate extremes in Latvia

The year of 2010 was the year of extremes in Latvia. A very cold Winter replaced with never seen before hot summer disrupted the usual temperate climate in Latvia.

The winter was cold and lowered the temperature by 27 Celsius. Last 10 years winters were usually moderate. But this time it brought terrible cold and lots of snow meaning transport troubles. It also froze many water pipes in Riga. Most notoriously it was water pipe breakdown in March when German Rock band Rammstein arrived at Riga. They planed to stage great concert with stunning fire effects. But on the same time water pipe broke down removing anti-fire support at the concert hall. Fire department demanded to cancel the concert or at least not to use thefire effects. The band and concert organizers resisted and concert went on with all the dangerous fire works. It all turned fine but fire department was shocked of such risky event.

The next biggest trouble occurred in Spring. All that snow and ice started to melt starting floods in lower areas. Jelgava was flooded completely other areas were flooded also. Luckily most riskiest areas at Pļaviņas and Jekabpils were spared.

The airport of Riga was also disturbed by volcanic ash from Iceland. Flights were cancelled for a long time.

The cold winter and hot summer was an paradise for mosquitoes who showed up in thousands. All summer they disturbed everyone who wanted to spend time outdoors at summer sun. The summer was hottest in decades. Temperature rose up to 30 degrees. Luckily Latvia escaped the hellish forest fires that occurred in Russia. Latvia send fire brigade to help Russians to extinguish the forest fires.

Right now the winter has returned, it is not yet as cold as the last one but is has again brought tons of snow, disturbing the traffic. A never seen before phenomenon the freezing rain that showed up in Christmas brought trouble for electric lines and communications.

These were the most interesting events in Latvia at year 2010. There is more to write about culture and other things in Latvia. Latvia has gone trough crisis in past two years and is hoping for recovery. The next year is Cat year, Cat is calm and smart animal lets hope his wise and calm temper will help Latvia next year.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Current Events