Latvian MailerOctober 10, 2006

Vīķe-Freiberga a no-go for U.N., Russians eye Ventspils oil terminal

Sveiki, all!

In the news:

This edition's link . This edition's picture is a suitable picture of autumn.

As always, AOL'ers, remember, mailer or not, Lat Chat spontaneously appears every Sunday on AOL starting around 9:00/9:30pm Eastern time, lasting until 11:00/11:30pm. AOL'ers can follow this link in their AOL browser: Town Square-Latvian chat.

Ar visu labu,

Silvija and Peters
Latvian Link  

This edition's link is to a compendium of Latvian (and other country-related) links at the WWW-VL History Central Catalogue, European University Institute, Florence, Italy

lwhich we found linked to from yet another excellent history reference site, at

Look in particular for the WWW-VL section! And if you ever forget, yes, we couldn't resist the opportunity to make it stick in your mind: that's "LV-WWW" backwards.

In the News  

Notes and comments which appear highlighted are our own.

Russia accuses new NATO members of illicit arms sales to Georgia
© 2006 Xinhua
September 30, 2006

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Friday accused some new NATO members of illicit arms sales to Georgia, which was embroiled in a fresh dispute with Russia over alleged espionage.

"Some younger members of NATO" were supplying Georgia with arms and ammunition of Soviet production, which is in breach of international arms trade accords, Ivanov told a news conference after the NATO-Russia Council meeting in the Slovenian coastal resort of Portoroz.

Ivanov preferred not to name the countries, but he was referring to some of the seven eastern European countries that joined NATO in 2004. The new NATO members are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Ivanov, who is also Russia's deputy prime minister, said that Soviet arms exports to the region were made under the strict understanding that the buyers had no right to sell-on to third parties.

"It means these countries are breaching world practice," he said.

Moscow and Tbilisi, whose relations have been tense in the last few years, became embroiled in a new dispute after Georgia arrested several Russian servicemen on Wednesday for alleged espionage.

Addressing the press, Ivanov also accused Georgia of wanting to expel Russian peacekeepers by force, resolve the conflicts in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the use of military pressure and then apply for NATO membership.

Veteran Communists Reborn as Capitalists
By Faruk Akkan, Cihan News Agency, Moscow
Sunday, October 01, 2006

Businessmen from the former Eastern Bloc, in which entrepreneurship was once forbidden, are now some of the world’s richest businessmen.

Weekly Economy Magazine Wprost listed the 100 richest men in Central and Eastern Europe. Forty-eight Russian oligarchs were included in the list, a sign of the significant changes in post-communist Russia.

Fifteen of the top businessmen were from Ukraine, 14 from Poland, nine from Romania, four from Serbian, three from the Czech Republic, three from Croatian, two from Bulgaria and two from Latvia.

The top-ranking 100 businessmen, whose combined wealth was $260 billion, had 75 percent more money than last year.

The top-ranking businessman in the list is the Russian Roman Abromovich, who is worth $19.5 billion wealth.

Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska earned $7 billion last year alone, doubling his wealth to become second on the list.

There were interesting entries on the list. Duma Deputy Suleiman Kerimov, who controls oil exports to Poland and is worth $8 billion, ranked 10th on the list.

Almost all of the richest people in Russia are in the oil industry. After the price of oil skyrocketed last year, almost all of the Russian oligarchs founded their own banks to hold their extra profits.

One of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, Igor Kolomoisky, doubled his fortune with $7 billion, but he still lost out to Rinat Ahmedovi, who has $7.2 billion.

Bulgaria’s richest man Emil Kuluyev was killed tragically. The Moscow mayor’s wife Yelena Baturina ranks 34th on the list.

Latvian capital Riga is a gem in the Baltics
Article Launched 10/01/2006 06:55:52 AM PDT

This is the fourth in a series of columns on a trip to the Baltic countries followed by a cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow.

I was looking forward to visiting Riga. Our guide, Silvija Horsa, was born and raised in the Latvian capital, Riga, and during the drive from Vilnius had been sharing stories of her childhood during the Soviet era (1940 through Latvia's independence in 1991). Latvia suffered the same fate as the other Baltic countries, being dominated by both Germany and Russia.

Soviet occupation after World War II was marked by deportations to Siberia and elsewhere and there was a large-scale immigration of non-Latvians, mostly Russians, into Riga. In 1975 less than 40 percent of Riga's inhabitants were Latvians.

Silvija grew up speaking Russian, the dominant language in Latvia in the 1970s and '80s, during her childhood. Even though her family was never crowded into a one-room apartment, they did live with several Russian families and she remembers the feelings of discontent. However, food was plentiful and the education system good. In fact, Silvija did comment that even after independence in 1991, Latvia continued using the Russian system of education.

After the policy of economic reform, introduced as Perestroika by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, most of the Soviet republics, including Latvia, were able to regain some semblance of independence. A period of instability followed as the Latvian Communist Party attempted to take back the helm of government. In March of 1991 an election was held and three-quarters of the population voted to secede from the Soviet Union.

Silvija clearly remembers the days in late August 1991 when the Soviets blocked roads going into Riga and surrounded the Interior Ministry building.

The Moscow coup failed and on Aug. 21,1991, the Latvian parliament voted to restore independence. According to Silvija, there was a big party at her parents' home.

With only one full day in Riga, I realized we had a lot to see. We walked across the bridge (from our hotel) to Town Hall Square and the beginning of Old Town. The most prominent building on the square is the 14th-century Gothic-looking Blackheads' House, with its bright red façade and astronomical clock. The building actually houses the Riga information center, a museum and a small café. Originally it was the home to the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a fraternity of bachelor merchants. Also bordering the square, though definitely not dating back to medieval times, is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which details the very poignant account, through personal stories, of what happened in Latvia during the 20th century.

At Town Hall Square we boarded buses and headed to the Central Market, one of the largest in Europe, partly outdoors and housed in old German blimp hangars. It was amazing. Imagine a complete building selling nothing but cheeses and another building, nothing but fish. It seems to go on forever.

Unfortunately we were too rushed to get the full impact, but it was fun seeing it. I'm told it's a great place to buy knitted wool socks in the flea market adjacent to the central market.

Our next stop was Alberta Street, a treasure trove of Art Nouveau buildings.

Riga has one of the largest collections of Art Nouveau buildings in all of Europe, mostly concentrated in a small rectangular area of streets in new town. The world famous architect Mikhail Eisenstein designed many of the buildings that date back to the early 1900s.

You can't visit a large city in the Baltics without visiting a church. Riga is no exception. In the middle of Old Town, on Dome Square, sits Dome Cathedral, the largest church in the Baltics, with its lovely stained-glass windows and 300-foot tower that appears to stand guard over the city.

Surrounding the square are lots of outdoor cafes, boutiques and vendors selling souvenirs from small carts. I laughed about seeing another church and asked Silvija about the Jewish community in Latvia. There indeed is a small Jewish community in Riga and she took us to the Peitavas Synagogue, the only synagogue left in Riga after the Holocaust (prior to the Holocaust there were about 40 synagogues with a Jewish population of 40,000). The synagogue, built in 1905, has a Neoclassical façade, but the interior is more like a mosque. Compared to the synagogue in Vilnius, this looks old and run-down, but is still functioning with a small congregation.

There are about 6,000 Jews still living throughout Latvia.

In the afternoon, when the majority of the group left for Jurmala, a seaside resort on the Baltic coast, about 20 miles from Riga, several of us decided to stay in Riga. I was feeling shopping-deprived and due to time constraints had little free time to wander and explore.

We walked through the narrow, cobbled streets of Old Town to a pedestrian street lined with shops and outdoor cafes. We took our time, had lunch, browsed and, of course, did some shopping for amber jewelry.

In the evening we went to the Lido Restaurant, a large and noisy restaurant in the outskirts of Riga. It is actually a combination restaurant, amusement park with a large play area for children, and beer hall. Individuals and families come for the large assortments of food offered cafeteria style. Groups, however, are served a more standard fare.

The best part was that Silvija brought her two young children, ages 6 and 8. They are just beginning to learn English, and they had a delightful time running a bit wild in the park. We had a great time doing some people watching while enjoying the local band, the happy atmosphere and the beer.

Riga is a wonderful tourist destination with so much to see and do. It has wonderful museums, restaurants, shopping, theater, concerts and lots of nightlife. It's near enough to the Baltic Sea to even spend a few days at the shore. I've already decided that Riga is on my "go back to" list — there's just too much to see and do in one day.

Join me next week in Tallinn, Estonia, as we continue our whirlwind tour of the Baltic capitals.

Redlands resident Ilene Cox is the owner of Redlands Travel Service.

Russian Firms Interested in Latvian Port
Monday, October 2, 2006. Issue 3509. Page 5.
© 2006 The Moscow Times

Russian firms are interested in buying the Latvian government-owned stake in the Ventspils Nafta holding company at an auction Thursday, the bank managing the sale said.

One of the main assets of the company is the Ventspils Nafta Oil Terminal, Latvia's largest port, which used to specialize in handling Russian crude before supplies dried up in 2003.

Belarus close to ending demarcation works on Latvian border
© 2006 Itar-Tass
03.10.2006, 11.04

MINSK, October 3 (Itar-Tass) — The border of Belarus with its Baltic neighbors of Latvia and Lithuania is now reflected not only on geographic maps, but physically marked on the ground.

Later on Tuesday the last of the 400 border signs will be fixed near the village of Karasino, the Vitebsk region, to delimitate the Belarussian-Latvian border.

Several months ago, 1,957 signs on the Belarussian-Lithuanian border were mounted.

The Baltic border section stretches over 850 kilometers, including 170 kilometers over Latvia and another 680 kilometers over Lithuania, an officer of the Belarussian border troops committee told Itar-Tass.

It took almost 10 years to complete demarcation works that were launched back in 1996.

A total of 12 million U.S. dollars had been spent for demarcation works at this section.

Within the framework of its TACIS Program the EU granted over 4 million U.S. dollars, the rest was allocated from the Belarussian state budget.

Belarus has to coordinate and sign some documents, including demarcation maps and state land laws, to end this process.

Demarcation works on the Lithuanian section will be completed by the end of the year and on the Latvian section – in 2007.

“Belarus’ border with the Baltic states is completely new one both by technical equipment and inner content. There is no barbed wire and nothing common with the so called ‘iron curtain’,” the head of the border troops committee, Alexander Pavlovsky, said.

Ambassador of Latvia to Armenia in National Assembly
National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia
Parliamentary meeting notice

On October 2 Mr. Tigran Torosyan, President of the National Assembly, received Mr. Aivars Vovers, Ambassador of Latvia to Armenia.

During the meeting the issues related to the Armenian-Latvian inter-parliamentary ties were discussed. Mr. Tigran Torosyan, President of the National Assembly, noted that the good inter-parliamentary relations between the two countries still have unexercised opportunities for the development. It was noted that Armenia declared the European integration as a strategic goal, and especially given the Latvian experience accumulated on the way of accession to the European Union (EU) will be very productive, taking into account that the Baltic republics are former Soviet countries in legislative as well as in institutional aspects. Both parties stressed the cooperation within the nternational structures during the meeting. The NA President Tigran Torosyan gave an example of the productive work with the delegations of the Baltic countries in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Touching upon the New Neighbourhood programme of the European Union within the framework of which the signing of an agreement with Armenia is envisaged during these days, Mr. Aivars Vovers, Ambassador of Latvia to Armenia, noted that it will create new opportunities for the implementation of the joint programmes. He informed the NA President about the parliamentary elections, which will be held in Latvia this week, noting that, according to the opinion polls, great changes are not expected. The Ambassador assured that after the parliamentary elections a Parliamentary Friendship Group with Armenia also will be set up in the Latvian Parliament, which has been an important link of inter-parliamentary cooperation during these years in the context of meetings and discussions. He reaffirmed the invitation of the NA President’s official visit to Latvia.

During the meeting other issues of mutual importance were also discussed.

Baltics prepare royal welcome for Queen Elizabeth II
© 2006 dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday October 3, 2006

Eds. Visit planned 16-20 October — Riga — The Baltic states announced plans on Tuesday to welcome Britain's Queen Elizabeth to their countries — the first visit of a reigning British monarch to the region. "This is a major event in bilateral relations, and it reminds us how far we have come since 1991 and how close our partnership is now," Britain's ambassador to Latvia, Ian Bond, told journalists.

The Queen and her consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, will visit Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from October 16 to 19, at the invitation of the three countries' presidents.

The three Baltic states joined the EU and NATO in 2004, and have close military and business links with Britain.

"The UK gave Latvia intensive support on the way to the EU and NATO and supported our integration: this will be symbolically shown during the visit," said Janis Mazeiks, advisor to the Latvian president on foreign-policy issues.

The royal visit is scheduled to begin in Lithuania on October 16. The Queen will address parliament and visit Vilnius University, while the Duke meets Lithuanian participants in the youth-development award scheme which he founded.

The royal couple will move on to Latvia on 18 October, where they will attend a gala performance given by hearing-impaired dancers, wheelchair basketball players and young representatives of Latvia's national minorities who have been supported by the British Embassy.

The queen will also visit Latvia's Museum of the Soviet and Nazi Occupations 1940-91, while the duke dedicates a memorial to British servicemen killed in the Baltic states' war of independence 1918-20.

The final stop on the tour will be Estonia, where the couple will attend concerts in Estonia's national art museum and its mediaeval town square, before receiving a salute from the Estonian navy.

The royal couple will also go on a "walkabout" in each country, walking through the anticipated crowds of onlookers in order to meet local people. The royal visit, which is being regarded as a tip of the hat from the UK, has aroused lively interest in all three Baltic states.

"It's hard to think of any other representative of the international political, social or cultural scene who enjoys such positive recognition as the Queen," Mazeiks said.

The queen was crowned in 1953 and is the world's second longest-serving head of state. As titular leader of the Commonwealth, she is also head of state of 16 of the organisation's 53 states, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Tuvalu.

NATO Has No Reason to Expand Further — Russia’s Lavrov
Created: 04.10.2006 18:17 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 18:17 MSK
© 2006 MosNews

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that there was no reason for NATO to expand further. Lavrov said that while Russia cannot prevent any country from joining NATO, it does not see any reason for the alliance to expand, The Associated Press reported.

“There are so many other ways to solve common security issues. Let’s not erect new dividing lines,” Lavrov told reporters after addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where Russia currently holds the six-month rotating presidency.

“But if NATO wants to transform itself into something more contemporary, into an organization fighting terrorism, for example, this we would support,” Lavrov said. “We cannot physically prevent NATO’s expansion, but we are convinced that (expanding further) is an old way of thinking.”

NATO already has borders with Russia after the inclusion of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Russia opposed the former Soviet republics’ membership and is wary of NATO efforts to build closer relations with another of its neighbors, Ukraine.

Georgia, another former Soviet republic, has said it aims to join NATO in 2008.

Latvia-Azerbaijan Cooperation Documents Signed
October 04, 2006, 14:54:07
© 2006 State Telegraph Agency of the Republic of Azernaijan

Ceremony of signing of the documents on cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Latvia was held on October 4 at the Riga Castle with participation of the Presidents of these countries.

After the heads of state signed the joint Statement, the minister of education of Azerbaijan Misisr Mardanov and minister of science and education of Latvia Mrs. Baiba Rivja have signed the Agreement on cooperation in education.

Then, finance ministers of two countries have signed the document on co-op in finance sphere; the health ministers signed the agreement on cooperation in the field of health and medical science; foreign minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov and the minister of information and technologies of Latvia signed another Agreement.

The same day, also were signed the documents on cooperation in air links and in the field of communications between the Government of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Government of the Republic of Latvia.

Russian Authorities Discover Vodka Pipeline To Latvia
October 4, 2006 2:30 p.m. EST
Komfie Manalo — All Headline News Foreign Correspondent
© 2006 AHN

Buholovo, Russia (AHN) — Russian customs officials in Buholovo near the Latvian border have discovered a one mile long pipeline that was pumping vodka to the other side of the border.

Police officers patrolling the border said the tunnel had been laid six feet underground by still unidentified syndicates to pump home-made vodka across the border to avoid paying taxes and other government regulations on the liquor.

The vodka was then sold to Latvian consumers, the police said.

The pipeline was discovered when local community workers started digging holes to plant trees in the area.

Local border police officer, Yakov Kabanov, told the Ananova press agency, "We had our suspicions that there was someone running hooch across the border here but we could never figure out how they managed it.

"They probably would have got away with it for decades if those trees hadn't been planted as well."

Officers are conducting an investigation and began questioning residents in Buholovo about the pipeline, which ran between two rented houses that were empty when they were raided.

U.S.A to give Latvia $1.4 million in military aid
Oct 05, 2006
By TBT staff
© 2006 The Baltic Times

The US Congress and administration have decided to allocate $1.4 million of military assistance to Latvia. According to the U.S. Embassy's press service, the US Congress and the Bush administration have agreed to allocate an additional $1.485 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Latvia. Latvia received already 4.5 million US dollars this year from the Coalition Solidarity Fund, and the total US military assistance to Latvia this year will amounts to $5.95 million. Latvia has also received $1.3 million in International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds to provide training for the military. The allocated money will be used for the purchase of military equipment and provide for development of the Latvia's Armed Forces, said the ambassador.

Russia and Latvia to sign economic cooperation agreement
© 2006 RosBusinessConsulting
RBC, 05.10.2006, Moscow 14:59:45

The Russian government has approved the draft agreement on economic cooperation with the Latvian government, the government's press office reports. The Russian Economy Ministry was instructed to hold negotiations with Latvia and sign the document on behalf of the Russian government.

The agreement states that each party will contribute to the development of mutually advantageous cooperation in all economy sectors in accordance with its legislation and on the principles of equality. Cooperation under the agreement is aimed at using each country's economic potential for the development and improvement of bilateral economic relations, stimulation of trade, investment and innovations, development of transport infrastructure and interregional cooperation.

Also, the Russian government approved the draft agreement for establishing the Russian-Latvian intergovernmental committee for economic, scientific and technical, humanitarian and cultural cooperation. The committee is to prepare recommendations for the development and improvement of the cooperation and to provide assistance to the companies and organizations of the two countries aimed at the development and diversification of bilateral ties.

Oil terminal sale nets $135M for Latvia
October 5 11:19 A.M. ET
© by The Associated Press.

Latvia's government sold its remaining shares in a lucrative oil terminal on Thursday, netting 74.2 million lats (euro103 million; US$135 million) in the Baltic state's largest privatization effort to date.

The government's 38.6 percent stake in Ventspils Nafta, one of Latvia's last state-held enterprises, was sold in a two-hour auction, though it was unclear whether a new strategic investor would emerge from the sale.

The final auction price was 1.84 lats (euro2.62; US$3.34) per share, slightly above the minimum bidding price of 1.81 lats (euro2.58; US$3.29). One investor submitted an aggressive bid for 18 million shares, or 17 percent of Ventspils Nafta, as soon as the auction started.

The bid was later confirmed, meaning the oil terminal now has a new significant shareholder, auction organizers said.

Though the government had hoped for more revenue, Economy Minister Aigars Stokenbergs hailed the auction result.

"We pulled off the sale in one day, something the government had been unable to accomplish for several years," he told reporters.

Ventspils Nafta, a multi-business group that also has interests in shipping, media and real estate, has been beset in recent years by infighting among managers of Latvijas Naftas Tranzits, a private firm that controls nearly 49 percent of the group.

It has also been hampered by a de facto embargo by Russia, which stopped delivering crude oil via pipeline to Latvia in 2003. The terminal has been forced to import crude by rail.

Both Stokenbergs and Valery Kargin, president of Parex Bank, one of Latvia's largest banks and lead organizer of the sale, complained that discord among Ventspils Nafta managers had a negative impact on investor perception of the sale. However, they both expressed hope that the sale would bring stability to the company's operations.

Many in Latvia criticized the auction's format — a so-called Dutch auction that allows the seller to sell all the shares in a short timeframe. Historically such auctions were designed for items such as fish and flowers that spoil quickly, although they have gained popularity after Google Inc. held its initial public offering in a Dutch-style auction.

Stokenbergs deflected the criticism, saying the auction had been "open to all." He also cited a 1997 contract between the government and Latvijas Naftas Tranzits that gave the latter a veto over any possible sale of the state's holding in Ventspils Nafta.

Market reaction to the deal was volatile. In its biggest daily gain in five years in the morning, Ventspils Nafta stock soared 16 percent. However, the stock later plummeted, ending trading on Thursday down 12 percent at 1.95 lats (euro2.78, US$3.54), thus closing the gap with the auction price.

Latvia's Vike-Freiberga withdraws candidacy for UN secretary-general
© 2006 The Associated Press
Published: October 5, 2006

RIGA, Latvia Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on Thursday withdrew her candidacy to become the United Nations' next secretary-general after having received two vetoes in the last informal round of voting.

"The outcome of a formal vote is obvious now," said Aiva Rozenberga, the president's spokeswoman.

Vike-Freiberga, the only woman and non-Asian who put forward her candidacy, thanked her supporters, particularly neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, who formally nominated her.

"With her candidacy, the president brought to the foreground issues that had not received broad attention in previous elections, thus stimulating wider discussion on the selection of candidates based mainly on their qualifications, rather than restrictive regional or gender criteria," the president's office said in a press release.

An informal poll of the 15 Security Council nations on Monday gave South Korea's foreign minister, Ban Ki-Moon, near-certain victory in the contest to succeed Kofi Annan, whose term expires at the end of the year.

Latvian PM declares poll victory for pro-EU govt
Sat Oct 7, 2006 5:11pm ET171
International News
© 2006 Reuters
By Jorgen Johansson

RIGA (Reuters) — Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis declared victory in a parliamentary election on Saturday after a second exit poll gave his center-right coalition a commanding lead in the vote.

Latvia joined the European Union in 2004 and if the result is confirmed, the government will be able to continue its pro-EU policies and drive to adopt the euro as soon as possible.

The Latvian TV poll, which confirmed an earlier exit poll, showed Kalvitis's ruling People's Party — and its partners the Greens, the Farmers Union and Latvia's First Party — had 43.3 percent of the vote.

Analysts said the result indicated those four parties would be likely to return to power with another party joining the coalition.

They said a strong possibility was that opposition center-right party New Era, which according to the exit poll won 14.6 percent of the vote, would join the government.

"The exit poll results show a victory for the coalition. It shows that the people have supported the existing government," a smiling and confident Kalvitis told Reuters.

"Now we will have to wait for the final results. Then we will know whether or not we need to bring on an additional coalition partner to secure majority," he added.

Official results are expected to begin in the early hours of Sunday with final results announced after lunch.

Earlier, voting at a coastal town, Kalvitis pledged to continue the government's market-orientated, low tax policies which have helped the ex-Soviet state become one of the EU's fastest-growing economies. In the first half of 2006 GDP grew 12 percent.

If translated into seats, the exit poll result would win the coalition around 45 seats in the 100 seat parliament, compared with the 46 seats the minority coalition has now.


If New Era joins the coalition, its poll showing should translate into a significant cabinet representation. However, it will probably not get the premiership as Kalvitis's own party secured 19.8 percent of votes.

Joining the government would mean a full circle for New Era, which left the coalition earlier this year due to a policy disagreement. In fact the government won the last election in 2002 headed by New Era, the coalition gaining a combined 48.2 percent of the vote.

New Era member and former Economics Minister Krisjanis Karins told Reuters before the election that his party was ready to rejoin the government.

"Our goal is to either head the next coalition or at least be a part of it," Karins said.

Analysts predicted Saturday's result, saying that in an election devoid of major issues voters would opt for continued prosperity.

They said voters ignored issues such as concern about corruption, the widening gap between rich and poor and the problems of a large ethnic Russian population, which is alienated despite Latvia's political and economic success since its 1991 independence.

"Our economy is doing well but something needs to be done about inflation. I hope the government will do something after the election," said one voter, teacher Martins Zvirbulis, 30.

Kalvitis has said re-election would constitute an "historic" political victory in Latvia.

No other government in the ex-Soviet state — where governments since independence have had an average life expectancy of just over a year — has been returned to power.

Latvians return centre-right parties to power
© 2006 AFP, Diligent Media Corporation (India)
Sunday, October 08, 2006 08:50 IST

RIGA: Latvians voted at the weekend to return to power the centre-right parties which guided the Baltic country into the European Union, partial results showed on Sunday.

The ruling conservative People's Party placed first with 19.3 per cent of the vote, in the first election since Latvia joined the EU two years ago, according to the central election commission.

With nearly 99 per cent of the vote counted from Saturday's election, the People's Party's coalition ally Union of Greens and Farmers followed in second place with 16.6 per cent.

The centre-right New Era party, which had been part of the government coalition until April, had just over 16 per cent.

The 15-month-old leftwing Harmony Centre party, which has strong support from Latvia's large Russian minority, made a huge leap onto the political stage, garnering 14.4 per cent of votes cast.

Analysts said the results pointed to a continuity in Latvian politics, which despite being marred by in-fighting in the 15 years since independence, has always been grounded in the centre-right and economic liberalism.

That constant helped get the former Soviet republic into the European Union despite a wide gap in income levels, and fuel the most rapid economic growth in the bloc.

"There is no doubt that the next coalition will be formed by centre-right parties and it will be very similar, if not the same, to what we have now," Aigars Freimanis, director of research company Latvijas Fakti, said.

"All indications and exit polls show that the political landscape in Latvia will remain largely unchanged," he said shortly after voting ended.

Besides the People's Party and the Union of Greens and Farmers, the current government also includes the liberal First Party of Latvia, which saw its support slide to 8.5 per cent, despite contesting the election in an electoral bloc with Latvia's Way.

Only two other parties of the 19 that fielded candidates, the conservative Fatherland and Freedom party and the leftwing Alliance for Human Rights in United Latvia, scored more than the minimum five per cent threshold to win seats in the legislature.

Fatherland and Freedom won 6.8 per cent of the vote and the Alliance for Human Rights nearly six per cent.

"It will be a centre-right coalition, similar to what we have already," political scientist Ivars Indans said.

But with their strong score, Harmony Centre "could be invited to join, or at least support, the new government," marking the first time a party close to Latvia's large Russian minority is included in the ruling coalition, he said.

While many of the ethic-Russians who live in Latvia have obtained citizenship, hundreds of thousands still do not and are therefore unable to vote.

New Era called on the parties that did best in the election to start talks on forming a new government and named European lawmaker Vladis Dombrovskis as its candidate for prime minister.

"It would be logical if the core of the new government consisted of those parties that have won the most voter support," New Era leader, former prime minister Einars Repse, said on Latvian Television.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, a member of the People's Party, said late Saturday it was "too early to judge" what the make-up of the next government should be.

"Let's wait for the results from all the parties," he said.

Asked if he would be prepared to continue in the post of prime minister, Kalvitis said: "Yes, I am ready to continue."

The election commission said 60.51 per cent of the 1.45 million eligible voters had turned out to cast their ballots.

Latvia government wins parliamentary majority
Sun Oct 8, 2006 2:04 PM BST147
© 2006 Reuters
By Jorgen Johansson

RIGA (Reuters) — Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and his centre-right coalition have secured enough seats to become Latvia's first government to win consecutive terms of office, after electoral authorities Sunday declared the final results.

The result leaves the government free to pursue its pro European Union and economic expansionist policies. Latvia joined the European Union in 2004 and the government has pledged to adopt the euro. In the first half of 2006 its economy grew 12 percent.

The final tally showed Kalvitis's People's Party, with its partners the Greens, the Farmers Union and Latvia's First Party, had won just short of 45 percent of the vote, Latvia's Electoral Commission Chairman Arnis Cimdars told a press conference.

"With all the votes counted ... it is fair to say that the government has won 44.77 percent of the vote," Cimdars said.

The coalition now has enough support to secure 51 seats in Latvia's 100 seat parliament, the commission said in a statement. This compares with the previous election in 2002, when the government won 55 seats.

Analysts had predicted Saturday's result, saying voters would opt for continued prosperity and ignore issues such as concern about corruption, the widening gap between rich and poor and the problems of a large ethnic Russian population.

The election commission said the final voter turnout was 61.38 percent.

Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told a press conference earlier she was confident a prime minister and cabinet would be nominated and confirmed by parliament quickly, unlike the last election when the process took more than six weeks to complete.

"I think it will be a lot easier because all party leaders have expressed the desire to work together," she said.

Political analysts said it was all but certain that Kalvitis, who has vowed to continue the free-market, low tax policies which have helped the former Soviet state become one of the EU's fastest-growing economies, would retain his job.

"I have a hard time imagining that anyone else could be nominated for the post," said political analyst Karlis Streips.


In the coming week the governing parties are expected to consider expanding the coalition to give it a larger working majority in parliament.

A senior People's Party official said the government would on Monday discuss the election win and whether to bring another party into the ruling coalition.

"The preliminary election results show that there is no need to rush forward," Vents Armands Krauklis, who led the election campaign for the People's Party, told Baltic news service BNS.

Analysts said there was a strong possibility that opposition centre-right party New Era, which won 16.38 percent of the vote, would rejoin the government.

New Era led the coalition that won the 2002 election but left the government this year due to a policy disagreement.

New Era member and former Economics Minister Krisjanis Karins told Reuters before the election that his party was ready to rejoin the government.

Final results for other parties were:

Harmony Centre: 14.42 per cent

For Fatherland and Freedom: 6.95 percent

For Human Rights in a United Latvia: 6.02 percent

OSCE praises Latvian polls, criticises “democratic deficit”
© 2006 dpa German Press Agency
Posted Sunday October 8, 2006 at 7:57 am

Parliamentary elections in Latvia were conducted fairly and freely, but the country's policy of limited citizenship constitutes a Parliamentary elections in Latvia were conducted fairly and freely, but the country’s policy of limited citizenship constitutes a “democratic deficit,” OSCE observers said on Sunday.

The elections, held on Saturday, were “administered transparently and professionally,” and campaigning “took place in a competitive and pluralistic environment,” a press release by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated.

But the document criticised the fact that around 18 per cent of Latvia’s population are classed as “non-citizens,” with no right to vote in municipal or parliamentary elections.

“The fact that a significant percentage of the adult population does not enjoy voting rights represents a continuing democratic deficit,” the statement said.

The republic of Latvia was founded in 1918, occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and declared the renewal of its independence in 1991. Residents whose families had not held Latvian citizenship before 1940 were denied it in 1991, even if they were born in the country.

These “non-citizens”, the majority of whom are ethnically Russian, can become citizens by passing exams in Latvia’s language, history and constitution. Over 100,000 have done so in the last decade, but over 400,000 non-citizens remain.

“I am impressed with the broad public confidence the Latvian election process enjoys. However, this trust cannot be complete as long as citizenship, including the right to vote, remains an issue for a significant part of the population,” OSCE team leader Boris Frlec said.

Two teams from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and its parliamentary assembly observed the elections — the fifth since Latvia regained its independence in 1991, and the first since it joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

Revolt Is An Infectious Disease
© 2006 RIA Novosti
Oct 9, 2006
Janis Urbanovic, member of the Latvian Parliament and the RIA Novosti Expert Council

MOSCOW — The main bids for the forthcoming elections to the Latvian Parliament have been made. Political ideas have been made public, compromising materials have been presented, and money has been spent. We will see the result very soon, when the people come to the ballot stations.

What I would like to focus on is not so much the voters' attitudes, but the narrow but highly influential group of businessmen and intellectuals, who have always played the decisive role in forming coalitions and schemes, and a country's future.

Such groups have existed always and in all countries, including despotic, totalitarian and democratic ones. Unfortunately, this group sometimes underestimates the problems and dangers that face their people and country, and the Latvian elite is no exception. It is unwilling to part with the consensus that developed in the mid-1990s and has brought Latvia to the European Union and NATO and spurred on the development of a viable class of bourgeoisie by encouraging rapid privatization and de-nationalization.

Political parties, the press, the parliament, courts and the state machinery worked very hard on attaining these goals and proving their efficiency. This is why many people today think that this situation will persist and Latvia's system is historically stable and will always be effective.

But the world has changed since the 1990s, and the international community has moved to the planes it had never seen before.

No "color revolution" in the former Soviet states produced the desired results, but showed that a "controlled revolt" is possible and easy, and that it is as catching as a flu. I firmly believe that the current events in Hungary have been provoked by the same virus, which has broken free like a genie from a bottle, and is turning "color revolutions" into vandal revolts. Its first results are highly unpleasant and have hit the most painful spots — the country's credit rating and investor trust.

Which country will be next? Where to expect the next outbreak of the disease? In Moldova, Romania or Poland? Or maybe in Latvia? Will the Security Police and the Constitution Protection Bureau save us? For it will not be a minor action by Limonov's National Bolsheviks, or a pensioners' protest picket.

Don't tell me that this cannot happen in Latvia. It is possible. Opinion polls register public dissatisfaction with many things, ranging from the speed of integration into the EU, to the housing problem. The main trouble is that Latvian political system does not have a vent for public discontent and is doing nothing to root out its causes.

The Latvian policy today is a well-orchestrated ballet where all positions and partners have been assigned long ago. Such performances may look nice, but they have nothing in common with real life. As a result, some people have left the country in search of better life, and others are becoming easy prey for demagogues and populists. I am referring to the seemingly respectable political association New Era, a conservative anti-corruption party.

The victory of its leader, Einars Repse, in the parliamentary elections was an alarming sign, prompting conclusions comparable to the analysis of the Hungarian events.

The administration should at least feign democracy and the people's involvement in running the country, or political apathy and latent discontent will rapidly erupt in a social explosion. This would be disastrous for all sides, but primarily for business. I doubt that the "captains" of the Latvian economy want to be rich and successful in a poor country. They want to live in a prosperous state, and therefore should overhaul their approaches to the domestic policy and formulate a new political goal.

A policy should be stable, but not unyielding. A policy can and should be diversified, which implies the turnover of politicians and ideas. Many members of the Latvian parliament hope to keep their seats for life, which is why they bury progressive innovation ideas. These "stagnation guards" have their own vision of a new coalition and cabinet.

Big business is relying too heavily on the "protective buffer" group of obedient and controllable politicians. I am not advocating opening the door into politics to everyone, or political purges. But I think that the time for change has come. We must let fresh air into the parliament, the cabinet, and local governments. It's time to pension off those who can no longer produce good results, and to revive the Latvians' belief in their leaders, their parliament and their government.

In fact, the issue concerns the demise or survival of Latvian democracy. We must let enterprise and initiative take a befitting place not only in business but also in managing society.

Janis Urbanovic, member of the Latvian Parliament and the RIA Novosti Expert Council

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

Unfortunately articles like this one are reproduced with seemingly increasing frequency in the non-Rusisan press with no commentary. Lose at the polls (Urbanovics's party came in last), so have official Russia take pot shots at the Latvian government. "RIA Novosti" is official Russian state media, meaning, Urbanovic is an expert for the propaganda mouthpiece of the Russian authorities.
Lithuanian President Confirms Expulsion Of Russian "spy"
© 2006 dpa German Press Agency

The Lithuanian president, Valdas Adamkus, confirmed on Monday that Lithuania expelled a Russian diplomat for spying last week. "The spy was caught, and according to the rules, he was expelled.

"Don't be surprised if Russia expels a Lithuanian diplomat from Moscow without any reason," Adamkus said, according to the Delfi news portal.

The president added that he did not think the affair likely to affect relations between Lithuania and Russia.

"It's not the first case, and it won't be the last," he said.

According to Baltic News Service BNS, the spy was a high-ranking diplomat who had attempted to "influence Lithuania's determination to support Georgia in its conflict with Moscow."

The Lithuanian foreign ministry would not comment on the report when contacted by Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow said that it could not confirm the report, but that inquiries were under way.

The affair comes at a sensitive moment for the two states. On Tuesday the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Korsachev, is scheduled to visit Lithuania to celebrate 15 years of diplomatic relations.

Those relations have not always been easy. Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Estonia, broke away from the USSR in 1991 and joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

Also like its neighbours, it has consistently voiced support for other former Soviet states ambitious to join NATO. This stance has angered Russia, which has traditionally viewed the former USSR as its natural sphere of influence.

Most recently, Vilnius came out strongly in support of Tbilisi in its current dispute with Moscow. This began when Georgian police arrested four Russian military officers as spies in late September.

The four were later handed over to OSCE observers, but Moscow then severed all transport links to Georgia and expelled more than 100 Georgian citizens, a move the Georgian foreign minister likened to "ethnic cleansing."

Europe told to wake up to tuberculosis threat
October 10, 2006
By Laura MacInnis
© 2006 Reuters

GENEVA (Reuters) — The European Union is not doing enough to fight a dangerous outbreak of tuberculosis among its neighbors which poses a major threat to the continent, health agencies said on Tuesday.

About 450,000 people get infected with tuberculosis each year in the Europe region, including Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to Pierpaolo de Colombani, a tuberculosis control medical officer for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Nearly 70,000 of these contract strains of the easily-spread respiratory ailment that resist the two main tuberculosis drugs, raising the likelihood that the disease could lead to epidemics in Western Europe on the scale of that seen in the 1940s.

"The drug resistance that we are seeing now is without doubt the most alarming tuberculosis situation on the continent since World War Two," said Markku Niskala, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

"Our message to EU leaders is: wake up, do not delay, do not let this problem get further out of hand," Niskala said.

The explosion in multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, rooted in patients not taking the full course of their drugs, has meant that Europe is "nowhere near to being on track" to meet global targets on controlling the disease, said Michael Luhan of the Red Cross and Red Crescent federation.

The WHO has estimated that donors need to nearly triple spending levels to $56 billion over 10 years to halt the global spread of tuberculosis.

Luhan, the federation's tuberculosis coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, said European Union states had become too complacent about the disease in recent years, despite high rates of infection in neighbors such as Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus and Turkey.

"Tuberculosis has always been low on the EU agenda," Luhan told journalists in Geneva, where health experts are this week meeting on ways to confront Europe's tuberculosis threat.

EU expansion alone will multiply the region's tuberculosis exposure, he said. Migration from Eastern Europe and Central Asia will also raise risks of drug-resistant strains spreading in cities such as London, where tuberculosis infection rates have been steadily climbing over the last decade.

Some countries, including Latvia, have also been found to have cases of extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis, which does not respond to at least three of the six existing classes of second-line tuberculosis drugs, though de Colombani said the exact extent of this threat was not yet known.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Medecins du Monde and more than 20 other health agencies and non-governmental groups said European governments needed to intensify their tuberculosis fight.

"The hottest zones of drug-resistant tuberculosis are all around the periphery of the European Union," said Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Stop TB division.

"Investment in tuberculosis control must reflect the real emergency we are facing and be placed higher on the European agenda, especially in donor countries," he said.

Latvia: Vike-Freiberga Senses 'Nervousness In The Air' — Interview
Czech Republic/Forum 2000 – Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga at Forum 2000, Prague, 09-Oct-2006
Vaira Vike-Freiberga at Forum 2000 on October 9

PRAGUE, October 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Vaira Vike-Freiberga is president of Latvia, having been reelected in 2003. RFE/RL's Natalia Tchourikova and Kathleen Moore with Vike-Freiberga on the sidelines of the 10th annual Forum 2000 in Prague (October 8-10), a major international venue for exploring ways to avoid conflict. RFE/RL has a close relationship with Forum 2000, whose theme this year is "Dilemmas of Global Coexistence."

RFE/RL: First of all, what do you think of former Czech President Vaclav Havel's proposal to create minimum basic standards for cooperation between cultures, as he mentioned in his speech? And secondly, what is your comment on the North Korean nuclear test? Your country is part of NATO.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga: Well, I think we'll start with the simplest case, and that's this nuclear device being detonated. Whether you call it a bomb or anything else, it's quite evident that being able to effect such a detonation means, for all intents and purposes, that you're able to drop the bomb on somebody else's head. That's what it amounts to, and that's extremely serious, since we have in the world a series of agreements about the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, these were put into effect.

There have been attempts to have diplomatic talks with North Korea, even as recently as the EU-Asian summit in Helsinki a few weeks ago. The prime minister of South Korea said how they still keep trying to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, but alas, for a whole year they have not been responding, they have not been engaging in the six-party discussion that tries to dissuade them from using nuclear weapons.

This is a very bad example, because it means that diplomacy has failed, persuasion has failed, common sense has failed, and the desire for having such power has prevailed. There is one country that has done it in defiance of the international community, and the question is how many other countries will be willing to do it in defiance of the international community? What can the international community do about it, and what is it going to do? What is the United Nations going to do about it, what is the Security Council going to do about it? That, I think, is a burning issue.

About the debate this morning, I think that President Havel was posing a rhetorical question. He was not suggesting, if you like, a practical operational test, or something like that, or a document that we could sign. Although who knows, ultimately, it could amount to that. But he was suggesting this, I think, as a basis for dialogue.

In other words, when we are talking about a clash of civilizations and whatnot, when you really look at it seriously, you discover that civilizations do not clash among themselves. As it is already, they have these common elements which are the common moral basis. And there are plenty of them. It's not just the moral minimum. As some said, if each religious system was taken in terms of its spirit, and of its highest aspirations, then actually you wouldn't be talking about the strict minimum, you'd be talking about levels of excellence, and quite satisfactory ones.

The difficulty is with noncompliance with moral ideas. The difficulty is with deliberate disregard for all the basic principles, no matter how fundamental, starting with human life and then going on to human dignity, and freedom, and justice, and everything else which is so often trampled underfoot. And when brutality prevails over good sense, or over morals, again the question is, are we all powerless to face it? Or is there something that we can do, and is there something that we should do?

I think this is the question that we have not been quite addressing this morning, certainly in the course of the day, about the right to protect. It was mentioned once in the course of the day — about the ability to protect. This, so far, we have not addressed.

RFE/RL: Havel raised the question whether this minimum standard for cooperation should be part of the UN documents.

Vike-Freiberga: Well, as somebody pointed out, we already have wonderful documents at the UN, declarations that have been made. And as somebody else reminded us, even the Soviet Union had a wonderful constitution. So just having declarations is not enough, it's the compliance with them that really is the issue.

Georgian-Russian Tensions

RFE/RL: Madam President, how much of a concern to you as the Latvian president is the current crisis in relations between Russia and Georgia? And can you imagine a similar situation in which your country would have been involved? How would your country have reacted if Russia had showed such behavior as it showed in relation to Georgia?

Vike-Freiberga: Well, let's say that in our relations with Russia since 1991, we have had tense moments, to put it mildly, on several occasions. Among them, precisely at the moment when the withdrawal of the former Soviet troops was being effected, and it did take the whole of '94, '95, to do that. And there were some very tense moments at the time.

I think that we are reliving in Georgia the sort of thing that the Baltic countries went through 10 years ago. These are tense times. And, if you like, there's a nervousness in the air at the moment. But of course, what I notice from the news we've been getting — and so far I've only been seeing the news that we get in the international media, because I've been traveling around — is a reaction to what basically started out as a diplomatic incident, the expelling of people accused of spying, but also, of course, a special case, and that is the arresting of military personnel. And that is an unusual move on the part of Georgia; that has to be admitted.

And therefore a reaction from the part of Russia, which is not the usual one, to say spies being expelled, but a chain reaction of measures which seem to be increasingly getting out of proportion to the original incident which set them into motion. So it's a cause for concern, because among neighbors, we would like to have dialogue and the ability to follow international rules and procedures of international contact. I mean, the breaking of postal services is certainly not in the repertoire of good relations with your neighbors, obviously. Or expelling or deporting people from your country, etc.

RFE/RL: To continue the topic of Georgia-Russia relations, what kind of reaction might the international community have toward the problem? And do you think that this is only a problem of Georgia and the region, or do you think that this is a problem of the whole European context?

Vike-Freiberga: Well, cases of xenophobia, and racism, and prejudice, of course, happen everywhere. The United Nations had a special conference on it a few years ago in Durban. Obviously, we discovered cases of prejudice and oppression and mistreatment of a wide variety of groups that I think the world didn't even know existed. But I think among the cases of xenophobia of that sort are the cases against, say, Caucasian people living in Russia. There have been cases of murders, there have been cases of attacks, of beatings, where specifically the attackers have explicitly said this is why they're doing it.

Now, of course, we have skinheads and other extremists in other countries, as well, who occasionally will attack civilians in the street just because they simply don't like them. So we do have, on the one side, worldwide xenophobia, prejudice, violence among youth, particularly, which are specific problems that have to be addressed.

The question is, in this case in Russia, is this being supported by the government? Or is it being tolerated by the government to a greater extent than elsewhere? Because I do want to remind you that it does happen practically everywhere in the world. We have nasty incidents. The questions to look at are, how frequent are they, how systematic are they, and are they being tolerated by the authorities rather than being combated? That is the crucial question.

Latvians Embrace Boring Stability

RFE/RL: Could you comment on the elections in our country...? Latvia seems to be an island of political stability compared to what's going in Central Europe. How did you manage?

Vike-Freiberga: Well, we keep working at it, and working very hard, I must say. It doesn't come by itself. And we're lucky, of course. As a president, I'm very pleased that we have been steering the same course ever since we recovered our independence. We have changed governments, I have named a number of prime ministers, more than I would like, but the coalitions stay basically with the same political orientation, center and right, adopting European standards and values, integrating, catching up to the rest of Europe, which has enjoyed democracy and a free-market economy for far longer than we have.

We're becoming as boring as we can possibly be; I think that really is the idea. We have had such an interesting past that, frankly, there's enough for many generations, just in the people walking around. My generation and the ones even older have lived through too many interesting things in their lives. I think they've seen too much. Some of them have survived the gulags, and my generation has survived the war, and the postwar period in Latvia was no picnic, and neither was the period of Brezhnev and the others.

We have had mass deportations, we have had repression, we have had mass arrests and that period of torture. We have had people going into exile because they were not ready to live in that system. We have been through too much, and now I think people are happy to live boring lives and to have stability.

But there is a movement in Central Europe and elsewhere of countries being split in half. I think the Czech Republic is a case in point. But there are other countries that have that. The presidential elections in the United States; the elections in Italy; I think Trinidad and Tobago, a few years ago, had a parliament with 18 of one party and 18 of the other. And so it goes. In that sense, I think we are fortunate that we are not split evenly. You can have too much equality.

RFE/RL: What's the driving force that's uniting the political parties? Is it the trend to become as European as possible?

Vike-Freiberga: Absolutely. I think we're still lagging, in terms of, for instance, average income within the European Union. Now that doesn't exactly make you pleased and thrilled and proud to be in such a position. So the drive to get out of there is extremely strong, and for us it happens to be a priority at the moment. The economic question is a burning one.

UN Secretary-General

RFE/RL: You were a candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general. You joined the race relatively late, but you did get quite a bit of support. How disappointed are you [that you didn't get the nomination]?

Vike-Freiberga: I'm not disappointed at all. I think it was rather to be expected, but I'm very pleased, pleasantly surprised at the amount of support I got in such a short time. I'm particularly pleased at the expressed support that I have received from individuals from nongovernmental organizations, or from politicians in private, even if their countries actually, at the same time, were ready at the Security Council to go with [South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon], who apparently all the five permanent members could agree on without anybody giving a veto.

It's clear that the United Nations needs a secretary-general who will be supported by all five members of the Security Council; this is why the veto system is in place. This person needs the confidence of the Security Council, and then one can expect that the General Assembly will respect him.

What we need is somebody who can then, hopefully, marshal the support of as many countries as possible to carry out the reforms which are so badly needed, but which are at the moment being resisted rather strenuously.... I do wish him luck in pushing forward with those reforms, which are being strenuously resisted by many countries, but which are equally needed by all of us, including them.

NATO Membership Success

RFE/RL: In several weeks' time, you're going to host the NATO summit in Riga. Does it have any personal significance or symbolism for you?

Vike-Freiberga: Definitely, because when I took office back in '99, the prevailing opinion was that NATO actually needn't continue expanding. There was very much a question in the membership at the time. Was it wise even to include, in the previous summit, to accept the Czech Republic and Hungary and Poland as members of NATO in that expansion? Was it necessary? Was it wise? And certainly, is it necessary and wise to continue this expansion, to think about other countries, and specifically and concretely, should the Baltic countries even be considered? Should they be included?

Because, supposing they are included, is NATO capable of defending them? Militarily, does it make sense to have these three countries? Can they be defended, supposing they are attacked? According to Article 5, are they not going to diminish the security of NATO by being included, rather than adding to the security space?

It took some strenuous diplomatic efforts on the part of the newer members, and for the three Baltic countries it took particularly strenuous diplomatic efforts to convince the existing members of NATO. And we had support from some like Iceland immediately, and Norway and others who were enthusiastic about the idea, but others were less enthusiastic.

So it was a victory to accept the idea that NATO should expand because it's an area of peace and prosperity and tranquility in Europe that we want to benefit from, since we haven't had this benefit in the past. And that yes, doing so is wise, because then you don't have to worry about what happens in your immediate neighborhood, you are extending that space of security beyond.

And is it defensible? Yes, NATO has the largest military capacity of any body in the world in terms of military might and capability. So yes, any part of NATO can be defended militarily; it is defensible. And, of course, ever since then, these countries have been contributing, each in proportion to their size and means.

And we are proud, as the latest members, and the ones about whom there are really doubts as to whether this would be irritating to Russia. [The question was whether NATO should] actually be doing something which would be irritating to Russia. And we had to argue: let Russia worry about itself, and let NATO have a dialogue with Russia, but please, know that the Baltic countries are independent, allow them to express their wish, and then please evaluate them on their readiness to be members in good standing. Which they then did.

So we feel that we passed the test. We have been evaluated, we have been included, it's an accomplishment for us, we're proud of what we have achieved in terms of our security. But we also feel very much relieved, and we sleep easier at night at the thought that there is this security umbrella over our heads which will protect us in case of any sort of danger.

Ukraine's NATO Decision

RFE/RL: At the beginning of the year, there was an expectation that Ukraine would be invited to Riga, and that it would be offered a kind of signal for the start of talks about membership. Now, it's obvious that the Ukrainian delegation won't be present in Riga. Do you feel sorry about that?

Vike-Freiberga: We have been supportive of the forces within Ukraine who consider that it will be a wise move and a good investment in Ukraine's future to continue the reforms within that country. And I think that includes political reforms, economic reforms, and bringing their military strength and their defense forces up to a level where they're compatible with those of NATO.

We have been arguing for an open-door policy for NATO, but it is clear that, much as for the European Union, for a country to become closer to such an international body, there are certain preconditions. And the very first and most important is the expressed wish, of the politicians and the population, to make such a move.

Now, we have [heard] expressed wishes since after the Orange Revolution, from the president and those around him and supporting him, about the desire of Ukraine to come closer to NATO, and have closer collaboration. But this is not the case with his former opponent in the presidential elections, and now the current prime minister. And this means that Ukraine has not internally yet come to complete agreement as to the direction to take in the future.

Ukraine has to, first of all, gain the support of its population, and a sufficient majority of its population, to this orientation, so it can be fully supported by them, so that they can accept the commitment that it means, including the financial commitment in terms of improving their armed forces. And then, of course, all the reforms that go along with this closer collaboration, and possibly eventual membership if such a wish is expressed, and if politically the other members accept it.

This is something that is down the road. But at the moment, I think it's the political will and the popular acceptance of the idea that still has been a stumbling block in Ukraine. This is something that's in the hands of the Ukrainian people. I hope that they have a free choice in this. They are the ones who have the right to decide their future, a right to decide which way they wish to turn, and what is their orientation.

We would welcome them taking the same orientation that we did; that is, toward Western values and those things that have been elaborated within the framework of a free and democratic society and a market economy over the decades since World War II. Whereas we were under the system of totalitarian communism, we feel that we have a lot of catching up to do, and that Western Europe and its achievements could give us a helping hand in making up lost time.

In our case in Latvia, there was a strong commitment of our people to get away from that Soviet past and catch up to the rest of Europe. I think the population has to feel this before it can be ready to mobilize its resources.

RFE/RL: According to a recent survey, the support for Latvia's membership in NATO is almost 80 percent. It has grown steadily since Latvia joined NATO. What do you think is the reason for this support?

Vike-Freiberga: There are a number of reasons for it. I think it's also the idea of potential threats to the country being eliminated. In other words, belonging to a very strong alliance makes you sleep easier, because you know that should anybody decide to attack you, it's not only your own strength that will stand against it. You have the whole alliance to protect you. That is a big deterrent against anybody taking unfriendly measures against Latvia.

I think this is what the population appreciates because of the past that we've had. We tried to be a neutral country in the late '30s, and we were trampled by two totalitarian powers, one coming from the East and the other from the West. Our neutrality was not respected; it was not considered. Geographically, where we are, it simply was not convenient to our neighbors to do so. We are very leery of any kind of treaty that we've signed; we had signed treaties with our neighbors and so on, and they were not respected. We would like to see the sort of double security of an actual military deterrent making sure that our sovereignty never again should come under threat.

EU Expansion Fatigue

RFE/RL: I'd like to ask a question about EU expansion this time. What do you think of the news that increasingly expresses that after Romania and Bulgaria join, there should be a pause for the time being?

Vike-Freiberga: I think there are other countries, like Croatia, that are really proceeding extremely well with their negotiations. And at the moment when they have concluded all the 31 chapters, Latvia's official position is that we should keep the open-door policy and admit them. If, with other countries like Turkey, negotiations go slower, then of course the speed of negotiations will be the determining factor.

It's often not clear what is meant by this closer integration. It could mean a number of different things. For example, we in Latvia consider that our average income is lagging behind that of the other countries, but that's not a reason for us to remain outside. Quite the contrary. Joining the union will hopefully speed up the time that it takes to catch up economically. Similarly, I don't see what the advantage is [in delaying entry]; if the country has fulfilled the negotiations and the criteria, I think it should be admitted.

RFE/RL: One last question. Is it possible for a country, being a neighbor of Russia, to build a stable and prosperous democracy without being a member of a bigger European club like NATO or the European Union?

Vike-Freiberga: We didn't want to take a chance. (Laughs)

ICA Baltic AB agreed to acquire a minority stake in Rimi Baltic AB from Kesko Oyj
© 2006 FactSet Mergerstat, LLC
October 10, 2006

Riga, Latvia — ICA Baltic AB, a subsidiary of ICA AB, owned by Koninklijke Ahold NV, acquired the 50% minority stake in Rimi Baltic AB held by Kesko Food Ltd, a subsidiary of Kesko Oyj for EUR190 million (US$239.4 million). Rimi Baltic AB is based in Riga, Latvia and operates food stores.

Picture Album  

Another from Peters' trip in October, 2004.

Riga Canal Park

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