WWII legacy: The wrong and the right
Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Latvian-born Australian Konrāds Kalējs, 87, for war crimes committed during the Nazi occupation. No arrest warrant has been filed yet, however. Latvia cannot ask Australia to extradite the Melbourne resident until the warrant is filed. The charges are based on allegations that in 1941 and 1942 Kalējs, as the commander of a police unit guarding a Nazi camp, took part in the killing of thousands of Jews.
Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Russia and the United States all contributed to the investigation to ensure enough evidence was gathered to file charges against Kalējs, although it is believed no eye-witnesses were willing to testify. Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem said that he was pleased that the Latvian authorities charged Kalējs and urged Latvia to immediately file for extradition.
Meanwhile Bruno Rozentāls, 75, a Latvian who rescued Jews from the Nazis, was honored in the United States. He spoke before Jewish communities and students in Washington and was received by Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in the US Congress. Rozentāls had been recognized as a "Righteous Gentile" by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel and awarded the Latvian Tristar Order.
Former prosecutor investigted
The Latvian Prosecutor-General's Office and the top national security agency, the Constitution Protection Office (SAB), are to investigate media reports of a bank account opened in Germany by former senior prosecutor Oļģerts Šabansks. Since the Šabansks account was opened in 1996, hundreds of thousands of dollars have passed through it. LNT television also reported that Šabansks was living in a luxury house near the Latvian capital, Rīga. Šabansks has failed to provide any reasonable explanation for how he came across the posh residence, which is registered in someone else's name.
Politics: tensions easing
Despite its earlier criticism of Economics Minister Aigars Kalvītis (People's Party), For Fatherland and Freedom has said it would not back an opposition-sponsored vote of no confidence against the economics minister. For Fatherland's decision signals an easing in recent tensions with the largest ruling parties—the People's Party and rime Minister Andris Bērziņš's Latvia's Way.
Swedish guns and NATO MAP
According to the Defense Ministry, the Latvian Army has significantly increased its potential—for a symbolic price. The Armed Forces purchased Swedish anti-aircraft defense battalion equipment, including 18 air defense guns, three mobile radars, five communications vehicles, eight mobile workshops and anti-tank grenade launchers, for approximately five percent of their value. The air defense guns, manufactured by Bofors, are used against low-flying planes, firing 300 shots a minute and reaching targets within a five kilometre radius.
Another step in meeting NATO membership criteria was taken when Defense Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis submitted Latvia's NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for 2001 to NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Political Issues Klaus Peter Klaiber. It is the second plan developed by Latvia on meeting NATO membership criteria. MAP-2001 has five main chapters dealing with political and economic issues, military aspects, resources, information security and legal issues.
Olympics: first ever gold and steroid ban
Igors Vihrovs, 22, surprised the gymnastics world by winning the Olympic gold. The sole member of the Latvian gymnastics team, Vihrovs, who had never won any event in international competition, upset Russian Alexei Nemov, the world's top gymnast, in the floor exercise. Vihrovs won with a score of 9.812 to Nemov's 9.800. Vihrov's coach, Artūrs Mickevičs, confessed that the maximum they were hoping for was the bronze. Olympic gold was a huge jump for Vihrovs after his 34th place at the 1999 world championships. With Aigars Fadejevs winning silver in the 50 km walk and a previous bronze taken by Vsevolods Zeļonijs in men's lightweight (73 kg) Judo, Latvia now has a full medal set.
However, fate of their teammate rower Andris Reinholds was nowhere near as glamorous, though. Reinholds is facing a life ban in professional sports after being ejected from the Games for testing positive to steroids. Reinholds, who finished ninth in men's single sculls, blamed Chinese herbal medicine for the high steroid level.
Social Report 2000
Almost half of Latvian residents consider their standard of living to be low, while only five percent say they live well, according to the Ministry of Welfare's annual Social Report, which assess social development in the country. In 1999, 45.9 percent of the country's residents viewed their living standard as low or very low, whereas slightly less than five percent described their living conditions as good or very good.
Some 49 percent said their living standard was intermediate. Although the health care financing that accounts for just 3.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was described as a growing concern, there are indications that the number, quality, and accessibility of social services are increasing. The 123-page report, containing facts on health, employment and social security, is available in English here.
And in other news...
- The Baltic arm of Russian oil giant LUKOil said an expected long-term crude supply deal with Lithuania's Mažeikių Nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) would not mean a drop in exports through Latvia's Ventspils terminal. LUKOil is the largest client of Ventspils Nafta (Ventspils Oil), providing roughly one-fourth of total transit through the Ventspils oil terminal.
- Latvia's economy grew by 4.8 percent year-on-year in the second quarter, outpacing analysts' expectations, which is being attributed to strengthening trade and manufacturing sectors. In the first half of 2000, Latvian GDP grew by 5.1 percent. The figures beat analysts' predictions. The statistics office now forecasts GDP growth coming in "closer to five percent" for the year.
- The three most popular politicians remained unchanged in September: President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga was followed by central bank governor Einārs Repše and Rīga Mayor Andris Ārgalis. However, the popularity of Rīga's mayor skyrocketed over the last month. The three most disliked politicians also remained the same: former prime minister Andris Šķēle, former Communist Party leader Alfrēds Rubiks and the leader of the crumbling New Party, Ainars Šlesers.
- Fertility rate slightly increased in Latvia for the first time since 1988. The number of births increased by five percent in 1999 to 986 children. The growth remained constant this year. The Central Statistics Bureau, however, notes that the number of deaths still exceeds the number of births.
- Some 2.4 percent of alcoholics receiving medical treatment are children under the age of 15. The youngest out of almost 2500 patients admitted to the State Alcohol Rehabilitation Center this year was only eight years old. In all, 4.6 percent of registered patients suffering from alcohol-related problems are school children.
- Famous saxophonist and composer Raimonds Raubiško died in Rīga. Raubiško, dubbed the best tenor saxophonist of the Soviet Union, spent his last years performing in his own jazz club.
- Prāta Vētra (better known to the world as Brainstorm) will open Fool's Garden's concerts in Germany in October. The Latvian pop-rock band received the invitation when Fool's Garden participated in the Valmiera Rock Festival in Latvia last year.
As of 23 September 2000
|1 US dollar||0.62|
|1 British pound||0.91|
|1 German mark||0.28|
Daria Kulagina, 29 September 2000
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