The Latvian Socialist Party's congress unanimously re-elected Alfrēds Rubiks, the former leader of Communist Party in Soviet Latvia, as the party's chairman. The Socialists decided that they will participate in next year's municipal elections together with the movement For Equal Rights and the National Harmony Party, its partners in a left wing alliance with 16 seats in the current Parliament.
At the congress, Rubiks reiterated traditional slogans opposing Latvia's movement towards the European Union and NATO and against privatization of large state-owned companies.
Keeping NATO hopes alive
The US could not predict when a consensus would be reached to admit the Baltic states into NATO, said a published Defense Department report, as NATO defense ministers met in Brussels for their regular year-end conference. It gave the Baltics non-committal support for their hopes of joining the alliance.
"It is difficult to predict when a consensus will be reached within the alliance to invite one or more of the Baltic states or other partners to join," the report said. "This ultimately will depend upon their respective efforts to prepare for the burdens and responsibilities of membership," it added. The report emphasized that no non-NATO country will have a veto over decisions of the Alliance.
Public approval of EU, NATO stable
Support among Latvians for joining the European Union (EU) has risen in recent months but remains below stronger backing seen a year ago, with 45.3 percent supporting EU entry and more than a third against it, according to a poll commissioned by the government.
The number of Europhiles increased from 44.5 percent in an August poll, with the number of Eurosceptics also climbing from 34.2 percent to 32.4 percent. The number of undecided respondents slid to 20.5 percent in the latest poll. Last year, support swung from an all-time low of 36.6 percent in February, after the European Commission scandal, to a peak of 50.8 percent in August.
Another poll showed that 66.3 percent of Latvian residents are ready to defend their country in case of a military conflict and only 29.1 percent would stay out of it. Over 77 percent of ethnic Latvians and more than half of non-ethnic Latvians said they would take active part in defending the state.
Residents especially approved of the defense cooperation between the Baltic states; nearly 90 percent said such cooperation was necessary and very vital, while merely 6.6 percent felt negative about it. Over 21 percent are fully convinced that Latvia should join NATO and 32.1 percent believe there is partial need for NATO membership.
NATO membership is particularly favored by ethnic Latvians (69.5 percent) and non-ethnic Latvians with Latvian citizenship (62.5 percent). Negative attitudes towards joining international defense structures is shared by 32.6 percent of Latvian residents, who believe that NATO-related expenses will outweigh benefits and the country will lose its independence. Participation of Latvian armed forces in international peacekeeping operations is approved of by 61.1 percent, with 28.8 percent disapproving.
Although the government agreed to gradually set up an anti-corruption office on the basis of the Anti-Corruption Council Secretariat, the new office will not be functioning fully for at least another two years. The government failed to find adequate funding for the declared priority. Meanwhile, the EU's PHARE program has spent most of its anti-corruption program funding in Latvia on paying for consultancy fees.
Meanwhile, the Saeima passed the law on the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the goal being coordination of the state's national legislation on tackling corruption issues within the criminal law sector and improvement of international cooperation in combating corruption.
More and more naturalization
President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga admitted that the ban prohibiting former KGB members from obtaining citizenship could be reviewed in a couple of years.
The president questioned whether the clauses limiting rights of former KGB officials, Interfront activists and Communist Party members should remain unchanged 10 to 15 years after Latvia regained its independence. The Naturalization Department said that by the end of 2000 there will be 550,000 non-citizens in Latvia, down from 700,000 few years ago.
Latvian students ahead of Americans?
The United States may well be the world's only superpower, but not necessarily when it comes to brainpower in math and science. International test results released last week showed that Latvian eighth-graders scored better than their counterparts in the much wealthier United States.
This is hardly a cause for celebration, however. Both Latvians and Americans are just above average when compared with their peers around the globe. The study showed results of Latvian students have improved in Latvia over the last four years.
And in other news...
- Iceland's Ķslandsbanki-FBA is planning to become strategic investor in Latvia's Rietumu Banka, Latvia's sixth-largest bank. Rietumu Banka said the board of Ķslandsbanki-FBA, the leading Icelandic bank, approved the purchased of 56.2 percent of shares in Rietumu Banka. The value of the deal and the investment by the Icelandic bank will be some USD 27 million. The acquisition, if completed, will continue the steady expansion of Nordic banking institutions in the Baltic states.
- Economics Minister Aigars Kalvītis met Moscow region Governor Boris Gromov and Moscow Deputy Mayor Valeri Shaltsev during his trip to Moscow to participate in the meeting of Central and Eastern European economics ministers. Upon return to Riga, Kalvītis proudly declared, "it was the first time in recent history when economic issues with Russia were discussed without political pressing."
- Swedish bank Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) said combined assets of its three Baltic holdings—Latvia's Unibanka, Estonia's Ühispank and Lithuania's Vilniaus Bankas—amounted to SEK (Swedish krona) 24.9 billion (about USD 2.5 billion), which is 28 percent of the Baltic banking sector's total assets.
As of 8 December 2000
|1 US dollar||0.64|
|1 British pound||0.89|
|1 German mark||0.27|
Daria Kulagina, 8 December 2000
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