Russia tough on Latvia again
Russia renewed its complaints concerning human rights violations in Latvia and other Baltic states last week. "They [Latvians] even invented a new term there: non-citizens. There are 600,000 such non-citizens in Latvia. This is a matter of special concern and anxiety for us," Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in Russian newspapers.
While attending the European Union summit in Stockholm, Putin said a fair solution to the problem of Russian-speaking residents in the Baltic countries should become one of the factors in the EU integration process.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized Latvia over, what it called, another series of events honoring Latvian troops of the Waffen-SS. "Where is Riga's proclaimed adherence to common European principles, including such a major one as respect for the verdict of history on fascism, not to mention the assured desire to cement friendship with Russia?" the ministry asked.
Additionally, Russia has stopped transporting imports from Asian countries through the Baltic states. This will slightly reduce the cargo turnover in Latvian ports.
OSCE urges faster Latvian citizenship drive
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged Latvia, and its large Russian-speaking minority, on Thursday to ensure that more minority members obtain citizenship quickly.
"This problem can only be solved by active steps from both sides... I hope more non-citizens will use the naturalization process," OSCE Minority Rights Commissioner Max van der Stoel told journalists after meeting Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš.
Van der Stoel also said eliminating bureaucracy in Latvian language proficiency tests, which are required to obtain citizenship, would help to boost the number of naturalized persons.
About 550,000 (23 percent) of Latvia's inhabitants are non-citizens. They are mainly Russian speakers who arrived in the Baltic state during the 50 years of Soviet occupation and were denied citizenship when it regained independence in 1991.
Latvia court denies early release
A Latvian court, on Thursday, rejected a plea to cut short the jail term of an 85-year-old ex-Soviet security policeman who is in poor health.
Mihail Farbtuh, a former department head at the NKVD, the predecessor to the KGB security service, has served 11 months of a five-year sentence for his part in the deportations of families from Latvia to Siberia in the 1940s.
The prison warden made the request based on Farbtuh's age, physical frailty and inability to take care of himself due to various unspecified ailments, a state prison service official said. "The law would only allow a release if a convict has developed a serious new ailment or a mental disease, of which neither was the case," a Latgale district court official told Reuters.
Still no Riga coalition
Two weeks after local elections, political parties in the Riga City Council are still in the process of forming a ruling coalition. The main task is to balance the interests of the local election winners, the Social Democrats (Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party), who are in the opposition nationally, and For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, one of the ruling parties, who came in third in local elections.
The Social Democrats, who won 14 seats in the 60-member Council, would like to see their party joined with Fatherland, with its 11 seats, as a coalition nucleus alongside smaller parties. Fatherland would rather join forces with its partners in the ruling government coalition—the People's Party (six seats) and Latvia's Way (five seats).
Latvia's Way called on its coalition partners to take initiatives from the Social Democrats, also promising to support Fatherland's mayoral candidate, Andris Ārgalis. The Social Democrats have nominated Gundars Bojārs, son of LSDSWP Chairman Juris Bojārs, for the mayoral position.
New head of president's chancellery steps down
The new head of the president's chancellery, Aivars Zaķis, resigned last week over the controversy sparked by the fact that he was in charge of KGB cases at the Prosecutor General's Office in the 1980s. The controversy began when a group of former political prisoners sent a letter to President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, objecting to Zaķis' appointment.
Former head of the president's chancellery Mārtiņš Bondars, who ran unsuccessfully in the local elections, will resume his previous duty at the presidential office.
And in other news...
- The leaders of the three Baltic Border Guard agreed to cooperate toward better border control and improved legislation, which would allow the three states to reach the levels necessary for EU requirement compliance.
- Latvia will install disinfectant barriers at all land border crossing points by 31 March to minimize the chances for Foot and Mouth disease to enter the country. Latvia has already banned the import of meat and meat products, milk and dairy products, as well as animal feed and grain, from 34 countries affected by the disease. Among the countries whose products are denied transit shipments through Latvia are the UK, France, Argentina, the Netherlands and Ireland.
- More than 58 percent of Latvians are concerned about the Americanization of their culture, according to the public opinion studies center SKDS. More than 27 percent of those polled agreed with the opinion that the Americanization of Latvian culture is taking place, and 31.2 percent tended to agree rather than disagree. The most concerned were people above 55 years of age, comprising 71.3 percent.
- Cyclist Romāns Vainšteins won the sixth stage of the Tirreno Adriatico cycling race beating Switzerland's Markus Zberg and Italy's Marco Serpellini, as well as the overall leader, Russian Sergei Ivanov.
- Tele2 AB, the owner of the Latvian Baltcom GSM mobile operator, awarded Siemens AG a contract, for an undisclosed sum to act as the supplier of new GSM networks to its subsidiaries in Latvia and Lithuania. The order includes delivery and installation of base stations and switches to facilitate services to the subsidiaries' 300,000 customers in the two Baltic nations.
- Minister of Finance Gundars Bērziņš and the Bank of Latvia President Einārs Repše signed the Economic Policy Memorandum between the government of Latvia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under the memorandum, Latvia's national budget deficit shall not exceed 1.75 percent of the GDP this year.
Ieva Raubiško, 24 March 2001
- Archive of Latvian news reviews
- Archive of articles on Latvia
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on the Baltic states through CER
- Return to CER front page