• 2007-11-14

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

The announcement that Aigars Kalvitis and his Cabinet would resign Dec. 5 swept across Latvia like a draft of fresh air through a crack in an outhouse. This has been the single worst government in Latvian history, and we can only wish it good riddance. That's the good news. The bad news is that it would appear the same batch of compromised misfits will lead the next government 's same incompetence, different faces 's suggesting that the mismanagement of the imperiled Latvian state could be prolonged indefinitely.

We will be brutally frank: Kalvitis is a liar. In an interview to The Baltic Times in February 2005, not long after he became prime minister, he said that Andris Skele, former prime minister and founder of the People's Party, was only a rank-and-file member. Rumors that Skele was a Richelieu-type manipulating the mechanisms of state were untrue, Kalvitis told us (To be sure, he repeated this statement several times to various media, but we're allowing ourselves to take it personally). In recent weeks, however, Latvia has learned otherwise. Several esteemed People's Party members have come out and said that Skele is, in fact, very active behind the scene, interfering on a constant basis and dictating how MPs should vote. The People's Party has all along been The One Person's Party. Skele's influence has become so nauseous that the bravest members have asked him to leave.

The Kalvitis-led government has also been utterly incompetent in economic policy. Despite repeated warnings as early as 2005, the Cabinet failed to acknowledge that certain imbalances were forming in the economy 's real estate, construction, labor market 's and that the economy as a whole risked overheating. Ministers such as Ainars Slesers and Martins Roze ranted about global trends and misled Latvians into thinking the government policy had no influence on macroeconomics. So Kalvitis and Co. continued to spend, knocking out deficit budgets and harping on the need to catch up with Western European living standards as quickly as possible. Now the country boasts 13.2 percent annual inflation, and many Latvians are struggling to cope with skyrocketing food prices. Having babies is simply too expensive, so the country's demographics worsen.
The Kalvitis-led government has been embarrassingly shameless. The former speaker of Parliament, Indulis Emsis, gave false testimony to prosecutors and was forced to resign, while his boss, Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, is under house arrest for bribery and money laundering. Yet their party, the Greens and Farmers Union, continues to rule the country.

Finally, Kalvitis' government has brazenly attempted to manipulate law enforcement agencies. The recent episode with the anti-corruption bureau and Aleksejs Loskutovs shows to what extent Skele and Kalvitis are prepared to befoul Latvia's reputation in the international community for the sake of their own narrow interests. Their vanity is so entrenched that they failed to grasp the significance of a recent speech by U.S. Ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey, who publicly raised the issue of Latvia's democratic integrity. Coming from a friend like the United States, any commonsensical Latvian should be very concerned. Skele and Kalvitis, however, dismissed the ambassador's speech.

It's been a theater of the disgusting 's Grand Guignol in the finest tradition. Alvis Hermanis, director of the New Riga Theater, would know. As he said this week, "I do not doubt that sooner or later we will be as prosperous materially as 'Old Europe,' but do we have to lose every spiritual thing on the way? I think that's very, very dangerous... I consider that the state of Latvia is morally bankrupt, and as to all of the possibilities Latvians have been given in the last 15 years 's they've been messed up."