• 2008-04-23

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

Just when you thought the quality of leadership in Latvia had reached dead-bottom, it manages to sink even lower. So atrocious has the situation become that 's forgive us for saying so 's we are inclined to believe there might be a quirk in the Latvian gene code that renders all who ascend to positions of power in the Baltic state into moral troglodytes, creatures living in their own dimension of feel-good megalomania and self-ordained impunity.

In the latest instance of appalling governance, the minister for electronic affairs, Ina Gudele, treated herself to an 800 lat (1,150 euro) birthday party last June at the expense of the Latvian taxpayer. Worse, the money spent on the bash had been earmarked for a workshop for municipal officials on the joys of e-governance. The seminar was cancelled, and the money found a new, more wholesome purpose.

Once the press learned of the garish gig, Gudele's days were numbered. She offered to resign, but Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, contrary to his obligations to serve as a disciplinarian, declined, saying that the minister had tried to make amends. But public pressure was unrelenting, and even the president said Gudele should do the right thing and step down. Gudele tried again, and this time Godmanis accepted the offer.

It is worth noting that Gudele is a member of the Greens and Farmers Union, a party whose ethical fortitude is akin to last year's compost. Party chieftain Aivars Lembergs faces serious charges of money laundering, bribery and tax evasion 's the largest corruption case in Latvia 's while former Prime Minister Indulis Emsis was caught carrying around a briefcase stuffed with cash. He left it in a dining hall, and then gave investigators contradictory testimony. And these guys are running the show?

One wonders how many other unsung accomplishments lie hidden from the public eye. Many believe that all Latvia's ministers are guilty of similar transgressions, and that the e-minister was simply targeted by an unseen enemy. Naturally a number of conspiracy theories in this regard have appeared. According to one, Gudele was the "fall gal" in Lembergs' efforts to shore up control of the Greens and Farmers Union. Another hypothesizes that Gudele was punished for cooperating with the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the nation's top security agency that has cracked down on Russian spies in our backyard.

No doubt news of the birthday party was leaked intentionally, but more than any ulterior motive we are alarmed by the complete lack of moral judgment on the minister's part. How can an honorable, dignified person even think of throwing a lavish party for himself/herself at a time when pensioners can't afford to pay their bills and put food on the table, let along actually going ahead with it?

One would expect such egotistical, "ivory tower" behavior from Russian leaders (e.g., recall last year's Gazprom anniversary party in the Kremlin, where Deep Purple and Tina Turner performed), but not in Latvia. It just goes to show that Homo Sovieticus is alive and well in Latvia despite the grandiloquent pronouncement of European integration. If Gudele showed us anything, it was that. Thank you, Ina. And happy birthday.