RIGA - On Dec. 11 a passionate demonstration took place on the doorstep of the Saeima, protesting the upcoming territorial reforms that will merge many of Latvia's smaller rural regions and liquidate smaller district authorities.
Protesters, many of whom were dressed in Latvian folk costumes, carried fiery placards reading, "May Titurgas Novads live!" and "Undemocratic reform 's No!" An estimated 100-150 people attended the protest.
"Outrageous territorial reforms benefit only greedy political interest groups," a protester told The Baltic Times.
However, supporters of the reform have argued that it would, in fact, benefit the poorer regions of Latvia's countryside.
The purpose of the administrative-territorial reform is to establish administrative territories capable of economic development with territorial local governments, which would ensure the provision of good quality services to residents. In accordance to the Latvian Law on Administrative Territorial Reform, the territorial reforms are to be completed in time for the next local government elections in 2009.
Many of Latvia's citizens feel that the reforms are unfair 's especially citizens who live in Latvia's wealthier regions.
According to one concerned citizen, "the reforms will merge some of the poorer regions with rich ones, who will have to share their municipal tax money."
Thus, it is believed that the richer regions will be negatively impacted by the reform. There are also concerns that territorial reforms will result in further travel distances for citizens from small towns to reach medical care facilities.
Thursday's protest brought together representatives from across Latvia, and included citizens from Bauska, Ventspils, Titurgas Novads, Islices Novads, and other regions that will be affected by the reform.
Protesters united their voices in song, as is typical at Latvian political protests, chanting folk songs.
The issue of territorial reform has been on the table for almost eight years.
On July 3, 2001 the Latvian Government accepted 's in principle 's an administrative territorial reform envisaging cutting about 80 percent of the 522 local authorities. At the time, this reform was supported by the majority of society, according to public opinion polls conducted by the SKDS pollster.
The purpose of the reforms was to improve local services, to rationalize the allocation of hospital funding, and to meet the European Union standards for solid waste management, water supply, sanitation, and wastewater treatment.
The third and final reading of the proposed "administrative territorial and populated areas law" is set to take place on Dec. 18.
Different versions of the amendments proposed as few as 50 or as many as 167 municipalities, but in the end the government and the parliament settled for 109 municipalities and nine large towns.