RIGA - In an interview on the apollo.lv news site on Aug. 25 this year, Prime Minister of Latvia Valdis Dombrovskis stated that the current policy executed by his government is not to try and stop people from leaving Latvia, but rather to encourage their ultimate return. Dombrovskis explained that it is unreasonable to expect people to stay in the country at a time of such high unemployment, and that appealing to purely emotional arguments is not the way to go.
His only solution was to work to stimulate economic growth in the country, as only creating jobs and reviving the economy could entice job seekers to remain. On Nov. 30, delfi.lv published an article by Kristians Rozenvalds, explaining the various economic burdens imposed on the country by the ever-increasing outward flux of workers. Rozenvalds mentions an increasing inability to pay taxes by businesses, which opt to terminate operations instead, in order to minimize the loss.
He also stresses this simple math – with more people leaving, there are more taxes to be shared by the remaining people, which has resulted in these recent talks of taxing almost anything slightly luxurious – motorbikes, jewelry, and even salt and sugar. The national airline airBaltic has announced it will charge for check-in at the airport; the toll for driving into the beachside town of Jurmala will be raised to 2 lats (2.85 euros), up from 1 lats. It is the little things that add up and make Latvian society so impatient and prone to protests like the ones earlier this week. Each little group affected by the increased taxes and fees, bikers and university staff alike, find strength in their own circles. The result is a whole lot of yelling and collecting of signatures, ending in the changes either being passed by Saeima, or falling by the wayside. Dombrovskis’ words about reviving the economy are all good and true, but the reality of the season of this budget planning from hell is inescapable. December marks the end of an absolutely nightmarish year, marked by protests in January, the infamous Parex bank takeover, and the seemingly frantic scraping of the bottom of the barrel for any previously unnoticed pieces to possibly tax. Anything. Rozenvalds points out that many of the unemployed in Latvia, receiving benefits from the state, feel they have deserved it and are not uncomfortable about the situation. He finds this alarming, as both parties – the state and the unemployed – should feel a slight uneasiness about not being able to offer/find work. However, it has to be recognized that all the uneasiness in the world will not make it so simple for thousands of jobless to find work. Certainly, the unemployed do believe they are owed something after having been made redundant, or otherwise, and rightly so. Yet, the previous years of high salaries not always contributed correspondingly in taxes, as official wages were, and still are in many cases in the private sector, minimal. Seeing the line at a pay-in ATM at the end of the month gives the game away.
Someone reminded me today of the 1990s and the way business was handled then in case payments were late or missing. They used to work in a wholesaler’s, and if the money was not coming in from client stores, a bunch of ‘guys’ would go down there and take whatever was left of the goods not paid for. If there was nothing left, they would take TVs, candy, shampoo or whatever else was available. Anything. The Latvia of 2009 has different methods to deal with economic hardship; we have the firm and not too flexible cushion of the IMF and Swedish banks to bounce off of. There is silent pride in the seeming unity felt by the nation, manifested in the aforementioned protests and signing of thousands of sheets of paper. Good is said to be lurking not far from this ongoing hiatus, as we had lost our sense of togetherness over the past years of wealth and prosperity. Who better to blame and admire simultaneously than the Latvian boarding a one-way Ryanair flight? “Who is going to deal with all this mess now, if everyone leaves? How can they leave at such a time, when we are finally united again, be it against our own government and economic shortsightedness? Yes, but how brave they are, how refreshing in a country of lazy moaners; besides, the money they earn will be sent right back, so things are not that bad. Good for them.” This is where our energies go – thinking up new taxes, dropping motorbikes in the Daugava to protest taxes, packing up and leaving. The in-between, the constructive and productive are left unseen. The forgotten are coming back into politics. The 1990s might be closer behind us than we thought.