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RIGA - The sale of alcohol will not, after all, be banned in Latvia on Sept. 1, known as ‘Knowledge Day,’ despite Saeima’s approval of amendments to the Alcoholic Beverages Retail Law in its initial reading on Feb. 25. September 1 is the first day of the academic year in primary and secondary schools as well as in most of the universities in Latvia; unfortunately, it has turned into an awkward day because many underaged people have been choosing boozing as the way to celebrate the beginnig of the new academic year.
The drama started more than a month ago, when the Saeima voted for Sarmite Kikuste’s (New Era) proposal to ban the sale of alcohol on Sept. 1. With this vote, Sept. 1 was turned into a ‘prohibition day’ because the sale of alcohol would have been banned in all retail outlets.
This ‘not so well-thought-out’ law banned the sale of alcohol not just in stores, but in pubs and restaurants as well. Owners of pubs, restaurants and hotels expressed their discontent with the proposal because it would forbid the serving of wine and other alcoholic beverages to adults on this day.This provoked a wave of dissatisfaction from the Association of Alcohol Producers of Latvia as well, who claimed the proposal to be populistic and hypocritical, suggesting that laws of this type are more related to the upcoming parliament elections rather than designed with good intentions.
In defense, Kikuste pointed out that every year on Sept. 1, many adolescents have to seek medical attention because of alcohol poisoning, therefore the sale of alcohol should be banned on the date. Kikuste stated that her intention was to ban the sale of alcohol only in stores, saying further that “It is unnecessary to put all the blame on me,” explaining that “more than ten people” had discussed the proposal in Saeima’s National Economy Comission beforehand, and Latvia’s Saeima consists of 100 MP’s who should know what they are voting for.
The leader of National Economy Comission Vents Armands Krauklis (People’s Party) said “The comission had decided to suggest crossing out Kikuste’s proposal.” However, that did not happen.
President Valdis Zatlers, who had the final word on the ratification process, explained that it is necessary to combat underage drinking, but the proposal had not been discussed with representatives of those sectors of the economy which would be affected by the proposal. The proposal would not reach it’s goal, that of decreasing the consumption of alcohol among young people. Therefore, Zatlers decided not to ratify the proposal but sent it back to the Saeima for a second review.
In an interview with the daily Diena, the leader of New Era, Solvita Aboltina, claimed that the proposal was a mistake and that Kikuste had not coordinated the proposal with other members of the party.
There was a positive outcome in this: at least the ‘ill fated’ proposal brought the issue of underaged drinking in Latvia back to the surface again. Although it is illegal to sell alcohol to those under the age of 18 in Latvia, making Kikuste’s proposal seemingly unnecessary, adolescents can access alcohol quite easily if they wish. If the shop assistant refuses to sell alcohol to them, then chances are strong they will find someone who will buy it for them.
The amendments to the Alcoholic Beverages Retail Law, which permit the sale of alcohol on Sept. 1, were approved by Saeima in its final reading on March 25.