NAIL-BITER: Oligarch Aivars Lembergs is among those blamed for massive corruption and economic problems in Latvia.
RIGA - “There is no country in the world which has become prosperous by regularly cheating its own people and squandering funds for mediocrity, instead of greatness,” proclaimed former Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) chairwoman Zaneta Jaunzeme-Grende as she announced that she has joined the political party All for Latvia!, reports news agency LETA.
In a public letter explaining her motivation to enter politics, Jaunzeme-Grende points out that she has been politically neutral until now. “I wish to remain and live in Latvia, but not in a country controlled by oligarchs,” she emphasized.
The former LCCI chief said that the only acceptable way to get rid of oligarchs and their 20-year reign over Latvian politics is for parties that defend the interests of the country’s people to win the upcoming elections. Up until now, the success of many Latvian political parties in elections was dependent on the financial goodwill of some privatization era “heroes,” which the parties had to “pay back” when they gained power, Jaunzeme-Grende believes.
“I have chosen to act and join a party that carries out its promises and acts with a conscience. This party is All for Latvia!” Jaunzeme-Grende stated.
She urges each Latvian citizen to evaluate the current situation and choose their party now, not waiting for “another pre-election show sponsored by oligarchs.”
Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, continuing on his bandwagon against alleged state-wide corruption surrounding the so-called oligarchs, was in Vienna last week to take part in a World Economic Forum session devoted to European and Central Asian issues.
On the first evening of the forum, on June 7, the president took part in a discussion with other heads of state about anti-corruption issues, saying that “over the course of 20 years, Latvia has gone through difficult reforms which laid the foundations for democracy and ensured the country’s economic growth. The development of democracy is an ongoing process, as has been seen in the most recent events in Latvia.”
Zatlers added that “as we improve our political culture, we also increase the level of the rule of law in the country,” but he also noted that these changes require long term work and public understanding.
“Economic growth can be ensured if the business environment is transparent and honest,” Zatlers told the audience. “Only then can we ensure that the potential of business is put to full use. We need orderly legal regulations and the belief that they will be implemented effectively if domestic and foreign investors are to feel certain that the business environment is an honest one. That is why Latvia is struggling to ensure that its political environment is more friendly and, thus, more competitive in terms of business and investors.”
A demonstration, the so-called people’s rally referred to as the ‘Oligarchs’ Funeral - Bid Your Oligarch a warm farewell!’ was held on June 8 in Riga with a group of artists and construction workers conducting prep-work - putting together a three-headed ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ monster, which was to eventually be set ablaze. This is symbolic of the people’s refusal to keep their eyes and minds shut to the wrongdoing in Latvia.
As Latvian Intellectual Development Fund Chairman Viesturs Dule said, the organizers have other solutions as well to unite the people’s potential until the next Saeima election this fall. The demonstration was described as “apolitical.”
“We can be a strong, honest, intellectual and prosperous nation, if we refuse to cooperate with the corrupt system or those people connected to oligarchs, who for dozens of years have hindered Latvia’s development,” Dule declared.
Organizers asked “mourners” to bring flowers and candles.
In further rising activity to bring the oligarchs - widely considered to include Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, former Prime Minister Andris Skele and MP Ainars Slesers - to heel, the Internet is emerging as a useful tool in the struggle.
More than 2,000 people have voted on proposals published at the public initiative platform www.manabalss.lv (my voice). They have voted for a proposal to amend Saeima rules of procedure, so that if a public initiative is signed by at least 10,000 people on the Internet, it is also included on the parliament’s agenda. Many have also signed an amendment that would make it possible for the authorities to establish the real owners of offshore companies.
In order to sign the initiatives, residents must log on to the site via their Swedbank, Latvijas Krajbanka, SEB bank Internet-bank or draugiem.lv, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The author of the idea of manabalss.lv previously said that the public initiative platform would allow the nation to fully exercise its power. “Latvia’s democracy is young, and politicians believe that when they are elected to Saeima they are in power, but the public initiative platform will change the current situation and the nation will be able to rule the state, in front of their computers,” said Erts.
In a struggle against the grain, in a paid broadcast address on LNT on June 12, Lembergs declared that President Zatlers is “lying, and counting on the fact that no one can check his information.” This in regard to the president’s view that decisions in Saeima are made in the interests of oligarchs.
Lembergs said that Zatlers’ claim that Saeima and Cabinet decisions are made in Lembergs’ interests is untrue, “proven by the fact that he has not said what these decisions are.” The besieged mayor, who is back in court facing numerous criminal charges, also denied that Ventspils has any advantages in vying for and receiving state budget money or EU funds.
The ‘Seaside Mayor’ opined that the “smear campaign” against him is financed by the “international oligarch” George Soros, “whom Zatlers met with in a cordial atmosphere in Soros’ N.Y. apartment during his U.S. visit,” though Lembergs offered no proof of his allegation.
Soros, through the Open Society Foundation, has been a major benefactor for Latvia, and much of Eastern Europe since independence, in pushing for open and transparent society, democracy and accountability in government, ideas abhorred by Latvia’s oligarchs and power elite. They have for years fought to force Soros’ activities out of the country.
Last week’s online edition of the government’s official newspaper Latvijas Vestnesis includes Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ (Unity) announcement and evaluation of the recent presidential vote - in which Andris Berzins, an insider to the group of oligarchs, was elected Latvia’s new president on June 2 - and the government’s further actions. Dombrovskis points out that “a majority of Saeima members did not take into account society’s demand for politics without the oligarchs’ influence and punished President Valdis Zatlers for his courage.”
“I wish the next president, Andris Berzins (Union of Greens and Farmers), to listen to society and continue combating the oligarchs’ influence in politics. The nation will express its opinion on July 23, which will provide a clear signal to the new president. I will continue to work in order to ensure stability, economic recovery and to overcome the consequences of the crisis,” emphasized the prime minister.
Politics is a sleazy business in Latvia, with money rather than competence, in most instances, running the machine. With many people in Latvia voting with their feet, leaving a country that is in challenging economic times and who are frustrated with the oppressive grip of the oligarchs, those that remain will have their chance in the July 23 referendum to throw out the current government. Nonetheless, they will confront tough choices if there are to be new elections in the fall, as most on the ballot will be the same faces that are in Saeima now.