Will joining EU and NATO benefit Latvia?

  • 2000-07-13
  • By Memo Merlino
Following NATO's evolution into a peace and justice-keeping force after Kosovo, the organization should be regarded by Russia as a non-aggressive force. By the same token, NATO should interpret the Chechen war by Russia as an attempt, brutal as it is, to keep the underbelly of the turbulent Islamic world at bay. Islam is a powerful force that extends from parts of China to north and central/west Africa. Such Islamic force has been troublesome to the West, Russia and China. Democratizing Islamic nations has proven almost impossible, even among nations with a developed market economy.

Admitting all nine applicant nations to NATO at the same time is the right policy, as it does not suggest creeping up to the "Russian border." Latvia, as the other eight nations, can then become part of a military organization whose mission is to maintain peace and resolve conflict. NATO should be assigned, in this respect, a major role in Northern Ireland, until a lasting peace would develop in that troubled part of Europe.

Joining EU, on the other hand, will bring benefits to many, but also will bring hardship to a few. In terms of age groups, the young will be the beneficiaries with more attractive and better paying jobs, or entrepreneurial opportunities, while the middle-aged will further feel alienated from the Latvian society, which is further moving away from the Soviet-style order of things. The old on meager pensions will be the worst off, as pensions will not be increasing fast enough to keep up with the rising prices of goods and services brought about by the rising standard of living.

In terms of industry groups, the high technology, communications, and service industries will fare the best. The small to large manufacturers will have their job cut out for them, as they will feel mounting pressures from competitors from other parts of Europe. There must be a revolution in management style of these Latvian companies if they are to survive.

Finally, the agricultural industry will fare the worst. The Latvian family farm and small farm will literally disappear. EU has a surplus of farm products caused by subsidies in various countries, and the competition to bring to market crops and livestock is ferocious. The commodity market, of which farm products are a part, has been a world market way before the globalization of business was invented. Therefore, there is no hope for the small Latvian farmer. Or is there?

The Latvian small family farm is part of a tradition, the same as the beautiful Latvian songs, poetry, music and dance, all crowned into the Latvian language. All together it is called the Latvian culture.

The small farm is part of a landscape that is still pristine in Latvia, almost bucolic, and it mixes well with the 17th century architecture of villas and old buildings disseminated in the countryside, and the intermittent forest, which makes a tourist enjoy the peacefulness of the land. Small farmers should be praised for what they do, and for their very hard work. They are a real value to the country, and therefore they deserve to exist and prosper.

The Latvian government's policy should be designed along the lines of the policy of the French government which many years ago learned to appreciate the small farmer of Southern France, which would have lost its charm from the tourist point of view had the farms been industrialized. Therefore, out of the tourist budget of the French government came funds to support the small farmers, as they became an asset for the country, not a liability. Latvia's government should do the same or see the demise of the small farmer and the countryside, with much bigger losses for the budding tourist industry.

The small farmers' union and other farm organizations should lobby the Latvian government for a new policy and a new vision for the family farm to fit in with the lovely Latvian culture and landscape.

Memo Merlino is a freelance writer living in Valmiera, Latvia.