Top 10 events in Latvia in 2000

  • 2000-12-21
LANGUAGE LAW: Tensions surrounding the introduction of the law on state language lessened somewhat in 2000. But this was the year in which the law's abstract statements became concrete reality, in the form of regulations stipulating levels of language ability required of both public- and private-sector employees. The law, which among other things regulates translation into Latvian at public events, commercial broadcasting and submission of documents to the state, came into force on Sept. 1, amid angry protests from opponents and allegations by hard-liners that the government was going soft.

EBRD MEETING: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's annual general meeting took place in Riga May 20 - 22, joined by nearly 3,000 representatives from over 60 countries. The conference gave the green light to Riga as a possible host for such major international conferences, as the city has received significant investment in its infrastructure - a number of venues were completely reconstructed.

ICE HOCKEY: On May 6 the Latvian ice-hockey team scored its first ever major victory over Russia 3 - 2. About a thousand youngsters literally made the link between sport and politics by marching from the presidential castle to the parliament building where they were greeted by the just elected new government.

NEW GOVERNMENT: A new coalition government led by Latvia's Way party leader and former Riga's Mayor Andris Berzins was appointed by the Latvian Parliament on May 5. The ex-PM, People's Party leader Andris Skele, resigned from the post on April 12 over privatization squabbles.

SPORT MEDALS: On Sept. 24 gymnast Igors Vihrovs won the first Olympic gold medal in the history of independent Latvia. Altogether, Latvian sportsmen brought back from the Sydney Olympics one gold, one silver (distance walker Aigars Fadejevs) and one bronze medal (Vsevolods Zelonijs in the lightweight judo category). Soon after, on Oct. 15, cyclist Romans Vainsteins put Latvia on a pedestal when he won the Road Cycling World Championship gold medal in Plouay, France.

RIMI BOMBING: Two bombs exploded in the crowded RIMI supermarket in Old Town Riga on Aug. 17, killing one and injuring 34 people. Police have questioned three suspects in connection with the bombing, but so far no one has been arrested.

KALEJS: The prosecutor general's office spent nine months preparing a case against alleged Nazi war criminal Konrads Kalejs, who fled Britain to Australia in January. Representatives from seven countries gathered twice in Riga to assess the evidence before Kalejs was indicted in September. Another two and a half months would pass before an extradition request was made to the Australian authorities.

THAT WAS NICE: The EU summit in Nice Dec. 7-11 brought the Baltic states' accession hopes one step closer to reality. It was named the year's most important event that has had an impact on Latvia by the country's foreign minister, Indulis Berzins, because it gave an impetus to the EU enlargement process. "Despite the black scenarios, enlargement remained the determining factor, and the biggest winners were those nations, that did not participate in the decision-making, that is, candidate nations," Berzins said.

SOVIET WAR CRIMES: In January former Red partisan Vasilijs Kononovs was the latest person to be convicted of atrocities committed during the Soviet occupation of Latvia. But his conviction was overturned by the supreme court on grounds that prosecutors had not complied with the criminal code when preparing the case. Upon his release Kononovs was given Russian citizenship followed by a Latvian residence permit. The case contributed to tense relations with Russia.

PEDOPHILIA SCANDAL: The infamous pedophilia scandal, which broke in 1999, reached its peak in the year 2000.

On Feb. 17, the parliamentary investigative commission's chief, Social-Democrat MP Janis Adamsons, named three top-ranking state officials - then Prime Minister Andris Skele, Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs and the head of the State Revenue Service, Andrejs Sonciks - as being involved in the pe-dophilia scandal. The three men were later cleared from all charges by the country's prosecutor's office, which, in turn, asked the Parliament to authorize criminal prosecution of Adamsons himself for slander. However, the Latvian Parliament turned down this request.

Two convicted pedophiles were sentenced this year. The former head of the Mrs. Latvia beauty pageant, Ainars Eisaks, got two and a half years in jail on Aug. 31, while Andris Meinarts was sentenced to 10 years on Oct. 17 for 21 counts of sexually abusing minors.