Swedish film ruins bilateral confidence

  • 2001-07-19
  • Jorgen Johansson
JURMALA - Since Latvia's independence in 1991, the country's rural districts have been receiving a variety of goods from foreign aid organizations. Ronald Krathmann and Ragnar Berglund are two Swedes who have been working with aid missions in the Aluksne region in northeastern Latvia. But now their help is no longer wanted.

For 10 years Krathmann has been collecting donated items in Sweden, and Berglund has been driving the goods from Sweden to Latvia. There have been a few problems with people stealing crates of clothes, shoes and electronic equipment. But in general operations have been working smoothly. Until now.

"There has been a tremendous attitude change in the Aluksne region since Pal Holender's film 'Buy, Bye Beauty,'" he said. "I brought six Pentium computers from Sweden to a school where they can't even afford to provide the children with pens. The staff at the school said they really wanted them, but one of the town's local politicians said to me: 'We don't need these things from you.'"

The Baltic Times tried unsuccessfully to contact the politician.

In "Buy, Bye Beauty," Swedish film maker Pal Holender presents statistical information about different aspects of Latvia, but mainly he focuses on prostitution. The film claims that 50 percent of all Latvian women between 18 and 35 have had sex for money to make ends meet.

Berglund said this changed response had started very recently. He added that it has disturbed him and may prevent him from working any further with aid missions. But he will continue to run his saw mill in Gaujena, where his company provides small timber-style cottages.

Per Orneus, counselor at the Swedish Embassy in Riga, said he had heard rumors about people having problems supplying aid to Latvia.

"This information is not really confirmed. I haven't heard anything straight from a source. It's only hearsay," Orneus said.

Holender fails to show in his film where his statistics come from. During a debate in Sweden that followed the first national broadcast there, it was revealed that he had used estimates from various non-governmental organizations in Latvia.

After the film had screened, the Latvian Interior Ministry threatened to sue Holender for slander, and the Foreign Ministry was criticized by the Parliament for not trying to stop the film's screening in Sweden.

Krathmann said he can understand how people in Latvia must feel about the film, but also said that not all Swedes have seen it and certainly not all who have seen it agree with Holender.

Krathmann, an aid veteran, has been working in Latvia for 10 years. For the last five years he has helped organize summer camps in Jurmala for children living on the streets of Riga.

In the beginning everything was financed through a Swedish UNICEF group based in Hudiksvall, but Krathmann managed to convince the Latvian state of the importance of helping the kids involved in the program. Now there is state funding diverted for the camps, and the staff working with the children have begun to see improvements in the children's conditions.

But this year Krathmann has stepped aside to leave the operations in his daughter's hands. Sofia Krathmann said she would continue to operate these summer camps for as long as she was able to.