Estonia's Center Party is long overdue to dissolve, implode or otherwise undergo a significant internal upheaval.
Ever since the party's congress last summer, when Edgar Savisaar sat on the fence and refused to take a stand on accession to the European Union, thereby fomenting a split within the party, Estonia's most popular political force has lived on the brink. True, the party, which enjoys the support of one-fifth of the population, remained intact after the congress, but to many observers it was clear that the damage had been done: The next crisis might very well push the centrists over the brink.
That crisis has come. Fed up with Savisaar's heavy-handedness and authoritarian style, several party members have demanded change in party leadership. Enough of life in the opposition, they are saying; we need a leader who is more compromising so that we can take a more active part in the day-to-day decisions of government. However, the two members - MPs Liina Tonisson and Robert Lepikson - who dared utter accusatory statements about "Rhino" Savisaar were censored by regional party functionaries and now face expulsion. Savisaar maintains that he tries not to get involved in such squabbles, but it is unthinkable that a man who has been known to rule the party with an iron fist would not have a say in something as crucial as booting out two MPs.
Remarkably, the Center Party's problems have been given an added twist after Savisaar's visit to Moscow. Not unusual in and of itself - Baltic mayors often make trips to the Russian capital - the Estonian press and rightist politicians have jumped on Tallinn's mayor for his intention to sign an economic cooperation agreement with the Kremlin-run United Russia party. Signing up to any agreement with a party that routinely harasses Estonia and Latvia for alleged human-rights violations is at best odd, if not perfidious. True, Estonia needs to improve trade relations now that Russia's trade barriers will soon be removed, but negotiations should be more transparent given the delicacy of relations with Russia. At any rate, Savisaar's lone diplomacy is not helping the Center Party.
Will the Centrists remain intact? It is difficult to say. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Savisaar has invited the 27 signatories of the public letter to negotiations, which will probably take place in May. The signatories will demand more dialogue and influence in the formulation of party policy, and whether Savisaar gives it to them will largely determine the Center Party's fate. Many among the disgruntled are prepared to defect - possibly to the Social Democrats. Also, if Savisaar agrees to give the two renegade MPs the boot, the rift will occur. The choice is simple: either Savisaar learns how to share power, or he can kiss his party good-bye.
Thank you very much for your article ("Crime and occasional punishment" in TBT #402). I'm a Swiss artist and businessman living in Switzerland, where I met my girlfriend in Latvia. Because she was only allowed to stay in Switzerland for six months, I spent a lot of time in Riga over the following two years. I not only fell in love with her but also with Riga.
The first time my opinion of Riga was damaged was when I was in a nightclub in Riga's Old Town. I was hit by some drunk who seemed provoked by my talking English, and maybe also by my having a nice girlfriend. He just hit me. When I wanted to hit back, the bouncers grabbed me and threw me out onto the street. My girlfriend tried to explain what happened, but they didn't want to know what happened, and they just called her a bitch.
Then, half a year later, I wound up in hospital after being hit on the head in another nightclub. I still have an ugly scar from this "accident." But this time I didn't even bother going to the police, as nobody seems to care about such things.
Then, this Easter, the worst thing happened. I was in a nightclub just outside the center of Riga with my girlfriend, her brother and some friends. After an hour I lost consciousness and felt someone taking my watch off. The police came and roughly carried me away and put me in a cell for two hours. They told me to wait for someone from my embassy to come, but after two more hours they told me that no embassy staff was working. When I asked for my girlfriend, the policeman told me that they called the club and that she didn't want to come help me. I was then taken to hospital for a drugs test. After signing a protocol, the police took me home.
It also turned out that my girlfriend had also had her drink spiked, and she'd been robbed.
We decided to leave this country immediately as we couldn't believe what had happened to us. She doesn't want to live in Riga any more, because after this she doesn't feel safe any longer. And I also feel like I have lost a love - Riga.