RIGA - Amid a storm of pleas from local brewers and small-shop owners, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga signed a controversial law on April 28 forbidding the sale of beer in kiosks and stores after 10 p.m. beginning May 1.
The president later defended her decision in a press release, arguing that the law was necessary since it governed Latvia's relationship with other EU member states and set legislation on an aspect of the free movement of goods and alcohol into the country.
The president's press secretary, Aiva Rozenberga, explained that by not signing the law, Latvia would have been left open to the possibility of sanctions from other countries.
The law - officially, the Alcoholic Drinks Turnover Law - caused consternation among many Latvians, who feared that it would shut down the numerous beer gardens in Riga's Old Town and nullify much of the outdoor summer festivities for which the city is renowned.
The law will standardize the sale of beer by requiring that it be sold only in buildings after 10 p.m. and phasing out the sale of bottled beer during those same hours. Also, all beer gardens smaller than 20 square meters will no longer be able to sell beer after 10 p.m.
Sandris Vanzovics, in a "Beer Terror" editorial for the Latvian language Web site Apollo, lampooned the new law. "Just like a shot of vodka for us (and also beer after May 1st), from 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m., we will not be able to buy - or more precisely, will be able to buy but not legally - in shopping areas. Andropov's ideas live on and will not die," he wrote.
Dzintars Zakis, a member of New Era and head of the committee that drew up the law, allayed media-based criticism of the law.
"Beer will still be allowed to be sold in beer gardens after 10," Zakis assured The Baltic Times.
And indeed, beer has been sold in Riga beer gardens after 10 p.m. during the first days of May.
Each beer garden in Riga's Old Town is somehow attached to an existing restaurant - even if that building is around the corner and out of sight. Many see this nuance as the one sure way around the new law.
The city has given several beer gardens new licenses that extend their right to sell beer until September.
Still, critics contend that the law will harm kiosks, small newsstands that make part of their profit selling beer and other cafes around the country that are either smaller than the required size or lack the necessary annexed building.
The new legislation could particularly affect small cafes in the beach area of Jurmala, many of which do not typically have an attached building, as well as reduce profits from beer sales overall.
The law may also affect the sale of beer at outdoor concerts.
The Latvian Brewers' Association has predicted that annual beer sales will fall by 5 percent as a result of the new restrictions.
Beer, wine and alcohol will be sold only in bars, restaurants, and cafes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
In addition, the law will mandate that 10 percent of alcohol advertisements contain warnings on the substance's negative effects. Advertisements will also be forbidden on the external pages of magazines and newspapers.
Due to widespread concern, President Vike-Freiberga wrote an open letter to the appropriate committee and the Cabinet of Ministers on April 30, asking them to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the legislation.