Weekly News Update: August 13th-19th

Welcome to the first official edition of Latvia Weekly, which will summarize the major news stories taking place across Latvia each week. For more information on any of these stories, please follow the links to the stories at the end of each summary. Links will be given in English when available, although some of these stories have not been published in English-language sources.

Pilgrims in Aglona

This weekend, thousands of pilgrims have completed the yearly journey to the town of Aglona in Latgale (eastern Latvia), which is considered the most significant place in Latvia for Roman Catholics. According to LSM which has been covering the pilgrimage in a daily series, over 1,300 pilgrims made the journey by foot this year. For more information about Aglona, the basillica, and the yearly pilgrimage, you can visit their official travel portal here.

Sources: LSM, Baltic Times

Eight parliamentary candidates banned

The Latvian election commission announced Friday that eight candidates on party ballots for this October's Saeima election will be barred from participation in the election due to criminal background check failures, collaboration with the KGB, or psychological incompetency. These include:
  • Katrīna Brandala (Progressives)
  • Edgars Krūmiņš (Latvian Regional Alliance)
  • Zigfrīds Laicāns (For an alternative)
  • Aivars Silinieks (Latvia centric party)
  • Valdis Taupmanis (For an alternative)
  • Aivars Zablockis (Action party)
  • Nikolajs Žeļezņakovs (Action party)
No decision has yet been made by courts regarding Latvian-Russian Union candidate and former member of European Parliament Tatjana Ždanoka, who was an active member of the Soviet Communist Party.

Sources: LSMir

High, but falling unemployment

According to figures released this week, unemployment levels fell this quarter compared to the first quarter of the year. Overall unemployment is at 7.7% compared to 8.2% in the winter. This is still the highest rate in the Baltic States, and higher than the EU average of 7.4% For more detailed statistics, you can check this LSM report (in Latvian) which includes analysis of youth unemployment and other factors.

Representatives from the Bank of Latvia this week warned that despite the good news that unemployment has decreased, employers are experiencing difficulty finding properly qualified employees and that rises in wages have not correlated with rises in productivity.

Sources: LSMDiena

No end in sight to high rent despite deteriorating building conditions

According to a report by LTV's Panorama this week, demand is expected to continue to far exceed the amount of available apartments for rent, especially in Rīga but also in other cities throughout the country. Various parties have included the creation of more affordable housing options in their platforms for the upcoming parliamentary election in October, but rent prices are not expected to fall in the near future.

Sources: LSM, TVNET

Furthermore, Panorama drew attention to the state of apartment buildings in the country. Only 2% of all apartment buildings have been constructed in the past 20 years, and the government has loosened regulations on the frequency of building inspections and the reporting of problems with the buildings to corresponding agencies. This loosening of restrictions comes despite the deteriorating condition of many buildings, leading some to fear that a crisis could be on the horizon.

Source: LSM

Cybersecurity threats

Cybersecurity institute CERT.lv made the alarming announcement that they have detected 280 hacking incidents regarding Latvian websites. The firm warns that personal data could have leaked even from the websites of some educational institutes, children's sports clubs, and online credit providers. The announcement highlights difficulties faced by Latvia's and other governments throughout the world in fighting against cyber crime.

Sources: LSMCERT.lv

New support centers for adoptive and foster families

The Ministry of Welfare announced on Friday that three new support centers for adoptive and foster families will be opened in Rīga, Valmiera (in the north central part of Latvia), and Bauska (in the south central part of Latvia). These centers will be run by the NGO "Latvijas SOS bērnu ciemata asociācija" (Latvian SOS Children's Village Association), and will provide training, financial support, and help to meet other needs for foster and adoptive families.

Source: LSM

Potential teacher's strike looms

LIZDA, the Latvian national teacher's union, has announced that it will organize a strike on September 18th unless a compromise is reached with the government, who announced late last week that there will not be enough funds in the budget for previously promised raises for teachers as well as medical and justice professionals. Teachers' minimum monthly salaries were promised to steadily increase from the current €680 to €900 by 2022, but the government has now announced that they will only reach €710 by 2021. Latvian teachers' salaries have been among the lowest in Europe since massive cuts during the 2008 financial crisis, and the union has complained that salaries have not significantly increased since then despite economic growth.

Source: LSM

Hazardous waste

Despite protests by local residents, the Brocēni municipal government approved the "VAOO" waste management firm's plan to begin recycling oil-contaminated soil at a facility in the district, located in the western region of Kurzeme. Over 500 signatures were collected by the local environmental action group, and they have complained that the municipal council held a public hearing during the day when many residents worked. Construction work on the facility could begin as early as spring.

Source: LSM

Contraband cigarettes go up in smoke

According to a report by The Baltic Course, 3.04 million illegal cigarettes worth nearly €332,000 were seized by customs officials in the port of Ventspils on Friday. The 304 boxes were discovered in a truck that was boarding a ferry bound for Nynashamn, Sweden.

Bus drivers strike in Liepāja

Around 20 bus drivers picketed in Liepāja on Thursday demanding at least €7 per hour, which would be around €1,000 per month. Liepāja autobusu parks owners have said that this is impossible due to current market conditions, and have apparently signed a collective agreement with most employees.

Sources: LSM, skaties.lv

Shoddy street paving in Rīga

Sections of K. Valdemara and Brīvibas ielas in the center of Rīga that were repaved last year are already under repairs, as low quality asphalt that was used the first time around has not withstood the strain of public transit.

Source: LSM

Horse food thieves

Thieves have apparently stolen 120 rolls of hay worth around €2,000 intended as winter food for the wild horses who live in the flood plains of Jelgava on the same island as Jelgava palace. Police are asking for help from social media users to assist in catching the culprits.

Sources: LSM, Zemgales ziņas

Good times in Rīga this weekend

Thousands of visitors took part in various events throughout Rīga this weekend as part of its city's festival. This included the final concert of Latvian rock group Prāta Vētra's five-stop summer Latvia tour on Friday, where an estimated 60,000 fans watched them perform along with several special guests at the newly renovated Mežaparka Lielā estrāde where the concluding concert of the Song and Dance Festival took place last month. As with most Rīga city events, public transport was free during the time of the festival's events.
Sources: LSM, skaties.lv

And that's all the major stories for this week! If you think that I missed anything or that any of the information here is inaccurate, please feel free to comment below or contact me directly. Take care, and see you next Sunday!