Weekly News Update: November 12th - 18th, 2018

Good evening everyone! We hope that you had a wonderful 18th of November yesterday, and that you were able to relax today on the official state holiday. If you had to work or are reading this from somewhere away, we still hope that you had a nice beginning to the second century of the Republic of Latvia's history. Last week was again pretty typical rainy, cloudy fall weather throughout most of the country, especially the country's second largest city of Daugavpils which Latvian Public Media reported had received only 30 minutes of sunlight throughout all of November as of the 14th. However, the sun came out on the 18th at least in Rīga and areas surrounding it. This was quite an interesting news week, but let's start with the most important matter at hand:

Latvia celebrates its 100th birthday

People from all over the world wished Latvia well on the 100th anniversary of its proclamation in 1918. Celebrations took place not only in Rīga, but also throughout the rest of the country and many places throughout the world. For example, Niagara Falls lit up in the Latvian flag's red and white, as did bridges and buildings in different cities. Everyone here at Latvia Weekly would also like to wish the republic a very happy 100th birthday, and a successful next 100!
Source: LSM

Coalition talks in new stalemate with no end in sight

Live footage from the 13th Saeima
Video Credit: Avārijas Brigāde
This week, coalition talks were thrown into turmoil when Nacionālā apvienība, Attīstībai/Par!, and Jaunā Vienotība announced Wednesday that they were leaving the negotiating table and called on President Vējonis to nominate a different candidate other than Jānis Bordāns. Daniels Pavlauts from Attīstībai/Par! announced on Facebook that the decision was made due to personal attacks on Saeima deputies by Bordāns and his "Jaunā konservatīvā partija," (JKP) an "unsustainable" social benefits spending plan, disagreements over the running of security and anti-corruption agencies, and the categorical exclusion of the "Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība" party from the talks. Bordāns blasted back by calling the three factions "oligarch parties," and lamenting that the will of the people to have a government of change had been derailed. This means that despite what seemed to be an end to weeks of political gridlock, Bordāns will almost certainly not become Latvia's 23rd prime minister.

What happens next? Good question. There are a few possible scenarios:
  1. The president has indicated that he will nominate either Artis Pabriks from Attīstībai/Par! or Aldis Gobzems from KPV LV. Both were identified as finalists for the position along with Bordāns a few weeks ago, but there are major problems with each candidate. Gobzems announced just minutes after Bordāns' nomination that KPV LV would absolutely not work in a government led by Pabriks, and Bordāns made a similar announcement later on Wednesday. It's possible that Gobzems himself could lead the next government, but it's difficult to imagine that parties who were offended by Bordāns and found it unable to negotiate with him would find Gobzems more palatable, especially after incredibly contentious election rhetoric used by the candidate and his KPV LV party. JKP and KPV LV have shown relative unity in the last few weeks as "outsider parties," but the most seats the two could hold together would be just 32.

  2. If neither Pabriks nor Gobzems can be agreed upon by the parties, the president has indicated in interviews this week that he wishes to continue through the nominees offered by parties during the election. This would include Roberts Zīle of Nacionālā apvienība, Krišjānis Kariņš of Jaunā Vienotība, and current Prime Minister Maris Kučinskis of Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (ZZS). Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis of Saskaņa would likely not be considered by the president due to the other parties' categorical refusal to work with his party.

  3. The president could nominate a candidate other than the seven offered by the successful parties that were elected into Saeima. However, as we have pointed out previously, widely popular compromise politicians are hard to come by in Latvia these days. There are no obvious candidates for this option, although we will likely see numerous ones floated over the next few days. The president has indicated that if this were the case, he would prefer to nominate a current member of parliament. If this happens, this will be the first such instance since the 1995 election in which Andris Šķēle took over as prime minister on December 21st of that year, nearly three months after nine parties were elected to Saeima.

  4. In any one of the three above-mentioned options, there is the possibility of forming a minority coalition with less than 50 seats overall. The "old coalition" of Nacionālā apvienība, ZZS, and Jaunā Vienotība have shown considerable unity with new party Attīstībai/Par! (which consists of many former Vienotība members) so far throughout the negotiation process since the October 6th election, but their 45 combined seats would be far short of a majority government in the 100-seat Saeima, and all policy decisions would need to find votes from parties or members in opposition. This government would likely be even less stable than a shaky alliance of more than 50 seats total.

  5. If things get completely out of hand and the parties completely refuse to work with one another to form even a minority coalition, there is the possibility of holding early elections. However, parties are well aware that this idea would likely be unpopular with voters, and there's no guarantee that whatever result came from another vote would produce any clearer situation than what we have now.
In any case, make sure to stay tuned for what will be quite a bumpy ride. We will be updating the Latvia Weekly Facebook page with new developments as soon as they happen, so make sure to "like" and follow it!
Source: LSM

Airport mulls ban on all non-public transit vehicles

Rīga's airport is considering a complete ban on all vehicles except for public transportation driving up right next to the terminal's entrance. This means that aside from busses and microbusses, the closest that vehicles would be able to drive to the terminal would be a nearby parking lot. The possible restriction would be in response to an incident between two aggressive taxi drivers this week which seems to have involved tear gas and other weapons and injured one passenger. The country's Ministry of the Interior is also considering other solutions to a growing problem of predatory taxis at Rīga's airport following a court decision last year to allow all licensed drivers to partake in the taxi rank, and a decision in June that took away municipalities' abilities to set maximum fares.
Source: LSM

Amount of residents earning net of €450 or less per month shrinks

According to figures released by the government's central statistics bureau, 28,9% of Latvian residents are earning €450 per month or less after taxes. Although this proportion is quite high, it has decreased from 38.9% this time last year. The same report found that 17,000 more people are employed compared to this time last year, and that the overall employment rate is 66.3% — the lowest in the Baltic states, but higher than the EU average of 60.5%. These statistics are the latest in generally positive indicators for the country's economy that have been published in the last few weeks.
Source: LSM

More tourists visiting Latgale

The region of Latgale
Image Credit: Kikos, via Wikimedia Commons
According to head of the Latgale Tourism Association Līga Kondrāte, roughly 1.5 million tourists visited Latvia's culturally distinct eastern region during the season of May to October this year. Kondrāte credited improvements to biking infrastructure as well as attention drawn to the region thanks to the pope's visit to Aglona in September. However, only 20% of the tourists came from foreign countries, with the wide majority being visitors from other regions of Latvia. If you haven't had the chance to visit the beautiful region, we would highly recommend doing so!
Source: LSM

European Parliament approves €17.7 million in aid for 2017 flood damage

European Parliament
Image Credit: JLogan, via Wikimedia Commons
In order to help those affected by widespread flooding throughout summer and fall of 2017 in Latgale and other regions of Latvia, the European Parliament has approved a €17.7 million aid package drawn up by Latvian MEP Inese Vaidere from the Vienotība party. The funds must be used within 18 months, and the Ministry of Agriculture plans to use them on repairs on damaged infrastructure as well and improvements to infrastructure such as drainage systems that should prevent similar situations in the future. The aid is in addition to €3.46 million paid out by the European Commission last year, as well as 15 million paid by the Latvian government to farmers that was criticized by investigative journalists as improperly distributed.
Source: TVNET

Flu season begins in Latvia

Image Credit: Mikael Häggström, via Wikimedia Commons
Latvian Public Media reported Monday that the country's center for disease prevention (SPKC) announced that the first flu patient of the season has been officially confirmed. According to center representative Ilze Arāja, flu activity this year is relatively low in Latvia and other European countries compared to years prior. Latvia Weekly would like to remind everyone to do what you can to stop the spread of flu this year by washing your hands frequently and staying home from work or school if you don't feel well — don't be the one that gets everyone else sick!
Source: LSM

Daugavpils resident again charged with helping pro-Russian forces in Ukraine

Artjoms Skripņiks of Daugavpils has once again been charged by Rīga prosecutors of illegally participating in the Eastern Ukraine conflict on the side of Russian-backed separatist forces. An ongoing trial involves his participation in the conflict between 2014-2015, and the new charges regard his attempt to participate in 2017 before being apprehended by Russian border guards. Skripņiks is the first Latvian resident who has been charged with participating in the ongoing illegal military action in Ukraine's eastern portion.
Source: LSM, Delfi

Amount of accidents on Rīga's Island Bridge increases

Rīga's Salu tilts (Island Bridge) over the River Daugava
Photo Credit: Laurijs, via Wikimedia Commons
According to a report by Latvian Public Media, the amount of accidents on Rīga's Salu tilts (Island Bridge) has increased significantly since the beginning of the latest round of repairs on the Daugava's crossing that started on June 26th. 27 accidents have been reported since the end of June, compared with only 17 in all of last year. The state police traffic safety department's head Normunds Krapsis has called on drivers to slow down and observe all traffic signs on the bridge.
Source: LSM

TV3, LTV1, LNT most popular TV channels in October

According to the "Kantars TNS" tracking firm, the "All Media Baltic" owned TV3 was the most popular TV channel in the month of October with an average 11.8% viewer share. This was largely thanks in part to the second season of the music competition "X Faktors" which was watched by an average of 155,500 viewers and the "Es mīlu tevi, Latvija!" gameshow which an average of 148,300 viewers tuned in for. Latvia Public Media's LTV1 came in second place with a 9% share, its most popular program being the nightly news program Panorāma. LNT, also owned by "All Media Baltic," came in third with 7.5%, its most popular program being "Lauku sēta." Three Russian-owned channelgs, PBK, NTV Mir Baltic, and RTR Planeta Baltija, came in fourth through sixth place with 7.3%, 6.5%, and 6.4% respectively. For a full breakdown of the rankings, you can check out the statistics on Latvian Public Media below.
Source: LSM

Rīga city council buys former insolvency administrator's land

The Skanste neighborhood of Rīga
Photo Credit: Uldis Šteinbergs, via Wikimedia Commons
Rīga's city government officially decided to spend €443,905 on land owned by former insolvency administrator Māris Spruds, who was arrested last June for money laundering and is currently appealing his case to the European Court of Human Rights. The city argues that the land is necessary for its revitalization of the Skanste area just north of Rīga's center where Arena Rīga is found.
Source: Apollo

European Parliament members ask Amazon to stop sales of goods with Soviet symbols

Photo Credit: Santeri Viinamäki, via Wikimedia Commons
Members of European Parliament have called on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to stop the selling of goods that mention symbols of totalitarian regimes. This includes Soviet and Nazi symbols. The letter was signed by members of parliament from Lithuania, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Latvia, the U.K., Slovakia, Estonia, Finland, Portugal, Hungary and Spain. This came in response to the #WhyNotSwatsik initiative on social media. Earlier this year, Walmart and Adidas stopped selling goods with Soviet symbols following Lithuania’s criticism which was supported by other Baltic States. 
Source: LSM

Iceland and Latvia celebrate their relationship

This past week, Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis thanked Icelandic President Guðni Jóhannesson for Iceland’s support in 1991 when the Baltic states restored their independence. Vējonis thanked Iceland for taking a brave step in supporting Latvia and the other countries. Vējonis also mentioned that Latvia and Iceland continue to cooperate today in entities including NATO and the European Economic Zone. He also congratulated Iceland on their 100th anniversary of gaining sovereignty on December 1, 1918. The Icleandic president then visited Latvia this weekend for the centenary and participated in a series of events with other high-profile guests. 
Source: LSM

Animal rights march to happen in Riga 

Animal rights activists have planned to stage their first march in Riga on November 24th. Maija Krastiņa, a representative of the "Animal Freedom" nongovernmental group, said the march will call for better animal protection and improvements. The NGO additionally stated that other such marches have gathered thousands of participants and supporters in cities like Vilnius, Warsaw, Kiev, and other European cities. Participants can start gathering on Nov. 24th at City Hall Square at 12:30p.m. 
Source: LSM

Swedish-owned Latvian bogs sold for €324m

A Latvian bog
Photo Credit: Beralts, via Wikimedia Commons
Sweden’s Bergvik Skog has sold its forests and enterprises in Latvia to the Swedish forestry cooperative Sondra. The deal concluded on November 13 and sold 11,100 hectares of land for €324 million. Earlier this year, 20 companies reportedly had been eyeing the Latvian forests and the plan was to sell the properties by the end of the year. It was also reported that Latvijas valsts meži (Latvian State Forests, LVM) had also expressed interest in buying the properties. 
Source: LSM

Ukraine’s City Commerce Bank co-owner detained in Latvia 

Ukraine’s CityCommerce Bank co-owner Reinis Tumovs, who is suspected of pocketing nearly €9.5 million, has been detained in Latvia. The arrested banker’s extradition is currently being planned, according to Ukrainian police. An investigation has established that in 2013 and 2014 the bank’s managers issued loans to nonexistent firms and laundered the money through commercial structures under their control. The co-owners have been internationally sought since 2017, when the bank’s managers were put on a list of internationally wanted criminals. The bank’s CEO has fled to Crimea, which is being illegally occupied by Russia, and has obtained Russian citizenship.
Source: LSM

That's all for this week! Please take care and stay warm as the Christmas season officially begins. For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, have a great time on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, or whenever you are able to celebrate. Make sure to "like" us on Facebook for top stories of the day each evening and make sure to press "subscribe" at the top of this page. Here's to another century!