Weekly News Update: November 19th - 25th, 2018

Good afternoon everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving! We here at Latvia Weekly are very thankful for readers like you who have been sharing our work with others and have been coming back each week to find out what's been happening throughout Latvia. We're also thankful that at least around Jelgava we had the very first snow of the year yesterday, even if it has already melted away in most places by now. Now for this week's news...

Coalition talks stalemate deepens

Live footage from the 13th Saeima
Video Credit: Avārijas Brigāde
After meeting with prime minister candidates Aldis Gobzems of KPV LV and Atis Pabriks of Attīstībai/Par!, as well as representatives from all of the parties represented in the recently elected 13th Saema (parliament), President Raimonds Vējonis has decided not to nominate another candidate. The decision comes due to the president's belief that neither Gobzems nor Pabriks have a clear majority of support required to form a new government. President Vējonis has instead called on the parties to work hard to reach a compromise and agree on a coalition.

Although the successful parties generally negotiate a coalition and then go to the president with a plan for a government after an election, the seven factions with less than 23 seats each have been unable to do so. They first called on the president to nominate a candidate a few weeks ago, but the president's choice of Jānis Bordāns was rejected by potential key partners Attīstībai/Par!, Nacionālā apvienība, and Jaunā Vienotība last week due to disagreements over Bordāns' party's spending plan as well as Bordāns' perceived aggressive stance towards members of those three parties and his refusal to work with the Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība party. Although they asked the president to nominate a new candidate in Bordāns' place, the president seems unwilling to have another of his choices shot down by opposing parties.

The president has announced that he will resume talks with parties on Monday, November 26th, but in the meantime it seems that the current stalemate situation could continue indefinitely. The parties never met this week to agree on a new prime minister candidate as the president requested, which means that he might reveal his "Plan B" that he hinted at in his Friday press conference. Since he has ruled out the possibility of new elections, its possible that he already has an independent compromise candidate in mind. Whether the parties would agree on such a candidate is anyone's guess.

(Fun fact: If the parties are somehow unable to reach an agreement and form a new government before March 1st, current prime minister Māris Kučinskis will overtake Aigars Kalvītis as the 5th longest serving prime minister in Latvian history.)
Source: LSM

First ever animal rights march held in Rīga

Several hundred marchers turned out in Rīga's first ever animal rights march on Saturday. Issues that were protested include the production of fur for clothing and the conditions of animals on farms. 'march organizers plan on making it a yearly tradition for the last Saturday of November as it has been in Tallinn for some time.
Source: Skaties.lv

Mayors of Daugavpils, Liepāja step down

Former Mayor Rihards Eigims of Daugavpils
Photo Credit: Saeima, via Wikimedia Commons
In a single day, the mayors of Latvia's second and third largest cities, Daugavpils in the far east near the borders with Belarus and Lithuania and Liepāja in the far west on the coast of the Baltic Sea, both left their positions for very different reasons. While Mayor of Liepāja Uldis Sesks stepped down as part of a power sharing agreement with a coaltition partner party and will take on a new role in city council that focuses on strategic planning, Mayor of Daugavpils Rihards Eigims was forced out of his job in a "no confidence" vote supported by 11 of 15 council members. Eigims had been under fire from the state's language service for his purported lack of Latvian language ability, and his governing coalition collapsed a few weeks ago.
Source: LSM

President Vējonis visits Ukraine to remember Holodomor

The presidents of Latvia and Ukraine
Photo Credit: Saeima, via Wikimedia Commons
Raimonds Vējonis, President of Latvia, made an official visit to Ukraine from November 23-25 to partake in commemorative events marking the 85th anniversary of Holodomor. The visits events included flower laying at the memorial to the Unknown Soldier, visiting eastern Ukraine, and meeting with Crimean Tatars representatives. Holodomor was a famine that occurred in Soviet Ukraine during the early 1930s when Stalin-era authorities confiscated food from Ukraine’s farmers. This created a severe famine that killed millions of people that lived in Ukraine’s rural regions. The famine has been estimated to have killed at least three to ten million people.
Source: LSM

NATO Exercise to occur in Latvia

Military exercises named “Tomahawk patrolling” will occur in Latvia between November 26th and December 6th. The NATO-organized event has been slated to be held both at the forest in Strautini, Aluksne County and the Lāčusils military range. About 250 soldiers from NATO’s troops in the area, along with soldiers from Latvian national guard troops will attempt training that aims to improve cooperation and interoperability. The NATO multinational groups are led by Canada but also include soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Canada, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
Source: LSM

Prominent fake news disseminator is released

Niks Endzins, who was arrested for public disturbance with his dissemination of fake news, has been released from Latvian custody. Endzins was in custody since late August and was released because the time in which he could be held in custody expired. However, he is now banned from leaving Latvia. The State Police’s Cyber Crime Unit had first opened a criminal case against Endzins in July upon receiving numerous complaints about fake news being circulated online. The Cyber Crime Unit was then able to trace these fake news stories back to portals that shared the news stories with users of different online social networks, disseminating the information.
Source: LSM

Spanish firm chosen to supply electric trains to Latvia 

The Latvian "Pasažieru Vilciens" (Passenger Rail) carrier will purchase new electric trains from Spanish company Talgo for the price of €225.303 million. The bid submitted by Talgo was determined to be the most economically feasible for the train project’s service life, estimated to last 35 years. During selection, Latvia took into consideration not only the projected timeline estimated for initial train manufacturing/delivery but additionally the cost of maintenance, repairs, spare parts, energy consumption, and other expenses. Because of this improvement, Pasažieru Vilciens will be able to introduce regular-interval timetables on all routes. This means that departures will be scheduled for every 15 to 20 minutes during morning and evening rush hours. The new trains will be running on the Aizkraukle, Tukums, Skulte and Jelgava lines. However this decision did not come without complaint. Representatives of the Czech Republic company, Škoda Vagonka, told the press that they are likely to contest the procurement. The result of the passenger train purchase was announced on November 21, 2018 but appeals can be made for 10 workdays. 
Source: LSM

Missing Rīga city council employee arrested in Egypt

Image Credit: Ricardo Liberato, via Wikimedia Commons
Egyptian police have arrested former head of Rīga City Council Apartment Board Ārija Stabiņa. Stabina has been missing since 2013, a year after being arrested by the state's anti-corruption bureau (KNAB) for bribery. It seems so far that the arrest by Egyptian authorities is unrelated to the international search warrant, but more information will likely soon be forthcoming.
Source: Latvijas avīze

Norway and Sweden attempt to illegally ship waste to Latvia 

Image Credit: Alweaver, via Wikimedia Commons
The State Environmental Service and the Ventspils Customs Authority worked together to seize three shipments of illegal waste from Sweden and Norway at the Ventspils port over the course of the past two months. Shipments were seized on October 4, November 1, and November 16th and totaled to 22.82 tons of plastic waste. According to the Environment Ministry, the plan for the shipments was for the waste to be passed off and collected in Latvia to then receive tax rebates. New laws have increased the Latvian authorities’ ability to control waste shipments but over the 46 checks made in international waste shipments only these three violations have been uncovered. However, last year a fire erupted from waste in Jūrmala after it was found to be illegally dumped by a Swedish import. The Swedish Environmental Minister later offered an apology. Norwegian and Swedish authorities have been informed about the current three cases and an investigation will start based on these findings.
Source: LSM

€2.91 million collected in Jūrmala vehicle fees for 2018

A beach in Jūrmala
Image Credit: Raul Cortez999, via Wikimedia Commons
The Jūrmala city council announced that it collected €2.91 million in vehicle entry fees from April 2018 to the end of September 2018. In this busy tourist and travel period, 1.24 million one-time passes were purchased, which is a significant 240,000 more passes than those issued last year. This collected money has been added to the local government’s budget which is used for tourism and resort development. Examples of such uses include environmental protection, cultural monument protection, and the ensural of public order and security in the city. 
Source: The Baltic Times

Latvia #10 in workplace equality

According to the Council for Foreign Relations think tank, Latvia ranks #10 in the world for workplace equality. The report rates countries' "formal legal obstacles" in the workplace based on data provided by the World Bank. While Lithuania scored higher at #8, Latvia outscored Estonia and all of the Nordic countries aside from Iceland. For a full breakdown of the data and an explanation of the methodology, you can follow the link below.
Source: LSM

National theater awards held on Friday

"Spēlmaņu nakts," or the Latvian Theater Awards, were held on Friday, the birthday of "father of Latvian theater" Eduards Smiļģis at the National Theater in Rīga. “Dvēseļu utenis” was chosen as the performance of the year, with Guna Zariņa and Vilis Daudziņš winning actress and actor of the year respectively. For a full list of the winners, you can check out the article by Latvijas avīze below.
Source: Latvijas avīze

And that's all for now! Check back later today for the newest episode of our podcast, where Otto and Joe discuss these news stories in greater details, as well as Thanksgiving in Latvia and a lot more. Take care, and see you soon!