Weekly News Update: November 25th - December 2nd, 2018

An advent wreath
Photo Credit: Jonathunder, via Wikimedia Commons
Good evening, and happy Advent! Kristen and I highly apologize for taking so long posting about a week that's long over, but that's completely my fault as writing about the coalition talks and working out the technical difficulties on the podcast with Otto calling in from America took a lot more time than expected. Quite a lot of significance happened last week, but first a quick word about the weather — there was snow! The ground was quite white throughout most of the week, although most of you reading this from Latvia have probably seen the snow in your area melt away with the rain by now. Now that we've covered the weather, time for the news...

Coalition talks take a wild turn as KPV LV's Aldis Gobzems nominated to become prime minister and disbarred days later

Live footage from the 13th Saeima
Video Credit: Avārijas Brigāde
8 weeks have now passed since the election of the 13th Saeima, and things took a turn for the very interesting this week with the nomination of Aldis Gobzems. Since we already covered the events of the coalition talks in depth on Saturday, we suggest you read our article about it if you haven't done so already.

2009 rioter Ansis Ataols Bērziņš released from prison

Ansis Ataols Bērziņš, who fled the country after a February 2016 prison sentencing and was arrested in the Czech Republic in 2017 the sent to Latvian jail in March of this year, was released on Friday. Bērziņš was one of 50 convicted after a 2009 protest against government austerity turned into a violent riot in Rīga's old town, and his jail sentence came due to his violating the terms of his probation. Although he applied for political asylum in the Czech Republic and has asked President Vējonis for clemency, these requests were denied. Bērziņš is a controversial figure, with many in Latvian society viewing him as an irresponsible hooligan and others seeing him as a hero for standing up to the government.
Source: LETA

Rumbala massacre remembered 77 years later

The site of the Rumbala Massacre
Photo Credit: Avi1111, via Wikimedia Commons

The 77th anniversary of the Rumbala Massacre, the largest mass murder event in Latvian history, was commemorated by candlelight vigils both at the Monument of Freedom in the center of Rīga and at the site of the massacre in a forest on the southeast edge of the city. More than 25,000 Jewish inhabitants were shot to death by Nazi forces on November 30th and December 8th, 1941, out of an estimated 66,000 Jewish Latvians who were killed throughout the Holocaust. Latvian Holocaust survivor Marģers Vestermanis remarked that he was glad to have lived to see the tragedy commemorated not only in the forest where it happened but also at the Monument of Freedom, as there has been a growing awareness in recent years regarding the Holocaust as a critical part of Latvian history. For more about what happened at Rumbala 77 years ago, please visit the Museum of Occupation's powerful online exhibition here.

Final price tag for fireworks higher than originally reported

According to a report by Latvijas televīzija's (LTV) "Panorāma" evening news program, Rīga's City Council spent nearly €370,000 on the 18th of November fireworks display, almost €100,000 more than the originally reported €285,000 price tag. City council claims that the discrepancy is because the reported price tag did not include a €48,000 contract with visual artists who designed the performance, nor a €37,000 contract with musicians. When asked by LTV journalists why the extra costs were not originally mentioned, council spokesperson Indra Vilde says that journalists only asked about the fireworks themselves, and not about those price tags. City council also says that it was not essential to publicly declare the extra €85,000 contracts, and that they have already been available on the council's website for some time.
Source: LSM

New education standards approved by government

The outgoing government Tuesday approved the content for the new primary education standards which will be gradually implemented starting in September 2020. The seven main subject areas will be: language, social and civic studies, cultural awareness and self-expression in art, natural sciences, mathematics, technology, and health and physical activity. The virtues of responsibility, dedication, courage, honesty, wisdom,, kindness, compassion, moderation, restraint, solidarity, justice, and tolerance will be taught by teachers who are expected to take on more of a cooperative role with students rather than the traditional concept of the teacher's role. Although a disagreement over the amount of lessons per week dedicated to music was settled when the Minister of Education Karlis Šadurskis agreed to maintain the current level, the teacher's union still expresses skepticism over the level of funding for technological support in implementing the lofty goals outlined today.
Source: LSM

Latvian and Estonian digital startups win at festival

The Latvian startup company "Asya" and Estonian startup "CostPocket" came out as winners in Rīga’s Digital Freedom Festival organized by accelerator "500 Startups" and Rockstart. These winners will get fast-tracked to interview for Batch 25 in Silicon Valley which leads to a 4-month long intensive seed program and rewards $150,000 in support funds. Asya has developed an AI-powered app and necklace that helps people practice mindfulness by listening and analyzing conversations by tracking emotions and words, while CostPocket helps streamline expense reporting by taking a mobile app that digitizes receipts and creates report. CostPocket can now also participate in a final round hosted by Rockstart which is to be held in Netherlands, fall 2019.
Source: LSM

Latvian Russian Union political party will not receive state funds

The Latvian Russian Union political will not be able to secure state funding as it does not have a bank account in Latvia. Even though the political party passed a 2% threshold needed to secure funding after the recent Saeima elections, the lack of a Latvian bank account will prevent them from receiving the €19,179.94 they were entitled to. The party has a bank account listed for donations on their official website, but it is an account with Paysera, an online bank registered in Lithuania. Paysera was fined for anti-money laundering in 2015 and was forced to remove one of their executives from office following an inspection just last year. A decision may be appealed as state party financing is granted for four years at a time.
Source: LSM

Former Rīga City Council employee Ārija Stabiņa arrested upon return to Latvia

Ārija Stabiņa, the former Rīga City Council Apartment Board official who was arrested in Egypt last month after having disappeared in 2013 instead of appearing in court over bribery and graft charges, has been returned to Latvia by Egyptian police. Upon her arrival at Rīga International Airport, she was promptly arrested.
Source: LSM

Seleckis is awarded Lifetime Achievement

Filmmaker Ivars Seleckis
Photo Credit: The National Film Center
Tallinn's Black Nights Film Festival has announced the recipient of its second Lifetime Achievement Award. Latvian film director Ivars Seleckis was celebrated with the award on November 28 after the screening of his latest documentary, To Be Continued. The film is also Latvia’s candidate for the best foreign language film Academy Award. Ivars Seleckis is the oldest Latvian documentary filmmaker still active. He was born in 1934 in Riga and educated as a food technologist. In 1966, he went to study cinematography at the Moscow Film Institute and debuted in 1970 with Girls from Valmiera. This film became well known as it was modern and edgy for a documentary piece. Seleckis went on to direct a large number of films and became a vital part of the Latvian film history. His biggest international success is The Crossroad Street (1988), which received three of the most prestigious documentary awards in the Europe – EFA award for the Best Documentary, the Joris Ivens award, and the Robert Flaherty award. Seleckis continues to make films even at the age of 84.
Source: LSM

Saeima debates whether or not to join UN Compact on Migration

Latvia’s Saeima has announced they will discuss a National Alliance resolution that may prevent the Latvian government from joining the UN Compact on Migration. This alliance has been signed by several National Alliance members but many oppositionists say the pact may contradict several Latvian laws. The resolution has been put on the Saeima agenda with 46 votes to 45, meaning that the Latvian parliament will vote on the matter in the next meeting. The UN Compact on Migration has sparked debate in many countries around the world. The US, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and Switzerland have objected it while Estonia has opted to join the compact.
Source: LSM

Latvia intelligence suspects 3 of spying

Latvia’s authorities have announced that three people have been detained and suspected of activities that could help a foreign country which was not identified. The three were detained by Latvian Security Police on November 23rd following a probe started in October 2018. One of the three has since been announced as Jurijs Aleksejevs, a pro-Kremlin activist and former city council member in Riga. The Latvian court will release all three but still consider them as suspects. Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania have had several high-profile spy cases related to Russia since they gained independence in 1991.
Source: ABC News

Poll of the Week

Although it's been a while since we've had a weekly poll on our Facebook page, this week we brought it back to find out what our readers though about the prospect of a Gobzems-led government. Out of those who voted, just under a quarter supported the idea of the KPV LV leader becoming Latvia's next head of government.

That's all for this week! Make sure to press "subscribe" at the top of the page so that you know exactly when the next weekly update or any of our other posts will be released, and make sure to "like" us on Facebook for important "stories of the day" each evening. Take care, and let's hope for some more snow!