Our apologies for last week's impromptu mailer "vacation," house
mending chores were calling!
A number of news services continued to carry more stories on Riga's
800th anniversary as well as reflecting back on the first 10 years since the
breakup of the Soviet Union.
In the »news:
No link this week; however, we have taken a stab at building a
»picture index for our site (still a
bit of a work in progress), which you are invited to peruse.
This week's »picture is of a farmhouse in
the Brivdabas muzejs (Open-Air Ethnographic Museum), from our "lost" collection
of unpublished 1995 pictures now available through the picture index.
As always, AOL'ers, Remember, mailer or not, Lat Chat spontaneously
appears every Sunday on AOL starting around 9:00/9:30pm Eastern time, lasting
until 11:00/11:30pm. AOL'ers can follow this link:
»Town Square - Latvian chat.
And thanks to you participating on the Latvian message board as well:
»LATVIA (both on AOL only).
Ar visu labu,
Riga celebrates 800th birthday
WorldStream Saturday, August 18, 2001 10:06:00 AM
Copyright 2001 The
By HOWARD JARVIS
RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- As most of Latvia, it
seemed, flocked to the capital Saturday to celebrate Riga's 800th birthday,
German President Johannes Rau and other visiting dignitaries praised the
country's spirit and drive.
"The pages of Latvian
history are full of beauty and suffering," Rau said during a short news
conference at the presidential palace with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
Outside the building that dates to 1515, crowds
gathered in warm summer sunshine to watch musical performers, stroll along
narrow cobblestone streets winding past renovated Art Nouveau buildings, and
cool their thirsts with cold beer in open plazas. By midafternoon, it was 30
degrees (86 Fahrenheit).
"Latvia has not
experienced this sort of holiday before," said Iljvars Semanis, 56, a land
reclamation specialist who traveled from Aluksne, 220 kilometers (136 miles)
north of Riga.
"I've come here to feel the
atmosphere instead of watching it on TV," said Dace Novada, 31, a schoolteacher
from Madona, 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of Riga. "It's a holiday for all
The official organizers, the Riga 800
Agency, projected a million Latvians would travel this weekend to the capital
of 800,000. In all, that would be three-quarters of this country of 2.4 million
that's located on the Baltic Sea between Estonia and Lithuania.
Founded in 1201 as a German fortress during the
Crusades, Riga has been ruled by Russians, Swedes, Danes and Lithuanians. Its
Baltic Sea port was one of the most important in the Russian Empire.
The 20-year period of independence between the two
World Wars ended in 1940 with the invasion of the Red Army. The country
regained independence in 1991.
through Sunday and included dance performances, concerts, pizza throwing
contests, wrestling, a light show over the River Daugava and fireworks.
In his comments, made in German and translated into
Latvian, Rau endorsed Latvia's aspirations to join the NATO military alliance
and the European Union.
"I affirm that Germany
will do everything to create the preconditions to make Latvian membership in
NATO and the European Union happen," he said.
also invited Vike-Freiberga to Germany on a state visit.
Latvia marks Riga's 800th, says EU, NATO a must
Reuters World Report Saturday, August 18, 2001 11:46:00 AM
By Anastasia Styopina
RIGA, Aug 18 (Reuters) -- Latvian President
Vaira Vike-Freiberga said on Saturday that only membership in the European
Union and NATO could guarantee the security and stability of her country and
its Baltic neighbours.
Vike-Freiberga was speaking
during celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the founding of Latvia's
This is the first time that the
city has held centenary festivities under the flag of an independent Latvia --
a country which has been occupied over the centuries by the Soviet Union,
Tsarist Russia, Sweden, Poland and Germany.
after becoming EU and NATO member states will Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia
fully become part of the sphere of security and stability," Vike-Freiberga said
in her speech.
Of the two blocs, Baltic membership
in NATO is the more controversial because Russia opposes any countries from the
former Soviet Union joining the Western military alliance, Moscow's Cold War
The Riga 800 celebrations will culminate on
Sunday, which is also the 10th anniversary of a coup launched by hardline
communists in 1991, the failure of which led to the Soviet Union's collapse and
the Baltic states' independence.
was speaking at a luncheon attended by German President Johannes Rau and the
heads of state of neighbouring Lithuania and Estonia.
The president told her guests she hoped for Germany's
backing for the Baltic states' bids to join the EU and NATO.
"We rely on Germany, as a founding EU state and a NATO
member, to consistently and purposefully support the Baltic countries' joining
the European Union and the North Atlantic alliance," Vike-Freiberga said.
The three Baltic counties, occupied by the Soviet Union
for half a century until 1991, are hoping NATO will hand them membership
invitations at its Prague summit next year.
three also stand good chances of joining the EU in its next wave of expansion,
which the bloc hopes will take place in time for new members to take part in
elections to the European Parliament in 2004.
Germany's president expressed cautious support earlier
on Saturday for Latvia to have the possibility to join both the EU and the
"I know that joining the EU and NATO is
among Latvia's most important strategic goals. I give an assurance that Germany
will do its best to help Latvia create preconditions for the possibility to
join these organisations," Rau told a news conference.
Ten years later, Baltic states have put Russia
WorldStream Tuesday, August 21, 2001 2:47:00 AM
Copyright 2001 The
By MICHAEL TARM
Associated Press Writer
NARVA, Estonia (AP) -- People living in this
Estonian town have only to glance across the river at Ivangorod to remind
themselves what a difference a decade makes.
and Ivangorod used to be effectively one town in one country, sharing water
supplies, bus lines and a cemetery. Then the Soviet Union collapsed, the Narva
River became a frontier between Russia and independent Estonia, and today a
visa is needed to cross between the two.
Estonian side, 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of the capital, Tallinn, is a
clean, industrious town of 80,000 with boutiques, newly paved streets and
McDonald's. The Russian side, population some 10,000, is shabby and potholed
and has no Big Macs. The average wage on the Estonian side, dlrs 300 a month,
is six times bigger. When Ivangorod went bankrupt and couldn't pay its water
bill, Narva cut off the flow.
languishes, Narva showcases the success story that is the Baltic republics of
Independent states between the world wars,
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were annexed by the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics in 1940. They were the last in and the first out, following the
failed 1991 coup by communist die-hards that hastened the dissolution of a
Since then, while many of the other 12
former Soviet countries have floundered and in some cases resorted to electing
unreformed ex-communists, the Baltics have faced resolutely to the West and
have brought an impossible dream within reach: the prospect of membership in
NATO and the prosperous, borderless European Union.
Estonia was particularly quick to dump communism and
espouse the free market under youthful leaders typified by Mart Laar, who at 32
was the youngest prime minister in Europe.
and Lithuania didn't lag. After the Baltic economies contracted by up to 20
percent and inflation roared above 1,000 percent, the governments slashed
subsidies and trade tariffs and dumped the ruble for stable new currencies.
Inflation is now below 5 percent and foreign money
is flowing in. Per capita foreign investment in Estonia is among the world's
Part of the Baltic states' good fortune
is location: geographical proximity to wealthy Scandinavia and Germany left a
web of trade and cultural ties that hibernated through communist isolation and
were quickly revived once the Cold War ended.
Ford, a major pre-World War II car supplier, is back in
strength. Finnish-owned Tartu Olletehas is again marketing its beer here, using
the same pyramid-shaped bottles as before.
Strengthening the Baltics' Western orientation are
emigres who have come back to high office. President Valdas Adamkus of
Lithuania spent his life in the United States as an environmental official.
Latvian President Vaira Vika-Freiberga grew up in Canada.
The Baltic states, smaller in total area than Greece,
have managed to work together closely. They have just harmonized their radar
systems to get themselves into better shape for NATO membership. Their armies
share the same officers' school, in Estonia. They fly their national flags on
one another's independence day.
But their 7.5
million people have had to come to terms with a lot of painful history -- Nazi
occupation during World War II, bracketed by Soviet dictatorship and the
enduring legacy of large Russian-speaking minorities, transplanted into the
Baltics more than a generation ago to strengthen the Soviet grip.
Much of Narva's original Estonian population, for
instance, was deported to Siberia by Josef Stalin. Today its population is 95
percent Russian. Overall, one-third of the Baltic states' population of 7.5
million is of Russian origin.
Tensions rose after
the Soviet breakup over new laws designed to revive Baltic nationhood by
enacting language laws and rewriting the criteria for citizenship, and there
were fears of ethnic strife. But the atmosphere has eased and the laws have
been watered down, in part because equality of rights is a condition for
membership in the EU.
Also, Baltic society has
come to realize that it needs its Russian citizens. They staff the energy
sector and most major factories. And although some Baltic Russians still
complain of discrimination, most seem to want to remain where they are.
To Julia Alasheyeva, 23, a Russian-speaking student in
Latvia, Russia is a foreign country that happens to speak her language. "I
don't belong to that country."
The realignment is
especially striking in the economy. Ninety percent of Baltic trade used to be
with the Soviet Union. Now 75 percent is with the EU.
Nordic investors own virtually all the main Baltic
banks, most of the media and several phone companies and energy utilities.
Nordic-owned ships carry millions of tourists and Estonians in and out of
Tallinn's busy port each year. New glass-and-steel skyscrapers, including a
Swedish-owned bank and a Radisson hotel, poke up from the city center.
Riga, the Latvian capital that once called itself "the
Paris of the north," is restoring art nouveau buildings and opening designer
boutiques, restaurants and all-night dance clubs.
"People say we're in Eastern Europe, but what does that
mean when it takes 50 minutes to fly to Stockholm, two hours to London," says
Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins. "We are in the middle of Europe, where
we have always belonged."
Vilnius, the Lithuanian
capital, also has gone hip. Not far from where Lenin's statue once stood, the
city has put up a huge bronze bust of Frank Zappa, the late American rocker,
who had a devoted following behind the Iron Curtain.
In April, a Lithuanian entrepreneur opened a quirky
theme park recreating the bad old Soviet days. It's surrounded by barbed wire
and guard towers and features statues of Stalin and Lenin. Attendants dressed
up as the two Soviet forefathers serve meals to visitors from tin cans.
In 1999 the Latvian city of Liepaja melted down a Lenin
statue to produce thousands of tiny bells for sale as souvenirs. Each features
a city emblem and Lenin's face.
Scandinavia represents everything that is in good working order. "Korras nagu
Norras" (Clean like Norway) goes the slogan on Estonian billboards for Statoil,
a Norwegian gas station chain. And all that falls short, from a cracked paving
stone to a broken elevator, is "vene vark," roughly meaning "a Russian thing."
Even the term "former Soviet republic" raises
hackles. Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves insists the Baltic states be
called "Nordic" or "pre-European Union."
middle class drives SUVs and is getting used to living in a property-owning
democracy. Now that the banking system is solid, people are taking out 30-year
mortgages on villas with tennis courts and swimming pools.
Forty percent of Estonians have mobile phones, and more
than 30 percent of households have Internet access. Its government sometimes
holds Cabinet meetings online.
But as in every
former communist country, the Baltics are discovering a downside to all this
Old people on pensions of less
than dlrs 200 a month live in tattered Soviet-era apartment blocks. Drug abuse,
crime and AIDS rates have all risen. When Lithuania realized it had no word for
"condom," it held a national competition to make one up. The winner was
"sargis," meaning "one that protects."
success of the economy is unquestionable," says Estonian President Lennart
Meri. "But for this success we've paid a price that's very characteristic of
post-communist societies: unemployment and growing inequality."
Being meshed into the world economy also has its price.
When Sweden's LM Ericsson sold its cell phone
production to a Singapore company this year, 600 Estonians lost their jobs at
the Finnish-owned Elcoteq electronics plant in Tallinn.
Still, to its neighbors to the east, Estonia is an
"Narva is so wonderful, so much
better developed and Western-feeling compared to Ivangorod," said Olga Timov as
she headed back across the river to Ivangorod after a day trip to the Estonian
"Coming here is like stepping into a fairy
-- -- --
EDITOR'S NOTE: AP correspondents Steven C. Johnson in
Riga, Latvia, and Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this
Sen. Lugar Says Baltics Should Be in NATO
Reuters Online Service Saturday, August 25, 2001 1:10:00 PM
RIGA (Reuters) -- U.S. Senator Richard Lugar
said on Saturday that NATO should issue invitations next year for the ex-Soviet
Baltic states to join the military alliance.
Republican from Indiana, the most prominent proponent in the United States of
NATO expansion in the run-up to NATO leaders agreeing to admit former communist
states Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, said Bulgaria and Romania should
be considered, even if they were to fall short of some NATO requirements.
"Once again, I'm hopeful that they will be included
even if criteria there are not met completely," Lugar told reporters.
"They may be met in the fullness of time but the need
to have the southeast corner of Europe represented is as important, as having
the Baltic states in this area," said Lugar, speaking on a stop in Riga during
a tour of the Baltic states.
Asked if NATO should
issue invitations for the Baltics to join at the alliance's summit next year in
Prague, Lugar answered: "My own personal view is that they should be."
Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia regained
independence 10 years ago after a five-decade occupation by the Soviet Union.
Their desires for NATO membership are
controversial since Russia opposes any expansion by the alliance -- Moscow's
Cold War enemy -- into the former Soviet Union.
They were disappointed by NATO's decision to leave them
out of its first post-Cold War expansion.
of being included in the Prague round, they have been racing to boost their
fledgling militaries -- which did not exist a decade ago -- to meet NATO
"I think it is important to have
objective criteria so that in fact there is compatibility of forces, that each
of the Baltic states make a contribution to the total defense of all," Lugar
"But at the same time that there be
certainty that all three are involved and that there is literally a decision
that they will be historically a part of NATO."
Baltic diplomats have worried that Russia's objections
might sink their bids to join NATO, result in a longer wait or lead to a
watered down version of membership for them.
FEATURE-Latvia's Russians carve out Baltic
Reuters World Report Sunday, August 26, 2001 10:06:00 PM
By Anastasia Styopina
RIGA, Aug 27 (Reuters) -- Yevgeny Kopytov has
lived in Latvia for almost all of the 53 years of his life, although for the
last decade he has not been a citizen of this or any other country. That is
about to change.
"I passed the exams, signed an
oath and in about a month I should get my citizenship," Kopytov, a computer
science professor, told Reuters.
is similar to those of many people who emigrated to Latvia from other parts of
the Soviet Union during the five decades of Soviet rule, which ended 10 years
ago this month when a coup launched by hardliners in Moscow failed.
Kopytov moved to Latvia from Belarus with his parents
in 1956. Others came from Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Latvia
regained its independence he and about 650,000 other Russian-speaking
immigrants suddenly found themselves without a country.
Latvia decided to award citizenship only to those who
had held it before Moscow invaded in 1940 and to their descendants, in an
attempt to reverse decades of "Russification," even though many Russian
speakers supported Latvia's independence drive.
Starting in 1995, Latvia let non-citizens gain
citizenship if they passed a language and history exam. But only a few at a
time were allowed to apply, beginning with the younger ones, which left Kopytov
and many others out.
Under Western pressure --
especially from the European Union, which Latvia wants to join -- and following
a national referendum in 1998, this system was liberalised.
MANY PEOPLE BITTER
"windows system," as it became known due to the age limits, led to criticism by
Russia that Latvia discriminated against the Russian speakers. It left many
Although he disagreed with the
first system, Kopytov feels Latvia is home, and he was eager to become a
naturalised Latvian once he could.
"I think the
first law was wrong, but I'm not the kind of person who can just stay here
(without citizenship)," he said.
Under the windows
system and its successor, Kopytov and about 45,000 Russian-speakers have taken
up citizenship in the last six years, leaving about 535,000 of Latvia's 2.4
million population still stateless.
unlikely ever to become citizens, either because they find naturalisation
humiliating or because they will never speak the language.
"It's hard to learn the language when your are 54, and
it was not needed before 1991," said one Russian woman, who declined to be
named, as she waited at the Russian embassy in Riga to apply for citizenship so
she can leave.
According to a naturalisation
department survey carried out last year about 11 percent of non-citizens were
considering leaving Latvia, while 71 percent had decided to stay.
Economic factors have kept a lot of Russian speakers in
Latvia, where the average monthly salary is small by European standards at $240
a month, but still better than Russia's $113.
According to a report on poverty issued last year by
the welfare ministry, nationality appears to play no role in determining wealth
SOME ARE PROSPERING
Many Russian speakers are not just getting by according
to local standards -- they are prospering. One of them is Valery Kargin,
president of Parex Bank, Latvia's largest bank.
"There is a feeling that people on average are
wealthier in Latvia (than in Russia)," said Kargin.
Kargin, 40, ranks among the country's few millionaires.
He says he feels a cultural connection to Russia but considers himself a
Latvian patriot because he was born here. For him, the country has been a land
"I am thankful for Latvia that the
state has allowed me to make money and I think that the state, in its turn, has
also appreciated me," Kargin said.
everyone can get ahead as an entrepreneur, and many local Russian speakers face
a disadvantage on the labour market, where lack of local language skills means
many cannot compete for some jobs.
While there are
no regulations for most of the private sector, proficiency in Latvian is
required to hold public sector jobs.
Russian speakers are staying and are betting that their prospects will be
brighter when the country joins the European Union, which it stands a realistic
chance of doing in about 2004, if all goes according to plan.
"The factor of the EU looms ever larger in the
consciousness of Russian speakers in Latvia," said Nils Muiznieks, the director
of Latvia's Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies.
has already been a positive influence on policies towards minorities.
Concerns over acceptance in Brussels played a factor in
the 1998 citizenship referendum and the writing of a state language law to keep
requirements out of the private sector.
think that the EU can discipline Latvian parliamentarians. Also Russians will
be able to better compete with Latvians in Latvia within the EU," Muiznieks
Surveys show Latvians and Russians favour EU
entry in similar numbers, though non-citizens tend to be less supportive.
However, on the question of NATO entry, a key Latvian
foreign policy goal, there is a dramatic divide.
Latvians, 58 percent of whom favour NATO membership,
see the alliance as a security guarantee after centuries of Russian domination.
In contrast, just 18 percent of local Russian
speakers support NATO entry, many fearing this would lead to more troubles in
Riga's often frosty relations with Moscow.
Russia in mind, some critics of Latvian minorities policy say the country is
taking the wrong route by alienating the Russian speakers, who account for
about one third of the population.
"We must be
clever, cautious and correct with the Russian population here so that they
would not become a fifth column," said Mavrik Vulfson, a professor at the Art
Academy of Latvia.
Still, despite what some feel
is a cold shoulder, many local Russians think their Baltic background -- on top
of a "Baltic" accent in their mother tongue -- makes them different from
Russia's Russians, even though they share cultural ties.
"When I go to Russia I feel like a guest. In Latvia I
am at home despite all the problems we face here," said Boris Tsilevich, a
Russian-speaking member of Latvia's parliament.
U.S. senator says he supports NATO's eastward
WorldStream Tuesday, August 28, 2001 5:51:00 AM
Copyright 2001 The
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- U.S. senator and
former presidential candidate John McCain said Tuesday he supports the eastern
expansion of NATO and is confident that Russian objections to a broader
alliance will be overcome.
"I believe the Baltic
States should be included," McCain said, referring to the NATO membership bids
of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. "These are small countries, but politically,
economically and militarily they will be well-qualified for NATO membership."
McCain, a Republican presidential candidate in the
2000 election and one of the Senate's leading specialists on military issues
and foreign policy, met with Czech President Vaclav Havel briefly on Tuesday as
part of a brief visit to the region.
Republic will host a key NATO summit in the autumn of 2002, when the alliance
is expected to approve further expansion. Other countries in the region,
including Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, also have applied for membership.
McCain told reporters that no country should be
excluded from consideration as long as they meet the criteria for membership.
Despite talk of further expansion, Russia has
steadfastly maintained its opposition to enlargement, especially in the Baltic
states, which would bring NATO directly to the Russian border.
Reuters historical calendar -- September 6
Reuters World Report Thursday, August 30, 2001 4:39:00 PM
LONDON, Aug 30 (Reuters) -- Following are some
of the major events to have occurred on September 6 in history [excerpt]:
1991 -- The Soviet Union recognised the Baltic
republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as independent.
We haven't done the web site work, but the picture is there... a
farmhouse at the Brivdabas muzejs.