Latvia’s President Tells Like It is
According to David Rennie, correspondent of The Daily Telegraph (2/2/06), a Swiss/German newspaper editor, Roger de Weck, invited the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, “to agree that the new EU members from east and central Europe posed a danger, as they were too pro-American in their leanings.” Here’s a part of the Presidents’ response: “…I am amazed by the speed with which Europe has forgotten that it was rescued during World War Two when the Americans entered the fight. The contribution of the trans-Atlantic link to European security is something the Europeans have long taken for granted…Throughout the years, in parts of Europe, intellectuals and even politicians were enamored with the idea of Marxism and even some thought the Soviet Union was an embodiment of what Socialism and the protection of the worker was all about. America was more realistic. America looked on us as captive nations. We were captive nations, and we are now free.” By the end of her extemporary speech, she had most of the audience “applauding wildly,” reports Mr. Rennie.
Latvia Marks Eleven Years of Naturalization
BNS (2/1/06) reports that since establishing the naturalization process in 1995, Latvia’s Naturalization Board has received a total of 112,333 applications, over 10,000 a year. Of these, 105,648 or approximately 94 percent of the applicants, including 12,367 children, were granted Latvian citizenship. Nearly 4,700 children born after 1991 to non-citizen parents have received Latvian citizenship. The Board has set up a free hotline for inquiries about naturalization and has received more than 40,000 inquiries, and published materials about Latvia’s history and constitution.
Russia and Germany, France and Great Britain Form Human Right Watch Group
Tass (2/15/06) reports that Russia and the EU countries of Germany, France and Great Britain have agreed to set up a joint working group to monitor the observance of national minority human rights. “We shall speak about Russia’s efforts to ensure human rights,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. However, at their first meeting on March 3, the group will skip the state of human rights in their own countries, and instead will check on Latvia and Estonia. The group’s other goal, according to Minister Lavrov, is to “build Europe without demarcation lines.”
History Calls Communists to Account
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) became the first international body to condemn crimes against humanity committed by communist regimes of the Soviet Union and other states, reports The Times of London (1/26/06). However, the resolution was vigorously and bitterly opposed by Russia and Western Europe’s left-wing parties, writes Times reporter Charles Bremmer. All MEPs from former European communist states except Belarus, voted for the resolution. Vladimir Socor (Eurasia Daily Monitor 1/27/06), notes that the report calls for all post-communist parties and governments in formerly communist-ruled countries to encourage the study of the historical record of communist regimes, ensure that their crimes are appropriately reflected in school textbooks, and institute national days for commemoration of the victims of communist regimes. The report recommends that the Council create a working group of experts to process information on the crimes of communist regimes. Based on documents presented to the Council, a conservative estimate of death and killings between 1917 and 1989 attributed to the Soviet Union’s communist regime is about 20 million. The number of Soviet victims for the Baltic countries is about 700,000. Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis, former President of Lithuania, is one the initiators of the PACE resolution.
The Baltic Rim – Europe’s Next Economic Hub
In its recent research publication Baltic Rim Outlook, Nordea, a leading financial services firm, notes that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are among the world’s fastest growing economies. With GDP growth up to 8 percent annually, the region could become Europe’s next economic hub in the Baltic Sea region forecasts Nordea. The four countries on the Baltic Rim have achieved remarkable progress since the early 1990’s, the report notes. But the potential is not exhausted. There is room for substantial growth. “We don’t need to go as far as Asia to talk about tiger economies—they’re on our doorstep”, observed Mika Erkkila of Nordea (Hugin Online 1/27/06).
Latvian, Lithuanian Banks See Assets Skyrocket
Assets of Lithuanian banks grew 54.7 percent last year, out performing Latvia’s growth of 39.4 percent, though Latvian banks continue to maintain the largest aggregate assets among the three Baltic states, reports The Baltic Times (2/1/06). Loans issued by Latvian banks last year rose by 58.9 percent, Lithuanian bank portfolios increased by 53.6 percent.
Forbes Foreign Capital Hospitality Index (FCHI) Gives High Marks to the Baltic Countries
According to a Forbes.com (2/6/06) study, Estonia ranks number eight out of 135 countries in terms of receptiveness, openness and qualifications of foreign capital investment. The FCHI measures indicators such as GDP growth, tax structure, regulations and international trade, along with societal factors affecting investment including competitiveness, poverty, bureaucracy, red tape, technological advancement, corruption and personal freedom. Heidi Brown notes in her article “The Baltic: Pampering Foreign Investors” Forbes.com (2/6/06) that although Latvia places 22nd on the Forbes’ list, it ranks above far-wealthier nations such as Netherlands, France and Israel. Lithuania placing 29th still “beats Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland. Russia shares 103rd place with Sierra Leone; both are ahead of Tanzania and Pakistan. Brown notes that the Baltic countries have a median rating of 74 by Transparency International for their control of corruption while Russia “gets a depressing score of 21.”
Latvia: Willing and Ready for Peacekeeping Mission in Georgia
While attending an inter-parliamentary conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, Ingrid Udre, Speaker of Latvia’s Parliament, told journalists that Latvia is ready to assume peacekeeping duties in the South Ossetia conflict zone, if the operation is carried out under mandate by an appropriate international organization, reports The Messenger (2/8/06), Georgia’s English language newspaper. “We could take part in such an operation. Latvia already has the experience of participation in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq,” said the Speaker. The Chairman of the Georgia Parliamentary Committee on Defense, Givi Targamadze, did not rule out a possible replacement of the current Russian peacekeeping forces with peacekeeping troops from “countries friendly to Georgia, particularly from the Baltic states and Ukraine” (Tass 2/7/06).
Lithuania Rejects Iranian Protest
On February 9, Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a diplomatic note from Iran protesting the publishing of the “Danish Moslem cartoons” by a local newspaper—the Respublika. The note claimed the cartoons were insulting to Moslems and provoked “a wave of great indignation in Muslims all over the world.” The note also stated that freedom of the press should not be used as an excuse for insulting other people’s religious beliefs. In response to the charge, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that while Lithuania respects the religious belief of every individual, it disapproves any action against the freedom of press; therefore, it rejects the charge (LitMFA 2/10/06). Ministry officials met with the staff of the State Security Department to ensure the safety of Lithuanian citizens both at home and abroad. Previously, the Ministry had issued an advisory against Lithuanians traveling to Syria and Lebanon.
Belarus Pro-Democracy Demonstrations Held in Washington DC, Belarus and Latvia
Members of the Baltic American community joined about 70 demonstrators outside the Belarus Embassy in Washington, DC on February 16 to demand free elections in Belarus and highlight the political abuses in the current presidential election campaign. Representative McCotter stopped by to address the group. The protest was organized by the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC 2/18/06). Nicholas Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, has assured the Belarus pro-democracy advocates of U.S. support (The Washington Times 2/15/06). On the same day as the Washington demonstration, over 200 people gathered in the central square in the city of Minsk, Belarus to defy the ban on public rallies and to demand free presidential elections. Over 30 demonstrators were arrested, others were beaten by the Minsk police (BBC 2/16/06). In Riga, Latvia a number of organizations held a solidarity rally on February 16 to support the opposition movement in Belarus (The Baltic Times 2/16/06).
Rep. John Shimkus Introduces Resolution Supporting Democratic Elections in Belarus
Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) introduced House Resolution 673 “expressing support for the efforts of the people of Belarus to establish a full democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.” H. Res. 673 urges the Government of Belarus to conduct a free and fair presidential election on March 19, 2006. “This resolution is a testament to the people of Belarus. I want them to know that the U.S. is not going to stand idly by while they fall under the control of a dictator,” stated Shimkus. Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Relations and cosponsor of the resolution Elton Gallegly, (R-CA) noted that “Media in Belarus is controlled by the state…Mass gatherings in public, including peaceful protests, are illegal.” Other cosponsors of the resolution include Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA), Michael Rogers (R-MI) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI). According to Interfax (2/16/06), observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have already started monitoring the presidential election campaign in Belarus.