esmaspäev, oktoober 22, 2007

Curtains for Kalvītis?

Never before have Latvian politics seemed so interesting. Last week Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks resigned over the government's dismissal of Aleksejs Loskutovs, Latvia's anti-corruption chief. Regional Affairs Minister Aigars Stokenbergs was also dismissed related to that case.

But it seems a bit odd that the dismissal of one person could lead to the resignation of Pabriks, who is fairly well known outside of Latvia, as well as the throngs of protesters who called for Prime Minister Kalvītis to step down.

The Kalvītis government has been the most stable of Latvia's post-1991 governments. In the past five years, Latvia has had four prime ministers. Kalvītis has been the most successful. Come this December he will have been in office for three years.

A central plank of his government has been devoted to improving ties with Russia, casting Estonia as the more obstinate of the two in the border treaty issue, and making sure to smile for the camera in meetings like the one above. In fact, Kalvītis this week attempted to play the Moscow card in his attempt to stay in office despite calls for his resignation.

Underlying that improvement in relations with Russia has been allegations of corruption -- related to the Loskutovs affair -- as well as frustration with the government over dealing with Latvia's high level of inflation (11 percent). The selection of President Valdis Zatlers, an orthopedic surgeon, over the popular favorite Aivars Endziņš, also didn't help endear the Kalvītis government to its constituents.

It's odd that Latvia, though as close to Tartu as Tallinn, seems to figure minimally in Estonian domestic politics. I mean Latvia has been going through this period of rapprochement with Moscow at the same time that Estonian-Russian relations have sunk to a new low. I also don't see internal political changes in Latvia affecting Estonian politics.

Estonia is basically stuck with the coalition it has. The only room for maneuver would be for the Reform Party to dump its problematic partners in Isamaa-Res Publica Liit and re-ally with the Center Party. In this set up, Ansip would remain prime minister. Or Keskerakond could somehow attract SDE to form a left-wing coalition with the Greens and the People's Union. But that coalition would only have 51 seats -- not doable. Or Keskerakond could manipulate the rules of logic and ally with Isamaa and SDE.

Anyway you slice it, you come away understanding that Ansip's victory in March was pretty solid and he, or at least the Reform Party, isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Meaning that the Kalvītis show will be a purely Latvian matter for the time being.

13 kommentaari:

Doris ütles ...

I... Don't quite understand what your point is... Other than the gas pipe thing there hasn't been any major splitting issues for the current Estonian government, and that one was resolved probably more to the liking of the IRL and SDE than Reform. (Wonder what Reform is getting in return... this quiet spell now?)

How exactly should Latvian internal political crises influence Estonia? Should we get our Foreign Minister to resign too or...? And as for the Russia thing, well I'm just glad that they have a border treaty now. Although knowing Russia, I'm sure that the Latvians know as well as we do that treaties really mean diddly squat when it comes to what Russia wants.

I suppose the Estonians tend to see the Latvians and Lithuanians as kind of sticking together more often and Latvians and Lithuanians tend to blame Estonia for trying to break off (the whole Nordic/Finnic/Swedish thing). It's a neighbour thing.

I do agree though that Estonians pay much too little attention to what happens in Latvia and Lithuania. Did you know for example that Casanova has spent a whole lot of time in the Dutchy of Kurland, and that the Dutchy of Kurland once owned part of Trinidad? They even traded in slaves! Latvians! well, not really latvians, more like the German nobility who ruled Kurland;)

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

And the Germans are not the Germans at that time, that is a construction of 1871 or like.

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Well i see no political connections, but business - too many companies have branches here and there, and often mother unit in riga. There also a link between...

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Since there is a lot of referring to German heritage: I am from a German city that was a captial of a "Fürstbistum" until Napoleon times. 1000 years a land with a bishop as leader of an almost independent country. And the rivalary was mainly between the bishop and the city. Was there a "Kaiser" or king? Never seen. All this talking beeing German arrived after 1800 following several occupations. French, Prussian, Hanoveranian, back and forth, all that was NEW. But they sticked to their local constitution. As long as they could. Osnabrück was part of The Hanover kingdom later that was linked to Britania. Please stop simplifying German history!

Giustino ütles ...

How exactly should Latvian internal political crises influence Estonia?

Well, that's my question to you. Outsiders often deal with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as a unit, but I don't see this having any impact on Estonia either way.

Changes in other governments do matter. Carl Bildt's foreign ministry in Sweden is arguably more favored to Estonia than others. Tarja Halonen is a friend of Estonia's, but if Sauli Niinistö was elected president, perhaps cooperation with the Finns would be closer in some areas, like defense, Russia policy?

Polish politics certainly influence EU politics, as do French and German. But what is the impact of the situation in Latvia on even its closest neighbors? It appears little.

I'd be interested in seeing who the successor is, and if that would change Latvia's current Russia policies.

Doris ütles ...

fine, Baltic-German, probably originating from Saxony, but possibly also other areas speaking the (low-)German language. Does not negate the point of interesting Latvian history.

Also, it might have been Tobago, not Trinidad... I always get those two mixed up...

LPR ütles ...

Ames has written an interesting take on Putin's presidency.

Giustino ütles ...

Well, Estonia is facing a lot of the same problems as Latvia -- high inflation, depleted labor force, et cetera.

I guess Ansip looks more confident than Kalvitis?

gaborien ütles ...

I think the biggest impact would be business wise, specially in the real estate market.

An uncertain political situation would slowdown the investment (at least the one that comes from Russia) until know the "new head's" attitude towards them.

Unfortunately while this step down / step up show goes on, the inflation is in ramp up and these changes just give an impression that Latvians are not doing something decisive to tackle it.

Jim Hass ütles ...

it is important for Estonia to maintain its discipline in managing its affairs, because of the neighborhood is in the grip of an inflationary boom at the moment. The inflow of foreign funds in to the baltics creates a one-time bonanza for the treasury as it swirls around the area a few times. The markets need to see a clear distiction in the credit -worthiness of estonia if there is a danger of contagion like in the Asian crisis of '98.

Wally Kranich ütles ...

Wally hears through grapevines how Kalvītis budget is not social enough! Wally has many alleged nights of fun with Kalvītis and would like to say on record about Kalvītis being a very social man who knows how many dollers will pay for minets!

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Tobago... and also the Gambia in Africa.

As to the Germans not being Germans back then -- increasing restrictions in the Baltikum from the Medieval period were often aimed at "Undeutsche"; if there were "Undeutsche," there were certainly "Deutsche." There wasn't a unified German state -- but we speak of Estonians and Latvians as existing before our states came into existence. The terms were used back then -- e.g., in 1738 the Riga Rate ordered the confiscation of all property belonging to non-Germans, and in 1749 it passed a regulation prohibiting Letts from dressing as Germans. The system of vassal states (the Dukes of Courland were actually vassals of the Lithuanian-Polish King) is another matter.

By the way, there was actually also an indigenous, non-German (ethnically Liv/Latvian) Couronian aristocracy that clung to its rights in 7 free villages -- the so-called "kings of Courland" or cyninges, Cursk konynghe. In fact, some of these families survive today -- they bear the oldest surnames (most Letts didn't get surnames until the 19th C), and a few of their descendants are even now prominent. Special laws affecting their free lands were implemented as late as 1933. Another interesting sidelight -- one of the many problems Courland had was with Piltene, which had been sold to the King of Denmark in 1560 and then passed between different hands for some time. A small town (current population 1776 and falling), Piltene's civil code remained separate from Latvia's until 1938!

The history of the Duchy is quite complex and lengthy, but it's important to realize that the Dukes were usually in opposition to the nobility -- the peasants (Latvians, Livs) were supportive of Duke James (Jakob, Jēkabs). The German nobles, determined to retain their privileges (which were vast -- Courland was sometimes called "a paradise of the nobles"), sought help in the Polish, German, and Russian courts; Warsaw backed the nobles, not the Dukes.

The question of PM Kalvītis is as complex as, er, Courland's history. I wouldn't say that Pabriks resigned just because of Loskutovs, and I wouldn't write Kalvītis off yet -- and even if and when he is written off, chances are that his coalition will stick together under another PM from the same party. There really aren't many other combinations here, either -- the 4 parties in Government are the right-wing Fatherlanders and 3 parties associated with the 3 main oligarchs, one of whom is in jail. The most likely breakaway would be the Fatherlanders -- but that could mean a rapprochement with the "moderate Russian" Harmony Center, now topping ratings whilst others' ratings plunge. The Fatherlanders are interested in keeping their seats and are now harshly divided amongst themselves (the Government's machinations are wildly unpopular, and the core rightist voters are obviously not fond of the Border Agreement).

But there are deeper issues at work here, as the American Ambassador's speech suggested. Pabriks has had to explain things like the coalition's attempt to monkey with security legislation. Papers like Frankfurter Rundschau are running articles like "Bananenrepublik Lettland?" Not a pleasant spot for a Foreign Minister, especially since he doesn't seem to agree with the PM or l'éminence grise, Andrejs Šķēle, who may be indicted unless the coalition continues to take all of the reins of power into its hands.

The latest poll results show the popularity of the governing parties to be in a nosedive -- the PM's party wouldn't even get into the Saeima. But elections are a long way off -- three years away. Kalvītis doesn't lack confidence -- he's overconfident and was feeling invincible; the longest serving PM ever in our history, he's presiding over a solid coalition that has packed the courts, picked a President, and won a referendum (it was invalid due to low turnout) that was in some sense a measure of how strong opposition can get, a referendum initiated by the country's most popular politician, the former President, who is now off the stage, and a signature drive (which succeeded). There are now some apparent fractures, and he rushed home from Portugal after the demonstration -- but he's regaining whatever confidence he lost.

At the moment, the biggest threat to the coalition is probably the trade unions' initiative -- they want to make it possible for the voters to dismiss the Saeima. This requires changing the Constitution, and realistically the necessary changes won't be made until perhaps spring 2009. That would introduce a really novel concept to Latvian politics, though -- responsibility towards the electorate...

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Sorry, a slip back there -- that's Andris, not Andrejs, Šķēle, or Mr. Slice ("šķēle" means "slice").