Riots in Latvia: the Violent Side of the Crisis

Article published on Jan. 13, 2009
community published
Article published on Jan. 13, 2009

A rally organized against the Latvian government turned into a violent protest. An when some hundred people tried to break in the Parliament, many did not seem suprised.

It might be the end of a dream.

A dream that, although has been over since quite a while already, some people confused with reality until this late evening. Until the moment when the pacific streets of Riga saw one of the biggest rallies ever organized since its independence becoming a violent protest against the policies of a government which seems to be a great disappointment for many.

AFP reported about 8 people injuried, 1 looted shop ( alcohol store...) and several broken windows: something that, even if in the rest of the EU it would not be difffernt from the leftover of a football match between unpolite teenagers, in this region become immediately the biggest sign of a situation that is far from being fully understood by the political elites.

"I'm surprised it's taken so long to get to this point," said protester Maris, 46, referring to the trouble, saying politicians had been "robbing" the people for years.

The rally was called by a broad-range coalition including opposition parties and trade unions which are trying to force out centre-right Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis.

Latvia, which joined the European Union in 2004, had enjoyed a reputation as an economic "tiger" as robust domestic demand powered rapid growth.

But this country of 2.3 million people slid into recession last year as consumption slumped in the face of double-digit inflation, tighter domestic credit rules and the global economic crisis.

The economy is thought to have contracted by 1.5-2.0 percent in 2008 -- final data are yet to be released -- and is expected to shrink by 5.0-8.0 percent this year according to the authorities and independent economists.

Latvia was last month granted a 7.5-billion-euro (10.4-billion-dollar) aid package by the International Monetary Fund and other lenders to try to cushion the country from the slump.

Parliament also approved linked belt-tightening measures, notably deep budget cuts that slash state employees' pay by up to 15 percent.

Besides their anger over the economy, Tuesday's protesters also demanded a shake up on the political scene.

Latvians' trust in lawmakers has been at a low ebb for years, and there has been a drive to give the people the constitutional right to dissolve parliament through referenda, something supporters say is needed to clip the wings of politicians whose graft scandals regularly grab headlines.

In August 2008, parliament agreed to draft such a constitutional change, but there has been little progress.

Tuesday's rally was a revival of a movement that drew crowds of 5,000 to demonstrations that fuelled the December 2007 resignation of Godmanis's centre-right predecessor Aigars Kalvitis, who was under fire for alleged abuse of power and failing to manage the economy properly.