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Latvia

Since 9,000 BC ancient peoples of unknown origin had inhabited Latvia, but by 3,000 BC the ancestors of the Finns had settled the region. A millennium later, pre-Baltic tribes had arrived and within time evolved into the Baltic Couranian, Latgallian, Selonian, and Semigallian groups. These tribes eventually formed local governments independently from the Finno-Ugric Livian tribe until the thirteenth century, when they were conquered by the Germans, who renamed the territory Livonia. German sailors shipwrecked on the Daugava River in 1054 had inhabited the area, which led to increasing German influence. Founded by the Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia in 1201, Riga joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and shared important cultural and economic ties to the rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the peasantry and accorded non-Germanic peoples only limited trading and property rights.

Subsequent wars and treaties ensured Livonia's partition and colonization for centuries. The Commonwealth's successes during the Livonian Wars (1558-83) united the Latvian-populated duchies of Pardaugava, Kurzeme, and Zemgale, but the Polish-Swedish War (1600-29) granted Sweden acquisition of Riga and the Duchy of Pardaugava, minus Latgale, leaving Latvia again split ethnically. In turn, victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-21) gave Russia control over the Latvian territories. From 1804 onward, a series of local decrees gradually weakened the grip of German nobility over peasant society, and in 1849 a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasant-owned farms.

Until the 1860s, there still was little sense of a Latvian national identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and social mobility limited the boundaries of the peasants' intellectual and social geography. The large baronic estates caused a lack of available farmland for an increasing population, creating a large landless, urban class comprising about 60% of the population. Also in the face of stricter Russification policies, the Baltic German clergy and literati began to take a more benevolent interest in the distinctive language and culture of the Latvian peasantry. These patrons (with such Lettish names as Alunans, Barons, Krastins, Kronvalds, Tomsons and Valdemars) soon formed the Young Latvian Movement, whose aim was to promote the indigenous language and to publicize and counteract the socioeconomic oppression of Latvians. By 1901, "Jauna Strava" had evolved into the Latvian Social Democratic Party. Following the lead of the Austrian Marxists, the LSDP advocated the transformation of the Russian Empire into a federation of democratic states (to include Latvia) and the adoption of cultural autonomy policy for extra-territorial ethnic communities. In 1903, the LSDP split into the more radically internationalist Latvian Social Democratic Worker's Party and the more influential Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU), which continued to champion national interests and Latvia's national self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia.

The onset of WWI brought German occupation of the western coastal province of Kurzeme, and Latvians heroically countered the invasion with the establishment of several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist generals. As a defensive measure, Russia dismantled over 500 local Latvian industries, along with technological equipment, and relocated them to central Russia. The sagging military campaign generally increased Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks' successful October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a "free Latvia within free Russia." These circumstances led to the formation of the soviet "Iskolat Republic" in the unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this government and to the landed barons' German sympathies stood primarily the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc. These and other political parties formed the Latvian People's Council which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia's independence and formed an army. The new Latvian army faced rogue elements of the retreating German army and squared off in civil war against the Soviet Red Army, comprised greatly of the former Latvian Riflemen. Soviet power resumed in Latvia one month later on December 17 by order of the Latvian SSR, which forcefully collectivized all land and nationalized all industries and property. By May 22, 1919 the resurgent German Army occupied and devastated Riga for several days. In response, the Latvian army managed to win a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and thereafter consolidated its success on the eastern Latgale front. These developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on January 13, 1920 and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11 later that year. By September 22, 1921, Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations.

Having obtained independent statehood in which Latvians were an absolute majority, the Government headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis declared a democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country's sizeable minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The decade witnessed sweeping economic reform, as war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. Economic depression heightened political turmoil, and on May 15, 1934, Prime Minister Ulmanis dismissed the parliament, banned outspoken and left-wing political parties and tightened authoritarian state control over Latvian social life and the economy. The effects of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement of 1939 steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence until August 5, 1940, when the Soviet Union finally annexed Latvia. On June 14 of the following year 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups; others fled to the West and East. By 1945, Latvia's population dropped by one-third.

After the war, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a scale of social and economic reorganization which rapidly transformed the rural economy to heavy industry, the strongly ethnically Latvian population into a more multiethnic structure, and the predominantly peasant class into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, on March 25, 1949 Stalin again deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia. The brief "Krushchev thaw" of the 1950s ended in 1959, when the Soviets dismissed Latvian Communist Party and Government leaders on charges of "bourgeois nationalism" and replaced them with more aggressive hardliners, mostly from Russia. "Perestroika" enabled Latvians to pursue a bolder nationalistic program, particularly through such general issues as environmental protection. In July 1989, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a "Declaration of Sovereignty" and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the U.S.S.R. Pro-independence Latvian Popular Front candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March, 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence after a "transitional" period; 3 days later, Ivars Godmanis was chosen Council of Ministers Chairman, or Prime Minister.

In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the legitimate Latvian authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a "Committee of National Salvation" to usurp governmental functions. Seventy-three percent of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence March 3 in a nonbinding "advisory" referendum. A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition. Latvia claimed de facto independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt. International recognition, including the U.S.S.R., followed. The U.S., which had never recognized Latvia's forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R., resumed full diplomatic relations with Latvia on September 2.

The Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet, and the President holds a primarily ceremonial role as Head of State. In autumn 1991 Latvia reimplemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution and in spring 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. After almost 3 years of deliberations, Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in summer 1994. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940, and their descendants, could claim citizenship. Forty-six percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet about 85% of its ethnic Slavs can pass the residency requirement. Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, a 10-year residency requirement, and a knowledge of the Latvian constitution. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, drug addicts, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups also are excluded from becoming citizens.

On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing "equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups" and "guarantees to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages." The law also prohibits "any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred." In the June 5-6, 1993 elections wherein over 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the four percent threshold to enter parliament. The Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence 2 years ago with a 75% majority in the last parliamentary elections in 1990, did not qualify for representation. The centrist "Latvia's Way" party received a 33% plurality of votes and joined with the Farmer's Union to head a center-right wing coalition government.

Led by the opposition National Conservative Party, right-wing nationalists won a majority of the seats nationwide and also captured the Riga mayoralty in the May 29, 1994 municipal elections. OSCE and COE observers pronounced the elections free and fair, and turnout averaged about 60%. In February 1995, the Council of Europe granted Latvia membership. Through President Clinton's initiative, on April 30, 1994 Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement. Russia withdrew its troops by August 31, 1994, and maintained several hundred technical specialists to staff an OSCE-monitored pased-array ABM radar station at Skrunda until the facility was destroyed in 1995.

The September 30-October 1, 1995 elections brought forth a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; 7 weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a widely popular, nonpartisan businessman. The also-popular president, Guntis Ulmanis, has limited constitutional powers but played a key role in leading the various political forces to agree finally to this broad coalition. In June 1996, the saeima re-elected Ulmanis to another 3-year term. In a summer 1997 scandal, the daily newspaper "Diena" revealed that half the cabinet ministers and two-thirds of parliamentarians appeared to violate the 1966 anti-corruption law, which bars senior officials from holding positions in private business. Under pressure from Skele, several ministers subsequently resigned or were fired. However, after months of increasing hostility between Skele and leading coalition politicians, the coalition parties demanded-and received-the prime minister's resignation on July 28. The new government, headed by the recent Minister of Economy and which includes the recently fired Minister of Transportation, is expected to pursue the same course of reform, albeit not likely as vigorous.

In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele's newly formed People's Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right of center parties--Latvia's Way and the People's Party--prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments under Vilis Kristopans and Andris Skele quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the form of Andris Berzins, the Latvia's Way mayou of Riga. His four-party coalition government has so far proven to be stable and has lasted more than 13 months to date. In 1999, the Saeima elected Vair Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with on party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic in the subject of Latvian culture. Since her election, she has become one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. Local elections in 2001 represented a victory for the left-of-center parties in several municipalities, including Riga. A leftist coalition in the Riga City Council elected Gundars Bojars, a Social Democrat, to the office of mayor. The Social Democratic Party is currently the odds-on favorite for the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for fall 2000.

Today, Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister, as chief executive, and the Cabinet are responsible for government operations. The President, as Head of State, is elected by the Parliament. As discussed above, the Parliament elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga to a 4-year term in June 1999. The October 1998 elections for the 100-seat Parliament and the national referendum to amend the Citizenship Law to meet European standards were free and fair. The Government generally respects the constitutional provision for an independent judiciary in practice; however, the judiciary is not well trained, efficient, or free from corruption.

 

SOCIO-ECONOMIC SYSTEM

For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an important East-West commercial and trading center.

Industry served local markets, while timber, paper and agricultural products supplied Latvia's main exports. Conversely, the years of Russian and Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia's economy to serve those empires' large internal industrial needs. Comprising 40.1% of the populace, non-ethnic Latvians control almost 80% of the economy.

Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-oriented reforms, albeit at a measured pace. Its freely traded currency, the lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady, or appreciated, against major world currencies. Inflation has been reduced to a monthly rate of one percent or less. After contracting substantially between 1991-93, the eonomy steadied in late 1994, led by recovery in light industry and a boom in commerce and finance. A prolonged banking crisis and scandal involving what had been Latvia's largest commercial bank set the economy back in mid-1995 and 1996, causing budget deficits well beyond the 2% target recommended by the IMF. Nevertheless, Latvia's 1997 budget is balanced.

Replacement of the centrally planned system imposed during the Soviet period with a structure based on free-market principles has been occurring spontaneously from below much more than through consistently applied structural adjustment. Official statistics tend to understate the booming private sector, suggesting that the Latvian people and their economy are doing much better than is reflected statistically. Two-thirds of employment and 60% of GDP is now in the private sector. Recovery in light industry and Riga's emergence as a regional financial and commercial center have offset shrinkage of the state-owned industrial sector and agriculture. The official unemployment figure has held steady in the 7%-8% range.

Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been successfully privatized, leaving only the politically sensitive large state utilities. Despite a bad image based on loosely controlled privatization efforts in the early days, as well as the difficulties of privatizing the utilities, Latvian privatization efforts have led t the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for nearly 68% of GDP in 2000. In addition, recent developments indicate that Latvia is likely to fulfill its commitment to the IMF to sell its majority interest in the Latvian Shipping Company, and the remaining state shares in Ventspils Nafta and Latvijas Gaze by mid-2001. The main goal of the Latvian Privatization Agency was and is to created healthy companies.

Foreign investment in Latvia is still modest compared with the levels in north-central Europe. A law expanding the scope for selling land, including to foreigners, was passed in 1997. Representing 10.2% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, American companies invested $127 million in 1999. In the same year, the United States exported $58.2 million of goods and services to Latvia and imported $87.9 million. Eager to join Western economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, OECD, and the European Union, Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995--with a 4-year transition period. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.

Today, Latvia has a population of approximately 2.5 million. Privatization essentially is complete, although some large utility companies remain in state hands including the national electric company, railroads, and shipping. The currency remained stable and was traded freely; unemployment was 7.7 percent, and annual inflation was 3 percent. Per capita gross domestic product was approximately $3,013.

 

BELIEFS

In 1935, before Latvia's occupation, official statistics indicated a fairly broad spectrum of religious traditions. Evangelical Lutheranism was the single most widespread creed, claiming the attachment of 55.2 percent of the population and 68.3 percent of ethnic Latvians. Roman Catholicism was the second most popular choice, preferred by 24.5 percent of the population and 26.4 percent of ethnic Latvians. Because it was especially entrenched in the economically less-developed southeastern province of Latgale (70 percent in this region) and was commonly seen as being regional rather than national, Roman Catholicism's impact on the secular world of politics and culture appeared muted in comparison with that of Lutheranism. The Orthodox Church of Latvia had a following of 9 percent of the population, with its greatest concentration among Russians and other Slavs but with 33 percent of its support also coming from ethnic Latvians. Old Believers, constituting 5.5 percent of the population, are a unique Russian fundamentalist sect whose forebears had fled persecution from the tsarist empire in the seventeenth century and had found refuge in then Swedish- and Polish-controlled Latvia. About 5 percent of Latvia's citizens were Jewish. The rest of the pre-World War II population was scattered among an array of Protestant denominations.

World War II and a half-century of Soviet occupation and persecution of believers fundamentally changed the religious spectrum. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, with an estimated 600,000 members in 1956, was affected most adversely. An internal document of March 18, 1987, spoke of an active membership that had shrunk to only 25,000. By 1994 religious congregations in Latvia numbered 819, of which 291 were Lutheran, 192 Roman Catholic, 100 Orthodox, fifty-six Old Believer, seventy Baptist, forty-nine Pentecostal, thirty-three Seventh-Day Adventist, five Jewish, three Methodist, and two Reformed.

Part of the explanation of the diminished status of Latvia's Lutheran Church is to be found in its relative weakness as an institution, unable to withstand the pressures of occupation as robustly as the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries Latvian attachment to Lutheranism was rather tepid, in part because this religion had been brought by the Baltic barons and German-speaking clergy. During Latvia's earlier independence period (1920-40), efforts were made to Latvianize this church. Original Latvian hymns were composed, Latvian clergy became predominant, and the New Testament was translated into modern Latvian. During the tribulations of World War II, Latvians intensified their religiosity, but at the same time the Lutheran Church suffered serious losses. Many of the most religious and talented individuals and clergy fled as refugees to the West or were deported to Siberia. A large number of church buildings were demolished by war action.

The Roman Catholic Church had a much closer historical bonding with its flock. During the period of national revival through the latter part of the nineteenth century in Latgale, the clergy were among the leaders of enlightenment and an important bastion against Russification. They nurtured and were themselves members of the Latgalian intelligentsia. During the years of communist occupation, the greater commitment demanded by the Roman Catholic Church helped maintain a higher degree of solidarity against atheist incursions. For the church, the practice of confession was a useful method for monitoring the mood of the population and for organizing initiatives to counter or prevent serious cleavages or even surreptitious activities by the communist leadership. Direct guidance from Rome offered some protection against the manipulation of clergy by state functionaries. Finally, the population of Latgale did not have the same opportunity to flee from Latvia because it was cut off earlier from access to the seacoast by the Red Army. Roman Catholic clergy, who were unmarried, were also more inclined to remain with their religious charges, whereas Lutheran clergy had to take into account the safety of their families.

Most Latvian Jews were annihilated by the Nazis during World War II. After the war, a certain number of Jews from other parts of the Soviet Union settled in Latvia. Many of them had already endured antireligious campaigns under Stalin, and there were many obstacles placed in the way of reviving Jewish religious activity. Most former Latvian synagogues were confiscated by the state for other uses, and nowhere in the entire Soviet Union did there exist any centers for rabbinical education. After Latvia's independence in 1991, there was a resurgence of interest in religious affairs. Five Jewish congregations served the growth in demand for services.

The statistics for 1991 point to an interesting pattern. At that time, far more people were baptized than married in church. Part of the explanation can be found in the requirement by some religions, including Lutheranism, that people must be first baptized and confirmed before having a religious wedding. Another possible explanation for this phenomenon is that the communist state was quite successful in sowing doubts about religion among the young and the middle-aged. Many, especially former members of the Komsomol and the communist party, feel uncomfortable in their personal relationship with the church but also have a desire to open more options for their offspring. Indeed, it is a common phenomenon to see nonreligious parents sending their children to Sunday school for the sake of "character building." In the process, however, some of the parents have become tied to a church and have joined the congregation.

During communist rule, every effort was made to curtail the influence of religion. All potential avenues of contact with the population were cut off. Schools, media, books, and workplaces were all off-limits to religious organizations. Even charity work was forbidden. Indeed, the family itself was not at liberty to guide children into active church work until the age of eighteen. Thus, no Sunday schools, religious choirs, or camps were open to young people. Religious publications, with a few exceptions, were limited to yearbooks and song sheets for Sunday services. Regular churchgoers were subject to various pressures, including harassment at work and comradely visits by local atheists. Anyone with career ambitions had to forgo visible links with religion. The state successfully preempted the most important church ceremonies of baptism, confirmation, weddings, and funerals by secular ceremonies. In 1986 the Lutheran Church registered 1,290 baptisms, 212 confirmations, 142 marriages, and 605 funerals--a fraction of the activity that was to occur in 1991. Evidently, a revolution in the status of the church occurred within that brief period.

Starting with 1987, the Lutheran Church experienced a revival pioneered by a group of young, rebellious, and very well-educated clergy who formed the organization Rebirth and Renewal (Atdzimsana un Atjaunosana). There were confrontations with communist authorities and with the ossified hierarchy of the Lutheran Church itself, which had become somnolent and very accommodating to the demands of secular powers. With the advent of political plurality, the Lutheran Church was able to expand its role and its activities. Church buildings were refurbished, demolished churches were renewed, Sunday schools were opened, religious education was provided in day schools, and the media reported sermons and religious discussions. For several years after the liberalization of church activities, religion became extremely fashionable. Part of this boom, as acknowledged by the Lutheran clergy, was a rebellion against authorities that coincided with the general political effervescence.

The Roman Catholic Church also went through a process of renewal, but its changes were not as marked because it had been able to maintain a strong presence in the population even under the most adverse conditions. Thus, in 1985 the Roman Catholics performed 5,167 baptisms, about five times as many as the Lutherans. In 1991 the Roman Catholics performed 10,661 baptisms, more than double the number in 1985. Among the Roman Catholics baptized in 1991, only 40 percent had been born in families in which the parents had married in church.

A major change in the geography of the Roman Catholic Church also presented problems. Whereas in 1935 more than 70 percent of Roman Catholics resided in the southeastern province of Latgale, by 1990 only 42 percent lived there. Thus, many Roman Catholics lived throughout Latvia, where often no churches of their creed existed. There has been much ecumenical goodwill, and the more numerous Lutheran churches are being used by Roman Catholics and by other religious groups. Administratively, the Roman Catholic Church comprises the Archdiocese of Riga and the Diocese of Liepaja.

Latvia's Roman Catholic Church received a great moral boost in February 1983 when Bishop Julijans Vaivods was made a cardinal. This was the first such appointment in the history of Latvia and the first within the Soviet Union. No doubt part of the willingness of the communist party to accommodate the Roman Catholic Church in this way was the fact that Vaivods was eighty-seven years old in 1983. Yet, he confounded the communists by living until May 1990, thus providing more than seven years of leadership.

Vaivods, who studied theology in St. Petersburg and was an eyewitness to the Bolshevik Revolution, was also an extremely able tactician. His efforts on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in the Soviet Union are a classic case of stubborn, low-key, but effective opposition to party pressure. The Soviet regime had decided to allow Roman Catholic congregations outside Latvia and Lithuania to die by not allowing them new clergy. Almost daily, delegations of Roman Catholic faithful from various parts of the Soviet Union came to Vaivods during the 1960s pleading for help. He sent Latvian priests to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Tallinn, and other cities, in spite of local shortages. When pressed by the delegations to allow their own people to enroll in Latvia's Roman Catholic seminary, Vaivods made it clear that the obstacle was not the church but rather state authorities who had given him instructions to claim that the seminary was too small. Under pressure, the authorities relented and allowed a trickle of seminarians from outside Latvia, but as punishment they took away almost half of the seminary's rooms. The church skimped and struggled but did not change its policy. By 1978 the expropriated space was returned, and three years later permission was granted for the construction of a new seminary. Thereafter, seminarian numbers increased rapidly from eighteen in 1980 to 107 in 1989. Most of the students were non-Latvians slated for service in other areas of the Soviet Union.

Latvian Lutherans also provided help to their brethren in other Soviet republics. Lutheran clergy were trained in Latvia for Lithuania. More important, Bishop Haralds Kalnins single-handedly took care of scattered German Lutherans outside the Baltic region. Besides ministering and preaching, he was empowered to ordain religious workers and to settle questions of theological education. In one six-day trip to Kazakhstan in 1976, the bishop held seven services in which 400 people received Holy Communion, twenty children were christened, thirty-five youths were confirmed, and ten couples were married. He was able to carry this load in spite of his advanced age.

The pre-World War II independent Orthodox Church of Latvia was subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate after the war, and its new clergy were trained in seminaries in Russia. It remained a major religious organization in Latvia because of the heavy influx of Russians and other Orthodox Slavs after the war. Only in 1992 did the Orthodox Church of Latvia become administratively independent once again. Its cathedral in the center of Riga had been transformed by the communists into a planetarium with an adjoining coffee shop popularly dubbed "In God's Ear." The cathedral is now being restored to its original architecture and purpose.

With the advent of independence, several other changes were introduced as well. Potential Lutheran pastors could now receive their training through the Faculty of Theology, which is affiliated with the University of Latvia. The Roman Catholics acquired a modern new seminary, but they had problems recruiting able scholars and teachers as well as students. Most Roman Catholic seminarians from outside Latvia have returned to their respective republics, and new seminarians are being trained locally. The new freedoms have allowed many other religious groups to proselytize and recruit members. Under conditions of economic and political uncertainty, their efforts are bearing fruit. Such denominations as the Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day Adventists have made significant inroads. Charismatic movements, animists, Hare Krishna, and the Salvation Army have all attempted to fill a void in Latvia's spiritual life. Undoubtedly, there is great interest among Latvians in spiritual matters, but it is difficult to know how much of it is genuine and how much reflects the ebb and flow of fashion and will be replaced by other trends.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

While rates of murder, robbery, and burglary are high in Latvia, the overall crime rate in Latvia is low compared to more industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Latvia. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Latvia will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 2000 was 11.2 per 100,000 population for Latvia, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.51 for USA. For rape, the rate in 2000 was 6.94 for Latvia, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 32.05 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 2000 was 136.11 for Latvia, 4.08 for Japan, and 144.92 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2000 was 19.57 for Latvia, 23.78 for Japan, and 323.62 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 2000 was 641.16 for Latvia, 233.60 for Japan, and 728.42 for USA. The rate of larceny for 2000 was 919.96 for Latvia, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2475.27 for USA. (Data for Latvia are from 1999 - data missing from INTERPOL report) The rate for motor vehicle theft in 2000 was 124.83 for Latvia, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 414.17 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 1859.77 for Latvia, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA.

TRENDS IN CRIME

Between 1995 and 2000, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 11.31 to 11.2 per 100,000 population, a decrease of 1%. The rate for rape increased from 6.25 to 6.94, an increase of 11.04. The rate of robbery increased from 35.78 to 136.11, an increase of 280.4%. The rate for aggravated assault decreased from 23.64 to 19.57, a decrease of 17.2%. The rate for burglary increased from 302.47 to 641.16, an increase of 112%. The rate of larceny increased from 562.87 to 919.96, an increase of 63.4%. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 109.7 to 124.83, and increase of 13.8%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 1052.02 to 1859.77, an increase of 76.8%.

 

ANALYSIS OF TRENDS

Crime was a serious problem in Latvia in the early 1990s, as it was in the other Baltic states and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The total number of reported crimes increased from 34,686 in 1990 to 61,871 in 1992 and then dropped to 52,835 in 1993. The number of convictions rose from 7,159 in 1990 to 11,280 in 1993. Theft accounted for more than three-quarters of all crimes, although the number of reported cases declined from 51,639 in 1992 to 41,211 in 1993. The incidence of murder or attempted murder was 2.6 times higher in 1993 than in 1990. Drug-related offenses more than tripled in this period. Drugs as well as alcohol, weapons, scrap metals, and consumer products were often smuggled into the country.

Subjected to the spread of organized crime from Russia, Latvia cooperated with neighboring Estonia and Lithuania and other countries via the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). The Latvian authorities were gradually replacing the Soviet-trained police, although allegations of corruption in the law enforcement community persisted. Political corruption and white-collar crime also posed significant problems. The lack of funding for remuneration, equipment, and even gasoline for police vehicles hampered law enforcement operations. The Home Guard assisted in police patrols but had no power to make arrests.

 

POLICE

The security apparatus consists of the national police and other services--such as the Special Immigration Police and the Border Guards--who are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior, municipal police who are under local government control, the military Counterintelligence Service and a protective service which are under the Ministry of Defense, and the National Guard - an element of the national armed forces--which also assists in police activities. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces. The Constitution Protection Bureau is responsible for coordinating intelligence activities. Members of the security forces, including police and other Interior Ministry personnel, committed human rights abuses.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and the large resident noncitizen community; however, problems remained in certain areas. Members of the security forces, including the police and other Interior Ministry personnel, sometimes used excessive force and mistreated persons. In most instances, the Government took disciplinary measures against those responsible.

The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were credible reports that members of the security forces used excessive force and mistreated persons. In November 2001 the Council of Europe (COE) issued a report of its visit to detention facilities in 1999. According to the COE report, three cases of severe abuse occurred. All involved local police officials. The Government denied strongly the COE's allegations.

The Government has taken action against those responsible for the abuse of prisoners. In February 2000, the Prosecutor's office announced that it had initiated disciplinary cases against 30 law enforcement personnel for various violations and that 12 had been punished, including 2 who were dismissed and 2 who were demoted.

In conjunction with the Soros Foundation and the National Human Rights Office (NHRO), the Ministry of Interior continued its programs for educating police officers about human rights concerns. These programs form part of the basic curriculum for all police officers. In addition a continuing education program required for midlevel officers focuses on the use of force, firearms, and dealing with victims. The SOROS program emphasizes a "train the trainers" approach and has trained seven teaching staff. SOROS provided funding during the year 2001 to introduce a module on community policing. In 1999 a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) established a free legal advisory service for prisoners and others who believe that they were victims of police abuse.

The law requires that law enforcement authorities have a judicial warrant in order to intercept citizens' mail, telephone calls, or other forms of communication. The laws protecting privacy apply to citizens and noncitizens equally. There were no credible reports of the unsanctioned wiretapping of telephone conversations.

 

DETENTION

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, at times the Government did not respect these prohibitions in practice. The law requires the Prosecutor's Office to make a formal decision whether to charge or release a detainee within 72 hours after arrest. Charges must be filed within 10 days of arrest. The courts have responsibility for issuing arrest warrants. Detainees have the right to have an attorney present at any time. These rights are subject to judicial review but only at the time of trial. According to credible reports, these rights are not always respected in practice, especially outside of Riga.

According to Ministry of Interior personnel, detainees awaiting trial spend an average of 2 years in prison, but in practice pretrial detention can last much longer. More than 40 percent of all inmates are in pretrial detention. By year's end, 62 percent of all juveniles in custody were awaiting trial (down from 70 percent last year). According to a human rights NGO, of the 192 minors held in pretrial detention in Brasas, 36 had been held for less than 6 months, 68 from 6 months to 1 year, 57 from 1 to 2 years, and 31 for more than 2 years. During 2000 94 prisoners filed complaints concerning their right to a fair and timely trial.

The law prohibits forced exile, and there were no reports that the Government employed it.

COURTS

The Latvian legal system is a civil law system. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the courts must rely on the Ministry of Justice for administrative support, and the judiciary is poorly trained, inefficient, and corrupt.

The judicial structure is composed of district (city) courts, regional courts, which hear appeals from district courts, the Supreme Court, which is the highest appeals court, and the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court is a seven-judge panel that is authorized to hear cases regarding constitutional issues at the request of state institutions or individuals who believe that their constitutional rights were violated. For more serious criminal cases, two lay assessors join the professional judge on the bench at the district and regional levels.

In the year 2001, the Government continued to reform the judicial system; however, corruption in the judicial system reportedly is widespread. In 1997 the judges appointed to preside over the trial of the president of the collapsed Bank Baltija, Aleksander Lavent, resigned from the case, citing alleged political pressure from the Government. The trial of Lavent and his alleged accomplices resumed briefly in 1999 and again in 2000, but was suspended due to the defendant's illness. In July 2000, Lavent filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights accusing the Latvian courts of violating his right to a fair and speedy trial. In October 2000, Lavent led a hunger strike with several other prisoners to protest lengthy pretrial detention. Further attempts to proceed with Lavent's case were unsuccessful due to his continuing claims of illness. The European Court of Human Rights did not hear the case by year's end.

Most judges have inadequate judicial training, and the court system is too weak to enforce many of its decisions. A major difficulty in enforcing court decisions is the continuing lack of an effective bailiff or sheriff system. The law allows for more alternative punishments, including community service; however, alternative punishments rarely are used by the courts.

Lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. The NHRO reviewed 102 cases during the year 2001 regarding prisoner's rights; the majority concerned their right to a fair and timely trial. By year's end, a domestic human rights NGO recorded four complaints regarding the right to a fair and public trial within a reasonable time. An aging and time consuming judicial process, the lack of plea-bargaining, and a shortage of judges have overloaded the courts to the point where the average case takes 2 years to reach judicial review.

Court decisions are not published systematically, nor is there a centralized index for those that are published. Trials may be closed if state secrets might be revealed or to protect the interests of minors. All defendants have the right to hire an attorney, and the State will lend funds to indigent defendants for this purpose. Defendants have the right to read all charges, confront all witnesses, and may call witnesses and offer evidence to support their case. They also may make multiple appeals.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

CORRECTIONS

As of year 2001, prison conditions remained poor, although some progress was made in renovating old and unsafe prison facilities, and the outdated Doebele Detention Facility was closed in March. Overcrowding remained a problem, particularly in those facilities that house prisoners awaiting trial, which were at 110 percent of capacity. In May 2001, the Government enacted "temporary regulations" designed to ease the conditions for those held in such detention facilities, including restrictions on the number of occupants per cell and the continuation of the physical rehabilitation of older prisons. According to government figures, regular prisons were filled to 85 percent of overall capacity. Despite efforts by the Central Prison Administration, inadequate sanitation facilities, a persistent shortage of medical care, and insufficient lighting and ventilation were common problems; all stem from a lack of resources. Prisoners launched a series of hunger strikes in April and May, 2001, to protest new regulations prohibiting the delivery of outside foods parcels to both detainees and prisoners in remand facilities. These strikes ended peacefully on May 31. The NHRO records and investigates complaints of violations of the right to humane treatment and respect of dignity. During the year 2001, 33 prisoners filed complaints against the police. The Government, as well as human rights groups, remained concerned regarding the high number of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases (there were 37 drug-resistant tuberculosis cases in the Riga Central Prison Hospital at year's end 2001), and the Government has received assistance from several foreign organizations to address this problem. Although the number of cases continued to decrease, the Riga Central Prison Hospital remained overcrowded at more than 150 percent of capacity.

Despite its stated intentions, the Government moved very slowly with its efforts to improve the criminal code and provide additional resources to the prison system. The situation of juveniles being held for lengthy periods of pretrial detention was a problem. In April 2001, the President visited the Brasas Detention Facility and publicly criticized the conditions under which the juveniles were being incarcerated and the length of their pretrial confinement. Juveniles are held separately from adults. Overall 40 percent of all prisoners in the country were awaiting trial at year's end 2001. Unlike convicted criminals, persons in pretrial detention are not allowed to work or go to school, have limited contact with outside NGO's or family, and suffer from considerably worse living conditions than prisoners in general. Pretrial detainees are held separately from convicted criminals, and female prisoners are held separately from male prisoners.

The Government permits independent human rights monitors to visit prisons. Domestic groups, such as the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, closely monitored prison conditions during the year 2001.

WOMEN

Although no overall statistics are available, observers report that domestic violence against women, often connected with alcohol abuse, is significant and underreported. Police do not compile figures for domestic violence as a distinct category. Instead, episodes are placed under more general categories such as assault or battery. During the year 2001, 112 rape cases were reported. Women who are victims of abuse often are uninformed about their rights and are reluctant to seek redress through the justice system. Human rights groups assert that the legal system, including the courts, tends to downplay the seriousness of domestic violence and that the police are reluctant at times to make arrests in such cases.

There are no shelters designed specifically for battered or abused women. There is one shelter in Riga where homeless women with children may reside for up to 2 months. There are no specific rape or assault hot lines; however, two crisis hot lines are managed by NGO's.

Prostitution is widespread and often is linked to organized crime. The Government has estimated that 3,000 persons work as prostitutes. Prostitution is legal; however, procuring is not, but the NHRO reports that adult prostitutes have no legal protections. There are no state institutions to assist prostitutes; however, the private Latvian Center for Gender Problems provides medical help and social support for prostitutes. Trafficking in women for prostitution is a problem.

CHILDREN

Law enforcement authorities have won court suits to remove children from abusive parents and secured convictions in child molestation cases; however, evidence suggests that abandonment and child abuse, including sexual abuse, are relatively widespread, as is child prostitution. An estimated 12 to 15 percent of prostitutes are between the ages of 8 and 18. Although in theory the Constitution and the law protect children, these rights are enforced only sporadically in the case of child prostitutes. Trafficking in young girls for prostitution abroad is increasing.

On April 4, the Dardedze Center Against Abuse, a government-supported organization, was opened in Riga. The center offers multidisciplinary treatment and rehabilitation to victims of child abuse and their families. The center also has a forensic interview room where victims can be interviewed in a secure environment and their testimony directly transmitted to a courtroom.

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

There is no law that specifically prohibits all forms of trafficking, although in May 2000, the Criminal Code was revised to make it illegal to send forcibly a person to a foreign country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution was a problem.

Latvia is primarily a country of origin and transit for trafficked victims rather than a destination, although no exact statistics are available. The main countries of destination are Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent Cyprus and Israel. Statistics released by European police services indicate that the number of Latvian women involved as victims of trafficking increased. In 2000 273 women (not all necessarily involved in trafficking) were deported back to the country. According to authorities in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark, Latvian women make up a disproportionately high number of the women engaged in prostitution in those countries as well as a high number of trafficked women in those countries in general. There is evidence that trafficking in women (including minors) for prostitution abroad is increasing. Traffickers, primarily organized criminal groups, usually lure victims through offers of false employment in European countries. A large number of victims are drawn from the economically depressed areas of eastern Latvia. Other victims are recruited through job advertisements, modeling agencies, travel agencies, and nightclubs.

During the year 2001, there were 11 criminal cases for trafficking, involving 18 suspects, and these cases were under investigation at year's end 2001. There were no prosecutions of traffickers by year's end.

Over the last 2 years, the Government allocated more resources towards combating trafficking in persons. There is a high-level working group on trafficking, and the Ministry of Interior, which includes the State Police and the Citizenship and Migration Department, is the principal government ministry involved in the trafficking problem. Also participating in the working group are representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Welfare, and the National Center for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. The Government has allocated funds to increase the number of police officers tasked with fighting prostitution and trafficking. However, there is concern among NGO's that the Government has not developed a strategy for focusing on the problem.

There are virtually no trafficking victims assistance programs in the country. Upon returning to the country, victims of trafficking are not singled out for governmental or societal abuse or mistreatment, and they can return home. Genders is the primary NGO involved in working with prostitutes, and two NGO's have begun operations to educate adolescents regarding trafficking issues. On December 10, the Council for Latvian Youth (a Latvian NGO) and the International Organization for Adolescents held a seminar in the town of Dubulti to inform other youth-oriented NGO's about trafficking.

DRUG TRAFFICKING

Latvia has witnessed an increase in drug trafficking and abuse over the past year, but these still do not constitute major problems. Nevertheless, the country's location as a transit hub for the Baltic region and its vulnerability to organized crime groups makes it an attractive target for narcotics traffickers. The Latvian Government is aware of these dangers and, with the assistance of international organizations and western donors, is taking steps to combat them. Latvia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention. The Government currently is finalizing its counternarcotics masterplan and has taken steps to strengthen anti-narcotics law enforcement agencies, though this effort is constrained by limited budgetary resources. In January 1998, Latvia passed a money laundering law, and a financial disclosure unit has now commenced operations.

Drug production is not a significant problem in Latvia. There is minor cultivation of opium poppy on small private plots, but this is mainly for culinary purposes and does not contribute to drug abuse. There is also small-scale production of amphetamines, ephedrine and ecstasy in Latvia. Narcotics trafficking is a more serious problem. Latvia's geographic location at the crossroads of Western Europe and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)--which are increasingly involved in the international drug trade--makes it a natural transit route for narcotics.

Drug seizure statistics indicate that most illegal drugs move by road and railway transport. Opiates come through Latvia from Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia; ephedrine from Russia or India via Moscow; cannabis from Central and Southwest Asia, Moldova and Morocco via the Netherlands; amphetamines from the Netherlands, Poland and Germany; and psychotropic substances from Russia and Lithuania. Police have found small amounts of heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs in private vehicles traveling to Latvia from the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. Heroin and cocaine have been discovered on Riga's local black market. Opiates still dominate drug seizures, but the volumes confiscated have remained stable over the past four years. Nevertheless, the statistics show rising availability of other drugs, including marijuana, ephedrine, amphetamine, ecstasy and heroin. The presence of entrenched organized crime groups in Latvia makes it likely that the trafficking problem will grow.

While the total number of drug abusers in Latvia is still not substantial, the Government is concerned about recent trends in narcotics use. According to estimates by the National Drug Control Coordinating Committee, there are between 5,000 and 8,000 heavy drug users in the country. Over the past year or more, the availability of new kinds of drugs has grown, and abuse is spreading among young people. Difficult economic conditions have contributed to a rise in the number of families with unsupervised children living on the streets drawn into drug abuse and trafficking. There is also a growing problem of drug abuse in the prisons. Of special concern is the growing mortality rate among adolescent drug abusers. HIV among drug users was first detected in 1997, and by 1998 there were 28 reported cases.

The most commonly used drugs in Latvia are opiates, cannabis, ephedrine and psychotropic substances. As contacts with Europe have increased, designer drugs from the west have gained in popularity and acceptability. Officials are concerned about the recent trend for some in the media to glamorize drug use and to spread misinformation that drug use is neither harmful to health nor dangerously addictive. Drug-related crimes in Latvia increased from 205 in 1992 to 433 in 1997, with 289 cases reported in the first nine months of 1998.

The Ministry of the Interior has worked closely with the UNDCP Field Office to develop a comprehensive national drug control and drug abuse prevention masterplan for 1999-2003. Together with this plan, Latvia has put into place a nearly complete legislative, institutional and policy framework to support the UN Convention. On the legislative side, for example, the Parliament passed a law on precursors and the control of licit narcotics and psychotropic substances in 1996. In 1998, Latvia adopted a new law on money laundering, and passed legislation protecting children's' rights in narcotics arrest cases. In the coming year, Latvia needs to focus on effectively implementing new narcotics laws, which will come into effect in April 1999 as part of the amended criminal code.

Enforcement of drug policy in Latvia rests with the Ministry of the Interior's Drug Enforcement Bureau (DEB), which was created in 1994. The DEB's responsibilities include regulation of chemical and pharmaceutical organizations, supervision of transit agencies, training and regional oversight. During 1998 the Latvian Government has taken steps to strengthen the Bureau, including its coordination with other drug control agencies, such as the recently-established Customs drug unit. As a result, the DEB's performance, measured by the number of seizures and criminal cases instigated, has measurably improved. In addition to the DEB, Latvia has established a National Drug Control and Drug Abuse Combat Commission responsible for overall policy development and coordination of drug control efforts. Over the past year the Government has increased the staffing of the Commission's political and expert levels as well as its secretariat. Moreover, a modernized border checkpoint at Terehova, on the boundary with Russia, opened this year with a special facility for drug-sniffing dogs and their handlers.

According to Latvian Ministry of the Interior statistics, the Drug Enforcement Bureau investigated 433 criminal cases relating to drug possession and drug trafficking in 1997, up from 362 in 1996. In the first quarter of 1998, the number of cases was 101, compared with 59 in the first quarter of 1997. While these numbers reflect improvement in Latvian police counternarcotics work, many observers believe that the actual extent of drug abuse and trafficking is considerably greater than these figures would indicate. The bottom line is that inadequate resources continue to hamper the work of Latvia's drug control agencies. The police counter-narcotics units, border guards and customs officials lack adequate staff, training and equipment as well as effective coordination among themselves. Other problems include. too frequent reorganizations within the law enforcement agencies; frequent changes in the criminal code that hinder operational work; and lack of smooth cooperation with prosecutors and the courts.

Corruption is a significant problem in Latvia, though it is not a threat to democratic rule or the fabric of the economy. Recent reports by the World Bank and Transparency International, based on public opinion polls, indicate there is a perception of pervasive corruption by public officials, but most international observers say this is not an accurate portrayal of conditions in Latvia. Most documented cases of bribery, involving judges, local officials, customs officers or police, have been minor cases. There is significant non-transparency in the financial linkage between political elites and big businesses. Moreover, the frequent passage of new laws -or revision of existing laws and regulations- as well as their daunting complexity, have contributed to conflicting judicial interpretations, thus reinforcing misgivings about the transparency of the overall legal system.

Latvian authorities are developing a national drug and alcohol prevention strategy targeting youth. The Government has also organized a number of training programs for drug prevention and treatment professionals, and drug awareness campaigns have been carried out in the schools. The authorities have also increasingly used the media to highlight the dangers of drug abuse.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Kristen Hory

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