This year Latvia will celebrate the 10th anniversary of joining the EU and NATO. This year this country, along with Estonia, has established euro as its currency. Remarkably, Latvia carried out this step after overcoming a hard crisis, which affected a lot of the EU countries. Yet despite these factors, the data from the sociological research center SKDS look strange. According to them, only 34.7 percent of Latvian citizens are prepared to stay in the country. Why are two thirds of the country’s population, which has been a member of the EU for 10 years, anxious to leave the country? The Day started the conversation with Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia in Ukraine, historian Dr. Argita DAUDZE, with this question.
ON LATVIAN SUCCESS AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PRIME MINISTER
“This indicates the openness of our country, its economy and politics. This shows that every person has the freedom of choice. Besides, we are a part of the European Union, a union of independent countries based on the legal framework which each member state voluntarily implemented in its legislation. The most fundamental right of an individual is the opportunity to choose a place of residence. Our citizens are free to choose, they already know what the EU is and what opportunities it offers. For Latvia, it is also an opportunity to realize that in a competitive environment it must raise its competitiveness. Latvia must develop and become more attractive for itself than it is right now.
“The 2008 crisis had a profound impact on the economy and on the country in general. The 18 percent fall of GDP was very grave. The restructuring of the whole Latvian economy was very painful. Unemployment skyrocketed. People were forced to look for jobs outside Latvia. And it was a good thing they had somewhere to look for those jobs.”
And how did you manage to overcome the crisis back then?
“Thanks to painful restructuring and loans from the EU. We just did not have another choice. In addition to the global crisis which affected us, the situation was complicated by the collapse of Parex Bank, which the state bailed out with all its debts. We were forced to turn to the IMF for a loan. This loan implied very hard terms.”
And did you accept them?
“We somewhat mitigated the termed, but not to a great extent. We had to restructure the budget completely. As a result of the reforms, the state apparatus was decreased, wages were cut, the private sector suffered as well. A lot of teachers and doctors lost their jobs. We achieved success because our government and the then prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis assumed the responsibility and was ready to take these harsh measures.”
And did he assume responsibility for the tragedy at a Maxima supermarket now?
“That was his decision. But judging by the polls published on websites, the mayor of Riga should have taken responsibility for the accident.”
But as the Delfi.lv writes, today [the interview was recorded on January 14. – Author] Ushakov announced a price reduction for public transportation services.
“Perhaps, a lot of city residents like that the public transport tickets are going to be cheaper. But we must see whether this step is justified in economic terms, and if it is not sheer populism. Riga dwellers have different points of view on this, as well as on the resignation of the government, which assumed responsibility for the cause of the tragedy.”
“WE WANTED TO JOIN THE EU AND WE DID OUR BEST TO GET THERE”
Recently, president Berzins said in an argument on values with defense minister Artis Pabriks (“Unity”): “I am guided not by the West or the East, but by Latvia,” writes Ir. Some Latvian experts note that it is easier for Latvia’s president to communicate with the East rather than with the West, and Berzins is ready to go a long way just to shake Putin’s hand. Can you comment on this?
“I think that everyone agrees that a president of any country always protects the interests of his own country in the first place. Russia and we are neighbors, and we maintain active economic relations. We have different points of view on some issues, but this does not stand in our way of conducting a dialog. I would not interpret his words as an indication of a prevailing interest in Russia rather than in the West. We are mentally in the West, we never left it (laughs).”
Do you think that the EU did its best for the Association Agreement with Ukraine to be signed? Did the European community understand they had to fight for Ukraine?
“I can speak for Latvia. We fought for ourselves. We wanted to join the EU and we did our best to get there. It is not the EU that joins us, but we join the European Union. And I think that such notion as a struggle for Ukraine is out of place here.”
“THE MODEL OF RELATIONS WHICH THE EU OFFERS TO UKRAINE IS BENEFICIAL FOR BOTH PARTIES”
It was easier for your country, considering the fact that you had a great period of independence, and in 1991 it was about regaining independence. In Ukraine, independence that was declared in 1918 was very short. That is why the EU had to take into consideration this factor while trying to make Ukraine as close to it as possible.
“The factor of independence and realization of a country’s sovereignty plays a great role. I am sure that the EU leaders have a perfectly normal attitude towards Ukraine. Ukraine decides for itself, doesn’t it? If it made a decision on European integration and has done a lot of work to meet the requirements of close cooperation with the EU, the EU considered your country ready to join the political orbit of the European countries’ union, which is based on the same values. The preamble of the Association Agreement mentions values for a reason. The EU is a big club, in a good sense. If we want to be in close relations with it or to join it, we must comprehend the rules of this club.”
But the preamble does not mention the prospect of membership, even though both incumbent and former governments of Ukraine insisted on including it.
“The prospect comes with time. In Latvia’s case, there was no prospect at all when we started. I am sure that Ukraine as a sovereign state will make a decision which will be strategically favorable for it and will choose a direction which will promote changes for the better. And a change for the better is only possible through transformations. It can be done via know-how and investments. In my opinion, the model of relations the EU offers to Ukraine is beneficial for both the EU and Ukraine.”
“IF AN INDIVIDUAL IS FREE, THE VALUE ATTITUDE PLAYS A MORE IMPORTANT ROLE”
Time published an article which said that the events in Ukraine, and Euromaidan in particular, are determined by what was happening in the country during 1932-33 and are Soviet legacy. How did Latvia manage to get rid of the totalitarian legacy so fast? Or did it not manage to do it?
“This is continual work. And above all, this is the attitude of each individual to their own life. The attitude is shaped by knowledge and personal experience. If an individual is free, the value attitude plays a more important role in their life. If a person is constrained, the value attitude compound shifts into the background. The society is made of many individuals. If every individual is free, it means the society is free as well. And not only freedom is important, but responsibility for oneself, for one’s family, for one’s society too. Each free individual works and influences the shaping of legislation and adherence to the laws. And the rule of law is a fundamental compound of the EU system of values.”
Why, in your opinion, is the European integration process more complicated in Ukraine than in Latvia?
“It is necessary to note the following here: all societies of Central and especially Eastern Europe face difficulties in the transition from the former totalitarian regime to democracy. This phenomenon was well described by Piotr Sztompka on the example of the post-communist Polish society. The main thesis of his theory is that a person, who came out of a totalitarian communist society, nominates elite members from their own ranks. And at the same time, they wait for that elite to work miracles and do everything for them. However, coming from the same environment, that elite cannot act in a different way. Groundless expectations cause disappointment, which leads to protest voting. In response, politicians offer a hope, and a person takes the bait again. And this happens over and over again, until a person starts thinking clearly and understands that nothing comes out from nothing. Only severe individual trial, system, and discipline can change the situation.”
“MAIDAN IS THE EXPRESSION OF A FREE PERSON’S WILL”
Can involving emigrants in ruling the country offer a solution, as it happened in the three Baltic countries, which elected presidents who have been living abroad for a long time?
“I agree that it is important which leader and in what time period a nation chooses. A leader does not appear out of the blue, they are not raised to the throne, they are elected. And it is society that elects a leader in a direct or indirect way, for example, by the parliament, as it is done in Latvia. In other words, a leader is a response to the society’s demand in a democracy.”
What is your opinion of Euromaidan, does it signify that our society is free?
“Maidan is the expression of a free person’s will. It unites people from all regions, not only from western Ukraine. Maidans have spawned in many cities. Maidan is a place where people meet. I think that in Maidan people from remote parts of Ukraine met for the first time. Ukraine is a huge country.”