Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Swedes are turning Japanese

I may be wrong in asserting that in Japanese culture, one rarely says "NO" outright. So I have read. Now it turns out that there are Swedes who do the same. All summer, I have been trying to talk about stringing for a major Swedish newspaper from Latvia. I was led along for a couple of months with all kinds of semi-excuses, but never a clear NO, we don't have the money, and moreover, we are probably not interested. So finally, after one visit to Stockholm mainly to try to see this editor, and a second visit, having to do with my work, I get the word I could have been told in May or June or whenever I first thought these people were nibbling at my offer. Waste of my time and theirs.
Evidence, yet again. that the Swedes, aside from some narrow channels of information for specific audiences, or through their own company networks, really don't give a flying f**k about Latvia or the Baltics, nevermind how much of their business is done their, etc. etc. A strange provincialism from a people who claim their market is the whole world, and whose foreign aid agency SIDA at time worked on the principle -- the further from Sweden and the stranger the country, the more money we will pour into it.

Monday, August 02, 2004

We pass 260 dead

It could be a low intensity war. Motorist number 260 was killed over the weekend. That makes Iraq a very safe place to be with the Latvian military contingent. They have only suffered one person killed, in an apparent mortar attack. Some folks have been injured in accidents. Let's keep it that way, better yet, let's get the troops out of that hopeless mess.
The government is promising to cut the road carnage, but aside from more police patrols, little is being done. The system of accumulating points for violations seems OK in theory and has netted a couple of thousand violators so far (since July 1). I think what needs to be done is mandatory jail sentences. 15, 30, 60 days, perhaps even a year with no possibility of early release for repeat violators, say, aggressive driving or driving under the influence, leave the scene, etc. It might put a dent in the statistics and the thick skulls of the brainless road hogs.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Body Count

The news here is dominated by Latvia struggling to keep its status as the country with the highest road death rate in Europe. We are close to or past 250 dead so far. Every weekend adds to the count. The prime minister came out with the dumb and clueless statement that "old and powerful cars" were responsible for the slaughter and should be banned. In fact, it is young people driving relatively new and sometimes powerful cars at high speeds, drinking and with no seat belts attached that gets folks killed. It is a problem of mentality, not machines to my mind.

Friday, July 16, 2004


If you are coming to Riga, consider this. You could leave here with bruises or a cast because of cyclists. They are silent, speeding wraiths who come mainly down the sidewalks, weaving among the pedestrians and giving no warning. When the pedestrian walk lights go on in all directions on certain street corners, they will slash through the processions of people crossing the street. I hear of car-bike accidents, but seldom of bike-pedestrian collisions, though there must be a number, Much as cycling is a good thing when done in a civilized environment (bike paths) by civilized people (who use bells, respect traffic lights as they themselves are non-motorized "traffic"), I don't sympathize much with the cyclists in Riga. In fact, politically uncorrect as it may sound, if one of them is taken out and I read it in the paper, I think of the last time some idiot whizzed a few centimeters past me on the sidewalk and think -- one less!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Its midweek. Stories being worked on -- the sale of Latvia's second largest cable TV operator Telia MultiCom by Telia Sonera to what appears to be a single local investor. Telia MultiCom claims around 75000 subscribers. Unlike number one rival Baltcom, it has decided not to go ahead with digital cabe TV. Baltcom is going all digital.
The guy reportedly buying TeliaMultiCom is not known in cable TV circles, so it could be the rumored management buyout followed by a quick sale to a major Russian cable operator that has been rumored earlier. We shall see.
Also doing a piece on Transcom, the CRM contact center company, expanding its business in Latvia.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Week Ahead

The weekend is ending. I drove in to Riga from my summer cottage to do some e-mails, update this thing and the like. Incredible rain, tropical downpour coming in.
The week ahead I may have to make some decisions about changing the terms on which I am working for my present employer, plus maybe getting something to make up for the income lost from the Swedish paper dropping me. There are prospects. Meanwhile, it is news famine here, so I may have to dig up or semi-invent something. I have some ideas, maybe the broadband internet work a Latvian company is doing here to beat WiMax to the market. The TeliaSonera thing has cooled down (all the fuss about a settlement of a multimillion arbitration deal, plus the endless struggle to lift the confidentiality surrounding that agreement). A viewpoint may be in order how this government is re-nationalizing telecommunications.
We shall see.

The Swedish indifference

Journalism is a career of ups and downs, and one of the downs, which may soon be reversed, is losing a stringer job I had with a leading Swedish business newspaper, Dagens industri. The reason was cost savings, although the costs were hardly excessive, a small retainer and some "bartered" plane tickets to Stockholm.
The strange thing was this was announced in January, when it was clear that Latvia would enter the European Union, and became effective on June 30, two months after Latvia joined the EU on May 1. Latvia has one of the highest growth rates in the EU. There are some 250 Swedish companies, many of them small and medium sized, active in Latvia. Most of the big banks in Latvia are owned by Swedish banks, as is the dominant telecommunications operator, Lattelekom (by TeliaSonera). None of this affected Dagens industri's decision. As far as I know, there is no one else and no other plans to cover Latvia. So we have a remarkable case of Swedish indiffrence. It goes beyond just the business press. The major Swedish news agency, TT, turned down an offer by a native Swede living in Latvia with some journalistic experience. All he wanted was them to help him finance his laptop, gas for his car, and a mobile phone so he could cover all three Baltic States. It is clearly a case of Swedish indifference.

Saturday, July 10, 2004


This is my second attempt at a blog. The first fizzled out more than a year ago. Frankly, I forget the parameters for it. Anyway, I am a business journalist living and working in Latvia and will try to make some observations about what is going on here from time to time.
It is a summer weekend, I have come into Riga from my summer house in the nearby coastal town of Carnikava. This is an odd thing about Latvia. Despite statistics that make it the poorest country in the European Union, Latvia actually has a relatively high standard of living. Owning a summer place, a car, TV, VCR (increasing, too, a DVD) and a mobile (for US readers, a cellular) phone is commonplace. Indeed, there are more than 1.2 million mobile phones in Latvia, where the population is less than 2.4 million. Looking at Latvia in terms of what people actually own and have, our standard of living is probably no worse than Southern Europe.
In the capital city, Riga, we have a 14 screen multiplex and several shopping malls that can compare with anything in the US or Western Europe. There are, to be sure, quite a few negative aspects to the country and its society, mostly as a result of its Soviet socialist heritage from 1944-1991.
More on that, perhaps, later.