Sunday, March 08, 2009

Losing millions, but keeping faith in NGOs?

This is just a brief note about a talk on the European Movement in Latvia, an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). Andris Gobiņš, the young, German-born Latvian head of the organization (therefore also a former exile community member) mentioned how several million (EUR or LVL) in European Union (EU) funds had been blocked or hindered from distribution in Latvia. It seems that the Latvian authorities told applicants that they could not request or spend money for accounting and administrative costs related to any EU funds they would get.
This, it turned out, was untrue, as Gobiņš found out simply by calling the appropriate EU officials in Brussels. This means that Latvian officials in charge of EU funds distribution and/or informing applicants were either ignorant or willfully lying. The liar and/or ignorant moron was a named official of the Latvian Ministry of Economics.
This, it seems, is typical of the way things are done almost 18 years after this country regained its independence. Many of those seeking to improve their business conditions or lives with EU funding lack the language skills and self-confidence to pick up the phone to Brussels (even though there are hundreds of Latvians there, working for European institutions and most not in collusion with corrupt, ignorant or lying Latvian government officials). Good that Gobiņš found out the truth on at least one issue.
However, this really doesn't change the overall picture of a state apparatus(that which persists when governments change) and a series of governments that have been overeager to adapt, apply and even invent EU rules and standards, then to be ignorant (out of incompetance or corruption) of what the EU really wants. This is just one example.
Both Gobiņš and Rasma Kārkliņa (a German-Latvian political scientist who spent a long time in the US) believe that the increasing activity of NGOs is a good sign. Kārkliņa published an article in the daily Diena and its website to this effect. Certainly, there is some support in statistics over the past few years for this assumption. But I don't believe that the political elite, which has been little influenced by the activities of society over the past 17 years, is going to suddenly change, get smarter, stop lying.
As I said during the discussion following Gobinš informal talk, the only thing that briefly gets the attention of Latvian politicians is a paving stone breaking a window. Not a way to effect real change considering the historical evidence of unintended and disastrous consequences for riots, uprisings (remember 1905) and revolutions. 
Unfortunately, it appears that more street disorders are inevitable as the warm weather approaches and the country spirals down toward state bankruptcy and societal cluelessness despite the uptick in NGO activities.

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