Friday, August 21, 2009

PM denies Latvia will become a failed state

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis denied Latvia was becoming a failed state in an interview (Latvian language) with the news portal Apollo. My reader Mr. Key pointed this out to me in a comment.
I don't know if Dombrovskis was referring to this blog (who knows? the man reads English) or, more likely, to a prominent Latvian political scientist's article which seems to have borrowed the title Failed State Latvija? from here.
In any case, I have always argued that Latvia was, if anything, a kind of failed state lite, with no Somalia-style dramas at street level (stoned competing militias driving around in technicals, shooting cattle for amusement, no public services whatsoever, etc.). The lights are on, public transportation runs, there is radio, TV, and if the shit going down is serious, the police will probably show up.
The reason I call Latvia a failing state or failed state lite is because the administrations prior to Dombrovskis allowed state finances and bureaucracy to bloat and private lending to run wild beyond a number of tipping points, so that most of what has happened in terms of budget cuts, international beggar-bowling, etc., was inevitable and unstoppable. Valdis Dombrovskis, the smart MEP with a cool, calm style, was the man chosen to be the fall guy for the economically lethal bungling of the administration of Aigars Kalvitis and, to some extent, Ivars Godmanis (who stayed around long enough to "save" Parex Bank and figure out that, indeed, the train of the state was runway and it was time to let someone else take the controls).
I don't know what Dombrovskis sees as a failed state. He seems to lean toward the definition that talks of a collapse of the monopoly on legitimate force. This isn't happening here, yet, but a lot else is, such as the de-facto collapse of public services and the widespread total mistrust of political power. It is, of course, a dramatic case of state failure when the population takes up arms against the police and military, but is it less a failure when folks simply ignore the alleged legitimacy of the state by ignoring it, evading taxes, dispensing rough justice and proclaiming (as in many parts of the countryside) that they see no evidence of state power or service.
It may not get widely publicized or reported, but there are probably communities kilometers down the pitted dirt road from the nearest policeman and his Soviet-clunker jeep, where drunks (and most of the population sometimes qualifies as such) who overstep certain boundaries are simply taken for a remedial walk in the woods, where what little business there is takes place as untaxed barter of goods (often alcohol) and services, and where the local school, admittedly a luxury with many teachers and staff for few pupils, will be closed with no way for children to reach the next district school, and where the district hospital will be closed as well. It is an interesting question as to whether there people abandoned the state, or the state failed them.
I can still walk about Riga safely, I can buy all necessities and (if I wanted to) a wide range of luxuries (flatscreen TVs are getting cheap, so are slightly used SUVs), but I am not at all sure that there will be anyone teaching my child at his underfunded school. I am resigned to having to pay full cost for any acceptable level of private health care (some is covered by insurance from work) and I assume that I will not be paid any reliable pension by the Latvian state. In other words, given the choice of another system of governance where these things worked, I would personally rank Latvia as failed and go there instead if and when that becomes a viable option.
In a broader sense, the scenario for Latvia is probably an L -shaped or even a drooping L scenario of stagnation for much of the next decade. One contributing factor will be that a large number of skilled and qualified workers will leave -- for all practical purposes, permanently --once EU labor markets revive. Recent TV spots about Latvians in Ireland indicate that those who have moved there --especially those making the psychologically and socially wise step (for all involved) of bring their families along -- are very unlikely to return. Even unemployed Latvians (laid off from construction work) say they are far better off and have better prospects in Ireland than they would ever have in Latvia.
Another contributing factor is that hasty cuts will collapse public services such as education and health care, leading to a decline in the skills of the younger generation and hastened mortality among the old. What impact this will have, I leave to other bloggers such as Edward Hugh, to comment on.
So I will respectfully disagree with Valdis Dombrovskis and say again -- Latvia is a kind of failed state and will continue to fail for the foreseeble future.


Mr.Key said...

Good article. Unfortunately I haven't noticed this before. A time ago I was saying Latvia is not failing. Now evidence says Latvia is failing even faster than I did expect. I could say that we will soon reach the same level as the old European countries by means of the quality of the social life.

I will try to explain. Interesting thing I see is the old European countries having different problems - immigrants, criminal situation, expensive living. For example London is full of surveillance cameras.. There is a number of videos from the UK, Netherlands or other countries showing violent street crime, e.g. street robberies, road rage, etc. Medical care is not cheap there, too. Education is not for free, too. Strange human errors by medics, policeman or firefighters happen there, too.

So, yes, we soon will reach the same level. Want education? Pay! Want health care? Pay! Want be safe? Live in a good district and pay to the guards. Etc. Of course, start paying right places now if you want a reasonable pension.

Still I believe that each individual should take care about himself if they want to live good. A thing many people still do not want to understand.

The right time for some kind of propaganda machine. Will it be white or black?

Anonymous said...

drama queens... coming from Ireland I can honestly say you don't want your country to follow the same route. Most of my friends do nothing because state benefits are too good so they choose not to work. I live in Latvia and what I see is the opportunity for upward mobility for those who choose to make an effort.

I feel for the old people who have been shafted by years of soviet rule and now have pitiful pensions and no real options. For the rest I say pull your finger out and make something of yourself.

Want an education? Get on the internet. Latvia has a great internet infrastructure and everything you ever wanted to know is on there. I would go as far to say that you get a better education for the internet than from the state because you can cut all the bull and upskill in the areas which will get you work in the future. You as an IT blogger should know that especially.

Health care is the only issue that deserves any criticism... this comes back to the point made above about pensioners. They, as a demographic, are usually in need of more health care the rest of the population.

In short life here is good enough to be happy and productive. Each person must look at how they can help themselves before pointing the finger at the government or anyone else for that matter.