Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Battle of Bauska -- just the start?

Several hundred people blocked two bridges in the town of Bauska, Latvia on August 31 to protest the reorganization of the local hospital and were dispersed by special riot police sent from Riga. Although emotions ran high and there was some pushing and shoving, there were no known injuries and four arrests, reportedly for public intoxication.
The action could, borrowing from Rage Against the Machine, and exaggerating somewhat, be called The Battle of Bauska, especially if it is the first taste of the social unrest that is being expected this fall. It may also have been a show of force by the government indicating that instead of dialog, it will back its hasty, seemingly chaotic and ill-explained so-called reforms and cutbacks with the riot squad where needed.
While the Bauska hospital is not being closed, it is shutting down maternity and in-patient services and reducing emergency services. Patients are being re-directed to hospitals in Jelgava, some distance away and elsewhere. This has especially distressed pregnant Bauska residents as well as those who fear the reduction of emergency assistance, not only for themselves, but for future victims of road accidents along a main north-south highway that runs through the town. It was in order to cause disruption and publicity along this main transit route that the highway and bridges were blocked in a largely spontaneous action that was guarded, but not dispersed by local police.
The health care system in Latvia is, undoubtedly, bloated and inefficient, but the present cutbacks are being made in a way that appears arbitrary and irrational, piling perceived threats of reduced health care on top on cuts in education, pensions and salaries for many public sector employees. The events in Bauska may well be precursors of more widespread socio-economic protest that may be beyond the capacity of Riga-based riot police to control.
Protests are unlikely to solve the fundamental problem -- the total destruction of trust in government/state authority and the de-facto lack of funding for a range of services, highlighted by health care. The government has largely dug its own pit (not to say grave, although there is talk of toppling the administration of Valdis Dombrovskis) by failing to explain its cutbacks and reforms and, in the case of health care, failing to prepare for a reduction in the number and functions of hospitals in Latvia. There is, for example, no nation-wide network of medical evacuation helicopters (only a few would be needed) nor is there subsidized or insurance-covered transport for patients making routine visits to hospitals and clinics from remote areas.
Latvian television (the evening news program Panorama) has posted some semi-edited raw video of the events in Bauska on YouTube.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just miserable. Instead of sending some representatives to talk to the people they sent armed forces. Pussy government, nobody wants to take heat and responsibility. I wonder how many armed ops we have? What if we could distribute these protests in many different spots in country. Police won't have capacity to deal with many simultaneous protests.