It finally happened. What has been chanted frequently in the street of Latvia's capital by larger or smaller crowds of demonstrators or picketers has at last been set in motion: Dismiss the Saeima(parliament)! Dismiss the Saeima!
After what can only be described as a partly depraved, largely cowardly “vote” by 37 abstentions to NOT lift the parliamentary immunity of oligarch Ainārs Šlesers so that a court authorized search of his residences could be conducted, President Valdis Zatlers probably did the right thing. It was the second major event after the January 13, 2009 riots that made the ruling elite wake up to “a new Latvia” the day after. Or so it seemed and seems.
The problem is that complete political depravity, incompetence, cluelessness etc. has become endemic to Latvia and one need not have a “wake-up call” event to discover that. It has been going on with various degrees of intensity for 20 years. That is long enough to conclude that the “symptoms” are not temporary, transitory (as in side effects of transition from the Soviet system) or even easily curable, if at all. The inability to rule itself with out massive self-plunder and waste of resources given in good faith by (starting with G-24 funds in the early 1990s, to EU Phare programs in some of which much was taught, little learned or applied, to EU funds the past few years) is no longer an anomaly of Latvia, it is a characteristic. It is what the anti-corruption police were fighting in their raids against the offices of the oligarchs Andris Šķēle and Aivars Lembergs and with the warrants to search Šlesers' residences.
I doubt that this gesture by President Zatlers, who concisely and mildly defined the problem in his televised speech, will do very much to solve the problem. By bringing about new elections (a Saeima trusted by 10% of the population is unlikely to get referendum support) Zatlers has at least opened a very thin crack (not a window, we have been missing “windows” through 20 years and five elections) of opportunity for some kind of change.
The question is, who will carry out those changes? We have seen false dawns of reform, starting with the founding of New Era (Jaunais Laiks/JL), one of the components of the present Vienotība (Unity) alliance. That brought us the “golden hands” of the corrupt surgeon/Minister of Health appointed by the loopy Prime Minister Einars Repše, who at least decided to serve not having collected LVL 1 million (around USD 2 million ) in contributions for a personal fortune that he asked for. Not being as rich as he wanted to be didn't keep Repše from making huge crackpot investments (a luxury yacht ride business, real estate in the middle of nowhere) and borrowing money like a sheik who had spend too much time at the water pipe.
The JL government fell, paving the way for the good old boys of Aigars Kalvitis and the “fat years” to run the Latvian economy (with a little help from Swedish banks and a population that never learned the difference between loans and gifts) into the ground, leading to the present years of depression, stagnation and mass emigration. Then, in a surge of hope for which there was little basis, the 2010 elections brought in Vienotība, the new amalgam around JL (JL2 or JL and New Friends, were it a band). The previous administration, which was effectively “re-elected” unter the Vienotība banner, had already done much to make spending cuts with an axe and in a manner that demoralized and depleted vital public services rather than making them more efficient, leaner and meaner. Hundreds left the ranks of the police, there was probably much “negative selectivity” among other bureaucracies, with those hit by salary cuts but able to sell their education and skills elsewhere willingly moving on, most likely, out of Latvia. The medical professions (doctors, nurses) started a major bleed-off to other EU countries. All in all, the catastrophe and demoralization continued.
Vienotība also got in bed with the puppet party of oligarch Aivars Lembergs, the Green and Farmer's Union, in order to form a government and keep both the pro-Russian Harmony Center and the radical nationalist “ All for Latvia” in opposition. Even without mentioning the disunity preventing a quick unification of “Unity” into a single party, Vienotība has failed most expectations raised in the election campaign. It deserves to be run out of town, but probably with fewer dogs and pitchfork waving citizens chasing it than the other parties.
So one the euphoria fades after Zatler's speech and historical decree number 2 starting dismissal of the Saeima, what happens next? I don't see a solution. Many of the best and brightest have simply left the country for places where their efforts result in a better quality of life and where rational (though often flawed) governance is not an issue. The political elite, like a drunk someone is trying to deal with, has gotten another loud slap with a towel soaked in ice-water, but as we know, this doesn't make anyone less drunk. It will be interesting to see what new chimerical political creatures will appear over the next few months to drag what is left of the electorate into new illusory traps.
Maybe I am wrong, I am not on the scene at the moment (visiting the US for personal reasons), but I am not placing any hopeful bets.