This coming week will get interesting as the anti-euro “Dragon Lady” and Saeima deputy Iveta Grigule asks those who pledged their support in an effort to block last week’s euro implementation law from coming into force to put ink to paper. At least 34 signatures are needed on a letter to President Andris Bērziņš asking him not to sign into force the law that was passed on January 31 and to initiate a process leading to what would amount to a referendum on the euro itself. After all, without a law specifying how the switch from the lat to the euro would be made around the turn of the year to 2014, it will be impossible to start using the euro as planned.
Over the weekend, the debate over whether to adopt the euro went into high, perhaps too high gear as Sarmīte Ēlerte, a former newspaper editor and Minister of Culture, presently a candidate for mayor of Riga on the Unity Party (V) ballot, said that Grigule’s initiative was just as harmful to Latvia’s interests as the failed referendum last spring to make Russian a second state language. It was also a statement that, in effect, lumped Grigule of the centrist Green/Farmers’ Union (ZZS) with the leftist-populist and allegedly pro-Russian Harmony Center (SC).
In response, Grigule said that Ēlerte was acting like a Soviet-era demagogue and sliding into a desperate “the euro at any cost” campaign. She claimed that countries such as Sweden and Denmark, both members of the European Union (EU), were economically doing well if not better than the Eurozone countries and that Poland and the Czech Republic were not rushing to adopt the multinational currency.
On her part, Ēlerte said that “the populists and the “reds” are trying to split society in order to stop Latvia’s development, gain votes in the municipal elections and stay in power in Latvia’s cities.”
Not to be outdone, Grigule fired back with a nationalist salvo: “ By making us abandon our own currency, the government is forcing us closer to a United States of Europe. In the renewed Latvia, a whole generation has grown up together with the lat. The grew up listening to their grandparents stories of the (interwar) free republic and the battles, about the silver five-lat coin handed down from generation to generation as a sacred talisman, a precious memory of those distant and dramatic times. When we think of the symbols of Latvian statehood, we think of the flag, the national anthem, the Latvian language, and also our own lat.”
Somehow the rapid shift from reasoned argument to hyperbolic accusations and pathos doesn’t surprise me but makes one wonder why both politicians are risking taking this tack. Grigule, should she fail to get her 34 signatures, would lose her quickly gained celebrity, something which the SC might think about before having all 31 of their parliamentarians running pen in hand to a potential political rival. If anything, Grigule’s nationalist appeal is aimed more at getting one, two, maybe more “Jānis Dombravas” to bolt from the National Alliance (NA) (as Dombrava did by breaking with the coalition and voting against the euro implementation law, which passed anyway by 52 – 40). In any case, I suspect that a lot of SC voters, good citizens of Latvia, have more likely handed down some Czarist gold ruble coins in the family, not the silver “Milda” coin from the 1930s.
While the 2014 Saeima elections are still far off, Grigule’s waving of the lat banknote-as-flag is a signal where the ZZS will seek their first political allies, hoping to be treated as politically respectable again after being pushed out of government because of their alleged close ties to the notorious oligarch and deposed Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs. ZZS was an uncomfortable partner for Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (V) government but was pushed aside in the present coalition by the “anti-oligarch” Reform Party. However, the Reform Party is effectively dead, garnering less than 5 % voter support in recent polls. Not the least, the once popular party founded by former President Valdis Zatlers, just after he dismissed the previous Saiema and was not re-elected, dug its own grave by a desperate effort to bring SC into the government at all costs. Zatlers (whose name was in the official party name until some time ago) even said that it would take “tanks” to break his determination to bring the populist and “pro-Russians” into government.
With Grigule talking like a “fellow traveler” of the NA, there could be some tactical advantage to SC double-crossing Grigule and making sure that she gets, say, just 33 signers (if you want more, pry some loose from the NA whose door you have been barking at). To be fair, the SC at least has unsucessfully resisted the euro implementation law by proposing to amend it with impossible conditionalities – LVL 300 minimum wage, LVL 600 median wage, unemployment under 5% -- fantasies, at best, from the mid-2020s.
It’s Sunday evening as I write, but it will be Monday soon and the fun can begin again.