Riga Becomes European Leader in Free WiFi

On my travels to Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa a few years ago I was gobsmacked to be able to connect to the free public WiFi network – in a rural location that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, because Estonia already had a reputation for being a worldwide leader in e-services.

This week Rīga, European Capital of Culture 2014, takes the front stage by announcing the further expansion of its free public WiFi network to become the top European leader putting Estonia’s capital Tallinn in second spot followed by Stockholm, Vienna, Paris and Helsinki.

The free WiFi service is provided by Lattelecom, a telecommunications company partly owned by the Latvian government. Lattelecom is also known for its innovative services such as Internet TV and blindingly fast 1 Gbits/s optical Internet connections. Each WiFi point in Latvia’s capital city will on average serve up to 750 residents and the company claims a minimum of 3 WiFi points per square kilometre. Lattelecom provides over 3700 WiFi points throughout Latvia including 21 hospitals, 165 educational institutions as well as major city parks and recreation areas.

To use the service connect to the “Lattelecom-free” WiFi network , watch the 15 second advertisement and then starting using the Internet. After 30 minutes of usage you will be required to watch another 15 second slot before continuing with your online session.

This service is just in time for the tourist season and the upcoming 8th World Choir Games to be hosted by Riga early next month. When you decide to go online from Vērmanes dārzs or other favourite outdoor venue don’t forget to send us your WiFi experiences.

More details on the WiFi service including locations are available from wifi.lv/en.html.

A New Design for a New Era

Much has happened since the last major redesign of the Latvians Online website back in March 2004. Facebook was only one month old, Twitter wasn’t conceived until 2 years later and the mobile Web only took off when the first iPhone appeared in 2007. Today we live in an Internet world dominated by social networks and accessed by an increasing proportion of mobile devices including tablet computers. The Internet is appearing everywhere – on desktops, phones, tablets, watches, glasses and even cars. The Internet speed has also increased hundredfold.

In response to your feedback from the survey late last year we set about redesigning the website to focus on what Latvians Online does best – produce quality content on topics ranging from news, politics, language, education, music, sports, food, culture, travel, history, traditions, technology, events – in both English and Latvian. The goal was to display this content in an easy-to-use, easy-to-navigate and easy-to-search environment and that could also easily adapt to new and emerging technologies.

With the ever-changing landscape of devices, browsers, screen sizes and orientations Responsive Web Design was employed to create a flexible, fluid and adaptive website. This means that a mobile user gets a totally different user experience to someone who is sitting at the desktop or laptop computer. To see the Responsive design in action slowly shrink the browser window and watch how the page automatically rearranges the page elements moving from desktop to tablet to mobile screen sizes. Or simply open our website from your mobile device using the same Web address and enjoy the experience.

We are embracing the latest Web technologies including HTML 5, CSS3, JavaScript and AJAX which not only supports the new Responsive Web Design, but also provides a better and cleaner user interface with visual cues, animated menus and a powerful search facility. If you need to print an article, a printer-friendly version will be created for you automatically. If you want to share an article with others, click on either the Facebook or Twitter icon. If you need to search for a particular article, enter the keyword or author and the website will quickly return results from the database of over 2500 articles.

Ten years ago when more than half of the Internet connections were dialup we had to design Web pages with optimized, small-size graphics in order for the page to appear reasonably quickly in the Web browser. Now that most users are enjoying broadband Internet speeds the new design employs screen-filling high-resolution graphics that look stunning on the new Retina technology screens. Advertisers are no longer restricted to certain banner sizes and can create compelling and interactive marketing messages at just about any size.

The new content management system provides more flexibility and features to prepare us for the technologies of tomorrow. We can run the website from our iPhone or iPad, authors can directly submit their articles for approval and publishing and sections of the website can be easily adapted for either the English or Latvian languages. Using the Application Programming Interface and Web services you will be able to create your own Latvian magazine (for a great example of how this works open up @latviansonline from the Flipboard App), develop a customized iPhone or Android App or even push content to your future iWatch or in-car entertainment system.

We hope you enjoy the new-look Latvians Online website.

Dual citizenship – the search for an unknown number of potential Latvian citizens

On Oct. 1, the recently adopted law on dual citizenship came into effect in Latvia.This law has the potential to affect thousands of people, including many readers of Latvians Online.

Practically, the law affects two categories of people:

  • For exiles from Latvia or their successors, it means they can have dual citizenship of both Latvia and their host county; this replaces the earlier arrangement where Latvia in general did not recognize dual citizenship and one had to renounce one’s other citizenship in order to take up Latvian citizenship.
  • For those who already have Latvian citizenship, it makes it legal to obtain dual citizenship with a wide range of countries, without giving up Latvian citizenship.

Some history is in order, to understand why this has come about.

Traditionally Latvia, like many other countries still around the world, did not recognize dual citizenship. Its basic citizenship law dates from that adopted in 1919, when dual citizenship was prohibited.

This policy line was followed when Latvian citizenship became an issue again after regaining independence in 1991, when dual citizenship continued to not be allowed, with one major exception.

The exception was for those who had gone into exile in the West during World War II, and were outside Latvia during the long years of Soviet occupation. The basis of Latvian citizenship law post-USSR was that Latvia, like Estonia, counted as citizens all those who had been citizens in 1940, at the time of Soviet takeover, plus their descendants. Exiles thus were theoretically Latvian citizens, but many had taken up citizenship in other countries. Thus, to make this a limited and controllable exception, the 1994 adopted Citizenship Law allowed exiles to renew Latvian citizenship provided they registered by July 1995, thus making them the only ones with dual citizenship. After this time, to gain Latvian citizenship they had to give up any other citizenship they had obtained.

For many reasons – lack of knowledge, lack of information and publicity, lack of administrative arrangements – many exiles however did not take up the opportunity to renew their citizenship, and the closing of this opportunity in July 1995 was widely criticised. Moreover, it led to significant contradiction in the way Latvian citizenship was granted. When the Soviets took over the Baltic States in 1940 through a process of threats and blackmail, many Western countries including the US, Britain and most Western European countries did not recognize their incorporation into the Soviet Union. And Latvian embassies and consulates, albeit with vastly reduced capacity, continued to operate and issue Latvian passports in many countries, so that we had a paradoxical situation where some held these ‘old’ Latvian passports but if for whatever reason they had not applied for renewed citizenship in 1995, they were not now recognised as Latvian citizens.

The reason for restricting citizenship to those who had been citizens in 1940 was that during the Soviet period, vast numbers of settlers came to the Baltic States; many never learnt the local languages nor in many cases did they know anything about the history, culture or background of these countries, as the Soviet Union repressed any expression of national history. On regaining independence, Latvia did not recognise these settlers as citizens, though it did provide a means of naturalisation, dependent on passing a language and history test. This has been a controversial policy, and even today is particularly criticised by Russia and by some elements within Latvia, but it shows how sensitive the issue of citizenship can be.

However, it was perhaps not the pressure from former exiles that led to the eventual change, but to another striking circumstance affecting Latvia: the now hundreds of thousands of Latvians who have left Latvia in the last 20 years or so to work elsewhere, many of whom have taken up citizenship in countries where they settled. As Latvia’s population had fallen from 2.5 to 2 million in this time, Latvia was faced with a huge brain drain and flight of the economically able. And, precisely a flight of citizens: if Latvia had stuck to its policy of not allowing dual citizenship, many would have given up their Latvian citizenship to take up that of their host country, and their children – in many cases granted citizenship of their host country at birth – would never have been able to become Latvian citizens.

But there was one more complication. Not all countries in which Latvians live and work are necessarily, let us say, friendly towards Latvia. So, for those already with Latvian citizenship, Latvia limited the range of countries where dual citizenship is allowed, limiting it to the European Union, NATO and European Free Trade Association countries, as well as countries where many Latvians had settled – Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.

For those without Latvian citizenship however, but who do have Latvian exile roots, they can apply for Latvian dual citizenship regardless of which other country has given them existing citizenship, provided that other country does allow dual citizenship.

So, the pressure to change the citizenship law grew from two directions – exiles and the more recent largely economic emigrants.

For those who are former Latvian citizens or their descendants, you can apply for Latvian citizenship now at any embassy or consulate (see the list of diplomatic and consular representations on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website) presenting relevant documentation as prescribed by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde – PMLP), which details how you can apply (Admissibility of Dual Citizenship). There is no language or history test for such applicants. 

The extraordinary thing is that no-one knows how many potential Latvian citizens there could be to take advantage of these changes in the law. Thousands certainly. Hundreds of thousands? Maybe. For some, Latvian citizenship may mean no more than an ability to have a passport that allows one to travel and stay (not necessarily work) in any EU country and perhaps easier access to other countries. For others who simply missed out in 1995, it brings them back to a citizenship that they deserve. And for children of Latvians born outside Latvia, it means that Latvian citizenship is guaranteed and many will make use of this to deepen their connection to Latvia.