Latvian elections: what should we be voting for?

The election is rapidly approaching and as Latvians in the diaspora, we should appreciate that for many Latvians living in Latvia the 27 years since independence have brought unwelcome as well as welcome changes and consequently in some quarters there is voter dissatisfaction with the whole political process. We should remember that voting in Latvia is not compulsory and that some will abstain or vote as a knee-jerk reaction because of disappointment with previous governments.

So, it is particularly important that we inform ourselves and use our votes wisely.

But how to make the choice?

We should consider what the Latvian government should do over the next four years, in the economy, education, defence … and which of the political candidates might be able to achieve this result? Look at the leader of your preferred list of candidates and ask yourself whether you would buy a used car from this person … if he/she does not seem honourable, don’t entrust them with running the country!

Personalities aside, there is another very important point to consider when making your choice. Latvia is recognised as a modern, democratic European country, which is expected to keep up with the advanced countries of the world. Latvia punches way above its weight in the fields of business and arts innovation. Unfortunately, we don’t have many politicians at this level. We have a string of popular and respected politicians, but many of these are still 20th century people with 20th century ideas, they are afraid of our contemporary open world and don’t know how to communicate with it effectively. For some, habits of mind and behaviour instilled during the Soviet occupation continue to shape political interactions.

Latvia stands on the threshold of a dynamic four years – not only internally, but in terms of the next EU budget, the future of NATO, the relationship between the West and Russia, and similar critical policy areas. For this reason, it is important that the next Latvian government is made up of forward-thinking, educated young people who have the knowledge and will to work in 21st century conditions. To give the green light to the younger generation, we can use the Latvian voting system’s uniquely offered opportunity to mark a candidate with a “plus” sign or strike him or her from the list. Contemporary, forward thinking candidates can be found in almost all the lists and it is they who should be supported for the overall benefit of our country. We may be very fond of an experienced old horse, but we need a car to even think of entering the Grand Prix.

How to choose your candidates

To navigate the Latvian political landscape, I will use the subjective approach I have developed to guide my own decisions. The Latvian political landscape can’t be easily divided into “good” and “bad”. It can be described in two dimensions as “experienced” vs. “new” and “predictable” vs. “unpredictable”, so we can each make our own decision based on our priorities.

We can understand those voters who choose to stay with the status quo. After all, the “Vienotība”, NA and ZZS coalition has, in the main, been in power since 2009 and has given Latvians some stability. Some negative aspects of this fragile stability are: Aivars Lembergs in the coalition, the OIK scandal over the corrupt funneling of “green energy” money, the lack of transparency in appointing solvency administrators. In short, the coalition has many faults. However, this government has put Latvia on a sound course that leads in the right direction – towards economic strength, integration into the EU and NATO, sustainable fiscal policies and more. This has been achieved at great cost, so it would be foolhardy indeed to allow its destruction by some barely hatched “saviours of the people”. Latvia has a lot to lose, we must be mindful of our choices.

We can also understand those voters who have decided not to support the existing government. The current coalition seems to have lost drive, energy and capacity to govern. The most obvious example is the implosion of the once-great party “Vienotība”, brought about by internal conflicts, which has frightened off many of its supporters. The other two experienced parties – Nacionālā Apvienība and ZZS – have also suffered from corruption and other scandals. Therefore, perhaps it is indeed worthwhile to seek some new alternative – even if only to change the personalities in the ruling elite. It would not be reasonable to expect young people wanting to make a career in Latvian politics to join these stagnant old parties. There is certainly a case to be made for voting for young people.

The “experienced” and “new” divide does not fall in the same place as the “predictable” and “unpredictable” divide.

The “predictable” parties are those which, despite pre-election rhetoric, can be relied upon, if they come to power, to make considered judgements on matters of policy. They share the same underlying values that have underpinned the current development of Latvia as having a free, internationally viable market economy:

  • strong support of the NATO alliance in defence
  • the importance of maintaining the Latvian language and culture in the public arena alongside respectful relations with the minority groups in Latvia
  • welfare reforms in line with contemporary thinking
  • macroeconomic stability
  • true democracy.

All the “predictable” parties may bend their rhetoric to interpret these values, but would agree that they are fundamental to Latvia’s future.

On the other hand, the “unpredictable” parties have demonstrated by previous behaviour that they are quite capable of stepping aside from such principles for short-term gains. With “unpredictable” parties in power, anything could happen. Some would argue that risks need to be taken for the possibility of great future gains – but who would ultimately benefit? It seems unlikely that it would be the voters. If, for example, “Saskaņa” or KPV.LV were part of the ruling coalition, what would they do? These parties themselves have not given any clear indication. Are voters ready to take such a leap into the unknown?

Using this two-dimensional model, the parties line up as shown in the attached diagram. Please notice that just because a party is experienced, it is not necessarily predictable (e.g. ZZS) and that some of the new parties are predictable, particularly with respect to their basic values. The subjective aspects of the diagram will, no doubt, be modified by each of you, according to your personal political inclinations.

Campaigns and current events

In the Latvian political system, a vote for a particular party is also a vote for the coalition that party is likely to form – no party has ever governed by itself. Therefore, the individual party programs should be taken with a grain of salt, they are more a list of aspirations than of policies. If your party gains a place in the ruling coalition, the government policies will be those agreed upon by this coalition. Coalition partners are carefully chosen. The hot topic in the press is what role the social-democratic party “Saskaņa” might take in a ruling coalition. Despite the media hype, there remains only a very small possibility that this might happen. However, we should be aware that the Artuss Kaimiņš scandal-riddled KPV.LV party has consistently avoided stating its position on co-operation with “Saskaņa”. This has caused a great deal of speculation. An example of this is the connection between KPV.LV and prominent politician and millionaire Ainārs Šlesers, who is a part owner of the newspaper “Dienas Bizness” which regularly supports KPV.LV and denigrates its opponents. However, although it is predicted that KPV.LV will fare well at the ballot box, it remains highly unlikely that it, together with “Saskaņa”, would constitute a majority.

Political polls over the past month have varied widely in quality and methodology, which has been reflected in the vast array of pre-poll predictions. It seems certain that the next Saeima will include “Saskaņa” and ZZS, most probably as the two largest factions. It is highly likely that Nacionālā Apvienība VL!-TB/LNNK, Jaunā Konservatīvā partija and KPV.LV will also be represented. (KPV.LV has been touted as possibly receiving 5% – 15% of the vote.) The remaining parties are balancing on the 5% cut-off line: this includes the slightly refreshed “Jaunā Vienotība”, the liberal start-up “Attīstībai/PAR” and “Latvijas Reģiona Apvienība”. It is difficult to predict the results for these parties. A dark horse in the field is Tatjanas Ždanokas pro-Kremlin “Latvijas Krievu savienība” (LKS), which has popular journalist Andrejs Mamikins amongst its candidates. This party has not done well in the ratings, but its voter base tends not to disclose voting preferences, so it is not out of the question that “Saskaņa” may have a left-based rival.

Taking into account the broad spectrum of political parties and ideologies on offer, it is conceivable that the next Saeima may be very fragmented. The current Saeima has representatives from 6 parties, the next one could potentially see representation of up to 9 parties. This could be a major stumbling block in the formation of the new governing coalition. Personalities, previous political history and pre-poll rhetoric will all have to be juggled by whoever is charged with forming the next governing coalition. Let us remember that the most unlikely coalitions can be forged into governments, as in the Saeima elections in 1995, when Andris Šķēle successfully managed a coalition consisting of 9 parties. Such a scenario is not ideal, but it can be workable for the day-to-day running of the government. The alternative of inviting “Saskaņa” to the table is not being realistically considered by any of the players.

In the end, it will be decided by arithmetic – the result of the will of the people, in which we each play a part.

Ivars Ījabs, specially commissioned by PBLA

“Ielūgums uz dzīvi” features 100 songs by Kaspars Dimiters

Singer and songwriter Kaspars Dimiters has been a major voice in Latvian music for decades now. His lyrics are often deeply personal, as well as being blunt and unvarnished observations about life in Latvia – how difficult it is for many and the struggles and challenges many face. His repertoire includes songs that touch on topics like alcoholism, drug abuse, corruption, and poverty, and, consequently, many of his songs are often dark and disturbing, but are still, on occasion, positive and hopeful.

Dimiters’ work as a songwriter now covers many decades, and, in 2017, to celebrate his 60th birthday, the artist released a combination book of lyrics and digital song collection entitled Ielūgums uz dzīvi, that collected 100 of his songs.

It is telling that one of Dimiters’ best known and most celebrated albums – 1994’s Krusta skola – is included in its entirety on this collection. This album, recorded with guitarist Gints Sola (who many will know from his work with Jauns mēness), is both polished and refined, with many songs inspired by his work with his Krusta skola center for troubled youth, as well as work with those suffering from alcohol or drug dependencies. Songs like ‘Glāze ūdens’ and ‘Pasaule ir tāda skola’ are, like many of the songs on the album, wordy and weighty, as Dimiters presents his often bleak world view.

Perhaps Dimiters’ best work is his 1988 album Mans kumoss pilsētas baložiem, and, for that era in Latvia, the album was almost revolutionary, considering its topics and lyrical style were different than just about everything else in Latvian music at the time. Perhaps only Dimiters could write a song like ‘Suņa dzīve’ – a heart wrenching song about a drunk and his dog, or the touching ‘Muzikants’, a song about a musician who dies mid-performance and is quickly replaced by someone else and forgotten. Ielūgums uz dzīvi contains almost all the songs from this landmark album.

Over the course of 100 songs, from his earliest songs (written in the 1970s) to songs written recently, Dimiters displays a broad range of emotions and topics. From the tragic ‘Fukušīmas suns’ (a song about the Fukushima disaster), to the hopeful ‘Visu Latvijai dodu’ (one of Dimiters’ few hopeful songs about Latvia), as well as the cynical ‘Dziesma par nolaupītajiem grašiem’ (Dimiters’ lament for the greed that he observes everywhere in Latvia), Dimiters can be at times bluntly harsh, as well as tenderly optimistic. Dimiters also finds inspiration from his Orthodox faith, in songs like ‘Puisēns ar lukturīti’, ‘Dzejnieks un svētums’ and ‘Nāve ir dzimšanas diena’. However, it does become clear that Dimiters becomes even more cynical with each passing year, and he has been an outspoken critic of Latvian politics and society throughout the years.

Though the album does include one hundred songs, which is probably more than enough for the average listener, one does wish that he did include more songs from earlier in his career. Most of the songs on the collection feature just Dimiters on vocals and guitar, and though that is certainly appropriate considering the personal nature of Dimiters’ songs, it does mean that the songs can sound very similar, if not occasionally monotonous. It helps that some of Dimiters’ songs from the 1980s (which often featured a full band) are sprinkled throughout, offering a change of pace from his more weighty songs from the 1990s and later. Some curious omissions are the rest of the songs from Mans kumoss pilsētas baložiem (such as ‘Ne šlāgerēt, ne līderēt’ and ‘Ne šlāgerēt, ne līderēt’) as well as other songs from his earlier period – like the beautiful and wistful duet with Sandra Ozolīte ‘Noburtie’ or the energetic ‘Rozianna’. However, almost all of Dimiters’ songs can be found on his website, for those looking for more to listen to.

Of course, if it is difficult to discuss Kaspars Dimiters without mentioning how controversial many of his words and actions have been throughout the years. Dimiters has spoken negatively about immigrants, politicians, diaspora Latvians, western liberals, and has reserved most of his extensive venom for homosexuals. Unfortunately, many of his abhorrent views have made it into his songs, but, fortunately, there are few of these kinds of songs on this collection – mercifully, songs like the dreadful ‘Zilā pasaka’ are not included here.

The one hundred songs (more than seven and a half hours of music) on Ielūgums uz dzīvi may be too much Dimiters for some. Others may find some of Dimiters’ expressed views to be so offensive as to dismiss listening to any of his songs out of hand. There lies the main puzzle of Dimiters – how can someone who, at times, espouses such extreme and hateful words be able to create such beautiful and moving songs? For those that are willing to give them a listen, Ielūgums uz dzīvi does indeed contain many songs that reveal Dimiters to be a songwriter without parallel, someone who writes very pointed and direct songs. Though often harsh and bleak, Dimiters’ songs can also be very affecting and poignant, with a direct and realistic language that few other poets have, and this collection is a thorough overview of Dimiters’ large contribution to Latvian music throughout the decades.

For more information visit Kaspars Dimiters’ website.

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

ALA konference: praktisks atbalsts latviešu skolu skolotājiem

8. un 9. septembrī Krišjāņa Barona latviešu skolas (KBLS) telpās uz gadskārtējo konferenci tikās skolotāji no septiņām ASV latviešu skolām. Čikāga mūs sagaidīja ar vēju, toties KBLS pārzines – ar smaidu un lielu siltumu. Vēl jo skaistāka bija konferences dalībniekiem piedāvātā izdevība būt klāt KBLS pirmās skolas dienas tradīcijās.

Konferencē piedalījās skolotāji no Ņujorkas, Ņūdžersijas, Mičiganas, Ilinoisas, Minesotas un Kolorādo pavalstīm, kā arī lektores Dace Copeland no Kalamazū, Elisa Freimane no Čikāgas, un Dace Anstrate no Jelgavas. Bijām priecīgi jau otro reizi uzņemt lektori Daci no Latvijas. Pirms gada Dace Anstrate aizrāva skolotājus ar savu priecīgo pieeju latviešu valodas mācībām. Šogad viņa atgriezās, lai turpinātu aizsākto darbu.

Konferencē tika piedāvātas vairākas lekcijas, kas palīdzētu skolotājiem viņu darbā. Skolotāja Dace Anstrate stāstīja par priecīgām latviešu valodas stundām. Ilggadīgā KBLS skolotāja Elisa Freimane palīdzēja dalībniekiem saprast skolēnu dažādos valodas līmeņus, to aprakstus un dažādo valodas līmeņu īpašības. Dace Copeland ir daudz gadu strādājusi Kalamazū latviešu skolā. Dace pašlaik veido lasāmvielu latviski dažādiem valodas prasmes līmeņiem. Dace ar Elisu nedaudz pārveidojušas ASV latviešiem pazīstamā bērnu žurnāla “Mazputniņš” lasāmvielu un sagatavojušas daudz desmitu lasāmo stāstu, kas papildināti ar stundās izmantojamām nodarbībām.

Dace Anstrate ir latviešu valodas skolotāja un speciālais pedagogs Jelgavā. Viņas pieeja skolēniem ir prieka pilna un pacilāta. Dace vairākkārt atkārtoja, ka valodas apguvei jānotiek ar prieku. Mācību stundu vēlams sākt ar aktīvām un jautrām piecām minūtēm, lai skolēni nāktu priecīgi klasē un pēc tam negribētu to atstāt. Dace Anstrate atgādināja skolotājiem, cik mūsdienu skolēni ir atvērti. Viņa mudināja ASV latviešu skolu skolotājus nebaidīties dalīties ar savām zināšanām, prasmēm un mīlestību, jo katrs ir spējīgs mācīt, ja vēlas. Cik skaisti bija dzirdēt Daces vārdus, ka mācot ar mīlestību, nevaram kļūdīties!

Skolotājai Dacei ir bagāts darbīgu valoda apguves nodarbību pūrs. Konferences dalībnieki tika rauti kājās, iesaistīti dziesmās, likti pie darba grupās un individuāli. Dažādās spēlēs bija iespējams citam citu labāk iepazīt. Spēlējot spēles, sapratām, ka visu laiku aktīvi izmantojam valodu, kāda mums katram tā ir. Tikai vēlāk atklājās, ka, spēlējot šīs spēles, bijām arī apguvuši valodas likumus!

Pavadījām īpaši skaistu pusstundu, novērojot tālmācības nodarbību, ko Dace Anstrate vadīja Classflow platformā. Latviešu valodas aģentūra jau otro gadu izmanto šo programmu latviešu valodas mācīšanai bērniem ārpus Latvijas. Ap 130 skolēnu visā pasaulē piedalās nodarbībās Classflow grupās, kuras māca Latvijas skolotāji. Konferences dalībnieki priecājās ekrānā ieraudzīt Maksi un viņa mammu, kuri pašreiz dzīvo Francijā, un mamma Karīna savulaik ir beigusi KBLS.

Elisa Freimane un Dace Copeland atgādināja par Eiropas valodas portfeļa definētajiem valodas līmeņiem. Elisa palīdzēja saprast, ko katrā valodas līmenī no skolēniem var sagaidīt. Abas pieredzējušās skolotājas izskaidroja un novadīja atbilstoši dažādajiem valodas līmeņiem veidotās lasīšanas nodarbības.

Konference bija labi apmeklēta. Atrodot laiku starp pirmās skolas dienas darbiem, pieredzes apmaiņai pievienojās arī KBLS skolotāji, un brīžam dalībnieku skaits pārsniedza 30.

Visas skolas iepazīstināja ar dažādiem veiksmes stāstiem. Daloties pieredzē, skolotāji paņēma līdzi uz savām skolām projektu un pasākumu idejas. Vienīgi Ņūdžersijas skolai ir unikāls un neatkārtojams stāsts par draudzību, kas izveidojusies ar basketbolistu Kristapu Porziņģi.

Paldies lektorēm – Dacei Anstratei, Dacei Copeland un Elisai Freimanei! Paldies Ciānas draudzei par atvēlētajām telpām! Un lielu lielais paldies Krišjāņa Barona latviešu skolas pārzinēm par skaisto uzņemšanu!

Paldies Izglītības un zinātnes ministrijai. Konferenci atbalsta Latviešu valodas aģentūra no Izglītības un zinātnes ministrijas budžeta programmas “Valsts valodas politika un pārvalde”.

Kā jau katrā konferencē notiek, arī šoreiz pietrūka laika! Katra uzruna vai nodarbība beidzās ar vārdiem, “esam jau/vēl/atkal aizkavējušies!” Tas kā vienmēr liecina par to, ka, skolotājiem tiekoties, viņu entuziasms, interese un darbotiesgriba ir nepārtraukta un nerimstoša. Tāpēc vissirsnīgākie pateicības vārdi sakāmi mūsu latviešu skolu skolotājiem, kas veltī savu spēku, laiku, zināšanas, prasmes un mīlestību, lai mūsu bērniem būtu prieks nākt skolā!

Andra Zommere, ALA Izglītības nozares vadītāja

Foto: Gunārs Lucāns un Andra Zommere