Sunday, November 30, 2008

The shame continues...

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)  has published (online and, presumably, in print) a story about the arrest of Dmitrijs Smirnovs. WSJ reporter Andrew Higgins notes that: 

Virtually no one here worries that Latvia is reverting to the ways of the Soviet Union, when the KGB hunted down dissidents and kept the population in cowed silence. Unlike Russia, where state-controlled media largely ignore bad news, Latvia has a vibrant free press.

I differ somewhat from this assessment. There are certain similarities between the Security Police and the Latvian KGB in the very last years of its existence, when it (if I recall correctly) also had a press secretary and a policy of warning and harassing certain types of dissent, rather than arresting dissidents and sending them to Siberian exile. The Security Police are operating in a manner similar to the KGB Lite of, say, 1990 - 1991.  To be sure, the Security Police are not the KGB of the 1970s and 1980s, nor even remotely like the Stalinist goons of earlier decades. 
Since the Security Police are  operating on orders of the government, I would also say that, intentionally or not, the government is pushing parts of the population toward "cowed silence". 

Friday, November 28, 2008

National Security chairman backs repression

Dzintars Jaundžeikars, chairman of the National Security Commission of the Latvian Parliament, the Saeima, has come out in favor of punishing rumor-mongers and making people "think before they speak" about matters of the national currency and economy.
His remarks during a radio broadcast were reported (non-Latvian speakers can try a Google translation from Latvian for a good laugh) by the news portal, generating, as of this writing, more than 100 overwhelmingly critical and negative comments. Some comments, unfortunately, harked back to Jaundžeikars angry remarks about conspiracies against him and his family when his son was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of drugs some time ago. This is not really relevant to the issue at hand, and Jaundžeikars remarks, even if imprudent and foolish, are covered by his right to free expression.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The word continues to spread

More publications are picking up the story of the repression of free speech in Latvia, among other things, making it clear that the actions of the Security Police have had a chilling effect on public discussion of economic issues. 
Here are some links (the text appears similar):

Top, as if they didn't have trouble closer to home)
Earth Times (a news portal)

The basic story looks like it came from Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA)

My CNN iReport on the repression of free speech

I made a first attempt at doing a CNN iReport on the threats to free speech in Latvia. I did it on my Macbook using the built-in camera, but with some problems as to where to put the text. I don't have a teleprompter, so I don't read with eyes to camera as one should. I give myself a  C+. Maybe next time, I will do it differently, speaking without a script and from a better environment.

So here it is:

The snake coils to hibernate?

After a short press uproar and blogging frenzy, we are now entering that time when all that happened with the Latvian Security Police will be slowly forgotten, but not gone. This process applies to me, too, as I had to have my memory jogged by a comment writer to remember that this same police agency was sent after an old lady who wrote an angry letter to then Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis. Seems that getting nasty mail from citizens is part of the job of prime ministers, presidents and politicians generally. Even I, a journalist, am getting some abuse (an exposure to unintentional black humor of homo(post)sovieticus ) for my opinions expressed, most recently, on But apparently, this was not in Kalvitis job description, so send the cops...
But the fact is that one should have started reacting then, while the repression was still merely absurd. When the Security Police go after college lecturers and musicians, then it is serious (?). No! It was serious already with the pensioner, and with the people at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga who also (so say my sources) got visits from the Security Police around a year ago for even mentioning the "d"word. This was just a little past the peak of the party, real estate booming, a McDonald's style drive-in bank bringing cash in cups to a family who wants -- "oh yes, a trip to Egypt." Even then it was dangerous and worthy of repressive measures to hint that the big balagāns (carnival) was going to end and what that could, possibly, do to the lat.
The current Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, has made some ambiguous mumblings on Latvian Radio that maybe the Security Police didn't interpret the law quite right, but also letting everyone know that you still had to watch your mouth (or keyboard, or press). More waffled mutterings were heard from politicians on the What is Happening in Latvia (Kas notiek Latvijā) talk show, except from the otherwise maligned, so-called pro-Russian Jakovs Pliners and another Saeima deputy from his side of the political spectrum. Pliners at least said cleary that the government was violating the freedom of speech. While I may disagree with the colorful ex-educator (and blogger) on other issues, at least he wasn't mealy-mouthed.
That, probably, is the end of the issue in the public space. The snake has coiled up in its lair and will stay there until it all blows over. Then someone in our wise goverment will read or hear something (or maybe the snake itself will see it) and turn it loose again, but all of this will have been largely forgotten or written off as an aberration. Those scared into silence or overcautiousness will remain silent or confine their statements to the blandest assessments of the economic situation. And the ratchet of authoritarianism will have advance yet a few more notches.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Latvian PM : Oops! But, the law is the law

Latvia's Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis told Latvian Radio that the criminal proceedings started by the Security Police against two persons for allegedly undermining the national currency and financial system "were an incomplete interpretation of the law" (Whatever that means).
At the same time, the PM said that people have to reckon with the consequences of what they say, and that it cannot be that " a law is adopted and cannot be applied to anyone in this country".
In what was described as an unwilling discussion of the prosecutions that have made front page headlines in Latvia, Godmanis finally tilted toward justifying the Security Police actions by saying that anyone making statements at a public event (alluding to the concert where musician Valters Fridenbergs joked about taking money from banks??) or in the media (alluding to the publication of college instructor Dmitrijs Smirnovs) that call for specific actions, and "if the law sees that it may destabilize the financial system" one "has to reckon with the consequences."
The news report, in Latvian, can be found here.
So what has the head of the government that ultimately runs the Security Police said? Uncomfortable mumblings that almost take no position but sort of leave things as they are. No specifics as to how the law was incompletely intepreted. And if so, what should be done? Should someone clarify the law to the Security Police so they act differently. At best, it looks like Godmanis senses, somewhere through the post-soviet fog, that his police agency and government have serioiusly fucked up. He just don't know what to do..
The other is that the PMs mutterings merit a moderately loud WTF???

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Latvian police actions bring shock, disgrace and ridicule

Shock, disgrace and ridicule of the Latvian authorities and the country's purported democracy and freedom of expression are the result of the actions of the Security Police.
The latest to write about the recent detention of an academic and interrogation of a musician is Germany's leftish TAZ.
Meanwhile, blogger  Edward Hugh, who closely follows the Baltic economies, writes in one of his several blogs European Economonitor:

And it is my opinion that, despite all the attendant difficulties, devaluation is the best option among the unappetising list of unpleasant options presently available to Latvia (and the other Baltic states, and Bulgaria). Unfortunately, having reached this point there are simply no "pleasant" options available.

The curious thing is that for voicing this opinion I could go to prison in Latvia.

According to the Baltic Course online newspaper Ventspils University College lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs was detained for two days recently on suspicion of spreading rumors about the devaluation of the Latvian currency. He was detained in connection with an opinion that he had expressed during a debate about the development of the Latvian economy and the future of the Latvian banking and credit system. His arrest followed the publication of his opinion in Ventspils' local newspaper.

Largely citing Edward Hugh, the liberal American blog The American Prospect reports on the activities of the Latvian Security police.
I have already posted about the Index on Censorship Free Speech blog noting what is happening in Latvia.  Some of the first reports in English of the detention of Smirnovs, however, came from a local publication The Baltic Course.
While I am writing, the Google news search has also popped up an item on the Monsters&Critics portal. 
That's about it for now.

The intimidation started a year ago!

According to some sources, the intimidation of economic analysts by the Latvian Security Police (SP) started a year ago. It is rumored that a faculty member of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSe/R), Morton Hansen, a Danish (?) citizen was questioned by the SP along with the Rector of the SSE/R, Anders Paalzow.
Hansen, a sometime blogger on economic issues on the newspaper Diena's portal, is said to have been warned not to tell anyone of the interrogation. Whether this is true or not, the economist has chosen a very low profile, a choice that should be respected.
At the same time one should keep in mind that interference by a police authority in purely academic matters and in the expression of opinion is a very serious matter. The consequences of silence are more serious than those of speaking out. After all, assuming this version is true, what could the SP have done? Expelled Hansen to... Denmark? Or staged a public trial of a foreign academic in a country that claims to be a democracy and is a member of the EU.
One more observation -- rumor or not, true or false, the recent activities of the SP cannot have taken place without the knowledge and complicity of the government and the minister of interior, Mareks Segliņš, who is in charge of the SP and other police agencies.
The Latvian government ultimate commands the SP, and one should really not blame the rampaging dogs, but rather the cryptofascists who turned them loose.

Security Police holding "preventive" talks with bank employees

The news portal Delfi, citing the Russian language Latvian newspaper Telegraf, reports that the Security Police are holding "preventive"talks with Latvian bank employees to ensure that they don't speak out of line about the Latvian currency and economy/
Hey! I thought it was a private matter of private companies, banks included, to set policies and brief their employees on permissible contacts with the press and media.
The story in Latvian is here, also some pretty sharp comments.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Repressively applied law adopted with no debate

The repressively applied law cited by the Latvian Neo-KGB (Security Police) to justify the temporary detention of a college teacher, followed by a travel ban,  and the questioning of a musician was passed by the Latvian Parliament  (Saiema) almost without debate around a year ago. 
Only one deputy pointed out that this law could be applied to anyone commenting the economy, including the government.
Details are on Alex Tapinsh (a fellow journalist's) personal blog

Student reports Security Police action to prosecutor

Andrejs Leijejs, a student at the University of Latvia, has written to Latvia' s Prosecutor-General asking that the agency investigate whether the Security Police have not violated the Latvian Constitution by detaining for questioning and then imposing a travel ban on Ventspils University College instructor Dmitrijs Smirnovs.
The Security Police have started criminal proceedings against Smirnovs for statements about the Latvian banking system in a public discussion of the economic and financial crisis published in the regional newspaper Ventas Balss. Smirnovs said that in view of excessive lending by mainly Swedish-owned Latvian banks, he would not keep funds in the banks or in the Latvian currency, the lats.
Leijejs asks the Prosecutor-General to determine whether the actions against Smirnovs violated the Latvian constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech and the provisions of the constitution that declare Latvia as a democratic republic.
For Latvian readers, here is the lead of the Diena story on this. The complete story, with a link to the text of the student' s submission (iesniegums) is here.

Latvijas Universitātes students Andrejs Leijējs ģenerālprokuratūrai lūdz izvērtēt drošības policijas rīcību uz divām diennaktīm aizturot Ventspils augstskolas Finanšu un grāmatvedības katedras lektoru Dmitriju Smirnovu, kā arī vēlāk liedzot viņam izbraukt no valsts. Kā Dienai norāda A.Leijējs, viņš aicina izvērtēt vai drošības policija ar savu rīcību nav pārkāpusi Satversmes pantu, kas paredz, ka ikvienam ir tiesības paust savus uzskatus un cenzūra ir aizliegta. A.Leijējs lūdz arī pārbaudīt, vai nav pārkāpts Satversmes pants, kas nosaka, ka Latvija ir demokrātiska republika.

Index on Censorship blogs on the Smirnovs Case

Well, Index On Censorship at least blogged (in its Free Speech Blog) about the detention of the Latvian academic Dmitrijs Smirnovs:

Credit crunch censorship

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne very nearly lost his job recently after he was accused of ‘talking down’‘ the pound. He’s managed to ride the storm, but it was a close-run thing. Osborne should of course be able to say what he likes, but it’s not exactly a free speech issue, is it?

In Latvia, however, things are a little different. Journalist Juris Kaza got in touch to tell us of the case of Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a lecturer in accounting and finance, who, in the same week as Osborne found himself in hot water, actually found himself in jail after making critical remarks about the Latvian banking system in a panel discussion organised by newspaper Ventas Balss.

Smirnovs said that excessive lending, largely by Swedish-owned banks, had put Latvia in a precarious position and it was his opinion that people shouldn’t keep their money in banks nor in Latvian lats. According to press reports, police are preparing criminal proceedings against him for spreading false information that could destabilise the Latvian financial system.

Smirnovs spent two days in custody after being arrested. He’s now out of prison, but forbidden from leaving the country.

Meanwhile the Mirror is reporting that Conservative leader David Cameron is ‘distancing himself’ from George Osborne.

Was ist das denn? Eine Art Stasi?

For those of you that read German, here is an article in Der Standard, an Austrian daily:

The headline is from a reader comment and asks: What is this? Some kind of Stasi? from the East German version of the KGB, the Staatsicherheits Dienst.

An outside comment from Mr. J. Fear :)

I got this interesting comment from someone who uses the name Jānis Bailes (or John Fear):

The actions of the state police against people speaking out on the economic and political situation bring to mind three possibilities.

1. The political class wants to cover up the impending economic crisis so that they can convert all their ill-gotten assets into cash/Swiss bank accounts before the average person figures out what is coming.

2. The state security institutions are pursuing a 'business as usual' approach to anybody that says anything the political class doesn't like.

3. The secret police have some rougue units that are acting out of their authority.

Well, let us do a little Sherlock Holmes deduction.

The third possibility can not be true because these kinds of suppression of freedom of speech have been going on for years (since the last independence). If the third possibility were true, then we should see an investigation of the secret police under the laws for instigating a financial crisis. Surely anybody that learns of what they are doing will really believe that they are trying cover up a real crisis that is coming.

The second possibility could be true, but is not a builder of confidence because any political and economic system built on suppression of free speech and transparency can not be durable. Free speech and transparency are fundamentals of capitalistic systems that recover from market shocks. The second possibility predicts continuous extreme economic and political crisis.

The first possibility has the best chance of being true. Think back to the days of Bank of Baltija when all the politicians withdrew their deposits just before the bank closed and cost the average Latvians $400 million dollars in losses. The political class certainly knows how to look after themselves and you can be sure that they have already moved all the cash they can to their offshore accounts.


Janis Bailes

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hey, hey fascist DP, why don't you arrest these people too?

Here are some more statements about the Latvian economy, as strong or stronger than what Dmitrijs Smirnovs published  in Ventas Balss They are quoted in this blog post by a Latvian journalist, Alex Tapinsh (who worked for quite a few years in the US)

P.S. I just corrected (at 1:42 AM local Monday) the amusing misspelling of the newspaper as Ventas Balls ( which it took for the lady editor to publish the complete transcript of a discussion with Smirnovs and others). Hope you enjoyed :):)

Repression works, it seems

I just watched an interview with Dmitrijs Smirnovs, the Ventspils University College (Ventspils Augstskola) instructor detained and questioned by the Latvian Security Police on Latvian Independent Television (LNT). Smirnovs described how his detention started with a phone call from the Security Police, then a meeting (he was transported to Riga) then detained for questioning. The most significant thing he said was the he would not be commenting on economic issues to the media any more. 
This is exactly what the chilling effect is all about. This is how it works, people are intimidated and keep their views to themselves. This is what the Latvian Security Police motherfuckers wanted, this is what the motherfuckers got. Let's call things and state agencies for what they are. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Should have seen it coming

I found this article in the web version of the City Paper:

If you’re upset with Latvia’s Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, it’s probably best you don’t write and tell him so. State security police visited the home of Latvian citizen, Marija Vidina, who was described in the press as “an old lady,” to issue her a warning against possible “threats” made to the prime minister.

Vidina write the prime minister regularly. In this letter, Vidina wrote that Prime Minister Kalvitis was either “a complete idiot or had been hypnotized by Putin.” She also noted that President Vaira Vike-Freiberga’s recent move blocking two amendments to national security laws have “given a muzzle to the prime minister.” The security police warned her that is unacceptable to write to the PM in such a manner, though the police admit that no actual threat to state officials were established during the investigation, but that the “content of the letter reveals violation of a person’s dignity and reputation.” The security police’s press service confirmed they acted by request of the PM’s office..

Don't have the exact date, but it did happen in the last couple of years. People laughed it off. They won't laugh anymore as the repression spreads.

For Latvian readers, a comment on my Facebook page points out that this was also reported by the daily newspaper Diena:

Security Police Revert to Post-Stalinist KGB Tactics

The Latvian Security Police have reverted to the same kind of harassment and intimidation of free speech as practiced by the Soviet KGB in the 1980s. KGB tactics at that time involved detention, questioning and "prophylatic work"  against dissidents exercising their freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Helsinki Accords and international human rights conventions.
A university lecturer was arrested for two days for making comments at a public discussion of the economy, while a musician was questioned for joking about taking money out of a bank during a concert. Criminal proceedings have been started against both. In addition, the Security Police warned that they could act against anyone making comments on the internet that agreed with Ventspils University College lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs (he suggested that it was unwise to keep funds in Latvian banks or in Latvian lats)  or that asserted that the Security Police were returning Latvia to totalitarianism by repressing free speech.
What has happened in the last few days in Latvia, to my mind, amounts to a serious free speech emergency in a purportedly democratic European Union. The tone of statements, as reported by the Latvian press (this repression has been front page news in Latvian newspapers) by the Security Police indicates that they may be preparing for more detentions and interrogations. In short, this police unit is either out of control and no longer behaving as similar agencies in other democratic EU countries, or worse still, it is doing so with the consent of the Latvian government. One signal that this may be so is the refusal of Minister of the Interior Mareks Seglins, who is in charge of all police agencies in Latvia, to comment on what are plainly human rights and free speech violations by the Security Police. Seglins says that he does not comment ongoing criminal investigations, which might be a legitimate remark if the Security Police were, say, chasing down terrorists who were hiding weapons and explosives, but not when this agency has committed a prima facie violation of free speech.
Concerted international pressure and support is needed to stop this repression by the Latvian government and force it to respect free speech as in other civilized European nations. Latvia is not Zimbabve or Belarus. Hence this blog.
To the Latvian Security Police reading this: The content of this blog is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. SO FUCK YOURSELVES!!