Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bauska protest fizzles, "martyr" arrives to court drunk

One month after a special police unit was sent from Riga to disperse demonstrators blocking bridges and a major highway in the southern Latvian town of Bauska to protest the reduction of services at a local hospital, the administrative trial of four protestors ended in farce.
One protestor was fined LVL 5 (around 10 USD), a second protestor was cleared of all charges, a third failed to arrive at court, and the fourth "martyr" of the August 31 action arrived in court visibly drunk, was tested with an alcohol meter and send home, his hearing postponed.
A planned action to "legally" block a highway by having people repeatedly cross at so-called "zebra stripe" crosswalks also failed, according to media reports. Too few people showed up and the crosswalks were closely watched by police. A small number of supporters of those detained and accused gathered peacefully near the Bauska courthouse.
It appears that despite initial support by several hundred people for the largely spontaneous bridge blocking action, the protest movement against the hospital cutbacks is fizzling out. Some people may have been placated by the appearance days after the protest of Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale, who gave vague assurances that the cutbacks would not be as severe as portrayed in the media. There may also be some truth to charges that a some of the protestors were "lowlife" and drunks.
Whatever the case, it appears that the "spontaneous" protests indeed lacked sufficient organization to mitigate the obstruction of ordinary traffic, to isolate aggressive and intoxicated demonstrators, and to prepare a legal defense team in case of arrests or other trouble.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Call for new protests in Bauska, Latvia

A blogger on the Bauska newspaper Bauskas Dzīve website has called for another peaceful but possibly civilly-disobedient protest on Wednesday, September 30. The action will coincide with administrative hearings against four Bauska residents charged with public order violations during an unsanctioned August 31 protest against the planned reorganization of the local hospital.
The blogger urges people to impede traffic on a main highway by repeatedly (and in large numbers) crossing the highway at a legal pedestrian (zebra-striped) crosswalk. By law, all vehicles have to stop when there are pedestrians on the crosswalk. It is not clear whether deliberate and repeated use of the crosswalk for the sole purpose of backing up traffic could be considered a violation.
Several hundred Bauska residents blocked two bridges and a major highway through the town for several hours until they were dispersed by a special riot squad sent from Riga. Local police made attempts to persuade the demonstrators to clear the bridges, but apparently didn't use force or threats of arrest.
Three of the protestors facing a court hearing on September 30 are charged with disobeying police orders, the fourth, with violating rules concerning public gatherings.
Media reports say police are expected to be out in force along the possible site of the demonstration, which has been called for 09:30 on Wednesday. It is expected that protestors will raise the issue of the local hospital again, despite assurances by Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale (during a September 3 visit to Bauska) that the hospital would continue to offer reduced, but adequate health care services. Rozentale's visit to the town just days after the bridge-blocking protest passed without incident, although she was confronted by demonstrators and engaged in a dialogue with them.
A number of hospitals in Latvia are being closed or downgraded as part of harsh austerity measures demanded by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other lenders providing Latvia with loans to prevent state insolvency and to bolster the financial system. Bauska residents are especially upset with the closing of a maternity ward and the reduction of emergency services in a town straddling a major, heavily trafficed highway where accidents are frequent.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paranoia runs deeper : Blogger questioned by Security Police

The Latvian Security Police have questioned a blogger who regularly contributes to a blog site maintained by Kristaps Skultelis (nickname Krizdabz), one of Latvia's better-known and popular bloggers. Writing under the pseudonym Ierindas Pilsonis (Ordinary Citizen), the man(whose first name is Raitis) has harshly criticized the Latvian state and government as being little more than a rapacious mafia and has said in some posts that revolutionary violence against such a system would be justified.
The blogger, who is at least 50 years old (he mentions an encounter with the Soviet KGB in 1978, when, presumably, he was an adult) describes being questioned by a polite young Security Police officer at a dingy regional Security Police office in Rēzekne, in eastern Latvia (Krizdabz comes from that area). He describes the office as poorly equipped and relates several bizarre incidents -- such as the officer reading excerpts from his earlier blog posts that had been faxed to the regional office. The officer also asked who prints "Ordinary Citizen's" blogs as if totally clueless that blogs are electronic media and are not disseminated in printed form (except as smudged faxes inside the Security Police). The blogger was also asked what political group or foreign country he was working for (as if his blog posts had been paid by someone). He was also questioned about his relationship with Krizdabz. The whole post in Latvian can be read here. I don't know how it would survive a translation with Google Language Tools, but worth a try.
The way things look -- with the Strategic Analysis Commission of the Latvian President's office saying that public trust in the institutions of government has collapsed -- the state is increasingly paranoid about anyone expressing angry criticism and is sending chilling signals not only to the critics, but to anyone giving them a forum. That does not change the fact that people in Latvia are increasingly frustrated and angry with what they see as a corrupt, incompetent (well, maybe not the current one) government that took the nation to the edge of bankruptcy and then brought on economic strictures (at least as applied by the government) that have devastated health care, education and pensions, with more devastation to come in the next round of budget cuts.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A subversive and revolutionary appeal?

Here is a quick translation of the anonymous call for a mass demonstration to protest government austrity on November 13. To find out (and prosecute??) those responsible, the Latvian Security Police have started an investigation.

Thanks to Didzis Melbiksis, fellow blogger (in Latvian and Swedish) and journalist for publishing it in his blog.

It should be a comfort to any terrorist sleeper cells or foreign spies that the Security Police are busy seeking the authors of this:

The state is only starting to save (cut spending--J.K).

It will take away more, and not from itself.

Therefore we must resist and show that we don't consent to this,

Let's continue a tradition and gather on the 13th, this time, in November in the Dom Square and by the Saeima (parliament building -- J.K.)

Let us show that we are not indifferent.

This information is being sent now, so you can make time and we can prepare for a MUCH larger picket.
Let us take along friends, parents, everyone.

Let us decide on our own salaries and say what we think of the government loudly!
Spread this news to others, together we will be able to do it!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Paranoia strikes deep

Buffalo Springfield once sang:
Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you're always afraid.
Step out of line, the MAN come and take you away.

In Latvia it isn't the man, but Linda Murniece, the lady Minister of the Interior, who has, wittingly or unwittingly (wits are a little short among Latvian politicians) taken a number of steps to put a chill on peaceful public dissent. The latest is having Latvia's Security Police, a kind of KGB-Very Lite (there is no Gulag, they don't pull out people's fingernails) investigate who has been circulating appeals for a peaceful gathering in Riga's Old Town on November 13 to protest additional cuts in public spending that the anonymous authors assume will occur by then. Unlike appeals circulated ahead of the January 13 riot which, well, openly called for a riot (a far more destructive one than actually happened, those anonymous instigators urged people to bring Molotov cocktails, none were used), the current appeal is simply for a gathering to express grievances. Sounds like democracy and free speech to me. It is also a timely call, a kind of viral marketing of the idea that by November, there may be another round of budget cuts reducing formerly tax-supported education, medical care and pensions to a defacto pay-as-you learn/heal/and save before you get old system.
It is more than two months until November 13, leaving plenty of time for NGOs and civic groups to organize and to help the police prevent or limit any violence (let's have no illusions, people are angry about what the previous fuckwit governments have done or failed to do as the economic crisis approached). What the government and Ms. Murniece have done is to turn loose the dogs of intimidation (the Security Police have a wonderful record of arresting people for their speech, it's what got this blog started almost a year ago) in a clear attempt to put a chill on any calls for public, anti-government gatherings. The government showed its attitude when it sent a riot squad to disperse demonstrators blocking bridges near Bauska to protest the reorganization of the local hospital, closing maternity services and drastically reducing emergency care. The message sent by the robocops, who might have been a little rough with some angry demonstrators, including some older women, was that the politicians in Riga feel threatened by any spontaneous public activity and will threaten back, rather than discuss the issues (Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale, at the center of the clusterfuck surrounding the reform/defacto switch to pay-as-you heal medicine, did later go to Bauska and had a heated discussion with a crowd of local people. Good for her on that count).
There is absolutely nothing illegal about anonymously suggesting that there should be a nationwide rally on November 13. The anonymity could, in a twist of black humor, be the result of earlier intimidation of dissent by the Security Police. In other words, send the Security Police to find those that the Security Police has intimidated into "better safe than sorry" forms of expression. Latvia is not Iran or some tinpot African dictatorship yet, but it will be unless people stand up and say they will not be intimidated.