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Friday 23.02.2018 | Name days: Haralds, Almants
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Lithuanians disinterested in Latvian election, complain of little cross-border work efforts

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius for BNN

Unlike the elections in the US and France, Latvia’s election to the municipal councils has drawn little or nil attention of its immediate neighbour, Lithuania. Most of Lithuania’s political analysts that BNN approached with the request to weigh in on the political event over the border simply refused to do so, excusing themselves that they did not follow the election or had «too superficial knowledge» of what was going on there.

«If it had been an election to Saeima, Latvian Parliament, the attention would have certainly been different. Local elections have not a tangible impact on foreign policies,» one of the analysts put it bluntly.

However, those commentators who have said anything about the election did discern the fact that the support in the election for the so-called pro-Russian parties, although insignificantly, dwindled, especially in the capital city, Riga, where the long-time mayor Nils Usakovs-led list of Harmony and Honour to Serve Riga garnered just slightly over a half of votes.

In Lithuania, Usakovs is widely seen as a pro-Russian politician – some of the media outlet underscored that he has had trouble recognizing the Soviet occupation of Latvia in the past.

In Riga, his list of politicians, Lithuanian media reported, gained 32 seats in the 60-seat Council of Riga City and the remaining 28 seats will be divided among Latvian Regional Alliance-For Development of Latvia (13.33 per cent), New Conservative Party (13.66 per cent), National Alliance (9.24 per cent) and Unity with (6.26 per cent).

Commenting a day before the election, Arūnas Vaikutis,  Latvian correspondent of national radio broadcaster LRT Radijas, reasoned that Usakovs’ party may fail to have majority in the new Latvian municipal councils.

In his words, the biggest «intrigue» swirled about the fate of the incumbent mayor in Riga.

«When he assumed the post four years ago, there were wide expectations that he will bridge the gaps between the local Latvians and the Russian-speaking Riga population. However, he was hearing throughout the years a lot of rebukes over his pro-Russian views, pandering to Riga’s Russian residents and was fighting off accusations of his party’s close ties with Moscow,» Vaikutis said. «Yet he is praised for having brought more order in the city’s functioning – he is lauded for the improvements in the local transport system; he made sure that snow in winter is taken away from the streets and yards steadfastly,» he added.

The journalist inferred that the whole electoral cycle has been pretty quiet in Latvia.

«There were some scandals in Jurmala, however they were far less significant than during the past Saeima election,» Vaikutis summed up.

Meanwhile, Alvydas Butkus, director of Latvian Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, noted that Riga would «feel safer» without Usakovs.

«From the standpoint of national security, it is important whether mayor of the capital city is a pro-Russian person or not. Although he’s not an open Kremlin supporter, it would be better for the country if he failed to win the second term. In that case, there would not be cajoling to Kremlin and all would see a more pronounced orientation to West,» the scholar said before the voting.

Lithuanians of Latvian descent and leaders of local Latvian communities in Lithuania also admitted they paid little or no attention at all to the Latvian election.

«Frankly speaking, I did not follow it all due to my busy schedule,” Sandra Saliamanienė, chairwoman of Latvian community in the Akmenė district in northern Lithuania, told BNN.

According to her, the local municipality’s relations with the neighbouring Jelgava municipality are near to «non-existent».

«Only cultural workers exchange the experience and creativity on both sides of the border. From my experience, even the families here with ties to Latvia have estranged from their relatives over the border. The Latvians of third or fourth generation in Lithuania practically do not speak the language already,» she said.

Local artisans are also «on small scale» involved in mutual trade, she added.

«I wish we had a more active cooperation between the municipalities,» Saliamanienė said.

Gunta Rone, chairwoman of Latvian community in Vilnius and head of Lithuania’s Ethnic Minority Council, also confessed to not paying attention «at all» to the election in Latvia.

«I was too busy to do that,» she said.

In her words, there are around 100 «energetic» Latvian-Lithuanian citizens in Vilnius.

«I’d say that we, as a community, are very exuberant, participating in multiple projects, some of them are cross-border. Our community members look forward to travelling in early July to Riga and meeting officials from Ethnic Minority Council and also the Latvian President,» she told BNN.

Rone also holds Latvian citizenship and said she is «proud» of being able to vote in Latvia.

She rejoices that Latvian language classes after «a long break» were reinstated for children of Latvian descent in a Vilnius school.

Recently, a street plaque in Latvian was erected on a corner house in a Vilnius street with abundant Latvian history.

«It is very heartening to see the name in Latvian and the word «iela», meaning «street» in Latvian,» she said. «Speaking on the whole, much relies on local border municipalities – want they or not to pursue relations with the neighbours over the border. Some of them are rather proactive, some are not.»

Gotfridas Tapinas, chairman of Klaipėda city’s Latvian association «Atpūta» told BNN he «did not care» who wins the election as his major concern is having more services for Lithuanians of Latvian descent when it comes visiting relatives or their burials over the border.

«I see just many statements of declarative nature when I take a look at the current relations of two countries. I am very disappointed that the countries’ transport ministers cannot solve the issue of the bus on route Klaipėda-Palanga-Liepaja-Riga «for centuries» now, the leader of Klaipėda’s Latvians underscored.

«The bus had been running for nearly 40 years before the route was cut. We have been long trying to reinstate it, but all the efforts have been in vain. It’s very saddening as there are dozens of people in the Klaipėda region who would love to visit their loved ones’ burials in the Latvian provinces, especially in Liepaja,» Tapinas underlined.


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