Latvian Ballet Comes to the WWE I was in the US, I happened upon the WWE Monday Night Raw program (I know I’m not the only one who watches pro rasslin’!). One of the program’s newest stars is a Bulgarian who goes by the name Rusev. This 300 pound wrestler is just tearing up the WWE.   What makes him more appealing, or actually hated by the audience, is that he is ably assisted by his manager, a tall 5’7”, leggy 29 year old blonde named Lana, whose job is to do the talking for him. And boy, does she ever get the crowd all riled up with her Russian accented diatribes about how America is weak, and why she and Rusev admire Russia’s strong leader Putin. Who is this rabble rousing babe and what is her connection to Latvia? Well, it turns out that Lana’s real name is Catherine Joy Perry. She was born in Florida, but she grew up in Latvia in the 1980s and 1990s when her father was a missionary in Riga. She speaks Latvian and Russian.
Perry aspired to be a ballet dancer like her mother and attended the Riga Choreography School (the ballet school of the Latvian National Opera) and began dancing with the Latvian National Ballet at age 14. At age 17 CJ Perry moved to New York and danced with a number of dance companies. She later attended Florida State University and did some acting. In October 2013 she was signed by WWE and became Rusev’s Russian manager Lana. These two are creating a lot of heat wherever they perform and are on their way to WWE stardom.   Keep an eye out for them. They are one heck of a combo!  
Jānis Kramēns


Parliamentary Elections Just 2 Weeks Away in Latvia

Latvian voters go to the polls on October 4th to elect a new parliament (Saeima). Thirteen political parties and alliances have registered to participate in the elections. The predominantly Russian speaking party Harmony Center (Saskaņas Centrs) is hoping that this is the year they finally become part of a ruling coalition. They are at the top of a number of voter polls tied with or slightly ahead (depending on the poll) of the Unity Party (Vienotība). The latest poll by Norstat has Harmony Center and the Unity Party tied at 15.5%. Trailing these two parties are the Greens and Farmers Union at 7.5% and the National Alliance with 7%. Behind these four parties currently represented in Saeima is newcomer “No Sirds Latvijai” (To Latvia from the Heart). This party is headed by Inguna Sudraba, the former State Controller of Latvia, and sits at 5.6%, just above the 5% mark required to gain representation in the Saeima. Other parties, such as United for Latvia (Vienoti Latvijai), led by the notorious Einārs Šlesers and a number of other former prime ministers, and the Association for Latvia’s Development (Latvijas Attīstībai), led by another former PM, Einārs Repše, are having difficulty finding traction with voters and find themselves with 1% support in the polls. It should be noted that 30% of those polled are undecided and 12% declared that they won’t participate.
The Winner in Latvia’s Parliamentary Elections Will Be.......
The latest polls, which are mentioned above indicate that Harmony Center and the Unity Party are essentially tied at around 15%. Will either of these two parties come out on top and form the next government in Latvia? It’s hard to say.
Let me explain. First off, I’m no Nate Silver. There are few public polls in Latvia, so data are pretty skimpy, which makes predicting the outcome difficult. Secondly, 30% of voters are still undecided. That is a huge percentage. A lot of voters will only decide at the polling booth who to support. This requires pundits having to resort to tea leaves to ascertain how the 30% will cast their votes.
Since my prediction is almost as good as anyone else’s, here it goes:
The Russian dominated Harmony Center is pushing all of the right buttons and poised to become the nation’s largest party. They started by repackaging themselves. They are no longer “Saskaņas Centrs” but “Saskaņa Sociāldemokrātiskā Partija” (SSDP). What they’ve done is occupy the left wing of the political spectrum in Latvia.* They espouse Social Democratic principles that are very popular in Europe. At a recent televised political debate SSDP rep Jānis Urbanovičs repeatedly emphasized the party’s support for a progressive income tax (a proposal gaining support in Latvia), increased military spending, and making improvements to education. They are saying all of the right things and it just might resonate with voters on election day.
But there is a serious caveat for SSDP and that is the conflict in Ukraine. If before the election the conflict flares up or Russia repeats its intention to take over the Baltic States, voter support for SSDP could dry up in an instant. That is what the number two party in the polls is hoping for.**
The Unity Party has been in charge of Latvia for a long time over successive governments and people are losing faith in them. People continue to vote with their feet and leave the country. Even former PM Valdis Dombrovskis has moved to Brussels, where he has been given a cushy EU position with yet to be determined duties. Former Defense Minister and one-time Prime Minister candidate Artis Pabriks has also moved to Brussels. Voters are not particularly pleased with the Unity Party’s handling of the economy. Unemployment is still above 10% (even higher if those who emigrated are counted), the working poor (49% earn less than $600/month) have the highest tax burden in the EU. The citizenry is still waiting for educational reforms and military expenditures are 0.9% of GDP, well below the 2% demanded by NATO. But Unity is hoping that voters will not trust Harmony and will instead cast their votes for their tried and true brand.
After Harmony and Unity we have the Greens/Farmers Union (Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība/ZZS). There isn’t much to say about them. They claim to be a centrist party, but they don’t behave like one. When the ZZS was in the coalition they voted more with Harmony, disregarding their coalition partners. It didn’t make sense then. It still doesn’t, as they continue to vote with Harmony on a number of issues. But they have a loyal base, particularly in western Latvia, and they are almost guaranteed to get above the 5% barrier.
Hovering in the 6-8% range in the polls is the National Alliance (NA). They are hoping to make a strong showing in the election. They did well in the Riga city council election and they expect a repeat performance. The nationalistic base keeps NA afloat, even as their successes in government have been limited. If the undecided vote breaks for NA, they could move up and demand plum posts in the cabinet, including access to sensitive information that up to now has been denied.
The wildcard in all of this mix is former State Controller Inguna Sudraba and her party “No Sirds Latvijai” (NSL) or From the Heart for Latvia. NSL just recently surpassed the 5% threshold and if they can hold onto the momentum, they could be the key to the next coalition. NSL could have the critical votes needed to form a coalition and that is a powerful bargaining chip. Some possible scenarios have NSL joining forces with the Greens Farmers (ZZS) and Harmony. Is it possible? Crazier things have happened.
If voters decide on a more conservative approach, the National Alliance may have a strong say in a potential coalition with Unity and, possibly, NSL. They have been pushed around by Vienotība (certain ministries have been off limits to them) and it just might be payback time. If these two conservative parties do not learn how to play nice, they just might find themselves out of government, watching how Harmony and Co. do things.
* During the 1920s and 1930s, the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) was a powerful party in Latvian politics. In the 1990s LSDSP returned to Latvia where unfortunately it fell into incompetent hands and has fallen from the political stage. SSDP is laying claim to the social democratic mantle, but a lot of people aren’t buying it—yet. And so far no party has stepped up to seriously claim a spot on the left.
**In the 2011 parliamentary elections the “Zatlera Reformu Partija” (ZRP) picked up 22 mandates. Even before the seating of Saeima, 6 ZRP MPs quit the party and declared themselves an independent faction. Their complaint – the party was run by a handful of people who made all of the decisions and ignored the will of the members. The party is in disarray and the prognosis is not good. ZRP is not participating in the Saeima elections and has urged its members and supporters to vote for Vienotība. ---------- Jānis Kramēns


Muckraking Journalism – Latvian Style

Jānis Kramēns  --  I’m sure everyone remembers having to read Upton Sinclair’s classic muckraking novel “The Jungle” (1906) in high school. The story is about Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, who comes to the US with his family to live the American dream. Sinclair describes in great detail how workers are exploited by corrupt corporations and disposed of when no longer needed. The book’s descriptions of the dangerous and unsanitary conditions within the meatpacking industry in the Chicago Stockyards caused such an outrage that Congress was forced to enact important legislation, most importantly the Pure Food Act and the establishing of what later became the Food and Drug Administration.  
Muckraking journalism’s heyday was in the early 20th century, when magazines such as Collier’s Weekly, Munsey’s Magazine and McClure’s Magazine published articles that detailed political corruption, sweatshop conditions, Jim Crow laws, and the abuse of Indians. Many young, idealistic journalists went undercover to learn firsthand of the conditions and suffering people endured. These courageous reporters risked health and well being to expose the dark side of life in the USA. Some even paid the ultimate price for their efforts.
Muckraking journalism (in Latvian, pētnieciskais žurnālisms) is alive and well in Latvia. A new organization, “Re:Baltica” (, has been making waves in Latvia with its reporting on the dark side of the “Latvian Economic Success Story” touted by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and his government. Over the past year young journalists have been researching and investigating stories that the main stream media are, for one reason or another, unable to.  
The Birģeļis Family
Re:Baltica came onto the scene in Latvia a year ago with a heart breaking story about the Birģeļis family from Puikule, Vidzeme that emigrated to Germany in search of work. Kristīne had been a music teacher. Her husband, Sandis, had served in the Latvian Army and after his discharge found work in a furniture factory. That company goes bankrupt after the birth of their second son. Sandis moves his family to Puikule where his mother lives. There he finds work in another factory but after a while the owner is able to pay workers only 20 lats (about $40-) a week. Now with three young boys in the family, it is impossible to get by. Kristīne travels to Germany and finds work in a laundry. She returns to Latvia and after many agonizing days they decide to make a go of it in Germany. Kristīne also finds Sandis a job. The German government is very supportive of them, providing housing, child care and subsidies.*
Sandis and Kristīne are Latvian patriots who did not want to leave their homeland. But economic circumstances left them with no alternative. The Latvian government provided little to no support for them. Sandis’ mother Sārmīte is 58 and after helping her son’s family settle in Germany she returned home. But she is also in dire straits. She is also unable to find work. Employers look at her and say she is too old. Sarmīte finds work picking potatoes, earning 5 lats ($10-) a day, and other occasional jobs that pay 3 lats a day.
Latvijas Šprotes
One of ReBaltica’s latest exposés focuses on a šprotes factory. Gunita, a 22 year old journalism student, takes a job at the plant packing the little fish into cans. For each can she is paid 2 santīmi (about 4 cents). In case you’re wondering, that is not a mistake. Workers are paid 2 santīmi per packed can of šprotes. The packers are told that if they work hard, they can earn more than 200 lats ($380-) a month, gross. They aren’t told about the long hours, the poor working conditions and the rent they have to pay for their sleeping quarters (few workers live near the plant – many go home every other weekend).
In an interview, the company owners complain that Latvians are lazy workers used to welfare and because of that they are forced to import Bulgarians to work in the plant. They also state that they have invested thousands (in fact 50,000 lats) in modernizing the factory and have to keep salaries low in order to compete and make a profit. But as the program points out, the company did have enough money to recently acquire for management a Porsche Cayenne-S ($150,000+), a $70,000 Land Cruiser, a BMW motorcycle and a Range Rover.  
To view the video and read Gunita’s account of her experiences, as well as read other reports, please go to the website
* Germany has Europe’s lowest birthrate – 1.36 per woman. Britain’s population is forecast to exceed that of Germany in 2040. The German government has been throwing a lot of money at increasing the birthrate with little to show for it. Germany now gladly welcomes äuslanders to prop up their economy and fill up their pension funds. In this sense, the economic crisis in Europe is saving Germany keister.


Saeima adopts provisions on recognition of dual citizenship

On Thursday, 9 May, the Saeima in the final reading adopted amendments to the Citizenship Law that recognise dual citizenship, set forth the procedure for granting citizenship to children born in Latvia to non-citizens and to children born abroad to Latvian citizens, as well as introduce changes in the naturalisation procedure.
The amendments to the Citizenship Law were drafted by a special subcommittee of the Legal Affairs Committee. This major reform of the Citizenship Law was implemented for almost two years in close cooperation with experts and was aimed at developing a Law that would fit the current situation and solve the problems accumulated over the years.
Until now the citizenship issue in Latvia was regulated by the Law that was last amended in 1998; it not only failed to reflect society’s values and today’s situation but also ignored Latvia’s membership in the European Union and current migration processes.
The Citizenship Law is supplemented with the statement of its purpose, namely, five areas covered by the Law. The Law determines the persons who are considered Latvian citizens, grants titular nationals – ethnic Latvians and Livs – the right to register as Latvian citizens, as well as enables Latvians in exile and their descendants to register as Latvian citizens. The purpose of the Law is also to promote the development of a cohesive Latvian society based on shared values of the Latvian people, as well as to recognise dual citizenship according to the political goals and interests of Latvia and to preserve the community of Latvian citizens under conditions of increased mobility.
By recognising dual citizenship, the Law enables citizens of Latvia who have acquired the citizenship of another member state of the European Union, European Free Trade Association or North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to retain Latvian citizenship. Dual citizenship will also be an option for Latvian citizens who have acquired the citizenship of a state that has signed an agreement with Latvia on recognition of dual citizenship. The amendments also permit dual citizenship with Australia, Brazil and New Zealand.
The new wording of the Law sets forth that persons who have acquired the citizenship of a state not mentioned above will be able to retain Latvian citizenship upon permission issued by the Cabinet of Ministers. Those who have acquired the citizenship of another state through marriage or adoption will also able to retain Latvian citizenship.
With regard to ethnic Latvians and Livs, it will be possible to grant citizenship to those who can prove that their ancestors used to live in the territory of Latvia and that they speak the Latvian language.
Latvian citizenship is made available for Latvians in exile and their descendants upon submission of relevant proof. This applies to citizens who left Latvia because of the occupation regime of the USSR or Germany or were deported and by 4 May 1990 had not returned to Latvia for permanent residence.
The amended Law also sets forth that a child is a Latvian citizen regardless of his/her place of birth if at the moment of the child’s birth one of the parents is a Latvian citizen. Children born in Latvia to Latvian non-citizens after 21 August 1991 will be recognised as citizens if they permanently reside in Latvia and have always been stateless persons or non-citizens. A child of a non-citizen will be recognised as a citizen upon registration of the newborn and expression of such a desire by a parent.
The amendments also more accurately specify revocation and restoration of Latvian citizenship, renunciation of the citizenship, and the naturalisation procedure. For example, a simplified test will be administered to persons who have received primary education in the Latvian language with more than a half of the curriculum taught in the Latvian language or who have acquired full curriculum of general secondary or vocational secondary education.
The amendments to the Citizenship Law will come into force on 1 October 2013, concurrently with the relevant Cabinet regulations.


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