Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as LVA by Abbreviationfinder, Latvia is to be regarded as a functioning democracy. Respect for human rights is generally good. But the country still faces challenges in areas such as corruption, women’s rights and the situation of ethnic minorities.
The elections are free and there are many different parties that represent a variety of opinions.
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Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed by law and respected. Civil society can seem free, but is generally weak. The constitution guarantees religious freedom and various communities operate freely in the country.
Nevertheless, Latvia is the Baltic country that receives the lowest score in the international organization Freedom House’s annual survey of the state of democracy in the countries of the world 2018.
The country has been criticized by human rights organizations for how the Russian minority in the country is treated. 240,000 people, most of whom are ethnic Russians, are stateless and may not vote, start political parties or work in state administration. Although about 37 percent of the population has Russian as their first language, Latvian should be used in the public sector and in private companies that “affect the public interest”. Compliance with the law is controlled by an inspection that carries out unannounced language tests at workplaces.
Society is still characterized by a gender stereotype of women’s views. Domestic violence is a problem and the country has not signed the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Control of Domestic Violence and Domestic Violence. Many women who have been subjected to violence feel that they are not taken seriously by the police and justice system. 20 percent of the members of parliament are women.
The view on the rights of LGBTQ people is conservative and Latvia is ranked as one of the most difficult countries in the EU to live in as LGBTQ according to the international NGO Europe’s Rainbow Index. Sexual orientation is not included as a basis for hate crimes and people who are subjected to harassment claim to be reluctant to report to the police as they lack confidence in the police.
Some old networks from the Soviet era have survived in politics and business, where even oligarchs retained power. Corruption is a major problem that affects who gets influence in society (see Social conditions).
In recent years, the country has been shaken by a series of scandals involving corruption in the financial sector. The Latvian bank ABLV was accused of money laundering while the governor was suspected of bribery. Both investigations were still ongoing in the spring of 2019.
Transparency International also testifies to close links between the political elite and the business community, which is reflected in some political decisions. The country’s anti-corruption agency, KNAP, has shed light on the financing of the political parties – most parties will receive unauthorized donations in 2017. Latvia is ranked 41 out of 180 in Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption (see here).
Freedom of expression and media
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the Latvian press and media law guarantees freedom of the press. Freedom of expression, however, can be limited, partly because of the sovereignty, security and moral principles of the state.
In 2015, a supplement was adopted in the Education Act which says that schools must conduct “moral teaching in line with the values of the constitution”. In 2016, exemptions were also introduced with the aim of responding to Russian disinformation, which means that teachers who do not show “loyalty” to the Latvian state in their teaching can be dismissed. Both legislative amendments have been criticized for restricting freedom of expression.
The press is lively and represents many opinions, but it happens that owners do not respect journalistic independence.
As Latvia’s relations with Russia have been strained during the 2010s (see Foreign Policy and Defense), the Latvian authorities have on several occasions intervened in Russian-owned media to prevent what they perceived as Russian propaganda. At the same time, several Russian media, forced to leave Moscow to escape prosecution and censorship, enjoy freedom of the press in Latvia.
Latvia ended up at 41 out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2019, which is a drop with a snap since 2018.
Parliament approves the budget
Several austerity and tax increases are planned for 2010.
Property tax is introduced
After pressure from the lenders, not least Sweden, the government will agree to still introduce the tax. This opens up for continued crisis loans.
No to property tax
Parliament says no to a new tax requested by the IMF. The ruling party The People’s Party is revolting and voting against Prime Minister Dombrovski’s proposal.
The pressure against the currency decreases
The IMF pays out almost EUR 200 million in loans. Rumors of devaluation are diminishing.
Settlement with the IMF
After months of hard negotiations, Latvia concludes an agreement with the IMF, which opens up for further disbursements of the crisis loans.
Russian-speaking mayor of Riga
Nil Ushakov gets the post since his party Harmonic Center won the local election.
Emigration is increasing
In a survey, about half of the population say they are prepared to leave Latvia because of the economic crisis.
New budget cuts
State Bankruptcy threatens if the conditions for new loan disbursements are not met. Public wages are reduced by another 20 percent (see December 2008) and pensions are reduced by 10 percent. Hospitals and schools are closed, and taxes are raised.
New coalition government
The Party of New Era EU parliamentarian Valdis Dombrovskis forms a new government with several different parties. The government will continue to tighten its budget to obtain emergency loans (see December 2008).
The Prime Minister resigns
The two largest coalition parties demand that Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis leave his post. Godmanis submits his resignation application.
Peasant protests in Riga
The government gives in to the farmers’ demands for crisis support. The Minister of Agriculture is leaving.
A large protest rally in Riga against the government degenerates and leads to riots.