Latvia at the Crossroads
“In the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190590/] Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey" is set in the Deep South [USA] during the 1930's. In it, three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure while a relentless lawman pursues them. Everrett Ullysus McGill, sick of breaking rocks in the heat of a Mississippi summer, escapes with his two dim accomplices, Delmar and Pete.”
In one scene after their escape a musician is encountered at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. An ensuing conversation between escaped convicts and the Negro musician revels that the man sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for teaching him to play the guitar. When asked why he would do such a thing, he replied, “I wasn’t using it.” Mystified the convicts were faced with a formidable dilemma.
Similarly, have you heard the one about the Latvian at the fork in the road? Which way does he go? The answer is: both! There is some cross-over between the two black jokes, but the answer is the same.
Latvia is at the crossroads too, which may easily be alluded to as a fork in the road. The EU stands on one side and the Russian Federation on the other. Long a “transit state” occasionally occupied by the East and then the West, Latvia has alternately re-created itself as the “Switzerland of the Baltics” where Riga is known as “Little Prague” or “Little Paris” for its architectural splendor.
Latvians took advantage of the credit circumstances that helped create the Great Recession and then let the EU / IMF and others bail them out. Of course austerity measures led to wide scale unemployment of the easily replaceable working class and served to reverse an earlier trend and drain the city of its proletariat.
This freed up many a living space, kept the previous owners in debt away from their claims through displacement. It also solidly placed much real estate in the hands of the reluctant and clearly unwilling banking institutions.
With real estate available at such an affordable price led the wealthy who had been sitting on their bags of money to see an opportunity to reinvest and keep skilled workers employed reconditioning and renovating many an abandoned living space.
To keep building in the face of darkness seemed ludicrous top many and was welcomed by many to keep the city alive for the eyes of many a visiting tourist. To make even more luxury apartments seemed ridiculous in the face of not knowing why it was being done.
To keep the Lat tied to the Euro and prices high was a wait-and-see game of who shall survive. The current move to offer Russians residency permits in exchange for a mere $35,000 in the bank would welcome them through the back door to the EU. Why should Finland be the only one to benefit from the issuance of Schengen visas?
Under this, it seems a simple way to bail the country out while ridding the ship of rats and establishing Riga to its rightful claim as the Switzerland of the Baltics.” Riga, AKA “Little Prague” or “Little Paris” will soon rise from the ashes as a haven for the rich and powerful. But who can even suggest such a thing?
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