Monday, May 29, 2006

Across the Baltic Sea

An early flight this morning - but only to Riga in Latvia across the Baltic.

I will be there today and tomorrow, primarily but not only in connection with a conference there by East Capital.

But it's also a good way to keep up with what is happening in the country as it is heading to its elections to the Seima - parliament - just after the Swedish elections this autumn.

The economy is booming. Last year Latvia registred a growth of slightly over 10 %. This year will be slightly less, but all estimates speak about continued high growth in the years ahead.

I will be meeting Scandinavian businessmen to listen to their assessments. And I hope to be able to see at the least some Latvian ones as well.

Relations with Russia could obviously be better - although they are not necessarily bad. The border treaty has not been ratified, as is the case with Estonia, although in practice this doesn't really mean anything.

I notice that the Patriarch of Russia Alexey II has been in Riga the last few days and performed services at the main Orthodox church, among other things. Whether he has also been seeing the congregation of Old Believers - those refusing the lithurgial reforms at the time of Peter the Great - having their own Orthodox churches in Riga would be interesting to know.

Since the start of the process of naturalisation, 110 000 Russian nationals have applied for and been given Latvian citizinship. Much of the business of Latvia is dominated by Russian nationals - and they seem to be enjoying to be part of the European Union.

And for all the complaints occasionally coming out of some circles in Moscow, it is clear that a Russian living in Latvia has far better protection for his och her human rights than a Russian living in Russia. Accordingly, they want to stay in Latvia and see their future there.

Later this year, Riga will be hosting the NATO summit. I guess it will be the largest international gathering in northern Europe for at the least a decade. The only meetings of similar size I can remember where the Helsinki Summits.

The decision to have the summit in Riga can be seen as a tribute not only in general to the country but particularly to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. She has established herself as an impressive and determined political profile, not seldom mentioned in connection with speculations about the next Secretaty-General of the UN, although I would consider that unlikely.

But the NATO Summit will be a great - and important - even for Riga.

Apart from having a promising future, Riga is a lovely city with a rich history.