Counter-trend messages arrive from Latvia to a disappointed Europe, marked by the crisis, surging populisms and disuniting forces. As of January 1st the Baltic nation has relinquished its national currency, the lat – Latvija is the Country’s name in the official idiom – introduced to replace the ruble over twenty years ago (1993), on the aftermath of the recovered independence of the Soviet Union (1991), to join the Eurozone. The goal was achieved after overcoming a severe recession with consistent reforms and major sacrifices. Half of the population is skeptical about the euro: on the other hand, the Latvian population recently experienced the weakness of a small productive and commercial industry which is not anchored to a single currency. A thriving capital. In Riga, capital of the Country with some 700 thousand inhabitants, a third of the overall population, on January 1st people queued at cash machines to see the new bills. The introduction of the euro went smoothly, and already in the first week the European currency replaced the Lat. Indeed, citizens are buoyant: the years-long crisis seems to have been overcome, or rather, it is widely hoped so. Growth rates are expected to rise beyond 4%: GDP is surging while national debt is at a 40% standstill. Positive forecasts include also per capita income. In the meantime, Riga is preparing to welcome visitors expected to attend the events planned in the European Capital of Culture, a title assigned to Riga along with the Swedish city of Umea. On January 17, the ancient Baltic city founded in 1201 by the German Bishop Albrecht von Buxthoeven, committed in the evangelization of these lands, will give the kick off to a rich calendar of artistic, cultural initiatives and performances. On January 18 Riga will be the venue of a “human chain of culture”: the inhabitants will cue up passing thousands of books from hand to hand, thereby virtually connecting the old building of the national library to the new premises, located on the opposite bank of the River Daugava, which flows across the urban centre. The purpose of the initiative is to recall the kilometers-long human chain extending from Latvia to Lithuania and Estonia, calling for the independence from the USSR 25 years ago. The role of Christian Churches. Over the past two decades the Republic on the Baltic sea experienced periods marked by vital economic and social vitality (notably renamed the “Baltic Tiger” in the year 2000) and periods of recession. After the implosion of the Warsaw Pact and its recovered independence, also Latvia came to terms with the delays accumulated under the Communist regime. In particular, the difficult relationship with Moscow drags on, considering that a third of the overall population is of Russian origin. The productive system was gradually transformed. Unemployment rates were high during the first phase of new historical course and today are at 11%. Premier Valdis Dombrovskis (who resigned after the fall of the roof of a supermarket in the heart of the capital in November, which caused 54 deaths), had been one of the promoters of the euro currency, which he said would have “triggered a virtuous effect prompting economic growth” at national level. In that same spirit the Prime Minister was photographed on January 1st holding 10-euro bills, reassuring citizens on price stability and the continuation of the positive economic trend. But now Latvia must meet the needs of families living on the threshold of poverty. It is necessary to tone down ongoing diatribes between Latvian and Russian speaking population, and ensure efficient public services. The churches at national level are part of this collective effort. Lutherans are a majority, almost a third of the overall population, to which should be added some half million Catholics and over 300 thousand Orthodox. The consistent Christian presence engages in a dialogue with civil society on the cultural and charitable fronts. An example for other Countries. Now the EU looks with interest to Latvia. “With the adhesion to the euro zone, the Country completes its round trip back to the heart of the political and economic system of our continent”, said Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro and a Vice-President of the European Commission, welcoming Latvia as the 18 Eurozone country. “Your efforts proved fruitful and Country strong economic recovery sends a clear message of encouragement to other States that have undertaken the path of difficult and burdensome reforms”, added the Finnish Commissioner. In order to promote the monetary passage and avoid commodity price speculation, since past October 1st selling prices must be both in Lat and in euros, while a nationwide campaign aims at controlling wholesale and retail prices.
The Country recovers from the crisis and sends a positive message to EU28