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Latvian report Latvian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-03-25 08:36:05
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Latvians pay annual tribute to Waffen SS fighters

Nearly 1,500 Latvians paid tribute on Friday to soldiers who fought in Nazi Germany's Waffen SS divisions, while nearby Russians held a counter-protest to recall war crimes committed against Jews and other minorities. For many Latvians the annual procession from a Lutheran cathedral to the Freedom Monument in downtown Riga, the capital, is a memorial event for Latvian SS soldiers, known as Legionnaires, who fought for independence during World War II. However, Latvia's minority Russians, who make up about one-third of the nation's 2.1 million people, consider the ceremony an insult to the millions who fought and died in the struggle against Nazi Germany.

This year about 100 Russians held their counter-protest about 30 yards (meters) from the Freedom Monument. Though quiet, the demonstrators hung large photographs of harrowing Holocaust scenes on wooden poles resembling gallows. More than 1,000 policemen were mobilized to ensure the two groups didn't clash. "The only possibility to fight for the restoration of Latvia's independence was in the Legion," said Alriks Vebers, 44, a Latvian who came to lay flowers in honour of a great uncle who fought in the Waffen SS. "And the Latvians didn't have a choice in the division's name."

Latvia, which gained its independence after World War I, was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Nazi Germany a year later, and again by the Soviets in 1944. The country restored its independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapsed. About 250,000 Latvians fought alongside either the Germans or the Soviets -- and some 150,000 Latvians died in the fighting. Nearly 80,000 Jews, or 90 percent of Latvia's pre-war Jewish population, were killed in 1941-42, two years before the formation of the Latvian Waffen SS unit -- which some Latvians claim shows the unit could not have played a role in the Holocaust. Today, Latvia's government distances itself from the ceremony, but many see it as a sign that Latvia has failed to acknowledge a dark page in its history. "This is a state-sponsored legitimization of fascism," said Dovid Katz, a Yiddish scholar based in Vilnius, Lithuania, pointing to some lawmakers' support of the ceremony. "The worst of European history is being glorified here."

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Latvian farmers could export more meat and diversify markets due to Russia's ban


Due to Russia's ban on live hog imports, Latvian farmers could begin to export more meat, diversifying their export markets, Agriculture Minister Laimdota Straujuma said in an interview with the LNT television this morning. The minister said farmers themselves had told her so, writes LETA. It is clear though that the hog breeding sector will suffer losses whose amount is difficult to calculate at the moment. "Of course, the sector will sustain losses," said the minister. If the current situation continues for too long, various market protection methods could be considered – compensation payments, intervention payments, and others.
 
Russia's motives remain unclear, and the duration of the ban is unknown, said Straujuma. Agriculture Ministry officials say they will do everything in their power to have the ban lifted by Russia, as well as to help farmers reorient their farm business. For instance, on March 28 Straujuma will have a meeting with Russian Ambassador to Latvia Alexander Veshnyakov to discuss the matter. As reported, Russia banned import of livestock, sheep, goats and hogs from the European Union member states as of March 20 due to the spread of Schmallenberg virus in Europe. In Latvia, the ban concerns 22 farms, as well as 35 farms in Lithuania, 43 in Estonia, 509 in Germany, also farms in Poland and the other EU member states, Food and Veterinary Service Director Maris Balodis told Nozare.lv. Latvian farmers do not export cattle, sheep and goats to Russia.

On the other hand, live hog exports to Russia from Latvia have been growing constantly, according to Latvian Market Promotion Centre’s data. Balodis told "Nozare.lv" that Russia's decision was "strange, to say the least, because no violations have been recorded in Latvia regarding hog export." "The official reasoning concerns violations allegedly observed in the EU at the end of last year, however, there have been no warnings regarding Latvian hog transport. Pigs are not affected by Schmallenberg virus, therefore it is incomprehensible why the ban has been also extended to hogs," said Balodis.

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All taxes cannot be cut immediately after consolidation in Latvia


Consumption tax cuts are important, however, it is not possible to reduce all taxes right after three years of consolidation, Latvian Employers' Confederation Vice President and Latvian Commercial Banks' Association President Martins Bicevskis pointed out at a press conference today. "Whether through the Employers Confederation's representation on the National Economy Council, the Reform Management Group or in talks with the government and ministries, we will maintain our stance that labour tax cuts are among the most important challenges in the next few years, so that Latvia not only restore but also improve its advantages for competitiveness in the Baltics," emphasized Bicevskis.
 
Bicevskis said he was pleased that the government has included nine% labour tax cuts in its declaration and that the Finance Ministry has offered solutions to implement these cuts, writes LETA/Nozare.lv. The Finance Ministry proposes reducing personal income tax rate to 21% and raise the monthly non-taxable minimum and tax deductions for dependants to LVL 90. To compensate for this, the ministry suggests cancelling real estate tax increase in the amount of 25%, and doubling real estate tax income for households, netting LVL 25 million to the state budget.
 
The ministry also proposes a slower increase in contributions to the second pillar of pensions – by 1% per year (reaching six% in 2016), gaining LVL 229 million. By lifting the reduced value added tax rates in 2015 the state budget will gain LVL 30 million, by reviewing real estate tax breaks – LVL 12 million.



      
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