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Latvian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-01-23 11:01:19
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Thousands of Latvians unite to move books to new national library

On Saturday, thousands of Latvians marked the start of Riga's tenure as one of two European Capitals of Culture by forming a human chain and moving 2,000 books by hand to the new national library building. Around 15,000 people braved freezing temperatures – as low as -14C – to form a chain stretching more than a mile across the capital, deliberately echoing 1989's Baltic Way when some two million protesters formed a human chain across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to fight for independence from the Soviet Union. Organiser Aiva Rozenberga said the event had deep symbolic significance for Latvians. “The people who stood in the Baltic Way remember that feeling of being shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers."

latvia_400"The people taking part in the book chain who are prepared to stand here on a cold winter day are taking this seriously too – we are literally standing up for culture." The opening of the new library forms parts of a greater move by Latvia to make its presence felt in Europe, having joined the single currency at the start of January. This year Riga, along with Umeå in Sweden, is a European Capital of Culture. People in the chain passed along books from the city’s existing 150-year-old national library across the River Daugava to a new national library building which opens in August.

The building, a huge concrete, glass and steel construction which resembles a mountain with a crown on top, was designed by Latvian-born architect Gunnar Birkerts. Kirsten Petersen, a journalism student from Washington, DC, told the Telegraph: "Seeing this event brought me so much joy. "I had just visited the Occupation Museum where I learned about how the communist regime had suppressed Latvian culture. Walking out of the museum to see an event organised by the people to celebrate their culture gave me hope for the city as it continues to emerge from the devastation of Soviet times."


Latvia's parliament approves first female prime minister

Latvia's parliament approved on Wednesday Laimdota Straujuma to become the first female prime minister of the Baltic state, which joined the euro zone on January 1. Valdis Dombrovskis, 42, who steered the country through the economic crisis, resigned as prime minister last November, taking responsibility for the collapse of a supermarket in Riga which killed more than 50 people.

Straujuma, 62, a veteran civil servant who held a post of agriculture minister in Dombrovskis' cabinet since October 2011, promised to stick to the policies of the outgoing government. The parliament has already approved a budget for this year and parliamentary elections are due already in October.


Latvia Charities Thrive on Euro

Latvia officially abandoned the lat as legal tender on Wednesday morning, two weeks after joining the euro zone, but a lot of the old bills and coins are still in peoples’ hands. Many in the small Baltic nation have begun or plan on trading lats in for euros before the exchange deadline hits in June. Others are hording certain coins with special-edition artwork on them, hoping that their value will rise. But it appears many are simply dropping their lats in the collection plate, including the santim coins that are the smallest denomination of the former currency – much like pennies. Many grocery chains and other businesses are reporting an uptick in charitable giving, mostly at donation bins that can be seen overflowing with money and need to be emptied far more often than usual. “We are emptying the charity boxes two or three times a week where we used to empty them once a month,” said Gints Lazdins, a spokesman for the Elvi grocery chain.

One cashier at the Rimi market in downtown Riga said: “They are not just leaving change, they are coming in with their piggy banks.” A woman, at the next checkout lane, tossed a handful of coins into the box, saying: “My last santims.” Valdis Strautmanis, a pensioner shopping at a Rimi supermarket in a downtown Riga shopping centre, said on Tuesday that he found 11 santims in a pocket. “As it is the last day for the lat and I didn’t want to burden the cashier with calculations in two currencies, I put them in the charity box. It is for a good cause, the sick children,” he said. Swedbank reported high levels of donations to a wide range of charities, ranging from organizations that help women with fertility issues to victims of Latvia’s tragic Maxima collapse in November, which are getting unexpected euro adoption windfall.

Ilze Osane, a spokeswoman for an umbrella charity organization, Ziedot.lv, said they collected 40,131 lats (57,000 euro, $77,500) in December, but they won’t close the books until January 31. “Presently the boxes are filling up at an unbelievable speed,” she said. The trend goes back a couple months. In November and December, Swedbank organized a tour of 26 cities and towns in Latvia by an “Angel Express” truck, asking local residents to donate piggy banks and jars of coins to the “Angels Over Latvia” campaign. “There was great response,” Swedbank’s Kristine Jakubovska said, noting that Latvians donated the equivalent of €68,544. The total weight of coins gathered around Latvia by the “Angel Express” was nearly 2,300 kilos, according to the Swedbank statement. Ziedot.lv has set a target of almost €574,000 for the “Angels Over Latvia” drive, which means that almost 12% of target sum has come from change and piggy banks with santim and lat coins. Many other retailers and businesses reported a similar trend, according to the Association of Commercial Banks of Latvia.


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