The Odd Couple

"Just one more question, Minister..."

Rulle (centre) gets her man yet again

WHILE the Latvian political and economic systems have sometimes seemed to be on the verge of complete collapse in recent weeks, one of the consolations has been the emergence of an entertaining new double act.

Finance Minister Atis Slakteris’ partnership with PM Ivars Godmanis has been mildly diverting, but because it sometimes seems as if Godmanis is working Slakteris by means of some kind of foot pump hidden beneath the desk, it’s really only been as entertaining as ventriloquism – which isn’t much.

But Slakteris has teamed up with a much less obvious partner to much greater effect. There’s no denying that Slakteris and ace Diena reporter Baiba Rulle have definite chemistry.

At every press conference, Rulle has been there, stage centre, peppering Slakteris – and indeed anyone else foolish enough to sit next to him – with question after question.

She’s quick-witted, forthright and most important of all, relentless, cooking up one puzzler even while she’s delivering another.

Sometimes it seems she’s one half of a double act giving feed lines, only Slakteris doesn’t know what the punchline is supposed to be.

She hasn’t restricted herself to the civilised confines of the briefing room, either. The sight of Rulle pursuing Slakteris through the corridors of power, while he makes another hapless effort to escape, has been a joy to behold.

To his credit, Slakteris hasn’t reacted aggressively, though the pressure is clearly taking its toll. At the December 3rd announcement that the government would buy more shares of Parex bank than it had previously said, there was a suggestion of a nervous twitch appearing in Slakteris’ left eye that put me in mind of the great Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films.

His mode of escape that night was to take to the elevator – if only because the indefatigable Ms Rulle had already chased him down three floors to the ground floor. So Slakteris must have actually taken the lift back up to where he started and waited until the coast was clear.

More important than mere spectacle though, the Slakteris/Rulle combo does at least prove that journalism and public accountability are alive in Latvia.

The day we should really start worrying is not when the politicians seem annoyed by questions, give less-than-fulsome responses or roll their eyes like Godmanis, but when they stop taking questions altogether.

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