It would be an exaggeration to call February 4th a day of high drama in Latvian politics, but it did bring one or two things into focus without really clarifying the overall political picture.
In the morning,
I went to a brief press conference held by the ever-affable Maris Riekstins and today’s guest, Finnish ForMin Alexander Stubb, who is not only the most tanned Finn I have ever met but refreshingly open and articulate when it came time to pop a few questions. The results of the chat are here and if it gives the impression Stubb did all the talking at the presser – well, he did.
But that was just to get the press in the groove for the main attraction – the parliamentary vote of no confidence in prime minister Ivars Godmanis.
Having dealt with the moans of dozens of local government types first thing in the morning at Riga town hall, Godmanis was straight into action again at Saeima. First, he led Martins Roze into his office to accept his resignation as agriculture minister, a post – remarkably – he has held since 2002.
It was difficult not to feel a pang of sympathy of Roze, who looked genuinely downcast as he entered and not much happier when he emerged a few moments later.
Then at 14.00 it was time for the debate on the no confidence vote. It ended up lasting more than five hours. Some of the speakers were okay (Kalniete and Karins were passable), most were just dull (Slakteris, Stokenbergs) and a few (Repse, Dobelis) would probably be classified as insane if they weren’t also monumentally tedious.
Indeed there was only one orator worthy of the description all afternoon – Godmanis himself. As the penultimate speaker he seemed on the point of exploding with rage at several points, but managed to rein himself in and exuded an authority, intelligence and ability to string an argument together that had been almost completely lacking until that point.
It was a truly impressive effort, and made it clear that he was the most capable politician in the whole auditorium. In fact, that is a truth that has really come to the fore in recent weeks.
Even those who said they would be voting against him acknowledged that he was working as hard as any human being physically could for the country and is essentially a good man trying his hardest.
Equally, members of his own coalition admitted he was doing the jobs of several ministers in addition to his own responsibilities.
Basically, Godmanis is a one-man government.
The debate wound up around 19.15 and by the time I had filed my copy and turned on the TV to watch Kas Notiek Latvija? at 21.15, Godmanis was back in the bear pit arguing his case all over again.
And significantly, the public telephone vote asking for a verdict on the day’s events showed that almost as many people believed Godmanis is a good leader with a bad government as believe the government is rotten from top to bottom. Even at the anti-government demonstrations a few weeks ago, hardly anyone had harsh words for Godmanis – rather they felt sorry that he was working himself into an early grave because his ministers are so useless.
This is the tragedy of the situation. A decent, intelligent man is making a virtual public sacrifice of himself for very little thanks and unfortunately to very little effect. At least if he climbed out of a trench and ran at a machine gun post it would be over more quickly, but that’s what it seems like when you see his increasingly haggard face.
While the manner in which Godmanis carried the day (by 51 votes to 40) was nothing short of magnificent, it sadly doesn’t change the fact that only fresh elections and a new government will actually remove what amounts to a political version of writer’s block that is afflicting Latvia at the moment.
It would be great if Godmanis could be part of such a government and maybe even head it. But it seems more likely that he will end up as a completely undeserving scapegoat for the failings of his own ministers.