07 May, 2009

Lifestyle vs Income

When I first visited Latvia in 2001 at my Aunt's request I had in my luggage 4 cans of flea bombs. I am not one for travelling with much as all I had as luggage was a small carry on backpack and a small box with half the space taken up by the flea bomb cans. So packing flea bombs upset my usual mimimal style. But to my amazement flea bombs were not available in Latvia.

Latvia 8 years later still does not have such a thing as Insect killing surface spray let alone flea bombs. On that first visit Latvia did not even have mosquito repellent so I packed that for my second visit. In fact this year for the first time the local Tops supermarket is selling mosquito repellent! How exciting it is :-)

So what is going on? Why do Latvians accept living with fleas? Why are there not shops that want to make money selling flea killing products?

One possible explanation is that if there is a purpose for the fleas then why kill them. Latvians say you are cursed if fleas get in to your house. So is the purpose of fleas to make you feel part of the Latvian superstitious culture?

Older Latvian folk talk about the years past when there was a warm winter and fleas were really bad in Spring. So the now generation wants to feel part of that history?

In Easter it is difficult to find chocolate easter Eggs. Possibly because Latvian culture uses real eggs that are used for various Easter games like egg rolling. So is culture winning out over commercialisation in Latvia?

The Christmas market in the Old Town of Riga is started and mostly funded by an American. Does this support the idea that Latvians reject commercialisation of superstitious events?

With every flea bite and every Easter I can not find chocolate eggs should I rejoice at living the Latvian life?

It seems to me that there are many Latvians - usually older and retired - that would like to be able to rely on the capable Latvians to improve Latvia and the standard of living for all. I mean, isn't this what happens in all advanced economies? Doesn't Latvia seek to become an advanced economy as the basis for joining the EU?

You may say that fleas and chocolate are minor issues but I say they are symptoms of deeper causes that are the same cause for innumerable deficiencies. Both lifestyle and income is decreased when the people of Latvia do not make an effort to supply products and service. Latvia has moved towards a higher percentage of services to generate export income but this does not mean Latvians are profiecient at service provision.

As you can read in my many the blogs below. My personal experience is that Latvians waste opportunities to improve Latvia. Part of this is that Latvians do not accept, do not like and reject many opportunities presented to them from foreigners. Furthermore, foreign investors and their foreign managers do not want to live in a Latvia that has a pathetic attitude towards them.

It is very publically known that Latvians generally don't like non Latvians. One of the arguments against foreigners is that 'they try to tell us how to live our life.' A visitor to Latvia is not long at the airport before they start to recognise obvious deficiencies that give the impression that foreigners are not welcome. Where is the 'Welcome to Latvia' sign? The Mecedes Benz taxi company at the airport is out to rip off every guest to Latvia. So a foreigner finds out very quickly that Latvians don't have enough pride to care about their country enough to do something to fix the situation.

One foreigner is not expert in all things but the consensus from many foreigners is that they would not recommend Latvia to their friends and acquaintances.

Live in Latvia long enough and you will want to influence change but you will be told that it is your fault and you are the first to bring up an issue. So then you know Latvians indirectly accept a low living standard by not raising an issue. This is reinforced when you witness Latvians feeling superior by not complaining!

Have you ever thought how good it would be to go back in time 100 or 1000 years with some of the gadgets and knowledge of today? Well living in Latvia is a lot like living that experience. Latvian culture does not seem too far away from accusing people as being witches. Life in Latvia is largely dependent on hope and luck instead of cooperation and goals. The new things that come to Latvia dazzle Latvians and they get distracted by the excitement.

To finalise this blog I would say that there are benefits to living in Latvia that have a lot to do with being established in a country over time. The location of Latvia is good but if transport links are too few or too expensive then the location benefit is removed. There are many benefits that can be imported but why come to invest in Latvia if there are other options where the people are causing the economy to improve?

See the New York Times article on the Latvian economic situation right now. It is 99% accurate http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/world/europe/24latvia.html?_r=2&hpw

01 May, 2009

Shoot to Kill or Set up business in another country

We all have created our financial environments. In Latvia a higher percentage of people choose to organise their finances outside of the law. Now with the economic downturn their recourse of action is to apply threats, physical abuse and even to kill. The word going around in those circles is that for many life is a misery as the family is also threatened and the debts become life long obligations. Recent killings in Latvia just add to the overall feeling of subjugation.

Then there are those folk that have chosen to organise their finances according to the law and contracts. But the rule of law in Latvia lets them down. The legal system in Latvia is full of lawyers that focus more on how to milk their clients rather than professional representation. The result of this is that there are increasingly fewer business-people wanting to do business with or in Latvia. Russia is an example of where Latvia is heading. The leadership fools of Latvia would argue that a serious business in Latvia finds its own way forward with the best lawyers etc. But they are fools because the best business for Latvia are small businesses. Small businesses employ the most amount of people, are most innovative and lead to the most diversification in export income. But these same small businesses are easily strangled by a legal system that milks them and does not result in the remedy they expect and would achieve in another European country.

Personally I am heading towards the first year anniversary or a court case that should have had a preliminary decision at the first hearing. The judge contradics himself frequently requests information for the next hearing that he does not even look at and then postpones decisions without any request for further information and having a translator translate in the court is forbidden by the judge. This is a ridiculous situation as I initiated proceedings to give the other party increased rights under law. I would have been better to behave like a local and sit on my first court ruling that gave me all the rights instead of trying to do the right thing in Latvia. If the next hearing does not provide the remedy then I will simply withdraw my submission.

Business people are fed up with this. I have recently met business people in Warsaw, Krakow, and Prague that are sufferring from similar lawless environments. The consensus is to move business to somewhere like Berlin where there is the rule of law and prices for property and supplies are lower there. Automation removes the higher labour costs.

Just to emphasise the point here. One friend in Krakow won a government tender to set up a small zoo in a location that was failing. It has become so successulfull that the locals have put an injunction on further development. He will win the legal battle but the fact that the injunction was allowed in the first instance is sheer corruption. It is the children of Poland that benefit from this zoo as it will be years befre my friend will get back the million plus euros he invested. So for the Polish legal system to restrict something that educates their children is a disgrace. These same shameless acts are being allowed all over New Europe by the people of New Europe.

One thing for ceratin is that the shoot to kill business people would not be as successful in New Europe. If Latvia does not improve I know where I would prefer my business to expand in. Why surround yourself by people that do not care about their country and their children and is in debt to its eyeballs. All this would not be such an issue if Latvian leaders gave priority to people like myself that can access resources that can make a positive difference to the country.