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Crime and Law Enforcement

Crime was a serious problem in Latvia in the early 1990s, as it was in the other Baltic states and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The total number of reported crimes increased from 34,686 in 1990 to 61,871 in 1992 and then dropped to 52,835 in 1993. The number of convictions rose from 7,159 in 1990 to 11,280 in 1993. Theft accounted for more than three-quarters of all crimes, although the number of reported cases declined from 51,639 in 1992 to 41,211 in 1993. The incidence of murder or attempted murder was 2.6 times higher in 1993 than in 1990. Drug-related offenses more than tripled in this period. Drugs as well as alcohol, weapons, scrap metals, and consumer products were often smuggled into the country.

Subjected to the spread of organized crime from Russia, Latvia cooperated with neighboring Estonia and Lithuania and other countries via the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). The Latvian authorities were gradually replacing the Soviet-trained police, although allegations of corrup-tion in the law enforcement community persisted. Political corruption and white-collar crime also posed significant problems. The lack of funding for remuneration, equipment, and even gasoline for police vehicles hampered law enforcement operations. The Home Guard assisted in police patrols but had no power to make arrests.

Latvia's penal code includes the death penalty. One person, sentenced to death in July 1992 for premeditated murder under aggravated circumstances, was executed in 1993. Two death sentences were commuted, leaving no prisoners on death row at the end of 1993. There were no known instances of political or other extrajudicial killings, of political abductions, of torture, of arbitrary arrest or exile, or of denial of a fair public trial. The government welcomed visits by human rights organizations and received delegations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the UN, among others.


Latvia was the first Baltic republic to begin the process of public empowerment and disentanglement from the legacy of a half-century of Soviet rule, initiating the 1987 "calendar" demonstrations, which commemorated long-suppressed critical turning points in Latvian history. Thereafter, Estonia and then Lithuania picked up the torch in a unique historical relay race whose end point was independence.

With independence, however, Latvia had to adjust to totally new circumstances. New rules of the game had to be introduced and accepted. Democratic structures and practices had to be formed or revived. The initial rigors of a market economy and of privatization had to be endured. A new orientation to the rule of law and to the public clash of many voices had to be sanctioned and supported.

Much progress has been made in all these areas; much still remains to be done. The pressure of nationality relations, citizenship issues, economic strategies and priorities, and political confrontations between radical and moderate factions will no doubt remain for some time. These internal problems, however, do not surpass the coping capacity of Latvian political and social structures. The major threat lies in the potential actions of neighboring Russia, where forces of imperial irredentism are finding many political allies.

Ideally, Latvia's future would be best assured by a stable and peaceful Russia. This is a goal supported by most Latvian politicians. If such a goal becomes unattainable, however, Latvia would be compelled to rely on external protection provided by its Western neighbors. It remains to be seen if Latvia will be granted the same protective status as that enjoyed by Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other European countries under the NATO umbrella.

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Among the best works on Latvian history are Arnolds Spekke's History of Latvia: An Outline and Alfreds Bilmanis's A History of Latvia . The interwar period is described well in Georg Von Rauch's The Baltic States: The Years of Independence, 1917-1940 and the Soviet period in Romuald J. Misiunas and Rein Taagepera's The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940-1990 . The period of national awakening is analyzed and described by Juris Dreifelds in "Latvian National Rebirth," Problems of Communism , July-August 1989, and by Anatol Lieven in The Baltic Revolution . An unsurpassed classic on Latvian geography is Latvia: Country and People by J. Rutkis. The National Report of Latvia to UNCED, 1992 , prepared for the Rio de Janeiro World Conference by the Environmental Protection Committee of Latvia, is a very good summary of post-Soviet Latvia and its environmental problems. A good source of statistical data is Latvija Skaitlos (Latvia in Figures ), the annual report of Latvia's State Committee for Statistics (Valsts Statistikas Komiteja). Invaluable and current information on Latvia's economy is provided by the monthly Baltic Business Report . Very good analytical articles on various aspects of government and politics in Latvia can be found in the RFE/RL Research Report . A most useful compendium of articles on foreign policy has been published in New Actors on the International Arena: The Foreign Policies of the Baltic Countries , edited by Pertti Joenniemi and Peeter Vares, and on national security in Comprehensive Security for the Baltics: An Environmental Approach , edited by Arthur H. Westing. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of January 1995

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