There are two updates to the story of the collapse of the supermarket roof in Riga which I thought were worth mentioning (h/t to TNA for the second one: he’ll make a damned fine research assistant one day).
Andris Berzins [the Latvian President] said many defenceless people had been killed in “our own made disaster”, and called for foreign experts to investigate what happened.
He said an investigation should be held at “maximum speed”.
And he went on to say: “While not undermining the professionalism of our builders, I believe that we should call upon international expertise which is in no way connected with our construction business.
“We cannot call it a natural accident, because nature wasn’t involved. The evening was calm and silent with a little fog. This is our own made disaster.”
Latvia’s PM Valdis Dombrovskis has announced his resignation, and thereby the fall of his government, over the deadly collapse of a Riga supermarket.
He made the announcement at a meeting with President Andris Berzins.
“Considering the tragedy and all related circumstances… a new government is needed that has the clear support of parliament,” Mr Dombrovskis told reporters.
When I toured the Baltics last December, I came away with the distinct impression that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were countries with an educated population making up a normal, functioning society on all levels with each nation heading in the right direction. The two stories referenced above serve to reinforce that impression.
Firstly, the admission that foreign expertise is required is difficult for any country to make, especially a small nation that has only recently won a series of lengthy battles for independence. And it is the sign of mature leadership to call in the necessary expertise – wherever it can be found – to investigate a disaster rather than playing politics. But perhaps more importantly, the foreign expertise will at least bring an element of independence to the investigation and lessen the likelihood that it will fall under the influence of powerful developers in Latvia, one of whom may have been responsible for the construction of the collapsed building.
Secondly, Mr Dombrovskis came to power in 2009 and set about ridding Latvian politics of the corruption that had infested previous administrations. That a Prime Minister should be prepared to resign and bring down his government over what is a national disaster (in the context of Latvia) at a time when he was still popular with the electorate is to be admired, for its rarity if nothing else.
As an exercise in contrast, can you imagine a Russian president calling in foreign expertise over an accident, or the PM resigning? Well, we don’t need to imagine: there have been umpteen major accidents ranging from hospital fires (37 killed), explosions at ammunition dumps (6 killed), and plane crashes (50 killed). In the interests of doing some work today, I limited the examples to those which had occurred in the past 10 weeks, but there are many, many, more. Not that I think each of these should necessarily have brought about a resignation or foreign help, but too often the initial stern calls for a “full investigation” peter out into nothing (probably because powerful interests ensure no charges are brought) or some lowly scapegoat is tossed in jail for a decade or so. To take the example of the ferry which sank in the Volga in July 2011, despite the accident being blamed on safety violations the only report of criminal charges I can find is the captain of a nearby tugboat being fined $6,000 for failing to come to the rescue of the victims. What about the ferry owners? Or the vessel inspectors? Nothing, unless the reports are covered only by the Russian press.
Even in the case of major ineptitude on the part of the Russian authorities: Nord Ost, Beslan, and Kursk, those in power carry on largely as before while the rest of the country picks up the pieces. Russians often like to disparage the Baltic states as being insignificant entities with no oil and minuscule economies. That may be so, but in this last week Latvia has demonstrated more signs of a functioning, modern society and government than Russia has in a long time.