Something is rotten in the state of Latvia

If you’ve heard about Latvia in the news recently (apart from the Winter Olympics – three medals and counting), you’ve more than likely heard about how Latvia has one of the highest GDP growth rates in Europe, or how Latvia is the rising star of the Eurozone.

Quite frankly, on reading this kind of stuff, I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of ‘meh’. And certainly, the people on the streets of Riga don’t look any happier for it either.

In fact, this winter, on said streets of Riga, 63 people were found frozen to death. 63 people – 49 men and 14 women. And no, they weren’t all homeless drunks (not that they deserve to die like that any more than anyone else). Only 23 were found to have had alcohol in their systems. The others? Maybe some had simply slipped on the snow and ice, people assumed they were homeless drunks and just left them there to die as they went about their Very Important Business. The ME was shocked at the indifference of the inhabitants of Riga. I’m not overly surprised. But hey, let’s all focus on the GDP…

If you haven’t frozen to death, you’re probably dealing with the unpleasant prospect of paying your heating bill. Mine was over €100 for January alone. For me, and many others, it’s merely an annoyance and an extra expense but I can cope with it. For anyone on minimum wage in Latvia (€325), it’s a bit more serious than that. For anyone on an average Latvian pension (€259.20), well, winter isn’t exactly going to be a barrel of laughs.

Yes, people actually use their furniture until it looks like this.

Yes, people actually use their furniture until it looks like this.

Meanwhile, work has just been completed on the €162 million Latvian National Library, also known as the Palace of Light. The Latvian Minister for Culture called the building an “intellectual , scientific, educational and cultural development centre”, and said that the country should be proud of it. But then, I guess she has to say that.

I wonder if she’s ever had to take her kids to hospital here and bring her own toilet paper and food along with her? Seemingly, children’s hospitals in Latvia don’t supply things like loo roll in their public toilets as people might steal it. But hey, let’s all focus on the GDP…

Money well spent?

Money well spent?

Still, I guess the shiny new building draws attention away from all the crumbly old ones, the vast areas of wasteland, and the old dears cleaning the lawsuit-friendly streets. I suppose we can also forget that towns and villages all over Latvia are dying an increasingly rapid death as the young people move to Riga, or further afield, for work or studies.

Don't look. Focus on the library.

Don’t look at me. Focus on the library…

Just yesterday, one of my students, originally from Latgale, told me that out of the ten people that graduated from her high school class, nine of them have left the country in favour of the UK or Germany. Sure, there are those who believe that all of these people will one day come back with their bright ideas and bags of money, and maybe some will. Then again, maybe they won’t. But hey, let’s all focus on the GDP…

I know that I’m probably in for a hammering on this one – “Oh, she’s being all negative again la la la…” Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that Latvia’s economy is growing. Really, I want nothing more than to see Latvia succeed. It’s just that until the headlines and figures actually transform into something real for the people who live here, I think I’ll curb my enthusiasm.



About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Expat, Latvia, Latvian people, Old age, Riga, Social Issues and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

209 Responses to Something is rotten in the state of Latvia

  1. Anita says:

    Looking at today’s Latvia, instead of through the historical prism of understanding, it seems you’d better quickly move on and enjoy your life elsewhere! Sounds like you can’t really deal with LV anymore! 😉

  2. Anita says:

    The library certainly wasn’t built economically but it is an important symbolic beacon for Latvians. We value education as it has brought us so far despite arsehole neighbours Germany & Russia having robbed so much. But this building is a valuable point of positive national focus, more importantly so being just a stone’s throw from the Izvairošanas (Rape) monument!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I thought the Germans were more focused on education when they were here?

      • Janis says:

        To be honest this comment of yours don’t even deserve any answer. I believe before you make your way to ANY country you should at first do a little research and yes EDUCATE yourself before saying something so stupid. No, they built a lot drinking taverns and destroyed schools for Latvians to erase any prospect for us to acquire education good education so we become their servants forever. Fortunately, assholes underestimated us and it didn’t work out. Please Linda, do your research first and tone down your attitude. Oh, by the way Ireland without EU would still be a backward village on the edge of Europe without being a communist state for 50 years. So I would advise you to look at yourself in mirror critically and thank God England has not wiped you off the face of Earth.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I could say the same about you and Russia. And where do you think Latvia would be without EU funding?

      • Anita says:

        Not really focused mostly on education at all. No country has a right to invade another. I’m sure as an Irish woman you’d appreciate that.

  3. A rising GDP number says nothing about the distribution of that national income. If a few millionaires became billionaires, it’s great for the GDP, but it doesn’t help most of the regular folks.

    A much better measure to look at would be median income compared with median expenses.

  4. I’d just suggest to think about what the situation might be if GDP wouldn’t be rising but decreasing. Of course it doesn’t indicate that if GDP rises, everyone magically lives wonderful lives and bathes in money, but it just shows we are on the right track and we are getting better after crisis. Changes don’t happen in one night but it would be stupid not to be proud of what we have achieved in this shithole and given situations when even such strong countiry as Iceland just bankrupted. And those who are leaving, should know – that if they leave, they are not helping the situation but making it worse. Therefore, you can’t pick strawberries in UK and hope that Latvia magically will turn in to Dubai and when you return, anyone will say “thank you” for not paying taxes.
    It’s typical that people don’t want to move their asses but expect gold mountains for that.

  5. Piektdienis says:

    And, for Chrissakes… get a grip regarding that National Library building.

    Yes, it costs rather a lot. Because it is not exactly a simple public library, but a national library. They do a *lot* of things that usual simple public libraries don’t, including, for example, keeping all the published history of Latvia — forever. Without a national library and a national archive, the country doesn’t really have a place to get info about its past.

    It will have plenty of room for not only books, but for people getting together and discussing things — in many cases for free. Imagine all those NGOs and whoever else is trying to make Latvia a better place, having someplace to discuss things in, without paying an arm and a leg.

    How can you build the library when people are dying in the streets? You can say that about anything, actually. How can you build a new police hq building, when people are dying in the streets? How can you afford to have an Opera, when people are dying on the streets? How can you have teachers and schools, when people are dying in the streets? Surely, it would be better to buy them all bread and coats for all that money, rather than having them learn? Sure, they will remain uneducated and sometimes stupid, but they will be alive, right?


  6. wasd says:

    I am so glad, that You are writing about this. All that “party” about GPD is ridicolous, it has nothing to do with the people from here, it is only a number (and probably withd partly shady data from nowhere) just to look good in fascade. It is like those cheap tourism companies, who advertise blue watter and palms, white castle and everything you can imagine, after you have arived, there is nothing from that picture.

    Our government is completely deatached itself and lives in some other Latvia I dont know of, but have head that there is happy life for those who live there, mostly politicans.
    While they whine about rising salaries for themselves, because otherwise noone is motivated to be in that place anymore, some Latvians are loosing motivation to be latvians in Latvia.

    This reminds me of a joke from movie – Eurotrip. Where they arive to Bratislava, and some dude says – good you visit Bratislava in summer, in winter the look is a bit depressing.

  7. 1WriteWay says:

    And here I am, my eyes blurry from trying to read all the comments, my brain aching from trying to compose an intelligent comment. Your post, in and of itself, is excellent and a necessary window on reality. It amazes me how there is always money for political compaigns (think of the obscenely expensive political campaigns that go on in the US) but never enough money to shore up programs for the needy, the most vulnerable among us. I don’t believe in relying on the government, but I also don’t believe in relying on charitable organizations either (most of those true charities are struggling too). And don’t get me started on the “bringing yourself up by your bootstraps” crap. Most babies I know don’t have bootstraps to grab onto. The bootstraps of most elderly people I know wore down to nothing a long time ago. I wonder how much technology may be contributing to people’s complacence. Is it easier to turn a blind eye when one still has a 60-inch HD flat screen TV to be entertained (and brainwashed) by at night? Maybe that’s one reason why no one is rioting in the streets, at least in the US. People have their iPhones, big TVs, leased Humvees. Take their toys away and then you might get some rioting in the streets.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Excellent point – I guess we have so many distractions these days that we stop even noticing the world around us. I can’t believe that I’m the only one who’s noticed any of this in LV, yet to some, it seems like a shock. Or maybe it’s just because I’m a foreigner pointing it out…

      • 1WriteWay says:

        You have a sharp eye and a sharper tongue so you’re a natural for pointing these things out. Others might see the inhumanity but just shake their heads and carry on. Still, 63 dead should be more than enough to awaken the citizenry … unless they are zombies.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Sometimes I wonder… 😉

  8. krisjanis says:

    I am Latvian and I was really shocked too about the high number of people (63 people), who froze to their death and nobody helped them. This is really sad and scary. Poor, poor homeless people. I will give more money to beggars and homeless people from now on. These people need help especially in winter.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yes, it really is awful. More people than died in the Maxima tragedy but nobody seems to care. Sad.

      • Piektdienis says:

        Last winter, I was coming home and saw a man lying in snow near my house; a well-looking guy in his 30ies, quite decently dressed, his coat was open and he was apparently peacefully asleep.

        I shook him by shoulder, and asked him, if he was allright. And got the biggest load of profanities I have heard in years, for troubling his sleep. What got me was that his general disposition and tone was of such petulant vehemence I could well imagine him standing straight up, going home and beating hell out of his wife and kid, if he had any.

        I am still asking people if they are all right in such situations, but, honestly, I can’t blame others for being afraid sometimes.

  9. nancytex2013 says:

    I’m still stuck on 63 people froze to death on the streets. And also the no toilet paper thing.


  10. There’s a strong argument for using a different measure of national success than GDP. Actually there are a few strong arguments but I think you only need the one: who, ultimately, cares?

    I say that with all due respect for what economic success translates to, but there’s the thing though – money is really not valuable in and of itself, it’s valuable for what it translates to. So, like, maybe use that as the measure instead?

  11. Jazeps2 says:

    Just two sentences:
    1. The most civilised country in the world: SAME!!!
    2. Did You watch THE GAME? 🙂 I mean, your country won gold in ice hockey before ww2, so all irish and english people should be hockey fans…? Are they? 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      I don’t know who decided that America was the most civilised country in the world!
      And no, as far as I know, Irish people are not big ice hockey fans! Unless things have changed dramatically since I left! Football and rugby are very popular, as are the Irish sports, Gaelic football and hurling.

  12. TRex says:

    The ecomic numbers here have always been cooked in order to show that austerity worked for Latvia. What noone wants to really talk about is the sad state of society and the crumbling infrastructure. I suspect irt’s not so much that Latvians don’t want to talk about it it’s just that they aren’t given the opportunity. I have noticed of late that Latvian Journalists are more interested in reporting on the (very real) attacks on reporters.

    My wife teaches languages as well. Those students want to leave. Our friends wi th large families have watched their children leave. I’ve been in hospital twice in the last three months, staff all want to leave.

    Latvia is considered a low to mid tech economy. If it weren’t for cheap credit the only activity here would be due to development grants from the EU. Another gift for sticking to the false austerity road and pushing that narrative at the cost of it’s own citizens.

    My 70 sqm flat coats 170 Euros to operate. We’re really quite frugal, some of our better off neighbors have monthly bills of 270!

    Aas I have written before the best flat is some rickety old eye sore with a good mantle and fireplace.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Finally, somebody who admits to paying more than €30 a month in utilities!

      Some of my students are also planning to leave/have already left also unfortunately. But then, there are others who are learning English for their jobs here – more of those in total I think!

      • TRex says:

        Italian has been by far the most popular language to learn. English skills aleady seem quite high among the youngsters just coming out of the school system. But the only industry sectors where English is required it the financial services sectors or tourism.

        Parhaps a person should be brushing up on ones Mandarin?

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, probably not a bad move!

      • Jansi says:

        It’s all very true what you say. However, you should never forget that we ARE in this mess NOW because we for centuries been robbed by our far bigger neighbours and other well off European countries who do very well at the moment. Of course they do! They been robbing small countries like mine for centuries getting wealthy while stopping our development and destroying our economy.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’m from a small country – I don’t think Ireland has ever robbed anything from you. Maybe you need to find a blog about your bigger neighbours and go and let off some steam over there.

  13. YJ says:

    This is one of the favorite topics to discuss here in Latvia actually. Everyone I’ve been speaking about it hates those typical Latvian characteristics but it’s so hard to get rid of them. I mean hating neighbors and total indifference. Someone is dying in front of your eyes? Who cares? I have them bills to pay. Probably it’s another alcoholic dying. So why should I care? It’s not like that everywhere.
    I live in Jelgava (town bordering with Riga). It’s typical industrial town where working class dominate. People there are rude and drink a lot but surprisingly they are not as indifferent as in Riga. I have quite a mixed feelings about whole this situation. I hate it and I hate those indifferent, hating people. But they are my people and I love them as they are. I believe that things are changing. Every day I try to become a bit better person than yesterday and hope that people around are also changing with me.
    I think that right now we have the circumstances that we deserve. Deserve for being so indifferent, lazy and naive nation. More and more people are admitting this and switching from complaining to working. I personally have lots of friends who chose to stay instead of leaving this country. We all share belief that we can make our country a better place to live by hard work. I hope that we’ll make it happen. 🙂
    P.S. Bitch? Really? Must be one of Latvian yahoos who finally have internet connection in his village. They usually take everything personally and the only argument they have in any discussion is insult. Cause it’s so safe to insult someone via internet, you know. The good thing is that those poor folks are dying together with countryside. So don’t pay attention. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thank you for the comment, YJ 😉 It’s good that you and so many of your friends are deciding to stay – and I’m sure there are more like you too!

    • wasd says:

      You can count me in as of one who beleaves that we can make this country better place. With a smiles and our own actions, less complaining, more working.

  14. moist says:

    bitch, calm down! in general it seems [not only by this post] that you don’t appreciate anything at all there is in Latvia and Latvians. why bother to live here and why not find a place, ‘home’, where you’d complain less? i guess you’re just negative in you’re core, if so, sad that the world has made you like that…

    • Expat Eye says:

      Funny how most of the Latvians commenting agree with me. Bitch.

      • moist says:

        so what? that’s not an indicator for anything. I myself dislike many things happening there, but humans are fucked up and problems are everywhere. Also, there are much worse places than Latvia, ok?… You just concentrate and notice only shit. anyway, why not go and reside somewhere else?

      • Expat Eye says:

        Not true at all. Clearly you only see the negative so maybe, just maybe, the problem is not me but you. Or maybe you’re a little ‘moist’ in the head?

      • Expat Eye says:

        And didn’t your parents ever teach you that starting a discussion with the word ‘bitch’ probably isn’t going to get you very far? Or perhaps you were dragged up rather than brought up. I’m more than happy for people to disagree with what I write – and they do. However, most of them do it with maturity and intelligence – two sterling qualities that you appear to be lacking.

    • wasd says:

      Did you managed to pay attention to post, or felt insulted only by title and rushed to comment? Ever folowed some news lately or steped outside to take look on the streets? Anyways, leave some arguments, otherwise this is plain immature insult that weights nothing, and gives people good chuckle trying to guess your age between 7 and 11

  15. They don’t have toilet paper or food at the hospital? Not even for children? Wow.

    I don’t know much about it, but I know my husband is all up in arms about the new allowance for people immigrating here from Ukraine? And other places? Apparently Germany is going to support them right away when I had to wait 3 months even though I properly immigrated and I guess the pensions Germans have paid into are running out but people who have never paid will get money and the people who have paid all their lives won’t. Why don’t I pay more attention? Well, it sounds just like the US to me and is just disheartening. I wish politics wasn’t full of corruption. And……there’s my soap box. Lol

  16. martyvu says:

    An insightful read! Problems always exist, but it is still good to be proud of some of your nation’s achievement. But nevertheless, we can’t forget about those lingering issues and sometimes it is the simple ones that effect people the most. As always, beautiful writing.

  17. Karlis Robert Celms says:

    Well said! Always interesting to read your perspective on Latvia, very insightful and far more in harmony with the majority of people who live here and deal with this reality than the minority of the people who like to bag on your pointing out some hard truths……”The haves and the have not’s” is the reality of the day to day in “Disneyland” as I call it.


    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Karlis, thanks for your comment! Yes, I listen to people, I know what they’re talking about and how they feel about certain things – and while I’ll never be Latvian, I hope that sometimes I get it right! Then sometimes I write about brushing teeth in the shower or not using egg cups – got to keep a healthy mix 😉 Linda.

    • katherine says:

      Latvia is a beautiful country. There is no denying this. The forests are the best in Europe and the amount of natural spaces is astonishing and outstanding. But there is a fundamental problem wirh the judiciary system. The laws are well-written often but not harmonized and the courts I am afraid to say from personal experience are fraught with corruption. Which is so sad because all along my bumpy ride through the Latvian legal system, which all started because I kindly offered to help a person who fell on the road, I have met people who tell me they want a better life but do not believe they can have it in Latvia. If all you have ever experienced is oppression and tyrany I am afraid that will be the default. It is like girls who grow up in homes with fathers who abuse their mothers. If that is all you see, that is what you will gravitate towards evev if you know it is wrong. I doubt I can by myself clean out the courts but I can at least provide the younger generation with some critical-thinking tools and guidance on how to build a more far and just society. The national life expectancy is the worst in the EU here in Latvia. Bottom line is you can not be healthy when those around you are suffering. And lay off the dairy Latvians. Don’t you know that shit causes cardiovascular disease?

      • Expat Eye says:

        Very well said, Katherine. Thank you for commenting. I do think that people know that something is wrong, but there’s a very prevalent ‘What can I do about it?’ or ‘It’s always been this way, it’ll never change’. Giving young people the tools to think for themselves and work towards a better Latvia is the way forward. Keep up the good work! Linda.

  18. Well, that’s it. After all this talking about “Latvian success story” it’s still simply impossible to live in Latvia on minimum wages. I can’t even understand how this system work… How the hell people motivate themselves to get out of the bed at the morning?
    But it’s getting better, tough. For last six years I’ve been in Latvia only for holidays and I can see difference every year. Some roads are fixed, some new buildings, somebody finally found a job or better job… Believe it of not, even the people are much friendlier 😉
    And great post, by the way 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thank you very much! And yes, people who’ve been here for much longer than I have, tell me that it has improved greatly… I’m glad I wasn’t here before! 🙂

    • Paul says:

      I’m guessing, but I think its pretty impossible to live on the “minimum” wage in any country 🙂 .. especially in their capital cities where living costs are higher.

      Judging by all the traffic jams in the morning in Riga.. there are a lot of people who do have the motivation to get up in the morning.. to pay for their BMW’s, Lexus, Mercedes & Audis etc 🙂

      I’ve got an old tiny Peugeot and a Ford.. so I stay in bed 🙂

      • Janis says:

        Couldn’t agree more. It’s pretty hard to live on minimum wage anywhere, from my own experience.

  19. Latvia has always been about statistics and “visual” representation.
    Those articles in our newspapers every three months with a statement, that “See, unemployment in Latvia is only 15.5%, it is better than last term when it was 15.6% – statistically we are going better!”
    Or now it is illegal to beg in Old Riga, because it “damages the image of Riga for tourists”.
    I don’t like it either.

  20. pollyheath says:

    All I can say is thank god for subsidized heating in Russia, or I think things would be much, much worse here.

  21. Jarro says:

    This is totally not one of the “negative posts”, it’s something any common sense and informed person would tell.
    You’re getting the feeling, so I think you are becoming a Latvian! 🙂

  22. CrazyCatLady says:

    Eloquently written summary- thank you!
    I’ve always had logical and analytical brain (which has gotten me into all sorts trouble!), and most of the time I can figure things out, but Latvia I cannot.
    You see, I spent 17 years there with my German (aristocratic) greatgrandma (affectionately known as Hitler now for she was extremely strict) so my upbringing was different, as were my experiences which influenced the development of my personality, mentality. I never felt like a Latvian although I had the LV passport (now long gone), and with all of that I have always looked at Latvia as a an outsider (even more so since I left in 1997).
    With all of the above- an overwhelming intro, I wanted to explain “where I’m coming from” when voicing my opinion.
    Problems there lie in various echelons of society, structure, mentality – there’s no clear, definitive answer to anything. Some of it is the “post USSR” mentality in the highest ranks (cheating, money grabbing, etc), some of it is culture (no doubt very much affected by the communist era where, for example, at every sitting the obligatory bottle of vodka or two were present), some of it stems from families, some of it is down to the individual, their individual choices and conduct. You get the idea.
    You see a person lying in the street – go up to them and help; government hasn’t taken away your sense of humanity, compassion or brain.
    Countryside is a problem area for many – those who want to have their own business are overtaxed and things are being made overly complicated; by the same token smallholders are finding it difficult to employ people because those who do turn up for work, more often than not will go on the “bender” after the first wage.
    People seem to ignore the derelict buildings, waiting for someone to come and do it all up, there’s no sense of community or pride. Rather than getting together and liaising with the local authority, pushing for answers, cooperation etc. everyone does a big fat nothing, let it be somebody else’s problem. If they they were to be turned down the first time around – instead of not taking that BS and fighting for what’s right (like Hitler 2 taught me), they’d just go “oh well, what can I do” (which, by the way, isn’t an attitude exclusive to Latvians alone).
    There’s got to be a way to rectify the situation, even a small progress is better than nothing.

    I’ve got to stop because it’s opening a can of worms. Situation in Latvia is a double-edged sword, and as I said in my intro – my brain cannot yet get around it, nor where and what to start with.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Very well said and very true. All I do is scratch the surface a bit and put out there what people are talking about behind closed doors or over beers in their locals. But obviously, I’ll always be an outsider and will never fully ‘get it’ – at least you had the passport for a while, that probably gives you a little more legitimacy!! Thank you very much for this comment!

    • Janis says:

      You forgot to mention the contributions to current situation in Latvia made by your smart German ancestors who robbed and looted this place for centuries… So, if I was you I just I would f…k to Germany (i bet you’ve done it already) to enjoy the fruits of your loot. And yes, I do blame Germans and Russians for what is happening in Latvia now. The one who can’t see connection is just in denial of history… Of course, a lot of you say might be true, but why the hell you yourself don’t anything to improve situation. Oh, I forgot you feel German and it’s nothing to do with you. People like you is cancer and root cause for what’s happening in Latvia now.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Wow, I never realised the Latvian education system was so bad. Poor little uneducated you.

      • Janis says:

        Expat Eye says:
        April 12, 2014 at 1:53 am
        “Wow, I never realised the Latvian education system was so bad. Poor little uneducated you”.
        Did my degree in UK by the way and you as Irish should not be so critical of old Soviet education. We at least know the world map what is certainly not true about a lot of folk from UK and Ireland in particular ::)))

      • Expat Eye says:

        Please. I know Latvians who think Africa is a country. The level of knowledge of world geography and history here is appalling.

  23. Evan says:

    The New York Times did an interesting piece on Latvia last year “Used to Hardship, Latvia Accepts Austerity, and Its Pain Eases” which made a similar point. Latvia’s statistics are up but real suffering hasn’t gone away for the average citizen — they’re just really good at accepting it their reality no matter how austere it is.

    • Expat Eye says:

      A really fascinating read, thank you for that – I have to say that I share the same attitude as this guy – “It is really shocking,” added Mr. Calitis, who runs a soup kitchen at his church in Riga’s old town. Latvians, he said, “should be shouting in the streets,” but “there is an acceptance of hard knocks.” – but I guess it’s easy for me/us to have this opinion – the Latvian way of thinking is beyond my powers of reasoning. But I do admire people for just getting on with it and rebuilding, and rebuilding…

      • Paul says:

        Sorry!.. The average LV citizen is SIGNIFICANTLY better off today than just a few years ago (pre bubble).. you cannot compare today with the glitch peak of the bubble. To do so is just cheap sensationalist journalism. Look at the averaged out continuous growth and the country and peoples wealth increase from independence to today.

        On the bubble bursting, Latvia sensibly took 1 step back and then 2 steps forward whilst the rest of the EU hid their heads in the sand and did nothing, others like the UK devalued their currency (instantly making everyone 20% poorer) or others just printed money so they could continue to overpay themselves..

        Yes, Latvia has poor people and soup kitchens.. so has Dublin, London, New York etc I don’t see their populations shouting in the streets either.

        Social care starts at home. In the UK (and I suspect many other countries) we leave home, live independently and when our parents or grandparents get too old or frail to look after themselves we pack them off to a “home” and pay money for strangers to look after our mothers and fathers, so we can continue enjoying our lifestyle and maybe visit for 30 minutes once a month. In Latvia it is normal for the children to care for their parents in a normal home environment.. I know where I would prefer to be when I get older!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Most of the old people I see around Riga seem to be very much on their own. Or else maybe their kids think it’s good exercise for them to be lugging heavy bags around the city? And what about all the young people who’ve left? How often do they see their parents? Once every 6 months? Once a year?

      • Paul says:

        My father was still working at 83yo. Every day he was out delivering heavy boxes to local shops.. why? not for the money, he already had more than he could spend.. because he liked it.. My mother also used to regularly terrorise shoppers in Tescos on her electric buggy 🙂

        My friends mother who is 81yo still “sneaks” out once a week to buy and carry potatoes from the central market on her own despite having willing shopping helpers in her daughter and grandchildren.

        Older people NEED to feel as normal and independent as they can. They want to live and stay alive. Once they give in and let others help and take over their lives, they then feel it is downhill to the grave.

        Most of us think this sort of behaviour is crazy.. but when your 80yo, you KNOW time is limited, so waking every morning is a reason to LIVE 🙂

        I suspect that most of the parents of the young people (under 40yo) that have moved abroad are not yet in need of full time care.. 🙂 .. and in time they might return to LV or bring their parents to them.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ah, you paint such a rosy picture… 😉

      • Sviests says:

        As a union worker on the topic of Latvian passivity, my experience shows that many, in fact most of the working population is scared of engaging in active strikes or as a matter of fact any form of protest action. The fear is based on the prospect of losing their jobs as most of employers are against social dialogue and collective bargaining, therefore anyone engaging social activities directed towards employers is at the risk of dismissal. The unions are initiating protests on sectoral issues as well as national issues, but are facing a constant lack of participation.
        At the same time I do love the quote by “who the hell remembers anymore who”: “What do you mean Latvians don’t know how to protest? Latvians are the best protesters, about 10% of Latvian population has left Latvia in last 5 years, there is no better way of protesting.”
        Concerning the GDP, well the growth does resonate in the society, the only shame is that it is felt mostly by only the 5% who need it the least. As EU leader in social and income inequality Latvia has mastered distribution and redistribution of funds in a way that favors the top earning quintile rather than support the bottom one, weather it is in form of social funding or reducing income inequality through fiscal reforms.

      • Lāsma says:

        Paul, why do think that internal devaluation is a better choice than nominal devaluation? Why do you prefer sharp wage cuts and domestic deflation? The result is the same, if not worse.

      • Paul says:

        I guess the main difference is honesty. Had the UK said that everyone must take a 20% pay cut, then there would have been riots on the streets, a change of government etc etc. Instead they quietly let the currency devalue and to most there was initially no difference to their standard of living..

        Some time later slowly and surely as stocks had to be replaced, imported goods became more expensive incl petrol, gas, food etc etc.. but most were still unaware of the UK crisis..

        Euro based countries (incl Latvia) did not have the option to devalue, had to follow EU interest rates and also couldn’t individually print more money.. so in reality the only real option was austerity measures.

        In a falling market, the one who sells quick & dirty loses less than those who wait and try and minimise their losses. Latvia acted deep and quickly and was one of the first to recover, whilst most of the rest are still suffering recession (Spain & Greece 25%+ unemployment, 55% youth unemployment).

        Latvia with the Lat could have devalued against the euro.. This is/was a political decision but also future forward looking. Had they devalued it would have looked defeatist to their existing trading partners and possibly made their crisis deeper and harder to recover from. However, keeping the tie to the euro meant that they were ideally positioned to maximise themselves as they came out of recession first whilst most other EU countries still struggled.

      • Lāsma says:

        Paul, what would the riots change? Don’t get me wrong, I do support riots as long as people (and their actions, for that matter) are reasonable. If we look at countries like Greece and Spain, people can riot all the way they want but it’s not going to improve anything. The money has to come from somewhere. Surely, no one wants salary or pension cuts but what’s the alternative? If we simplify things here, these countries don’t have enough money so they have to borrow it somewhere. That’s when institutions like the IMF come in. The IMF isn’t going to just lend money. The countries are expected to make major changes (read- austerity measures).
        When talking about the UK, you said, ”there would have been riots on the streets”. People can blame the coalition government but if they were replaced with Labour or UKIP, would the current situation be any different? I doubt it.

        Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see GDP growth, but there are other important indicators (GINI index being one) and GDP doesn’t really show us the whole picture. You might want to watch this sardonic video.
        Out of curiosity, what brought you to Latvia?

      • Expat Eye says:

        He doesn’t live in Latvia. He lives in Wonderland where everyone is smiley and happy; where everyone drives BMWs, but they pull over in order to have nice long conversations with the old ladies sweeping the streets; where the old ladies just do this as an alternative form of exercise and socialising; where shop assistants earn €900; and where everyone lives in magical mystical apartments for next to no rent with bills under a tenner… 😉

      • Paul says:

        I think someone is having a little dig at me 🙂 You know you can’t upset us happy smiley people 🙂

        Latvia IS almost “wonderland” to me 🙂
        I’ve been here 14 years and have no plans to return to the UK.

        Some thoughts..

        You ask how can people can survive here? .. but obviously they DO survive.
        Is it possible that not everything you are told is 100% correct? Latvia is clearly not ALL doom and gloom.

        Qn your way to work, look at the cars.. many many luxury brands.. true? and very rarely and old Vaz!
        Check the number plates.. The ones starting with “J” have be registered in the last 9 months!

        Also ask yourself why the car parks of Spice, Domina, Alfa centre etc are usually full in evenings and weekends. They don’t open shops if people are just looking and not spending.

        Why are there queues to get a table at Gan Bei restaurants just about all day on a Saturday? I have never seen Lido empty, maybe its cheaper to eat out than cook griķi soup for yourself? 😉

        Linda, If you’d like someone to show you the smiley & happy side of Latvia, just let me know 🙂 I can also bring my house and apartment utility bills as well as you seem a little sceptical 😉 🙂

        As for apartments to rent, go to, choose Riga, choose last 5 days, click on Izīrē, choose series “jaun” and hit search (avoid centrs list).. you might be surprised at what you can save, especially when you consider heating bills 🙂 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        It’s not stuff I was told – it’s fact.
        63 people frozen to death –
        Minimum wage –
        Average size of pensions – – and that’s the AVERAGE so some people are actually on less than that.
        And of course there are a lot of people doing well here. I’m sure there’s also a lot of credit.

      • Paul says:

        63 people frozen to death on the streets.. absolutely horrible!
        Rather than us all complaining.. what should you, me and everyone else in Latvia do to stop it?.. might be some good and positive suggestions 🙂

        Veering slightly, cities are a often too anonymous. I now live in a small village just outside of Riga and there is much more of a community spirit, we all know everyone, help, each other etc

        Minimum wage: Is just a number, It doesn’t mean that everyone gets paid the minimum. The UK minimum of £1000/mth is not enough to live on either in most of the UK let alone London. You have to adjust, as my son had to. Get a second job.. with the right attitude etc you can fight your way up the wage ladder.

        Average Pensions: UK state pension (max) is currently only £110/week!.. but these figures do not mean that this is peoples only income or savings. Latvia also spent over 1 billion Lats last year specifically to the elderly under social protection.

        On an aside, I strongly recommend that everyone makes a plan for their old age, you cannot depend on any government to support you.. and believe me it only seems like yesterday when I was young and 35!

        As for credit, less so these days, but yes..

      • Expat Eye says:

        I guess you could fit a few homeless people in your 4-bedroom house 😉

      • Paul says:

        I already have one permanent squatter.. He is fat, hairy and ginger! who invites all the local lady cats around to play 😉 and my son still has his homeless moments!

        But yes.. I suppose we all could socially accommodate more.. the only rule here is that they have to take their turn with cutting the grass, cleaning and washing up!

        I had to buy a new dishwasher many years ago as the old one divorced me 🙂 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Possibly because you called her a dishwasher 🙂

      • Paul says:

        Shortly before my divorce I was in a cake shop buying some fresh cream doughnuts (Mmmm Doughnuts!) and the assistant asked if I needed a bag.. I said, no thanks, already got one at home 🙂

        Sorry ladies, I didn’t really, just joking 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Hmm, you sound like such a catch… 😉

      • Paul says:

        I was younger then could run faster! .. now, all I can do is let them catch me and apologise all night 😉 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        If I was after you, you’d keep running 😉

      • Paul says:

        The only thing I can manage these days is running up the stairs!.. Would I be running for my life? or virginity? 🙂 🙂 .. oh and I prefer toast and marmalade for breakfast 🙂 you’ll find it in the fridge 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        The police will find your head in the fridge weeks later… 😉

      • Paul says:

        Thank God, just my head in the fridge!.. it could be worse! or maybe whilst I’m there I should check what’s in the freezer? .. I heard this rumour about Latvian sperm snatchers! 🙂 🙂

        Hopefully my Latvian lady will protect me! .. CHICK FIGHT!? 🙂 .. No, she will probably help you!

        Does your yummy Janis know about this violent side of your character? .. should we warn him to put a strong lock on his fridge? 🙂 .. or at least put a couple of books in the dairy section to read later 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, he knows. He’s from Jelgava. Gangsta needs his moll 🙂

      • Paul says:

        Sorry Lāsma, I don’t think I explained very well.

        At the end of the day, countries have to balance their books, not spend or pay themselves more than they earn. Direct austerity (Greece etc) or devaluation (UK) ultimately has the same or similar long term effects.

        The UK had the seemingly less drastic option to devalue (everything) rather than the direct austerity option in the eurozone.. but by indicating all was well and then “sneakily” devaluing and keeping the UK people in the dark, to my mind, was dishonest.

        As for me to Latvia.. hot summers, real winters, country living, capital culture and resources, UK salary, 1/10 of UK costs.. and of course all the pretty ladies 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        1/10? I think Ireland is roughly the same as the UK and Latvia is certainly not 1/10 of the price! Maybe 1/2 or 1/3 for certain items – others, clothes, electronics, cosmetics etc are pretty much the same.

      • Paul says:

        Agreed.. but what about the big bills?.. Apartment £20K Vs £200K, House 100K Vs £600K, Council tax £70 Vs £2000, car insurance £20 Vs £550 ..Bus/train fares, ciggies, drinks (not old Riga), entertainment, phone, internet.. Clothes are definitely cheaper in the UK, but Amazon delivers here.. or add a suitcase on Ryanair 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        I couldn’t buy a house or flat here or in the UK 🙂 Transport is definitely cheaper as are most of the other things you mention – I still wouldn’t say a tenth of the price though! Eg. a pint in Dublin will set you back €5-6. I haven’t found a bar here that does pints for 50 – 60 cents 🙂

      • Paul says:

        Not everything is 1/10th 🙂 but for me, my overall annual costs here in Latvia are about 10% of what they would be in the UK.. so my pension goes further 🙂

        The other benefits are a better quality of life, less pollution (, Hot dry summers, less wind and rain, real snow, country living but still only 20-30 minutes to the capital city and the same time to a white sand beach.. Damm the mosquito’s though!

      • Expat Eye says:

        And the wasps 🙂 In summer, they’re a nightmare!

      • Paul says:

        Wasps? Just wait until you see a Latvian Hornet! 2 inches long!!!

      • Lāsma says:

        Paul, my experience is a bit different. I moved to the UK from Riga and I find that ”1/10 of UK costs” is an exaggeration no matter how much money you’re spending. Also, you’re unlikely to get the same salary in Latvia even if you’re working for the same (international) company. Even if you’re working for a top 5 business consulting company, your salary is going to be 1/4 of what you’d get in the UK. Maybe you’re an exception but it just proves the rule.
        Also, what about inequality? You only mention the convenient things like expensive cars and shopping habits. Surely, there are rich people in Latvia. There are also very poor people. That’s why inequality is a big problem. The same thing applies to many emerging economies. China is just one example.
        Do you want to show me the positive side of Latvia? Because I can’t really see it.

      • Paul says:

        Lasma, Pauls No 1 rule..
        You never get rich working for someone else! You just make them rich 🙂

        Blinkers off!

        If a trading company in the UK can make good profits and pay UK salaries by, for example, buying from the Far East and selling to mainland Europe.. There is no reason why it can’t also be done in Latvia, with the same profits and perhaps lower costs.

        Similarly as has been pointed out, electronic goods sell for roughly the same price here as in the UK.. they mostly all come from China, so has the same profit potential in both countrys (just a difference in local market size) .. but then why limit your market size? Amazon sells to all the EU

        When I first came to LV in 2001, I got offered a job at a basic 500Ls/month. over the next year that increased many times over with profit sharing bonuses and finally, I formed my own independent company as a subcontractor for their marketing activities on a profit sharing only basis. In 2007, I bought my house in the country and retired 🙂

        Alternatively, go into politics and become an EU MP!

        Inequality.. v.complex, where do people and politicians draw the safety line? On a basic minimalist existence or adequate existence etc. The higher the line, the more the “workers” have to pay out to support. There was the communist ideal but even that was flawed. Does this safety line also support the “lazy” as well as the needy? I don’t believe any country has got the balance right, maybe France?

        Then there is the health issue.. we now have the ability of curing so many things but often at an increasingly exponential cost.. where did you draw the line and say, sorry we can’t carry on, we have run out of money..

        Positive side of Latvia.. look around, its everywhere (so is a lot of bad as well), maybe I should go into the “rose coloured glasses” market 🙂

      • Lāsma says:

        Bus/train fares? A single bus ticket costs £1.50 in the UK (1.82 euro). A single bus ticket in Latvia costs 0.60 euro. That’s not 1/10. 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        It’s gone up to €1.20 😉

      • Lāsma says:

        Paul, you’re absolutely right, in most cases workers have to pay more to live in a more equal society. If you can successfully isolate yourself from society or manage to avoid everyone who isn’t doing as great as you are, I can only applaud your cynicism.
        A richer society isn’t going to make Latvians happy. A more equal society probably would. Why? You might want to study the effects of inequality which include physical and mental health problems, obesity, high crime levels, violence, different addictions… (the list goes on).
        I’m not discussing an utopian society where everyone’s rich. I’m discussing the benefits of a smaller gap between rich and poor.
        Another thing – I could ”go into politics and become an EU MP”. However, a garbage man or a bus driver are unlikely to ever do that and yet if they disappeared, everyone would suffer.

      • Paul says:

        The old communist system was “small gap”, USA a “big” gap. China seems to be going the USA route. The USA works (not perfectly) because of the peoples belief that it is the land of opportunity, anyone can become successful.. even the garbage man (Actor) can become president etc. If people see an expensive luxury car, they say wow! Respect! I will have one of those soon. In other countries that same car will just get vandalised.

        I’m no expert, but I guess there has to be a nice reward for success, a system where people can succeed from the bottom up, an “envy/fairness” limiting social balancer.. but then, in the real world, would that country be able to compete economically with the likes of the USA & China with low paid “workers” and high paid “boss’s”?

        I think most garbage men would make better Euro MPs than the existing ones 🙂

    • Anna says:

      Also bc austerity is the absolutely worst economic policy during this kind of a recession. NYTimes keeps propagandizing austerity in tandem with US/EU deficit hawks, which fails over and over, and yet they keep at it. So ‘they accept it and are happier for it’ fits into their general narrative, even as it gets farther from reality.

      • Evan says:

        Don’t forget that one of the most vocal anti-austerity economists in the world, Paul Krugman, writes for the New York Times . . .

      • Anna says:

        I adore Krugman; however on the whole he is greatly outnumbered and his advice is rarely, if ever, heeded. Austerity therapy and Confidence Fairies are alive and well.

  24. Mr Kev says:

    This rings very true of my experience in Poland, also. I think the UK and others have really shown the way on this front though. It’s this culture of managers (i.e. people who learn how to use bewildering jargon, and occupy 85% of their existence in valueless meetings) earning a fortune (hello GDP), while the people who actually do the work and suffer the consequences of the out-of-touch management types get paid sweet FA. My girlfriend’s area manager picks up more than 12 times her salary. She is well below what the EU would describe as the poverty line, and her area manager drives a company Audi and has a 4 bedroom house in the country.
    One of the reasons for the success in Latvia and Polska alike is the availability of cheap labour. But, as the economy grows, more investment comes in, etc, the riches from this go to a very small percentage of the people. And the wholly corrupt governments (I don’t know about yours, but ours are a disgrace) are more than happy with this, as long as they get their share.

  25. Lāsma says:

    GDP isn’t a perfect indicator as it only measures output. It doesn’t measure inequality and doesn’t differentiate between different types of output. If we really want to measure progress or well-being, we need to look at a wider range of individual indicators.
    Let’s just look at two random indicators – Gini index and suicide rate.
    According to Eurostat data, Latvia is the most unequal EU country. (
    If we look at suicide rate, we can see that Latvia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In fact it’s #8. That’s a very dubious honour… (
    Also, infant mortality rate in Latvia is one of the highest in EU (only Bulgaria and Romania have higher mortality rate than Latvia).
    I have looked at only 3 indicators and yet they all show how flawed GDP is.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yes, I agree that GDP is hopelessly inaccurate when it comes to measuring the reality of the situation – thanks for the links – interesting statistics, if interesting is the right word… 😉

  26. Anna says:

    I cant believe I am about to come to the defense of the Baltics, but here I am: Yes, Latvia and Estonia get an undue amount of good press, disproportional to their economic, demographic and social achievements, bc they’re the model EU citizens doing everything by the book, bc they joined the NATO at first opportunity, and bc generally they’re seen as plucky and defiant partisans going up against the oppressive USSR/Russia behemoth for decades. No other former republics are seen that way – half of Ukraine & Belorussia are very pro-Russian, and most of the Central Asian/ Caucasus ones send us millions of migrant workers, and are Russia’s allies, save for Georgia (where things are…complicated).

    That said, these countries cannot be judged vis a vis some arbitrary standard of success, which is vaguely defined as ‘how people live in America, Western Europe and Scandinavia.’ GDP is not static, GDP growth shows progress, especially when Lithuania’s is flat (in GDP per capita) and Estonia’s is actually going down. It means that in real terms every person in Latvia is making a little bit more than the year before. That’s a good thing. Minimum wage and pensions – however miser – need context: Have they grown over the last decade? Have there been improvements in infrastructure? In mortality & birth rates? Is there more food in the stories, more small businesses, more hospitals? ‘It still sucks’ is the least constructive way to look at anything, everything needs context. That new library gave hundreds if not thousands of people a paycheck for many years that took to build it (and in Russia is would have cost 1€ billion, bc why not), and will now employ many others.

    Latvia as a country didnt exist 24 years ago. Capitalist economy and free enterprise and proper social infrastructure investment didn’t exist in Latvia for half a century. While it’s great to have ideals of ‘how things should be,’ we cant have this conversation without accounting for ‘how things were’.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Great comment as always and you’re right in that I am over-simplifying the situation. As far as I know wages are creeping upwards (can’t check the site right now but will provide a link later!), prices are also rising, birth rates are dropping year on year and deaths outnumber the births, definitely more goods in stores – having stores is an improvement in itself 😉 I’m sure the locals can provide a much more in-depth answer though!

    • Lāsma says:

      That’s a great comment, Anna. Many things in Latvia have improved and are still improving. I was born in the USSR so I know what life was like back then. I still remember ”food talons” and sometimes find it hard to believe that we could only get limited amounts of food, drinks etc. It was even difficult to get books! My mum had to queue outside for hours when it was -20 outside to buy me clothes. I heard the word ”deficit” used every day just because everything was ”deficit”! My dad nearly got kicked out of the University of Latvia because he was listening to an American radio station! When my mum was my age, she didn’t know what bananas or kiwis are because we didn’t have any…
      I’d never, ever go back to that system. Having said that, it still affects the country. Things like corruption, homophobia, and racism are all leftovers of the Soviet system. The country has moved on, but some people haven’t… 😦
      I hope to see some positive changes in the future even though I no longer live in Latvia…

    • eNVee says:

      Thank you Anna for perfect description, I could not make a better one! Indeed we have a huge load of problems yet to solve…

    • Glynis Jolly says:

      As you said, Latvia is a ‘new country’. I’m pretty sure that most adults in Latvia are have a terrible time learning how to live in a free country where all are responsible for their own well-being. Behind the Iron Curtain, the government was providing for them. Although it was minimal, now no one but themselves is doing this. It’s like a baby bird falling out of the nest and everyone is expecting the young thing to fly.

      • Anna says:

        Um, people worked for stuff, and worked hard. A government cant magically conjure up stuff to provide for people. Any government gets its resources from people of the country, working, doing stuff. It’s just a different set-up now. Latvia is less a baby bird learning to fly and more a tropical bird transplanted to Siberia – everything’s different and different skills have to be learned, and mentality needs to adapt.

    • Thank you for the comment. This is the realistic look, not just simply – 63 people froze = Latvia is evil and shouldn’t let journalists write about their GDP.

  27. Surface appearances are often only part of the story. But hey – LV now has a nice library!! 🙂

    I’ve just returned from Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia’s public push to be a “developed” nation by 2020! If you look at certain parts of KL, you might just believe it is possible… then scratch beneath the surface, step a bit further outside and realize there is still a ways to go. Progress? Yes!

  28. expatlingo says:

    Really interesting (and depressing) post. Now I know two important things about Latvia: (1) lots of forest; (2) don’t slip on the ice as you’ll be left for dead.

  29. Anita says:

    Wow. Well written. Yes the spin is a worry but the locals know it’s BS. They just have to rise up. Sadly many fear this is too scary. LVs have a long pain threshold… too long in my opinion!

  30. Paul says:

    I live in a 4 bedroom house just outside of Riga. My electricity bill last month was 36 euros (this includes heating the hot water, 20 euros/mth in the summer) and my heating bill for the YEAR is 300 euros.

    I’m guessing you live in an old style apartment that probably doesn’t have the heat retention of modern Riga apartments and is supplied by Riga Siltums. My 90sqm apartment in Riga is separately metered on all utilities with independent house gas boiler and the heating bill for February was less than 45 euros with 3 people living in!

    Economically Riga is booming.. but it is the lower-middle class upwards (for want of a better term) that are benefiting. In a recession, infrastructure growth is a necessity to provide work and jobs and will in the long term progressively help everyone. The more working, the more spending, creating more jobs and earnings.. a positive upward cycle.

    Latvians often tend to focus on the bad and ignore all the good around them.. and so give a gloomy outlook. The USA is almost the opposite! However sheer positive confidence does help everyone and the country feels rich and grows despite the fact it is close on being effectively bankrupt!

    Both countries however have a large percentage of homeless and desperately poor people. Being a rich country doesn’t mean there are no poor people.. The number of poor people is political, reflecting the social aims of the population as a whole.

    Unfortunately people are selfish and don’t want to share their hard earned cash with the neady.. otherwise we would all willingly give half our salaries to the millions dying of starvation around the world.

    However, if I remember correctly, Norway ( is actually discussing the possibility of people deciding if they want to work or not and for those that choose not to work, to still be paid a very liveable wage.. Future utopia is where there is enough wealth generation for all and more for those who want it.

    Coming back to Latvia. The jobless rate continues to fall with 7% predicted for 2014. Don’t forget that Latvia still has a significant black economy.. and I’m guessing that a large percentage of that 7% unemployed are getting cash from some sort of work 🙂

    Minimum wage? Look around! One acquaintance of mine works as a shop assistant and takes home 900 euros a month and another, a student, has 2 part time jobs as well as uni studies and still takes home 800 euros/month.. which means both have a lot more left over spending power than my son in the UK who earns £2000/mth before tax.. He has to pay a lot more for rent, council tax, transport and entertainment etc.

    Like yourself I worried about the old dears at first.. but as I am now retired, I can understand better.. what do you do all day, sit at home and watch TV?.. or get out in the fresh air, chat to your friends and passers by, a little light exercise to keep old age at bay and a little cash in hand to supplement your pension plans as well! Pity they don’t have lollipop men over here.. 🙂

    Also.. Try asking how many of your students have smartphones with call and data plans, have laptops, 60MB fibre internet, flatscreen TV and more than 5 TV channels to choose from 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’m all for old people getting out and doing something. My granny worked in a charity shop until she was in her mid-eighties. (She’s 92 now so isn’t quite up to it any more 😉 ) But then, she worked in a nice warm shop, she had customers to chat to, her mortgage is paid off and she has 2 pensions coming in – with family coming to visit her every week. Do you really think the old people here do this for a bit of craic? How many passers-by do you see stop to chat to them? Most of the time when I see them, they’re on their own and don’t look like they’re having much fun.

      And yes, I’m sure my students have all the gadgets – like I said, a lot of people are doing very well. A lot aren’t.

      • so, true what you say about old people and comparison with living conditions of pensioners in Europe is really alarming. I see them here every day – of course there are both – very poor and rich, but I don’t see anyone looking and feeling like our pensioners back home. No matter what – there is a certain system here in place that allows anybody to get necessary for their living conditions to be normal and at least some dignity. I don’t see when and how and if ever it will happen in Latvia. Saddest part – these are people that went through WW II, literally fought for tour freedom also by struggling soviet times… sad, real sad..

    • Piektdienis says:

      > However, if I remember correctly, Norway ( is actually discussing the possibility of people deciding if they want to work or not and for those that choose not to work, to still be paid a very liveable wage..

      Switzerland is considering a referendum on supplying every inhabitant with EUR2000 per month, regardless if he works/not or has/hasn’t ever worked.

      > Both countries however have a large percentage of homeless and desperately poor people. Being a rich country doesn’t mean there are no poor people.. The number of poor people is political, reflecting the social aims of the population as a whole.

      Hear, hear.

  31. Juune says:

    “I wonder if she’s ever had to take her kids to hospital here and bring her own toilet paper and food along with her? Seemingly, children’s hospitals in Latvia don’t supply things like loo roll in their public toilets as people might steal it.”
    Have you actually been to a children’s hospital in Latvia? I have, and more than one time when my daughter was in need medical attention, and believe or not the loo roll was there allright. The hospital food may have been somewhat … well, hospital food, but it was free and of reasonable quality.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Juune, no I haven’t 😉 I don’t have kids, nor do I know any 😉 I didn’t go to school in Latgale either! I get some information from students, friends and the internet. This particular piece of info came from a friend – I found it hard to believe too but he doesn’t have any reason to lie about it! The child was well taken care of but the parent (who had to stay with the child) had to fend for herself.

      • Alma says:

        Been to hospital with a kid last year. All the essentials were there – toilet paper, paper towels, soap, shower, food. Of course, if you want anything special and extra, take care of that yourself.
        On those arm chairs in your picture. They look to me like old rubbish some people get rid of after purchasing new furniture. Do you really think that somebody tried to burn the rather tiny legs of the chairs to get more warmth for 10 minutes (most city houses are centrally heated though)? Or maybe I’ve misunderstood your message here?

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, I don’t think I suggested that anybody would try to burn those chairs for warmth! But it’s an interesting idea – shame it’s been raining all day, they’ll be a bitch to light… 😉

    • Jens L. says:

      I can confirm this scenario. Been there. Some years ago my son was admitted to a large childrens hospital in Riga. It was late evening when it happened. Under great struggle they managed to put a drip in him to ensure fluid. Thereafter my wife and son was placed in a room with children with similar conditions. Next morning I got a call from my wife explaining she had had to borrow toilet paper from another parent, I should buy food for her since they came in late evening (not night!) so the kitchen couldn’t prepare food for her. Like 9 hours wouldn’t be enough for a simple breakfast.
      To top the story, I can also tell that we had to have a pretty serious talk with the doctor (who really tried the best she could), to try other food than over boiled rice. The doctor finally gave in and said that Lakto with grain would be good, but the hospital couldn’t supply this. So on my daily routine of finding coffee takeaway, food and other basic necessities I also found Lakto for my son.
      Since I have more children than average in Latvia I have been explosed to the same hospital again, but avoided to be admitted.

  32. lafemmet says:

    Sounds so familiar. Villages are dying here so fast. I think there is a TV show about it. I can’t help but think that is how it used to be in the US and now we are migrating back to the farms in search of a better life and healthier food. Ironically, City life here in Serbia seems like it is desperately trying to be modern without actually succeeding. Do you have that feeling in Latvia?

    • Expat Eye says:

      Very much so! I think a lot of Latvians would be much happier living in small towns and villages or in the middle of nowhere by themselves 😉 But the universities and the jobs are (mostly) in Riga.

      • lafemmet says:

        That is how it is here too. Every Sunday our town clears out. Everyone goes to the village.
        Jobs really are mostly in the cities. I wish I were in Belgrade so I could have a real job. I miss working. Farm work is nice. but not the same.
        I do adore the old people in the village. I should write about them. I have some funny stories!

      • Expat Eye says:

        You should! I’d definitely read that 😉 I wonder if the old people in the countryside are happier than the ones in the city?

        And totally with you on moving to Belgrade – I don’t know what I’d do on a farm! 😉

  33. I could understand the library if it also functioned as a museum. Riga’s supposed to be really nice for tourists if you’re not freezing to death and I much prefer off-the-beaten-path destinations.

    Besides which… I have relatives who came to the U.S. from the Baltics.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I think they’re going to use it as a conference centre as well – they’ll have to find some other function for it! Do your relatives ever think about coming back??

      • Nope. By now they’re far too old to readjust.

      • Piektdienis says:

        > – they’ll have to find some other function for it!
        It has, from the very beginning, been planned as a multifunctional bleeding building. As can be discovered by anybody who takes enough interest to checks the publicly available information.

        It has a waiting list for its faciltities for the next couple of years.

        I am sorry, but too often I read posts like these, where people have had one look at the “fugly building” itself, heard what their colleagues or students (who haven’t bothered to check anything out either) are spewing out, and then proceed to regurgitate the same ignorant stuff without any regard for the fact checking.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Sorry for offending your sensibilities 🙂

      • Piektdienis says:

        And I am sorry for blowing my top 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, no worries! I like your passion 🙂

  34. Cindi says:

    Unbelievable – 63 people?! An eye-opening and honest post!

  35. Sounds like my country! And we use our furniture till they look like those too then we upcycle and make them into someting else. :/

  36. Don’t fall over, that’s all I’m saying!

    The majority of Latvians won’t return, is my guess. But they will send money. Just look how remittances have grown:

    I realise that this isn’t part of the country’s GDP… but still, it can’t be good when a population is dependent on money sent from abroad by relatives who didn’t really want to leave in the first place 😦

    • Expat Eye says:

      Wow, interesting stuff! Did you find that just now or come across it before? 😉 And don’t worry, the snow and ice is gone (hopefully for good!) so I’m hoping to make it!

      • I’ve long wondered about remittances, but last night was the first time I looked at Latvia’s.

        Yummy Janis would probably extract you from a snowdrift… but an icy river?…. that remains to be seen 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        That would be one way to test his devotion. Baking a pie is one thing – jumping into an icy river, quite another 😉

  37. LigaFromRiga says:

    Don’t worry of abandoned houses, Chinese seem to be buying them as I’m told. Those peeps need to live somewhere as well.

  38. LigaFromRiga says:

    Oh, no, just don’t lose your sarcastic positivism!

  39. Daina says:

    Wow, some of the statistics you mention are certainly frightening. 63 people have frozen to death on the streets of Riga? A heating bill of 100 Euros? Astonishing. The fact that so many young people are leaving Latgale – the poorest of Latvia’s regions – is, unfortunately, not surprising to me. Sad, yes absolutely, as I am only left to wonder how long Latvia and the Latvian people will even exist.

    A lot of people really don’t know how good they have it. Thank you for the reminder….

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thank you for your nice comment! I’m expecting some negativity on this one! My students were telling me yesterday that people are just abandoning houses and leaving the country – some places are ghost towns already. Here’s a link to the video about the people freezing to death –
      Scary stuff.

      • Piektdienis says:

        While 63 is a horrible amount indeed and even one would be far too many, please note that it is not for Riga, but for whole of Latvia, and the amount of 63 is since last September, rather than like this February or something like that.

  40. Unfortunately this sounds way too much like life in Lithuania. GDP grows, life gets better, and since life gets better…. prices grow, heating bills grow. Eh, the eternal circle of a regular Lithuanian ‘why should I be happy, when life in LT sucks?’ life circle 🙂
    I have a lot of friends, acquaintances, former classmates (from school and university) who now live abroad, and of them like 1 in 10 ever thinks of coming back, and like 1 in 100 actually does or might go for it. At one time a couple of years ago it felt really depressing when so many people were leaving and mostly for good.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I can imagine. Did you ever think about leaving? I know you’ve had your work issues!

      Yeah, a lot of people here seem to think that people will go to Scandinavia, Germany, the UK etc. and then come back in a few years with all this amazing knowledge and ‘save’ the country… I’m not so sure but I guess time will tell!

      • well, yeah, somehow I land the dream jobs, but they never last, eh. And yes, of cause I was thinking of leaving, but in my case a stubborn ‘I want to make it here’ outweighed the option of leaving. Since I’m struggling with the decision, and still hope to make a living

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yep a lot of people here are in the same boat. Hope you make it and don’t have to leave!

      • June says:

        The story in LT really is oh so similar. People study for years to be a nurse (for example) and still only earn about €300 per month. The minimum wage is not much less. Many of my husband’s friends now live overseas. They would like to come back but they just can’t afford it. We are one of the few that have done it and were able to do it because we had some savings. We hope to set up our own business as working here just doesn’t pay. I really don’t know how people do it – it’s no wonder the black economy is thriving. Most homes were built during the soviet occupation and were thrown together as cheaply as possible. Thus, insulation is crap and heating costs high. Adding this insulation is a cost that is simply beyond most household budgets, even if it would save money in the long run. I’m very happy to see GDP rising but, as you say, until this growth starts being felt by the masses, it’s hard to get too excited.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Sounds like a pretty much identical situation! Hope your business takes off and you become one of the success stories!

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