Worldfocus producer Sally Garner is in Riga, Latvia, reporting on the country’s floundering economy. She writes about how the financial crisis has impacted daily life in Latvia.
The headlines read: “Europe’s Sickest Country,” “Latvia’s Government Collapses,” “Europe’s Most Extreme, Dramatic Economy” — but walk around Riga, Latvia’s capital city, and you’ll see people heading to work, stores full of shoppers and banks open for business. It’s a recession. It’s Eastern Europe. And Latvians are holding their breath.
Unemployment is growing. The economy is now shrinking faster than in any other European country, but in the central market we found people choosing from the mountains of fruit and vegetables, checking out tables full of cookies and candy, buying bunches of flowers and even picking out sweaters and coats. They’re worried, but they say they remember harder times under Soviet rule.
This is a country proud of its 18 years of independence from the Soviet Union and willing to fight to save itself in the current economic crisis.
As we walked around Riga’s old town with its cobblestone streets and “pedestrian only” signs, we saw “for rent” signs — and while many people didn’t want to talk about the economy, most say they know someone who’s lost a job in just the last few months.
We’ve only been here two days, but we’ve heard bankers, small business owners, students and engineers all tell us that Latvia is in trouble. They just want us to know it’s trouble they share with the rest of the world, not theirs alone.
We’ll be back in Latvia next week. Tomorrow we head to neighboring Estonia, and later to Lithuania where we’ll see for ourselves what the headline “Once leaders, Baltic countries in deep slump” means in the countries that were dubbed the “Baltic Tigers” when money was flowing and times were good.
– Sally Garner
Watch for Worldfocus’ upcoming series exploring the Baltics in the coming weeks.