Briefs

Latvia: 21–27 November 2016

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A pro-Kremlin talk show portrays Latvia as a socioeconomically devastated country whose elite has taken wrong geopolitical decisions.

Event: 
On 22 November, the Russian state-owned channel NTV broadcast a talk showMesto Vstrechi, that focused on relations between the Baltic states and Russia. The show’s participants were particularly concerned with Latvia.


The false fact or narrative:
 Several guests on the show emphasized the collapse of the Latvian economy. Tamara Guzenkova, deputy director of the state-funded Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, claimed that Latvia now has a new profession: begging tourists for money. Addressing the fact that Latvia, unlike Russia, has a growjng GDP, she argued that such an increase in tiny economies should not be taken seriously (see video, starting at 1:22:30). Likewise, pro-Kremlin political activist Dmitry Linter,claimed that high unemployment rates in Latvia and Estonia are forcing people to leave these countries (see starting at 1:20:50).

Igor Korotchenko
, editor of the Russian magazine National Defense, also claimed that Latvia’s economy is in very bad shape and that the president—in an independence day speech—admitted that “Latvia has no economy.” Half of Latvia’s workforce has emigrated to other European Union member countries (see starting from 14:54), he said, because it has become impossible to enjoy EU living standards in Latvia. Korotchenko also said the country has formed a unit of 20 volunteers to protect the Ministry of Defense against Russian aggression (see starting from 15:25). Nikita Isaev, director of the Institute of the Contemporary Economy, claimed that in the 1990s, Latvia profited from Russia’s gray economy and that relations with Russia were good—but that in 2005, then-President George W. Bush visited Latvia and instructed its leaders to act against Russia. He also said Latvia’s only industry is cargo services (see starting from 40:00).

Reality on the ground: 
Since the global economic crisis, Latvia has demonstrated positive GDP growth; its trade balance has decreased to 0.8 percent of GDP. In addition, its unemployment rate has fallen over the last five years. The pro-Kremlin guests of Mesto Vstreci who overwhelmingly criticized Latvia’s economic performance have evidently ignored these positive indicators.


Guzenkova’s statement about begging as a new profession in Latvia was based on anecdotal experience presented as fact. No such profession exists in Latvia, and Guzenkova generalized her observations in order to create a misleading image of extreme poverty. She overlooked the fact that,Latvia is wealthier than Russia on a per-capita basis. Instead, she tried to undermine Latvia’s GDP growth by arguing that in small economies, such growth doesn’t count. Linter’s claim about unemployment in Latvia and Estonia is also incorrect. Official data
suggests that in the third quarter of 2016, unemployment was 9.5 percent in Latvia and 7.5 percent in Estonia—both close to the EU’s average jobless rate of 8.6 percent. That means unemployment is hardly the main factor forcing Latvians and Estonians to emigrate, as Linter suggests. In fact, the higher salaries offered by other EU countries is mainly what lures people in both countries to emigrate.

Korotchenko’s claim that the Latvian President has admitted that “
Latvia has no economy” is incorrect alike, as the president has not ever said that. He also misinformed everyone by claiming that a half of Latvian workforce has emigrated to the EU. It is estimated that around 9 per cent of Latvians have emigrated since the 2000, which is far less than Korotchenko claimed.  Korotchenko’s statement about the unit of 20 volunteers who would allegedly protect the Latvian Ministry of Defense is also a mere imagination without any factual basis; it was obviously expressed, in order to mock Latvia’s defense capability against Russia. Conversely, Isaev’s claim that the only industry of Latvia’s is cargo services is incorrect and is used in this misleading way to emphasize Latvia’s dependence on the Russian transit. In fact, the major economic realms of Latvia in terms of GDP are agriculture and forestry, manufacturing, and trade and accommodation. Finally, Isaev’s statement about the president Bush who reportedly commanded Latvia to act against Russia is a conspiracy theory whereby the US is framed as the main reason why Latvia does not have good relations with Russia.

Technique: 

  • No proof, false facts, 
  • exaggeration and over-generalization        


Audience:
  Russian-speaking community in Latvia

A
nalysis: In recent weeks, the most influential pro-Kremlin media outlets have tried to undermine the economic success of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by framing them as failed states that will not survive in the long term. In particular, such outlets have used anecdotal stories and false facts to portray Latvia as a socioeconomical failure. This devastation, pro-Kremlin media argue, is a result of wrong geopolitical decisions taken by Latvia’s Russophobic elite. Remarkably, the U.S. presidential s disinformation stream has been reinforced after the US presidential elections which has increased a noticeable anxiety in Latvian society.