Chapter Five: Lietuvēns
In the grand scheme of human history, we don’t have to take a stroll too far down Memory Lane to find a time when Latvia was one of the richest countries in Europe. Throughout the 1930s, Latvians enjoyed a standard of living that eclipsed Finland and Denmark. Indeed, Latvians were the highest consumers of milk, butter, and meat in all of Europe. Why? Because they could afford it.
Latvia even had the highest percentage of university students on the entire European continent. It was a true Boom State, and a land of prosperity and opportunity. Latvia had good economic fundamentals in place, and Latvians reaped the rewards.
All of that prosperity went right down the drain pipe when a bunch of boorish slobs called the Soviets illegally invaded Latvia and created a system that most rational people wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemies. This bunch of Communist dreamers devolved Latvia into a satellite state, cast to the mercy of a half-baked economic theory devised by a band uneducated gunslingers from the east. Latvia was decimated and reduced to utter poverty.
Latvia has made some great strides forward since breaking from that failed lab experiment called the USSR in 1991, but it has never regained its former glory. Some people in Latvia think it’s fait accompli that Latvia is, by nature, intrinsically a “poor country”. Some of them think it is impossible for Latvia to have a high standard of living because of the damage that was done during Soviet times.
I call bullshit on that.
The 1930s was living, breathing proof that it was possible for Latvia to break from the shackles of a repressive empire ruled by a Tsar, to become a wealthy nation within a little over a decade. In such a short time, it became an enviable nation that provided a magnificent lifestyle for its citizens. If Latvia has been that kind of place in the past, it can be that kind of place in the future.
Don’t try to start an argument with me about this. I’m absolutely right on this point. Allow me to give you an example.
There was once a little Third World island sitting just off the Malayan Peninsula. In 1965, when it became an independent republic, it had the good fortune to establish a government committed to Rule of Law, developing a free market economy with liberal trade and investment, and a strong commitment to preventing and prosecuting corruption. Within less than a generation that island become one of the richest places on Earth. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Republic of Singapore. By doing everything the right way, a pile of dirt with some palms growing on it that had no gold, no silver, no oil, no natural gas, no uranium, no copper, no aluminium, no zinc, no iron, no diamonds, and very little agriculture leveraged itself into becoming one of the most spectacular city states in the world, with fabulous wealth beyond the wildest imaginations of the majority of people living on this planet. Singapore had only one resource: law-abiding people who weren’t afraid of hard work.
Latvia has law-abiding people who aren’t afraid of hard work.
Latvia could just about win an award for its law-abiding people who aren’t afraid of hard work. Why do you think so many law-abiding Latvians who aren’t afraid of hard work leave Latvia each year? Because hard-working people want to earn good wages, and there is no shortage of companies in rich European countries who can’t wait to give a job to a hard-working Latvian. The wages spent employing a Latvian is money well spent.
Like Singapore, Latvia also sits on a trading crossroads.
Latvia actually has more to work with than Singapore has. It has a larger territory, more arable land, and it’s geographically closer to rich nations with high standards of living. Since 1991, Latvia has had ample time to rise to dizzying heights above the drudgery and misery of the Soviet era. If it had started out on the right foot, it would have achieved that by now.
My natural demonic curiosity has lead me to travel forward into the future on some occasions.
Maybe I should refrain from saying “The Future”, because there are actually many futures. Whichever future becomes a reality is a matter of which path the Latvians choose to take. I decided to visit one of the Latvian futures that really impresses me.
This was the future of Latvia after Latvians took action to eradicate high-end corruption in their country, putting the oligarchs in prison, strengthening anti-corruption laws, raising the standards of the nation’s anti-corruption agencies, and recovering a lot of the stolen money and assets that the oligarchs and corrupt politicians had hidden around the world. That particular path won global international praise for Latvia, and turned the country into a top spot for international investors.
In this futuristic Latvia that I visited, Latvia isn’t a poor European Union nation. Latvia is a shining palace.
The cities of Rīga, Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Valmiera, Jūrmala, Jelgava, Liepāja, Rēzekne, and Ventspils are praised in the economic media, each one being celebrated as a charming juxtaposition between the old and the new, featuring spaceage urban development with spotlessly clean streets alongside the more traditional architecture of old world Latvia, which has been faithfully preserved over the years. Of course, the Latvian Government has plenty of money to spend on protecting its antiquity and culture in this place in the future. The citizens of Latvia don’t mind that the government spends so much on the arts and culture. When you’re only paying 9% income tax, it’s not such a big deal. You see, because the Latvian Government of the future is no longer spending state finances on buying luxuries for oligarchs, they were able to drop the tax rate and become an appealing place for investors.
In this future Latvia, unemployment is almost unheard of. Mind you, the government has been forced to crack down on employment contracts. They had been getting too many people from poorer countries, like Germany and Sweden, arriving in Latvia, trying to steal all the jobs. Personally, I think the future Latvian Government is being a little paranoid. The really well paid jobs tend to go to Latvian citizens. The foreigners tend to end up getting jobs like mopping floors in shopping centres, and making beds in five star hotels. Some of them get menial labouring jobs at the Latvian National Space Centre just south of Saulkrasti, where Latvia manufactures those plasma-drive probes that capture platinum-rich asteroids and move them into lunar orbits.
Rīga is home to the world’s only Nine Star hotel. It’s the tallest hotel in the world and constructed from solid crystal reinforced by a titanium-vanadium alloy framework. It has the shape of a great cubicuboctahedron, and the structure incorporates lavish gardens. The locals nickname it “The Hanging Gardens of Rīga”. This hotel is owned by a company registered on the Rīga Stock Exchange. It has no majority shareholder.
Latvia is also home to the largest theme park in the world, called Kosmosa pasaule. It gets 14.5 million visitors per year and employs hundreds of thousands of Latvians in supporting industries.
Latvia is also a leading scientific power in the world. It’s not only fourth in the world for radio astronomy, it is a leading telecommunications provider between the multi-national lunar astronauts, who are involved in extracting platinum group metals from captured asteroids, and their Main Control Centre in the large coastal city of Ziedciems, which has since developed into Latvia’s fifth largest city. Most of the Centre occupies the land once stolen by Valērijis Kapustins, who died many years beforehand. Latvia is a significant shareholder in that fledgling asteroid mining industry.
In this future, Latvia has become one of the most reputable and stable banking centres in the world. Latvia is also a global exporter of IT services and hotel construction technologies, and a net exporter of food. Latvia also leads the world in hydroponic grapes, which supply its world class wine industry.
Latvians, themselves, are among the richest people in Europe. All around the word, the very best hotels always translate every sign, document, and menu into the Latvian language, due to the large number of wealthy Latvian tourists they get every year. The average middle class Latvian invests in real estate in Juan-Les-Pins, Costa del Sol, and coastal Queensland, Australia. Latvia is one of the the largest importers of prestige cars and haute couture fashion items in Europe. The Latvian Government also offers scholarships so people from disadvantaged countries like France and the Netherlands can study at one of the 55 major Latvian universities. A Latvian business degree is highly prized in Europe, and the Latvian language has become a popular language taught in many schools across the European continent, as many people dream of one day being able to get a job in Latvia.
That is one of the Latvian futures I have visited. There is another Latvian future that I’ve visited that you don’t want to know about. It’s the future that comes from doing nothing about unchecked corruption. That future is as ugly as sin. I’m going to spare you the details for now.
Gamma greeted the rest of the Prometheans with gusto as they arrived in Bauska. After successfully getting 120,000 euros from their targets in Daugavpils forwarded into their Cypriot bank account, they had to get that money out – in hard cash – as soon as possible. After pulling out their Cypriot credit card and putting it to good use, a convoy left Bauska towards the Lithuanian border consisting of a small car, a rented minibus, and a large prime mover carrying just under 120,000 euros worth of nickel castings purchased at a metal dealer’s yard not far from Bauska. The Prometheans were on their way to Poland.
During his time in the French Foreign Legion, Delta had befriended a Polish legionnaire called Piotruś. Piotruś had left the Legion some time before Delta and since arriving back in his native Polish home of Olsztyn, he had become an active volunteer in one of the many civilian paramilitary units that had sprung up in Poland. Piotruś was also running a clandestine business as a gun runner.
After selling the nickel castings at a discounted price to a metal dealer in Augustow for 475,000 złoty, Beta and Theta took the prime mover back to Latvia to hand it back to its owners, before checking into a lovely hotel in Bauska called Hotel Bērzkalni.
Meanwhile, Delta went alone in the minibus to meet with Piotruś at a secret location on the outskirts of Olsztyn, while the others waited patiently at small cafe in the centre of town. After five shots of Spirytus rektyfikowany, some money changed hands between the two, and Piotruś disappeared from sight. Alpha, Gamma, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, and Iota arrived twenty minutes later to find Delta loading up the minivan with seven 5.56mm Heckler & Koch G36 Assault Rifles, four French-manufactured 12.7mm PGM Hécate II anti-materiel heavy sniper rifles, three boxes of M26 Fragmentation Grenades, a 7.62mm Rheinmetall MG 3 General Purpose Machine Gun, two 9mm Heckler & Kock MP5A3 Submachine guns, ten 84mm AT4 single shot anti-tank weapons, and nine 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistols. Behind him were boxes of ammunition, combat rations, all manner of survival equipment, camouflage nets, and 27 sets of Danish M84 camouflage uniforms.
The Prometheans worked like crazy to get their proudly purchased items into the minibus as quickly as possible, covered with blankets and small cartons of apples.
With Alpha and Delta in front of the minibus, and the other five squeezed into the car, they got out of town real fast. In dire fear of being stopped by the police in Poland and Lithuania, they made their way back to Latvia to cache their load in a small shed on that little farm just outside of Skrunda where the Prometheans had their very first meeting.
It was a slick operation, all things considered. They got the money, ruined the lives of five undesirable politicians in the process, got the weapons they needed, nobody caught them, and nobody knew who they were or what they were going to do.
Come on everybody! You know this has been all too easy for them. Something had to go wrong. It always does. And it did. You see, this farm belonged to the family of the Promethean with the codename Epsilon. He had lived in Skrunda for most of his life. His father, who had worked for Valsts ieņēmumu dienests, the Latvian State Taxation Service, was murdered one night many years beforehand at a time when his office had been involved in a dispute with a high profile businessman who might have been connected with Trasta Komercbanka. His mother passed away several months later. It would be a cliché to say she died of a broken heart, but that would be the best explanation for her sudden decline in health. Epsilon had grown to hate the mafioso behaviour of Latvia’s worst business tycoons. He used to have lengthy conversations with an old locksmith, who lived not too far from him, about what he’d like to do to the oligarchs if he ever had the chance. It was one of the things that inspired Epsilon to join the Latvian Army, in the first place. He had dreamed of one day having the kind of highly developed skills that would give him the ability to secretly murder the man who he believed had killed his father.
As the Prometheans moved all their paraphernalia into the temporary storage shed, they had failed to notice that they were being watched by the old locksmith who was sitting quietly in the shadows among some shrubs. He witnessed firearms and boxes being loaded into the shed under a dim 25 Watt light.
The old locksmith hadn’t meant to pry. He had mistakenly believed somebody was trespassing on Epsilon’s land. So he stealthily made his way over to see what was going on. When he saw Epsilon there, he felt a little ashamed that he had been prowling on his property. So, to save himself the embarrassment, he kept quiet and waited for his opportunity to leave without being seen. As he waited for his moment, he couldn’t help hearing what the Prometheans were talking about. He was only hearing small pieces of their conversation, but if the locksmith didn’t know better, it almost sounded like they were planning to attack somebody he had known many, many years ago. He just couldn’t be certain.
As the 25 Watt light was switched off and the minivan drove away, the old locksmith quietly sneaked home. Had he really seen what he thought he had seen? Did he really hear what he thought he had heard? This was starting to put a smile on the old man’s face. His thoughts were racing.
(to be continued Sunday 22nd July)