04 December, 2009

Latvian students and unions protest budget cuts

I haven't been blogging much lately, mostly because I've been traveling and didn't have time to follow events in Egypt as closely as I would have liked to. A couple of days ago I came back from Latvia, the one country in the European Union that have been hardest hit by the global economic crisis. In one year Latvia has lost a around 18 percent of it's GDP and unemployment has more than tripled to 20 percent. 

This week, hundreds of trade unionists (unions are very weak in Latvia and organize only around 15 percent of the workforce, mostly in the public sector) and thousands of students gathered outside Saeima, the Latvian parliament, to protest the new state budget which contains huge cuts on higher education and other public spending and a raise of the personal income tax from 23% to 26%. (Needless to say, these actions will reinforce the economic downturn, and are motivated largely by the decision of the Latvian government, strongly backed by the European Union and the Swedish government, to avoid a devaluation the local currency - a huge mistake according to many economists)

Latvians students shouted slogans like "put parliament in school and students in parliament" and "no education means no future" and jeered the education minister as she appeared on the stairs of the parliament briefly. I have to say that after three years in Egypt this was quite a refreshing experience; in the beginning I half expected police officers to try and confiscate my camera or start beating up protesters, which never happened of course... (Actually I can't imagine a crowd of demonstrators getting this close to a government building even in Sweden...) 

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