Monday, 14 February 2011

Convulsions


Ice on the inside of our car window. The literal translation
for these in Latvian is ice flowers ie ledus puķe
(pronounced lay-dus poocha)
The world has certainly gone through some convulsions this week and I thought I was just going to have a quiet week in contrast but towards the end of the week I found out that someone in our family was having severe relationship problems and I ended up spending quite a bit of time on the phone one day. It was very draining and I found it so sad, so Ian and I ended up at our local bakery for a pastry and a cup of tea. It didn't change much but the walk in the rather cold temperatures of about -17C certainly helped work off some of that agitated feeling. The rest of the week was quite boring really, I did some decorating (and I remembered to take pictures) and I did my studies. Boring is good sometimes though as it can be quite restful and peaceful.

The snow had drifted over our road way, and so this is Ian
heading off to get the tractor as the car could go no further
I did make it down to the local heating company to complain about our communal heating but the boss was not in and I haven't had anyone to translate for the rest of the week so I have left it for now. There is a possibility of a letter going from everyone in our apartment block but that depends if it gets organised. People don't always work very well together in our apartment block, some do, but others are quite awkward or maybe it is just distrustful - which given the history of Latvia is not surprising - but it does make trying to get something organised incredibly hard work. The temperature in the apartment hadn't been bad since I went down but they are beginning to slide again which is not fun when the temperatures outside have been very low, i.e.-24C this morning, meaning it was 12.9C in the kitchen. I think a little visit maybe in order and maybe even a little peaceful sit down protest, after all I am sure it will be warmer to do my studying there than at home at this rate. We will see, I will make a decision in a couple of days time, might just bottle out but you never know.

Digging the roadway again
Being peaceful can give a lot of room for pondering though and so I have been doing a lot of that. As we were away in Australia for around two months I somehow missed the news about an organisation called UK Uncut, well that and the fact I don't follow the UK news very much these days, but when I found their story very inspiring. Just in case you don't know they are a group of people who got together and were moaning about the fact that large companies seem to get away without paying taxes and yet those taxes were equal to some of the services being cut to the poorest in British society, so they decided it was about time they did something. They peacefully demonstrated in Vodafone premises to highlight their avoidance of taxes and pointed out it would save the cuts in benefits to those living in London, which may force many to move away. It was simple! It connects the corporate avoidance measures to concrete issues facing the Brits. Does inspire me to do a peaceful sit down protest though.

Some of our apple tree coverings had come undone, at such
cold temperatures it is not good for our young apple trees. I
found some compost bags and slipped them over the top,
but they didn't go all the way down to the bottom so I piled
snow up around the base. Hope this works.
So what about Latvia, where are the injustices there? There are plenty and Neo last year highlighted quite a few when he hacked into unprotected tax accounts and used the information to point out how much people were being paid in companies where workers were taking pay cuts. But how about today, or this week? Well Swedbank have just released their end of the quarter profits for October to December last year, a profit of 18 million LVLs (£21.5m, $34.5m). This is the same Swedbank who lent heavily to the Latvians and in so doing contributed significantly to the property bubble. The profit for the year after taking into account the bad debts was 73m LVLs (£87m, $140m). In some ways this is probably peanuts in global banking terms but to Latvians it is a lot. The mess the crisis caused meant Latvia took out a big loan with the IMF and they are insisting that Latvia cuts a further 50m LVLs from their budget, on top of the enormous cuts they have already had to make last year and on top of the ones they had already planned for this year. So while Swedbank are recovering quickly, the poorest of the poor are paying off the loan from the results of fat cat speculation with cuts to their services. But it isn't just Swedbank, SEB banks profits made a mere 36m LVLs, and DnB Nord 20m LVLs, another of the big banks, Nordea actually made a loss of 12m LVLs however. The combined profits of the three banks last year amounted to 46% of the cuts that the Latvian Government are going to make this year.

Winter wonderland! We went for a snow shoe walk around
our land. All I can say is never trust someone who says
that we won't have to fight our way through the trees!
It was pretty though and we are so grateful for having the
forethought to buy some good snow shoes before we left
the US, this is the second year they have been a boon.
Sorry for throwing figures around but it makes me mad that this situation goes on. The Latvians haven't got a lot of money and in fact many of them aren't even paying their heating bills because they are just so high and their wages have been cut and it is paying for heating or food in many cases and since by law the heating cannot be cut the food wins. Swedbanks quarterly profits would actually nearly pay what those in Riga owe the heating company. Also a recent sale of a Francis Bacon painting would have more than paid folks' unpaid heating bills. That song by Del Amitri comes to mind yet again, Nothing Ever Happens

"While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs
For the price of a hospital wing
Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song 
And we all sing along like before"

This is the decorating. I think there are too
many blocks of colour on the left, but
that will probably be covered by a cupboard
anyway. It was fun to do though
Doesn't quite sound the same to "snap up a Bacon for half the price of Latvian cuts" but this song was being sung in 1990 and still the rich of this world pursue greed for their own pleasure. I am so pleased that UK Uncut are standing up and saying "Enough is Enough", the Egyptians are saying "Enough is Enough" and the women protesting against Berlusconi are saying "Enough is Enough" because Enough is Enough. It is time for a change in economics and politics that allow these things to carry on.

Our rainbow coloured house. This is looking
towards the kitchen with the door taken
off to be sanded down in the living room.

A close up of the detail in the hallway
Talking of the Egyptian demonstrations, I have found them so inspiring. Their dignity and restraint in their demonstrations and their diligence in their cleaning up operation should make us ashamed. The complicity of the northern nations to Mubarak's regime should not go by without comment either, the Egyptians could rightly stand tall and point their fingers at the north and say where were you when we were oppressed? They have demonstrated such unity almost unheard of in these days of firing accusations across religious and cultural divides. I have to stand up and say I admire what you have done, may you be an inspiration to many in this world and may your patience and persistence bear fruit. Keep going till you reach your goal. May those of us in the North have the humility to learn from them.
Since it is Valentine's Day - here
is a lovers' tree - all entwined.
Isn't that sweet.

  
Those twigs in the ground are actually bushes
These were the bushes in a previous year. Must take
another after the snow has gone

4 comments:

Mavis said...

I totally agree with you about the banks. The fat cats go on having their enormous salaries and bonuses while the rest of us go on trying to make do with less. They think they deserve it! Well we DON'T deserve what we are going through because of their dealings. Ooohhh!!! makes my blood boil! We bail them out and now they go back and do exactly the same thing all over again.

I was also moved by the clean up of the square in Cairo after the demonstrations. To me it seemed like a prophetic act and one woman actually said that she was sweeping away the old so they could have a fresh, clean start. I'm sure things in Egypt won't be the same again.

Joanna said...

It wouldn't feel so bad if you thought the banks cared but they don't. They just go on slapping more and more charges onto those struggling to pay because of the crisis.

I love the analogy of sweeping away the old. Indeed it is time for fresh starts.

karen said...

I agree with you totally on the injustice of the cuts and am all for peaceful protest. The money doesn't last as long here either, petrol more expensive, food more exppensive, heating more expensive. No wage rises, it's just getting worse. The TUC here have been talking about protest movements, bring it on I say...

Joanna said...

Absolutely Karen. I know the Unions had too much power at one time but we need that will to stand up and say "No! This isn't right." Of course we can't all go on demanding more and more pay rises as it just exacerbates the problem but redressing some of the imbalances needs to happen for sure.

I worry about Latvians as they do not know how to protest sometimes. The farmers did a good job one year, they just congregated on the outskirts of Riga and drove slowly into the city - snarled up things beautifully and gained them some concessions. Unfortunately most people choose to leave the country than fight those who take advantage of their power.