Using several buses and farming equipment, Limbaži administrative area residents headed to the neighboring Saulkrasti area to protest part of their aria being joined with Saulkrasti as part of the administrative-territorial reforms, according to Latvian Television’s “Panorāma” broadcast on February 5.
“We don’t want to join Saulkrasti because the Limbaži area is very deveped and is developing. We feel like we need to defend our municipality. My question is, what connects us to Saulkrasti?” said Vidriži municipality residents at a town hall meeting.
Like the Vidriži residents, most of the residents of the more rural farming Skulte and Lēdurga municipalities, which would also be added to the Saulkrasti administrative area, simply don’t feel any sort of sense of belonging with the coastal resort town the area is named after. They also feel like being part of the Limbaži area has several benefits, which they don’t want to give up for the unknown.
“The Limbaži area has currently granted us resources so that we can transform everything, create a new, beautiful Melngaiļa estate, we really have grandiose plans. But now I’m scared to think what will happen,” worries Emīls Melngailis Museum Director Ilze Šteina.
The Limbaži area originally was one of the territories that supported the reforms, stipulating that the area is not split up. However in January it became clear that this was no longer the case.
“Why is it that one day we open the internet and see that the borders are new and that we’re already there. Now why is everything decided without us? It’s a little party game – this for me, that for you…” said a Vidriži resident.
Limbaži Regional Council Chair Didzis Zemmers was also taken by surprise. He considers that taking these municipalities away would make the area weaker. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM) conducted surveys when working on the new law, and Zemmers understood that they had unequivocally decided not to split the area.
“It’s very, very difficult because with a centralized administration it’s not possible to split off a municipality into another territory. There are so many unclear questions, in the future there could be huge chaoss,” said the Limbaži council chair.
Vidriži residents are especially angry with National Alliance (NA) MP Jānis Dombrava, who had showed up to speak to the residents in person, and is also the initiator for creating the Saulkrasti administrative area on the reform map. Some residents have accused the politician of having personal interests in creating the Saulkrasti area, which he has denied, at the same time while evading questions on whether resident’s opinions will matter.
“VARAM will continue consultation, after which they’ll take theri conclusions to commission meetings. Even if NA digs in and says – let’s listen to resident’s opinions everywhere, the Saeima majority will still vote how they’ve agreed,” said Dombrava.
While Saulkrasti area residents are happy that their suggestion to create an administrative territory has been heard, 1700 signatures have already been collected against splitting up the Limbaži area. Vidraži residents also voted against it in their town hall meeting, and if their opinions are not taken into account, the Limbaži administrative area is ready to turn to the Constitutional Court .
“Last year we had library reforms, now we’re a branch of the Limbaži Library, documentation changed, papers changed, we spent all of last year putting everything in order, now it’s all for nothing…” said Vidriži Library Director Aleta Kalniņa.
It’s a combination of many small changes that has many residents of the municipalities being added to the Saulkrasti area upset. They feel that many small administrative and structural details that tie them to the Limbaži area would be difficult to get used to if split off from the economically more powerful area.
“In essence, if I don’t have a car I completely can’t get there (Saulkrasti). Well for me, personally I don’t like this attitude, why don’t they take people into consideration?” said another Vidriži resident.
The protest gathered a column of tractors and more than 200 Limbaži and Krimulda area residents at the Saulkrasti Cultural Center “Zvejniekciems”. After the protest representatives from all involved parties sat down to discuss a solution that would work for everyone, but they were unsuccessful. This means the discussion will most likely continue in the Saeima commission, in which case Limbaži residents are prepared to drive their tractors to Rīga.
As previously reported , on October 16, 2019 the Cabinet of Ministers approved VARAM’s proposal to create 39 municipalities in Latvia instead of the 119 existing ones as part of the planned administrative-territorial reform.
According to the new Law On Administrative Territories and Populated Areas, Latvia will be divided into 34 regions, while Riga, Jurmala, Daugavpils, Liepaja and Rezekne will keep their present status as cities.