A rally against social inequality was held in the Latvian capital of Riga on Saturday, bringing together several hundreds of protesters, a TASS correspondent reported from the scene.
The protesters wanted to express their disagreement with the government’s policies and demanded changes. They gathered in central Dome Square and marched past the Riga Castle, the presidential residence, towards the building of Latvia’s parliament. The organizers pointed out that Riga’s residents have similar grounds for discontent as their counterparts in Paris.
“Protest rallies are being held across Europe, including Brussels and Paris. The French ‘Yellow Vests’ movement in Paris managed to get lots of [concessions] from the authorities,” Miroslavs Mitrofanovs, a member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the Latvian Russian Union, said addressing the protesters. “Today, I am wearing this yellow vest for our rally and our march, and many others have come in those vests. However, unless the authorities heed people, those will be coming wearing this new uniform of European-wide protests each time further on.”
Dmitry Shandybin, one of the organizers, told TASS that the French ‘Yellow Vests’ movement has inspired Latvians to hit the streets.
“The movement manifested that any nation, with small resources and a lack of support from ruling elites, could seek changes in their social conditions,” he said. “That is why we opted for yellow vests as a symbol of today’s rally to show that the people are capable of achieving this and the main thing is that they want to do so.”
The protest was pursuing a range of goals, according to Shandybin.
“Firstly, it is a social protest against price hikes. Everybody is aware that food, energy and other goods and services in Latvia have become more expensive since the beginning of this year. Besides, the government is constantly introducing new taxes, both overt and covert. For example, there was a reform of compulsory health insurance, which ended up denying access to healthcare services for several dozens of thousands of people,” he said.
The second issue is a political crisis that has gripped the country after the parliamentary election.
“We have lived without a government for three months. People might start asking a lawful question: why on earth do we need it if no tangible changes have been seen in society in recent three months? Moreover, our government does not bother about the citizens’ wellbeing. So the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider, which our non-existing government is having a hand in,” Shandybin said.
The third issue is a reform at Latvian schools.
“That is not just an issue of Russian schools and their transition to Latvian in instruction. That is an issue of the education reforming,” he added.
“We, as the Latvian people, will not take this. We believe that Riga along with other European capitals should not remain passive. We must express our protest. We call for democratic values, for civil society and we think that civil society has the right for a peaceful protest and for protection of their rights,” the march’s organizer concluded.