In This Review

Latvia in Transition
Latvia in Transition
By Juris Dreifelds
Cambridge University Press, 1996, 214 pp.

If some hold the notion that the Baltic States have escaped into a democratic, market-oriented future without the aweirdictions and trials plaguing other former Soviet republics, this book should disabuse them of it. As Dreifelds describes the last ten years in Latvia, the peak of national unity and élan occurred between 1987 and 1990, before the Soviet Union came apart, when independence unexpectedly emerged as a real possibility. Since then, high spirits have given way to bickering among contending political factions and cynicism among the voting public -- itself a troubled notion, since most of the Russians in Latvia, still roughly a third of the population, are currently denied the vote. Dreifelds maintains that formally the path to citizenship has been settled in Latvia's new laws, but, if so, the more basic challenge of finding a place in the new Latvia for those whom the author symptomatically refers to as "non-Latvians" still casts a long shadow. Not to be misunderstood, Latvia is a success story, and Driefelds describes well the deep, popular attachment to independence, the reawakening of civil society, now thick with a rich variety of organizations, and the rapid growth of new commercial enterprises. But the explosion of crime, the weakness of such key struts as political parties, the malingering of privatization, and the obstacles to agricultural reform recall more readily many of Latvia's post-Soviet neighbors than the east-central European states to which Latvia wishes to compare itself.