Latvia Goes After Pessimistic Economists

No matter how futile, it’s hard to resist shooting the messenger. In Latvia, the government is going after economists that make negative statements about the economy:

WSJ: Hammered by economic woe, this former Soviet republic recently took a novel step to contain the crisis. Its counterespionage agency busted an economist for being too downbeat.

“All I did was say what everyone knows,” says Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a 32-year-old university lecturer detained by Latvia’s Security Police. The force is responsible for hunting down spies, terrorists and other threats to this Baltic nation of 2.3 million people and 26 banks.

Now free after two days of questioning, Mr. Smirnovs hasn’t been charged. But he is still under investigation for bad-mouthing the stability of Latvia’s banks and the national currency, the lat. Investigators suspect him of spreading “untruthful information.” They’ve ordered him not to leave the country and seized his computer.

So, do they think they can cure cancer just by getting the doctor to make a different diagnosis? Nope, that’s not actually what it’s about:

Finance Ministry officials acknowledge that secret police won’t save the country from economic crises. But they do believe Security Police vigilance makes the public think twice before spreading uninformed gossip about banks.

“It is a form of deterrence,” says Martins Bicevskis, Finance Ministry state secretary.

See, there’s a difference between a country like Latvia and the US. Here, when we talk about aggressively going after rumour-mongers, we pretend that putting a chill on the dissemination of information might only be an unfortunate by-product. There it seems to be the whole point.

For more, check out this blog, all about Latvia’s efforts to restrict economic free speech.