After being the object of worldwide envy around the world for a stellar economic growth following independence from the USSR, Latvia is the European country that has been most affected by the global financial crisis, and is beginning a slow recovery process.
One category of workers that does not seem to feel too much the effect of the crisis, apparently, is that of police officers, especially those engaged in traffic control. For them, crisis or not, nothing changes, because they continue to round up their lowly salary in a way that, unfortunately, is quite common in Eastern Europe, and that is, by harassing citizens.
If in the West the presence of a police patrol on the road gives you a feeling of safety, in Latvia it inspires awe. In fact, the ineffable police, instead of being deployed, for example, before a dangerous curve to encourage motorists to slow down, would rather wait after the curve, in order to catch and punish those who exceed the speed limit.
On top of that, driving a car with a foreign plate, means drawing attention from the traffic cops, who, for example, on a busy road, would single out the hapless tourist and stop him for exceeding the limits, and if he asks for proof of his violation, they would promptly respond that “the laser gun does not work”.
Obviously, however, everything is solved with some flexibility: just a little pocket money to the policeman on duty (usually about 20% of the normal fine), and the offense magically disappears… And for drivers from abroad, who in the local mentality are seen as rich and stupid, the amount of this bribe would skyrocket.
Traffic rules are nonexistent, and therefore can be interpreted in various ways, but never in favor of those who are behind the wheel. A left turn which is normally allowed, becomes suddenly forbidden when a patrol car is waiting around the corner.
And if you think that taking the bus can save you from such harassment, you are mistaken! On the streets of Riga, when the controller boards the bus to (rightly) verify that everyone has paid for their ticket, would not do it while the bus keeps going towards its destination.
Instead, the bus is stopped on the roadside, and along with a couple of women who check passengers’ tickets, a couple of policemen would board as well, while a few more armed ones are waiting outside to stop anyone who should attempt to escape. In the West, this is called a disruption of public service, but in Latvia, people just shrug and keep going on.
On the other hand, in a country where the average salary is 500 euro and basically everyone has a second job, people have the right to pursue a decent living. For the Latvian police, rounding up their salary, though, means harassing others… Who knows, maybe in Riga and its surroundings,the saying “things were better when they were worse” is not so unfounded.