''Russian'' Mayor of Riga: language laws ''breaker'', cat-lover and supporter of ''eurosabantuy''
10 facts about Nils Ušakovs who visited Kazan with the first flight of airBaltic
Overnight into 27 April, Kazan and Riga became connected with direct flight of airBaltic. One of the first passengers was Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs, known cat-lover and ''violator'' of the law on state language of Latvia. Ušakovs has quite an extensive programme in Kazan – meeting with Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, Mayor of Kazan Ilsur Metshin, interviews with rectors of leading universities of Tatarstan, cooperating with higher education institutions of Latvia. Besides, Ušakovs is going to give a lecture at the Federal Kazan University for students. Realnoe Vremya has made the top 10 most interesting facts from the biography of the Riga mayor, who has repeatedly been an object of intense media attention.
First ''Russian'' mayor
Residents of Riga are fond of Nils Ušakovs. This is evidenced by the fact that he has been occupying the post of mayor since 2009. At the same time, he is the first Russian mayor of the Latvian capital for the entire post-Soviet history of the country. In the municipal elections in 2009, Nils Ušakovs and his alliance achieved record-breaking results in the election to the Riga Duma, having received 26 seats out of 60. No party in contemporary history of Riga has been able to achieve such representation.
Ušakovs as a journalist
Before his political career, Ušakovs worked in journalism. After graduation, he was planning to work at the University of Latvia, but in the end he chose a journalistic career. A year later, he started to work on Latvian public television, where he worked as a news reporter. In the early 2000s, he was an editor of the news department and politics in the newspapers Republic and Telegraph.
The longest job Ušakovs had in journalistic practice was work on a private Latvian TV channel TV5 Rīga. From March 2004 to November 2005, he worked as a news editor at the Channel One Baltic.
His professional achievements were distinguished by the Cicero Award established by the University of Latvia and the Latvian Associations of Journalists.
Ušakovs and sport
In high school, the future mayor of Riga was engaged in boxing, and later became interested in jogging and cycling. Against this background, a complete surprise was the incident that occurred in May 2011. Ušakovs lost consciousness during participation in Riga marathon at distance of 21 km.
For several days he was in a state of drug-induced coma. Doctors diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis.
Fines for ''language''
Latvian State Language Centre (VVC) has repeatedly tried to impose on Ušakovs a fine for violation of the law on state language. Last time, VVC imposed a fine of €50 on April 26 for an informal conversation with school students in Russian. VVC tried to punish Ušakovs for the breach of the law on state language also in 2015 and 2016.
At the moment, the Russian language has no official status Latvia. Meanwhile, Russian is the second most common language in the country. According to the 2011 census, it is spoken at home by 37,5% of the population.
A cat embarrassing situation
The mayor of Riga is also famous for his love of cats. In the city hall there reside two ''official cats of the city'' — Kuzya and Muris. Ušakovs took both of them from the animal shelter.
But a cute embarrassing situation that occurred in live is connected with other animal — Dumka, who jumped on the table while the mayor was giving an interview devoted to the repair of city roads.
Due to this incident, the cat Dumka became famous around the world. Many media wrote about this — from USA Today and Washington Post to portals on Chinese language, news websites of Mexico, Turkey, Malaysia, Spanish-speaking countries in South America.
Ušakovs and a selfie with an American tank
In March 2015, Ušakovs published on Twitter a selfie in the background the American tank M1A2 Abrams, delivered to the port of the Latvian capital from the United States along with other military equipment. The official wrote in his account that his week started ''non-traditionally''.
The batch of weapons was delivered to Riga within the framework of the mission ''Atlantic determination''. Local media noted that the equipment ''will create a united front against the aggression in Ukraine.''
On 22 April 2016, Ušakovs posted on Facebook a caricature associated with the statement of Ruta Pazdere (representative of the ''Commission to Study the Occupation'' to seek restitution and damages for the «Soviet occupation» of Latvia – editor's note) to calculate how much money Russia owes Latvia due to ''occupation''. In the picture, the cyclist breaks the wheel and demands compensation from Russia. The clerk considered the satirical picture as making fun of the history of the country and threatened the mayor prison.
Ušakovs explained the caricature by the fact that it is a mistake to write off all the problems of the last 25 years on difficult historical heritage.
Ušakovs and ''Crimean scenario''
With the beginning of the Crimean events, part of Latvian right-wing politicians began to blame Harmony Centre headed by Ušakovs for presence of the cooperation agreement with the United Russia Party and to demand Ušakovs with his colleagues to publicly condemn the actions of the Russian Federation. The radicals even began to talk seriously about the likelihood of a Crimean scenario in Riga.
In 2014, Ušakovs gave an interview to tvnet.lv, at which he stated that ''the Ukrainian government has come to power through armed revolution. Whether it will be called revolution or coup — we'll see.''
Ušakovs also reminded that the alliance Harmony Centre advocated in 2007 for signing of a border treaty with Russia and for territorial integrity of Ukraine, as ''any such changes is fraught with unpredictable consequences''. 'There are a lot of questions to the referendum in Crimea, but if the number of voters for joining Russia is not even 97%, it is still obvious they were the majority,'' he said.
Slackening of positions
However, the chair of the mayor Ušakovs (political alliance Harmony Cente – editor's note) before the upcoming elections is not as strong as 4 years ago, analysts say.
A political scientist Ivars Ijabs also believes that Harmony Centre was able to gather Russian-speaking voters, however, the Latvians, who previously supported the Riga mayor, can start treating him cautiously. In 2013, there were no military operations in Ukraine and Russia did not take Crimea. According to Latvian political analysts, the situation with the peninsula has the impact on the Latvian voter, therefore Ušakovs cannot let himself relax in this election.
Ijabs believes that a fall in rankings of Harmony is not particularly large, but it is not obvious that they will grow.
Tatars in Riga and the first ''eurosabantuy''
In the course of negotiations with the leadership of Tatarstan in October 2016, where they discussed an opening of the flight between Latvia and the capital of Tatarstan, Ušakovs said that many Tatars live in Riga, and that it hosted the first European Sabantuy.
Ušakovs, speaking of Kazan, noted that ''he heard a lot about the city <...> saw pictures, wanted to visit but he has not done it yet''. Maybe it's a reason why the mayor of Riga was one of the first passengers of the new flight airBaltic.
By the way, on Ušakovs's Facebook page there has already been posted a picture taken from a plane at the airport of Kazan. ''The first flight Riga-Kazan is opened. Departed at 23.30 and at 1.30 we were already solemnly met at the gangway,'' he writes.