Little Latvia ponders over pomp of a horse guard

May 29th, 2008 - 9:24 am ICT by admin  

By Aleks Tapinsh
Riga, May 29 (DPA) Horses may signify martial valour and pomp, but Latvians wonder whether buying them for the small nation’s military is worth the money. Latvia’s defence ministry is considering purchasing 28 horses for a planned honour guard, using them to greet high-ranking visitors, take part in official ceremonies and even enter sports competitions.

The plan by Defence Minister Vinets Veldre, an equestrian enthusiast who says his goals include restoring military traditions, has provoked some sarcasm and bewilderment in the Baltic nation of 2.3 million.

Even Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis questioned the idea of spending money on horses as the country heads for an economic downturn, tax revenues are falling and the government has to watch its spending.

Buying the horses would cost 100,000 lats ($227,000) from a defence budget of 304 million lats, plus 70,000 lats a year for upkeep.

Experts from Latvia’s armed forces will evaluate the possibility of creating an honour guard, Defence Ministry spokesman Kaspars Odins told DPA. It may take them one year to make a recommendation.

Veldre plans to create the equestrian honour guard to emulate big countries such as the US, Germany, Britain and Sweden. The price tag per horse is below market rates, according to people in the horse business.

“Minister Veldre is smart. A horse costs as much as someone pays for it, not how much is being asked. It’s a shame that with such wisdom he is not economics or finance minister,” commentator Karlis Streips said on his online blog at the Diena daily.

An unnamed Latvian military officer ridiculed the idea when it first surfaced in the media in January.

“This will turn us into a laughing stock,” the Latvijas Avize newspaper quoted the office as saying. “We don’t have jeeps for Afghanistan because they’re ‘too expensive,’ but we can afford to buy horses.”

Latvia has about 100 soldiers in the NATO-led security force in Afghanistan.

Speaking to Diena last week, Godmanis said a better use of resources would be improving soldiers’ equipment, “especially those who serve in peacekeeping missions abroad to guarantee their safety”.

Ordinary Latvians don’t seem to understand the proposed expense either.

“We would be better off buying donkeys,” Arvids, a man waiting at a bus stop in the capital Riga, told a reporter. “They would be cheaper, look more stylish, and you would only need thistles to feed them.”

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