'New Latvia' plan on Fiji island stirs social media

Take note – story published 1 year ago

In recent months, social media has been stirring over a call to build a 'New Latvia' or 'Jaunlatvija' on a Fijian island, where Latvians are encouraged to buy a plot of land, move over and establish a 'private country'. Latvian Television's (LTV) broadcast 4. studija, aired February 12, attempted to figure out what the crackpot-sounding scheme is all about.

On social networks, Jaunlatvija is presenting itself as a political organization. The makers of Jaunlatvija argue that the media tries to denigrate this “noble project that unites the whole nation of Latvians” (see the word 'crackpot' above) in a variety of ways, as well as “spreads a lot of disinformation”. However, they gave no response to LTV's requests for an interview.

“It will be different from our usual world – architecture, interior, politics, environment, plants, animals, humans, attitudes, religion. The country will be governed by a zero-waste lifestyle. All the choices will be based on sustainability, which will allow us to build our future carefully – exactly as we want to see it,” the makers of Jaunlatvija have stated.

The island in question is identified as Vatu Vara, described on a German specialist real estate website as "a stunning unspoiled 1,200 acre freehold island covered in overgrown forest over karst limestone, with a prominent vertical 1,000 ft summit... This is the jewel in the crown and arguably the most beautiful island in Fiji." The site lists the freehold purchase price for Vatu Vara as 70 million dollars (plus 3 million for a plane), or you can opt for a value package including all the surrounding islands for a mere 155 million dollars. 

The Jaunlatvija project states that "The required amount is 55 million". Unfortunately the currency is not specified, but it does suggest some hard bargaining might be necessary. 

"We are planning to open a PRIVATE COUNTRY – yes, private! It is certainly difficult for many to imagine how this can be done, but in fact we know well, but we do not see - private countries are not rare, only all this is masked under a well-hidden veil of politics, giving people the impression that they live in a democratic, free country," its says on the project's Facebook page.

"American, European dictators do not want such projects, these projects are vitally dangerous for the EU USA, because they can show how well people can live on a fantastic island surrounded by other built-up islands and successful countries like Australia, New Zealand," it is stated. Quite what the attitude of Fiji is to the prospect of part of its territory becoming a 'private country' is not dwelt upon. According to a timeline on the Jaunlatvija website, autonomous status will be achieved in 2026 and an "independent state" some time between 2029 and 2031.

'Jaunlatvija' independence timeline
'Jaunlatvija' independence timeline

4. studija was interested in basic needs rather than lifestyle choices and conspiracy theories: roads, electricity, medicine, firefighters, police, schools, kindergarten, work, and shops with everyday goods. The project website promises the utopian community will be "pet friendly", "vegan friendly" and will have a "highest level educational system" using such teaching methods as "Montessori, Finnish, audio, visual, 3D etc."

Since the representatives of Jaunlatvija won't communicate, the broadcast sought the opinion of real estate and investment experts.

“Opening the homepage we see – becoming one of the supporters of Jaunlatvija – there is an option to donate or invest. What does it mean to donate and what does it mean to invest? If someone is very willing to donate to someone, of course, it can always be done, but it is up to them to take responsibility and understand the consequences of the donation. You really want to separate from this money forever,” said Mārīte Lipša, head of the Latio real estate company's legal branch.

The Latvian central bank (Latvijas Banka) is also fairly skeptical about such a financial contribution.

"In this case, we see many signs of fraud, and we do not see the fact that the citizen who carried out this transaction is actually protected in some way; this transaction may not take place, and it may not be received," said Aija Brikše, Head of the Bank of Latvia's Financial Skills Division. “Thus, of course, we are asking citizens not to engage in such business in any way, where it is not entirely clear that there is something that protects them.” 

Latvian Radio also reported earlier on the signs of possible fraud in the whole affair. At the time, finance expert Andrejs Martinovs said that the attempts to raise 'investments' by Jaunlatvija is an action that requires authorization, which has not been granted by the Bank of Latvia.

Though they are eager to receive donations and 'investments', the Jaunlatvija makers promise there will be no traditional money on the island, only cryptocurrency. But from the website, it is not clear whether there even will be access to the Internet, except that the island has a 'Stralink' [sic] connection. Jaunlatvija promises that a land plot would cost about 1,500 euros whereas a micro-house would be EUR 2,800 plus a setup fee of EUR 500, though it is unclear how it would be paid and to whom. 

There are communities created by citizens of one country in another country. However, unlike the Jaunlatvija offer, the existing ones are within the European Union, where they can be legally protected and where civilization and infrastructure already exist.

“They choose mostly warm places, and then there the entrepreneurs establish their so-called communes, where the tourists come. In Mallorca and the Canary islands, Germans have established such enclaves with their hotels and entrepreneurs. And there, when you go to Spain, you can feel almost at home, because both the pub and the hotel will talk to you in German,” said Aivars Mackevics, director of the portal Travelnews.lv.

He continued: "First of all, this is somewhere very far and unknown. Also from legal practice, it is best to see such warm places here in the European Union. And here are we have the same Canary Islands, Madeira. So there are places where very many Latvians currently choose their places to spend the winter, and there you are legally protected. The second thing is always accessibility, and in this case, we do not have a direct trip to this Fiji Island. Somewhere far, somewhere, almost need a spaceship to go there. It's not wise."

Finally, another important fact has to be taken into account – the company involved in promoting 'New Latvia' is not a Latvian company. Nor is it a company registered in Fiji. It is certainly registered in a group of islands, but they are far from tropical, namely, the United Kingdom.

The company is called 'Country 2.0 Limited' (in English, not Latvian) and is registered at an address in central London that is also the address of a company formation bureau, suggesting it is likely just a mailbox address. The company was incorporated in July 2022 by Latvian citizen Andris Bruveris, who is listed as director and secretary, stated as resident in the United Kingdom, with capital worth precisely one British pound, leaving at least 50 million still to go to buy the island. An 'Andris Bruveris' who was born in the same month as the one listed for Country 2.0 is listed as director of two building companies in Derby, England according to UK company records. 

“This company is established in the United Kingdom, it is not the European Union, it is considered to be a third country with regard to Latvia [..] It's a completely different jurisdiction,” said Lipša.

The author of the idea of Jaunlatvija is Ernests Rieksts. If his name seems familiar it is because he is accused in the case of the illegal hostel fire on Merķeļa Street in 2021, in which several people died. At the time Rieksts also had links to an attempt to create a new social network for conspiracy theorists, though it appeared to have had very little success. His current entanglements may at least partially explain the fervent desire to disappear to a distant tropical island with its own jurisdiction.

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