Latvia Bars Candidates With a Communist Past From Elections

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Latvia Bars Candidates With a Communist Past From
Elections

Latvia’s Central Election Committee last week
registered 20 political parties or unions eligible to run for seats
in parliamentary elections in the fall. It also struck two people
off the candidate lists. The first one, Tatjana Zdanoka–one of the
leaders of the political union For Human Rights in a United Latvia
(PCTVL)–was taken off the list because of her “communist past.”
The other, social democratic parliamentarian Janis Adamsons, is a
former border guard for the Soviet KGB.

According to Latvian election laws, anyone who
after 13 January 1991 was a member of organizations that are now
banned in Latvia is not eligible for election to the Saeima
(parliament) or for elected municipal positions. The list includes
members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the
Communist Party of Latvia–movements that actively opposed Latvia’s
independence after it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991.

In addition, anyone who belongs or did belong to
the staff of the state security, intelligence, or
counterintelligence services of the Soviet Union, the Latvian
Soviet Socialist Republic, or any other country is also denied the
chance to run for those offices. Secret service files are not open
to the public, but a special documentation center must inform the
Central Election Committee if a person included in the
parliamentary election list is in the files. The allegation then
has to be proven in court.

In 1998, the so-called “iron lady of the
opposition,” Zdanoka–then an elected member of the Riga City
Council–shocked the nation by saying she would not participate in
Saeima elections because of her “communist past.” In 1999, the
Latvian Supreme Court ruled that she had been a member of the
Communist Party after January 13 1991. As a result, Zdanoka was
expelled from Riga municipal government.

The Latvian newspaper Chas reported in August
that Zdanoka did not intend to run for a seat in parliament this
fall but needed additional evidence for her case against Latvia in
the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Zdanoka–who filed a
complaint with the ECHR in 2000–wants to prove that Latvia’s
election laws violate human rights standards. She has also asked
for $50,000 in compensation for the “undemocratic rules.”

Many left-wing politicians share Zdanoka’s view.
PCTVL leader Janis Jurkans told RFE/RL that voters should be able
to make up their own minds. “It is a standard of a democratic state
that voters should have the right to choose. Of course, they have
to know about a candidate’s past, but in the case of Zdanoka and
Adamsons, I think it’s only political revenge,” RFE/ RL quoted
Jurkans as saying. He also said that Latvia will have a difficult
time joining the European Union with its current election laws.

Parties in the governing coalition counter that
no international organizations have called the restrictions unfair
or undemocratic. “There is no need to fear the possible verdict of
the ECHR because Latvia’s legislation has been double-checked,”
Vineta Muizniece, head of the People’s Party faction in parliament,
told TOL. “All of the international observers say that such
restrictions are well-grounded if they are based on the interests
of the state and society, and these restrictions are.” Muizniece,
echoing the beliefs of many other politicians and analysts, charged
that Zdanoka is playing games to damage the image of Latvia
abroad.

In the case of former Interior Minister and
current Social Democratic parliamentarian Janis Adamsons, the court
verdict that determined that he had been a KGB border guard came in
2000. After that, although a vote to expel him from parliament was
initiated, deputies allowed Adamsons keep his mandate.

Juris Bojars, the leader of the same Social
Democratic Party (LSDSP), is another former KGB em ployee. A former
member of Latvia’s Supreme Council–the legislative board of
independent Latvia until the Saeima was re-established–Bojars has
not been eligible to participate in parliamentary elections since
1993. Bojars, however, remains active in politics and has even
worked on the new Latvian Constitution.

In neighboring Estonia, only former agents of
the KGB were ineligible for parliament. However, the restriction
was introduced for the first 10 years of independence and was
removed in 2001. The current election laws of the third Baltic
state, Lithuania, do not include any limitations concerning the KGB
or Communist Party.

But politicians in Riga say that Latvia’s
election laws are necessary to “clean Latvia’s political circles.”
The People’s Party’s Muizniece told TOL, “Such restrictions are
absolutely necessary to diminish the split between Latvia and the
rest of the civilized and democratic world. We won’t be able to
achieve that with the ‘help’ of soviet ideologists or former
activists of the Communist Party or KGB.”

Peter Tabuns, a parliamentarian for the
nationalist party For Fatherland and Freedom (LNNK) said that
“former communists are not excluded from the Saeima; they can run
for a seat in parliament. The ones who cannot are those who were
against Latvia’s independence when it had already been regained.
Those people won’t change. They are communists to the bone!” he
told RFE/ RL.

According to political scientist Janis Ikstens,
the question has a symbolic meaning. “With these restrictions,
Latvia once again is stressing its Soviet occupation,” Ikstens told
TOL, adding that such restrictions are normal in a democratic state
because “democracy has to enjoy the right of self-defense.”

A recent opinion poll, however, shows that
having a communist past is considered mostly irrelevant. “Society
in general is not interested in the political career of a very
limited number of people,” Ikstens told TOL. Iksten contended that
the election laws should remain as they are. “We have been
independent for only 12 years. I really don’t think that Latvia–as
a state that has seen Soviet power–should forget the past so
quickly. I think this is way to learn from the past,” he said.

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