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Return of the Deficit in Latvia? 0

As it decides on extending the injunction against former checkists running for election, the Saeima (Parliament) cannot be allowed to forget that it is up to voters to judge the personal histories of the people that will represent their interests, especially when potential threats to the interests of the state can be countered without impinging on the voters’ right to free choice

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The ten-year period during which a judge could establish whether a person collaborated with the KGB and during which such people could be barred from running for office or assuming various positions in government institutions ends on 3 June 2004. The Saeima’s (Parliament’s) Legal Commission has agreed to extend this injunction for another 10 years. Thus, our politicians are ready, against that which has been declared in our foreign policy, to demonstrate to the world just how unstable and underdeveloped the democratic order in Latvia really is as it can still be threatened by former chekists (members of the KGB).

Without going into all of the criteria that stem from our Satversme (Constitution) and international agreements on human rights, I will consider two main principles that must guide any legal analysis of restrictions on voting rights. That is, any restriction must have a legitimate aim and the restriction must be proportional to this aim.

In 2000, the Constitutional Court ruled that the aim of such a restriction “is to protect the national democratic order, national security and Latvia’s territorial integrity.” [1] Thus, the aim is to prevent former KGB members from engaging in activities harmful to the interests of the renewed Latvian state. If, during the initial process of renewing this state, barring former KGB members from running for office could be seen as a proportional means of strengthening democracy, then, as Latvia is about to become a member of NATO and the European Union, this does not seem proportional. The aims mentioned above can be achieved through methods that do not fully destroy the right these people must have to run for election. For example, the electorate could be informed of the name of a former KGB operative running for office, which would most likely reduce this person’s popularity. This person could be denied access to state secrets, thus limiting his or her ability to work on any Saeima commissions that are involved with issues of national security. Apart from this, the system of elections in Latvia should be taken into account. This system submits the representatives of the people to the discipline of specific parties and does not allow for sabotage. In the end, we cannot forget that we are talking about voting rights and that the voter has the final say in deciding on the personal history of the person that will be elected to represent his or her interests. The representatives that have already been elected cannot decide for voters when any potential threat to the interests of the state can be countered without impinging on the voters’ right to free choice.

It is possible that there are reasonable arguments for lengthening the restrictions on former KGB operatives assuming specific positions in the national administration. But, these have not been put forth. Up until now, there has been no answer to the questions: what threat could former KGB operatives pose to Latvia’s national security today and why can’t any potential threats, if they do exist, be countered with methods that would not completely liquidate the rights these people have. After receiving answers to these questions, we could discuss just how reasonable this injunction against assuming specific offices in administrative institutions really is.

The discussion on limiting the right of former KGB operatives to run for office is often linked to the injunction against those people that were involved in organizations that worked against the renewal of Latvia’s independence after 13 January 1991. If the limitations on the ability of these people to run for office are left in force for another 10 years without any well-based legal arguments being presented, then, with the passage of time, these limitations could turn into a form of discrimination against people on the basis of their personal political convictions.

First of all, it must be concluded that the point of reference in Latvia for evaluating limitations on the rights of these groups of people is different than the point of reference dictated by international human rights standards. If our point of reference includes fifty years of occupation, historical justice and moral considerations, then human rights takes as a starting point the democratic state that considers tolerance even for views odious to the majority an inseparable part of itself.

Second, it must be concluded that political considerations are being favored over legal arguments, including the principle of legal certainty, which gave former KGB operatives the right to expect that their former connection with the KGB would no longer influence their legal status after 2004. It seems as if legal arguments are not being sought out and considered. If that is being done on purpose, then this is a dangerous symptom.

However, we must hope that 2004 could still see the full maturation of Latvian democracy and not a demonstration of its deficits when politically difficult but legally-based decisions are made.

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[1] On 30 August 2003, the Constitutional Court, with a one vote majority, ruled that limitations on the rights of former KGB operatives and people who were involved in organizations that worked against the renewal of Latvia’s independence after 13 January 1991 to run for office do not conflict with the Satversme; but, it also ruled that these limitations cannot continue indefinitely.

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