After the arrest of Aivars Lembergs, the green farmers will never, ever be the same.
The novel Zaļā zeme (The Green Land) by Andrejs Upitis is usually considered to be one of the most tedious works of literature in all of Latvian history. No matter what we can say about the heirs to that name in Latvian politics, the Alliance of the Green Party and Farmers Union (ZZS), this party has certainly not been a source of boredom in recent times. Without even talking about public opinion, which has been roiled up for some time now by the arrest of the party’s candidate for prime minister [Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs], we can say that the presence of the ZZS in the governing coalition may largely determine the future and the political direction of this government. That is true even if Aigars Kalvitis [the prime minister] continues to claim in his typical naively cynical manner that the arrested member of the Coalition Council had nothing to do with the decisions that the Council has taken.
After the arrest of Lembergs, the green farmers will never, ever be the same. That, in turn, could have a key effect on the future of the current coalition even if the best scenario for the Kalvitis government comes to pass, namely, the government manages to prevent a referendum on the amendments to Latvia’s national security laws it passed earlier this year, if the sluggishness of the New Era does not allow it to play the card of collecting petition signatures that was given to it by the president [Vaira Vike-Freiberga], if the Saeima is not dissolved, and if the bomb of scholarship receivers remains unexploded at least for some time.
To be sure, the influence of the owner of Ventspils did not appear in Latvian party politics along with the establishment of the ZZS. We may recall the 7th Saeima [elected in 1998]. The ZZS did not exist, but Lembergs’ shadow covered two-and-a-half parliamentary factions. Still, it was the ZZS which was the very first to identify itself publicly with Lembergs, thus linking itself to his political fate, for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. This fundamentally sets the ZZS apart from other parties in Latvia, which had links to the minority shareholder in Ventspils businesses in the past and for which these links were seen by the public as something that went without saying — I refer to the Social Democrats, to TB/LNNK [For the Fatherland and Freedom/Latvian National Independence Movement] and, in part, also Latvia’s Way. These close public links are what make me wonder about the development of the ZZS if Lembergs ends up being convicted. After all, this is a party with 18 seats in the Saeima, it holds five ministerial portfolios and has a great deal of influence in certain areas of governance, particularly in agriculture. This makes one think. Before we predict the future of ZZS development, however, we must take a brief look at its past, at the profile this political force has represented in Latvia’s political life.
The ZZS appeared on the political stage as a unified force in 2002, before the 8th Saeima election, along with the New Era and the second political project of Ainars Slesers, the First Party of Latvia. Unlike these two parties, however, the ZZS could not present itself as anything really new. The Farmers Union and the Latvian Green Party had been part of other alliances of tiny parties in the past, and it they had been represented not only in the 6th Saeima, but also in several governments. The godfather and supporter of the alliance, to be sure, lived in Ventspils. When the emperor called his forces into battle, there were others who were added to the mix, Ingrida Udre, the beautiful woman who had experienced a few things in politics, as well as former Prime Minister and anti-Skele activist Vilis Kristopans. The die was cast, move forward, oh storm!
If we view the ZZS from the ideological perspective, it quickly becomes clear that we cannot speak of any consistently formulated ideological direction. Since the 8th Saeima election [in 2002], the party’s program has changed. The party first tried out Euroskepticism to fish for the votes of farmers, but now it is all ready to integrate into the EU. Now it demands that law enforcement institutions not be politicized — whose heart could be warmed by such a suggestion? All in all, the ZZS program contains universally useful and fully harmless suggestions — all of the best for everyone and as much as possible.
We all know that politics in Latvia are highly personal, and voters are attracted through well known faces, not ideas. The ZZS is not different from other right wing parties in this regard. The alliance has all three kinds of politicians of which Latvia has become accustomed. There are public figures such as Indulis Emsis and Martins Roze. Despite all of the ideological oddities of their party, they have done practical work and have earned certain sympathies as a result of this. There is a warrior of the [Juris] Dobelis and [Vladimirs] Buzajevs type — Leopolds Ozolins, who battles against gays and tries to regain Abrene. And then there is a big group of loyal and usually silent rank-and-file MPs who earn their wages by pushing voting buttons as agreed. This latter group of ZZS people has earned respect for its Zigerists-type scope. Who before the omniscient mayor of Ventspils could ever have believed that common goals in politics are held by the ethnic Russian weightlifter Viktors Scerbatihs, the ultranationalist Legionnaire Visvaldis Lacis, and the animal tamer from the Riga Zoo — Ingmars Lidaka. Who other than Lembergs would have thought that Dainis Porgants, known for performing the role of Skaidrite Kranina on television was dreaming to talk about politics together with Aleksandrs Kirsteins and Inara Ostrovska? The latter three did not manage to get elected to Parliament, but they do demonstrate the approach of the ZZS to its personnel list. True, one cannot really quarrel with the party — after all, this is one way of looking at how government can be closer to the people. Still, the overall result is that the alliance increasingly resembles a flea market. MPs have nothing more in common than the passengers of a single flight on an airplane.
There is not room here to remind you of all of the ZZS achievements during the party’s parliamentary career. The golden fund of examples will include the donation scandal of [Ingrida] Udre and her brash campaign to become European commissioner. There was the intense attempt to elect Juris Reksna as director of the KNAB [Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau] and Zaiga Vrublevska as member of the Constitutional Court. The ZZS has been pragmatic about relations with Moscow even thought it has also been prepared to work with Everything for Latvia. These and other accomplishments might just as well have been achieved by any of the other parties in the governing coalition at this time. I am sure that the ZZS has done things which are good, practical and useful. Probably some of its successes in the 9th Saeima election [in 2006] can be attributed to brainwashing by newspapers and the people of Ventspils who are suffering from the Stockholm syndrome, but the fact is that some of the support for the party is based on what its ministers in government have been doing.
The best example, of course, is the most popular ZZS candidate in the last election — Agriculture Minister Martins Roze. His activities in relation to the Rural Aid Service could not have been unnoticed among people in the countryside. I could mention others, too, but the question is whether their membership in the ZZS offers any benefits to these activities. I doubt it. It is worth looking at the successful cooperation between the two ministries, which the ZZS governs (the Agriculture Ministry and the Environment Ministry) in terms of the new rural development plan. The Agriculture Ministry and the NGOs, which support it spitefully, have ignored environmental protection requirements (EU financing to preserve biological diversity, for instance), while the Environment Ministry and its related NGOs have desperately been calling for such financing. This disharmony has got to the point where there is the risk that the European Commission might reject the plan when it is completed. What is more, we are definitely not talking about a lack of professionalism among the two ministers. Issues related to environmental protection and farming cannot be merged into a democratic party — not because of abstract ideologies, but because these are two sectors which have objectively opposing interests. This requires not corporative, but political regulation, and that cannot be achieved within a foolishly established Union. The logical question: What exactly holds this peculiar alliance together? The answer is easy — probably is its candidate for prime minister.
To be sure, the issue of the near future of the ZZS can only be guessed at right now. It is not hard to imagine the hopes, which ZZS politicians are nurturing at this time. Full exoneration of Lembergs would be the very best option, of course, but it seems that even within the ZZS, no one really believes that this will happen. ZZS officials have said that they are not rejecting Lembergs, but no matter what that means, the fact is that no one from the ZZS has been singing the accustomed song about the arrest being political or about prosecutors being bought off by George Soros. It also does not seem that the leaders of the ZZS are dreaming about Lembergs being released from prison during the pre-trial investigation period, although in that case, of course, party members could quietly agree with him on testimony about, for instance, the scholarship issue.
It may be that ambitious Lembergs would demand that these politicians stand together with him and smile — as used to be the case at the Open-Air Museum. I doubt whether any even slightly sensible politician would be happy about this. The most desirable scenario would be dragging out the process by Lembergs being sick, by subjecting him to police supervision, by arresting him from time to time, but pursuing endless appeals, by vanished witnesses and so on — that would resemble the best traditions of the Baltija bank. That would provide several benefits for the ZZS. First of all, during this time someone else from the top of the political game could end up in prison, and that would allow the ZZS to talk about politicization of the process with greater safety. Second, the presidency could be taken over by a more understanding person, someone who would make it easier to settle affairs [the term in office of Vaira Vike-Freiberga expires in July of this year]. Third, the unknown result of the game would not allow the members of the alliance to scatter to the winds — after all, the owner may come home someday.
However, the ZZS must also think about the worst-case scenario — Lembergs is convicted quickly, sentenced to a long term in prison, and found guilty of unquestionable crimes. Then there could be problems, oh, yes. If the apostles remain without their savior, then surely we will see a Peter and a Judas among them. The colorful membership of the ZZS could become difficult, and the so-called scholarship recipient case could break that group up to a considerable degree. It may be that a green farmer with a good nose might betray his teacher even before the court ruling is handed down. Confess, Aivars, confess! — that could be shouted from the courtroom in line with the best example set in the past by the former Latvian Communist Party secretary, Augusts Brigmanis. Others would also probably start looking around. The more constructive ZZS people could be tempted by the TP [People’s Party], those who are more flexible on nationalist issues might look at the LPP/LC [First Party of Latvia/Latvia’s Way], and the others could establish a tiny populist faction called National Union of Young Farmers, Green Rebirth or For a Clean Environment in a Latvian Latvia.
All of this joy is still in the future, though. For the time being the ZZS can be certain that sensitive coalition partners will not be posing any uncomfortable questions and Kalvitis, to save his own political hide, will continue to play the fool. But that is only true for the time being.