The 8th Saeima election campaign in Latvia will focus on selection of a “lifestyle”. If we manage to join the West before the new Iron Curtain comes down, then politics will no more than fill the air-time between soap operas. Otherwise we will face the destiny of “Belarussification”.
Since the 6th Saeima election [in 1995] we have grown accustomed to the fact that election campaigns have very little to do with specific political offers. Parties use the Latin concept of “citius, altius, fortius” in feeding various promises to the electorate, suggesting to voters that their political competitors (the “ordinary parties”, in other words) are made up of people who are, at the very least, criminals. The propaganda methods do not differ very much from those that are used for advertisements in which women’s hygienic products and laundry detergent are promoted. Basically the target is the consumer’s subconscious.
The 8th Saeima election campaign, however, may differ. It is expected that Latvia will be invited to join NATO and will complete its membership negotiations with the European Union at the end of 2002, and this means that the self-identification of voters and politicians has become extremely important. The situation can be compared only to the last Supreme Council election in the Latvian SSR in 1990 or to the vote in the popular referendum that was held on March 3, 1991. Irrespective of the results of this year’s election, it will be the last political campaign for a foreseeable future. That is true because:
If the election is won by parties which do not insist on any radical changes in foreign and domestic policy, then we can expect that Latvia will be able to join Western civilization at the last moment, before a new Iron Curtain descends, and politics will no more than fill the air-time between soap operas;
If the opposition – leftists and “rightists” who are comparable to the leftists – come to power, then we will probably face “Belorussification” with all of the related consequences.
In forecasting the strategies that political parties will implement, we feel safe in predicting that the “traditional” rightists (Latvia’s Way, Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, the People’s Party and, perhaps, New Era) will focus on the aforementioned existential choice between the West and the East, trying to discredit the leftists as much as possible. The main battlefield in these attempts to bring down the leftists will probably be the Rīga City Council.
The leftists, for their part, will make use of the ability that they demonstrated in the local government elections to consolidate their forces, and they will seek to mobilize their supporters for the “last battle”. If we can believe the Jamestown Foundation, this election will attract foreign financing of the extent that has never been seen before. The comparisons which Russian President Putin has made between Latvia (the Baltic States) and Macedonia create a series of awkward questions which have become a serious test for the security services that are supervised by our liberal parties.
It is a symptomatic thing that ultra-rightist organizations have been appearing in Latvia in great number over the last six months . If we look at the recent past, we can say with some certainty that the massive appearance of these organizations is the result of things that have been done with substantial purposefulness outside of Latvia. Political structures of this kind are aimed at creating domestic political tensions which, by definition, would affect the election and its results.
The role of the church in political processes in Latvia has not been studied very much. The church was not shy about becoming involved in the 7th Saeima election campaign [in 1998], and we should look carefully at the open participation of the Catholic and Lutheran churches in the activities of marginalized pseudo-nationalists. The clearly expressed desire of the church to dictate terms when public issues are debated suggests that such partnerships are one part of well targeted policies.
Meanwhile, the announced desire of the “fundamentalists” among Latvia’s Social Democrats to restructure the way in which the country is set up is probably nothing more than bait that has been cast before the voters so as to divert attention from the real situation in the country. One can also be worried about things which President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has recently been saying – things which remind us of the statements of the clerics and the reformers of the state.
In summary, we can conclude that the 8th Saeima election campaign will be much more interesting than recent political performances. It may be much more bitter and dangerous for “passers-by”, too.
After all, the battle will be over the selection of a “lifestyle”!