Parliamentary elections in the former Soviet republic of Latvia scheduled for October 5 are to determine Latvia's fate for the next four years. Latvia, where Russians make up about 40% of the population, is to be incorporated into NATO and European Union. One the eve of upcoming elections, PRAVDA.Ru interviewed Russia’s most famous politician of Latvian origin, State Duma Deputy Colonel Viktor Alksnis
You were a strong opponent of the declarations of independence in the Baltic republics from the Soviet Union in the 1980-90s. Do you have a different opinion now?
- I was a strong opponent not only to the independence of Latvia and other Baltic republics, but rather wanted to prevent the break-up of the Soviet Union, our common motherland. Unfortunately, historical developments and global tendencies turned out stronger. It is already impossible to restore the great country and the borders of 1991 or even 1913. We should admit Latvia’s independence as it is, so to say, de-facto.
You and the majority of your Duma colleagues strictly criticized Latvia for systematic violations of the rights of Latvia’s Russian-speaking population. Do you think the situation has changed?
- Human rights in Latvia are still its weak point. The majority of Russians living there still can’t obtain Latvian citizenship. As a result, the number of official outcasts, people having no citizenship, has reached several thousands already. And although the dual nature of the Latvian society is perfectly evident, the nationalists in power still won’t give official status to the Russian language. And what is more absurd, the country in which only 25% of the population speak Latvian is going to abolish education in Russian! Nationalists plan to implement this program already in 2004. However, slight changes for the better can be seen as well. The changes are to some extent connected with the role of Russia’s capital in Latvia. Indeed, all business talks are held there in Russian, and Latvians who don’t speak Russian can’t expect good business promotion. Such is the reality.
Latvia will soon be incorporated into NATO and the European Union. Will it weaken Latvia’s dependence upon Russia and Russian capital?
- As for the military sphere, Latvia has been independent from Russia for eleven years already, and entry into NATO won’t bring any considerable changes. However, Latvia won’t survive without Russia from an economic point of view. Such is the logic of Latvia, a transit country earning its income mostly from the transportation of Russian energy resources and other freight. Incorporation into the European Union, on the contrary, will completely ruin Latvia’s farming and national industry, which has become much weaker after the break-up of the USSR. If Latvia doesn’t wish to die of starvation, it will have to take Moscow into consideration.
Parliamentary elections in Latvia are scheduled for October 5. Are you taking part in the elections?
- I will not participate directly. I have been a Russian politician for a long period already, which is why I’m more concerned about the problems of the Russian electorate. However, being a Latvian myself and after many years in Latvia, I can’t keep aloof from the political events in this country.
Which party do you support at the elections?
- Of course, it is the coalition For Human Rights in United Latvia that is the most adequate political power in the country now. The coalition joins the best, the most forward Latvian politicians, those who have been fighting for human rights and the harmonization of international relations in independent Latvia for ten years already. Alfred Rubiks, the ex-first secretary of the Latvian Communist Central Committee, who spent six years after the break-up of the USSR in jail for his creed, is the key figure in this coalition. Despite all the problems and oppressions, this man is still true to his believes and brothers-in-arms. For instance, last week, the court considered Rubiks’ demand for the abolishment of political sentences. In court, Alfred Rubiks refused to repent and declared once again that he had followed his conscience and duty during the events of 1991. I think that people like him deserve much respect. Another significant figure in the coalition is a famous figure, leader of the Equal Rights Party Tatyana Zhdanok, who has been recently debarred from parliamentary elections for her charismatic character. Yanis Yurkans’ Party of People’s Concord is also a part of the coalition. This party is popular among Russians and Latvians who have supported Latvia’s independence in early 1990s but were later disappointed. As far as I know, the number of Latvians ready to vote for the coalition has recently considerably increased. This is explained by the fact that people are dissatisfied with the results of the social and economic policies carried out by the nationalist parties within several past years. According to different estimates, the coalition For Human Rights in United Latvia may receive up to 20% of the votes, which means 25-27 deputy mandates. It is a very nice chance. However, it is more important to avoid splitting up the coalition.
Do you think the coalition may split?
- It is an open secret that a scenario has been developed, according to which the Party of People’s Concord will leave the coalition and participate in the new government together with three right-wing parties. At that, Yanis Yurkans is to become the second figure in the Latvian Cabinet and Latvia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am sure that if Yurkans ignores monotary temptations and remains in the coalition, the coalition will easily get 3-4 key ministerial posts in the new government, including education and welfare ministries. These are the post which are especially important from the point of view of the Russian-speaking electorate and people who often organize protest actions. If this happens, the elections can be considered a success for the coalition.
What do you think the Kremlin’s line concerning Latvia is?
- It is rather strange. On the one hand, the Russian president's administration responded to our appeals and supported the Coalition For Human Rights. On the other hand, only 10% of resources necessary to protect the rights of Russian-speaking population in Latvia are currently used. Nothing is done at all to protect our old veterans. As it frequently happens, things done for effect substitute actual doings.
Do you think there are new powers in Latvia on which it will be possible to stake in the future?
- Not yet. Latvia, as well as Russia, is experiencing a real waxworks show with a great number of political villains. For instance, let’s remember the so-called First Party, or Party of Priests founded by a man who was recruited by the KGB for being involved in sodomy at the end of the 1980s. The man was so horror-stricken in August of 1991 when the coup happened in the Soviet Union that he even offered compromising materials on all of the National Front leaders. It is loathsome even to talk about such people.
What is you opinion about the intention of composer Reimond Pauls to become Latvia’s president?
- To my mind, when Reimond Pauls entered the People’s Party, he lost more than he obtained. However, Reimond Pauls would be acceptable for both Russians and Latvians as Latvia’s president. To my mind, only a man speaking both languages used by people in a country with two communities can hold the presidential post. I think that Reimond Pauls may become the president of Latvia if the Coalition For Human Rights, the People’s Party, and Latvia’s Way obtain a parliamentary majority.
Do you plan to return to Latvia yourself?
- I don’t want to return as a Latvian politician, as my basic interests are concentrated in Russia nowadays. If constructive forces win the October 5 elections, I will be probably be allowed to enter Latvia and will certainly visit the country. When I left Latvia on October 3, 1992, I was declared persona non-grata there and couldn’t even visit my father’s grave. I would like to visit Yurmala and remember my childhood, because most part of young life was spent there, probably, the best part.
Anna Kolchak PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/10/01/47806.html