RIGA - In a dramatic development, Latvian lawmakers last week overwhelmingly endorsed a law to open the KGB archives to the public, a move that had been debated for years but never resolved. However, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga returned the controversial law, saying it contained contradictions and did not address essential issues such as publication of released information.
In addition to making the copious files part of the public domain, the law also aims to extend the political ban on former KGB members, barring them from holding public office for another 10 years.
Despite the president's reservations, the bill enjoyed widespread support in Parliament, gaining 78 votes in the 100-seat assembly.
The surprise law was passed at a precipitous time - shortly before the country's first European Parliament elections and just weeks before the June 3 expiration of a ban on former members of the KBG and communists after Jan. 13, 1991.
Following the release, Prime Minister Indulis Emsis supported the decision but urged caution due to some of the information's unreliability.
Still, giving the timing, many politicians and analysts openly said the law was mainly due to pre-election maneuvering.
"The decision is due to internal political reasons and the coming Europarliament elections. The initiative by the People's Party surprised nearly everyone," Krisjanis Karins, head of the New Era parliamentary faction, said.
Still, Karins said that he would support an extension of the political ban, though only to those individuals who engaged in political repression and not to many others whose names were found in the files.
The law barring members of the KGB from holding public office was initially created to protect the state from outside interference. A law simultaneously publicizing a link with the KBG and abrogating their right to stand for election is a contradiction to some. But many, including the president, argue that the state no longer needs the protection and should let the voters decide.
"It seems to me that it's like a person is punished once by hanging and simultaneously by shooting, because there is no proportion between those two activities," Vike-Freiberga said in her comment on the law.
"Maybe there are grounds for extending the ban to protect national security, but they have not provided any so far," Martins Mits, lecturer in human rights law at the Riga Graduate School of Law, said.
As far as the KGB files themselves, one of the president's main concerns was the reliability of information left by the Soviet security apparatus, as the most important files were taken to Moscow during the final days of the Soviet Union.
Others have argued that the files were compiled by Latvia's enemies and therefore cannot be completely trusted.
The remaining incomplete archives contain file cards from 1991, of which nearly 85 percent belonged to people not engaged in political activities.
"Out of 24,000 people known as KGB agents in the last 50 years, we have information only on about 4,000," Indulis Zalite, head of the Center for Documenting Totalitarian Consequences, told the Baltic News Service.
Opening the files could have negative consequences for many people who did not participate in political repression, Zalite added.
Some of the names contained in the secret files are there because they revealed activities of organized crime. Indeed, opening these files and publicizing the persons' names could endanger their lives.
The files also contain information on a variety of different people, from full time members of the KGB to scientists who joined in order to attend conferences abroad.
Indeed, the files represent an issue so volatile that for years it was put on the backburner. Two politicians have already seen their political careers all but ruined due to KGB associations. Both Juris Bojars in 1993 and Janis Adamsons in 2000 saw their links to the KGB disqualify them from standing in Parliament. Bojars was a colonel with the KGB and Adamsons worked as a border guard, a position that the KGB controlled at the time.
"This is opening Pandora's box," Janis Jurkans, leader of the center-left National Harmony Party, said.
"We should deposit these files somewhere else for 50 years at least," he said.
Others argue to open the files so that society can finally deal with the past.
"This would be good for society to finally deal with this issue. There is so much speculation as to what is contained in the files," Mits said. "Although, it would have been better to release the information five to seven years earlier."