The Saeima's recent decision to open the KGB files and extend the ban on former members of the KGB was only partly surprising. The decision found its motivation in an unholy alliance of electoral politics and national tragedy, though the former has unfortunately played the dominant role.
Faced with the challenge of the upcoming European Parliament elections, right-wing parties, disturbed by the recent rise of leftist forces, are clamoring for any ammunition that will help them gain the attention of the nationalist minded electorate and at the same time deal a deathblow to the left, which has its own high hopes for the June 12 election.
But once again, in their haste Latvian legislators passed a poorly written law. Indeed, many members of Parliament were reportedly unsure of what the law implied. Fortunately, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga returned it despite the overwhelming support it had received. Common sense prevailed over political capriciousness.
The law, which will probably be passed, will finally open up the KGB archives, a set of incomplete files left behind by the repressive security agency. Yet the worst crimes committed by the KGB, during the partisan war in the 1940s and 1950s, were ferreted away to Moscow and are unlikely to ever see the light of day. But while Lithuania and Estonia had the courage to open up their KGB materials, Latvia has been reluctant to do so. Many people are justly concerned about the effects opening the thousands of files could have on society. Others say that the enemies put the files together and therefore cannot be trusted.
The president was also right to return the law considering the double punishment of opening the files and extending the ban on former members of the KGB and communists who were active after Jan. 13, 1991, a ban which is due to expire on June 3. This time, however, the ban only applied to the KGB, so many lawmakers apparently decided that the communists who worked against independence have served their time. On the other hand, perhaps reluctance in this area was linked to Tatyana Zhdanok's upcoming case before the European Court of Human Rights: no one wants to pass a law that may be overturned months later.
Granted, the initial ban was understandable for reasons of national security, as in the wreckage of Soviet communism many feared undue influence from the East through former members of its security apparatus. But now Latvia is a free and an independent country, a member of NATO and the EU, and security, while still a concern, is no longer in grave peril.
Working or informing for the KGB should not equal life long abrogation of political rights, unless it can be proved in a court of law that they have engaged in repressive political acts.
As far as the files, they should be opened. However, an examination by experts and explanatory data should be contingent upon release, so that Latvia can finally begin to address the ruinous period of Soviet rule. If the archives are made public, they will likely end many political careers, but this is the price of truth - which, like any other virtue, requires sacrifice.