Sinking into 'dark ages of corruption'

  • 2004-09-02
Einars Repse, former prime minister and current leader of the right-of-center New Era political party, earned his political stars talking tough against corruption, catapulting the young party to the top of the October 2002 parliamentary polls. Once a prominent figure in Latvia's independence movement, he is now in the parliamentary opposition and waging a battle against the government of Prime Minister Indulis Emsis, which at times seems bent on undoing everything the Repse government did during the 16 months it was in power.

What do you think of the recent uproar over Parliamentary Speaker Ingirda Udre replacing Sandra Kalniete as Latvia's representative on the European Commission?
I can say many good words about Sandra Kalniete, but I can say nothing about Ingrida Udre since I don't want to say anything bad about a person.
Sandra Kalniete has been a Latvian politician since the time of independence - that is before the republic regained its independence. She was active in the dark sort of ages as one of the first politicians who risked her personal career for freedom, setting up the Popular Front, which successfully assisted in the regaining of independence, rebuilding our statehood, winning the first, and then the next elections, et cetera.
She has since then devoted herself to diplomatic work, so she has lots of experience in diplomacy, especially in European matters. She speaks several foreign languages and is acquainted with people and procedures. She is one of the most natural choices for our country. I, as the prime minister, had to make this decision, but it was rather straightforward and easy. I considered many candidates, but I chose Sandra Kalniete. It was well publicized and was hardly questioned by anyone - it had wide public support.
So [Kalniete's candidacy was dropped] at a time when Latvia had to strengthen its position to well establish itself [in Europe], just because someone wanted the chair for herself and has a buddy from her party serving as prime minister.
I would have respected Udre if she simply had rejected the offer. But it looks like she really wanted the job, so she made a deal with her colleague [Emsis - ed.].

Do you believe Emsis' explanation last night [Aug. 26] as to why he chose Udre, when he appeared on the television show "Kas noteik Latvija?"
Last night I believe he was simply tragic on the show. The popular vote in favor of Kalniete showed that this government has no support among the people. This government has dedicated itself to ruining everything we started to build - especially honest and transparent state institutions. We started to build them and to teach our state employees and the ministries how to work. Now it's being reversed, and that's the reason why this government is in place. They had to reverse it. The government became literally dangerous for some friends of politicians; it became quite counterproductive to their legitimate business interests - under our government it was increasingly impossible to rob the state and to make it non-transparent.
Of course, this gradually irritated the powerful men - the so-called oligarchs. So what we see now is a reaction from not only those persons assigned to certain posts but also from those who were not picked by us and are simply showing their true and honest attitude toward work. They are now pressured by the threat of losing their jobs.
The country is being driven back into the dark ages of corruption with bad policies. The people feel it; they feel it despite the rhetoric of leading politicians and their attempts to distribute certain budget donations to charities, schools, churches and other populist measures.
You remember the case with the corruption prevention chief - former acting chief Juta Strike - who was well supported by the people. Nevertheless the ruling government dismissed her from the post and approved another, one who they believed would be more accommodating.
The [anti-corruption] tendency was quite vocal and outspoken, and now the ruling regime simply disregards these popular attitudes. They think that since there are no elections right now they can disregard what the people think altogether. Ms. Udre, who is now our candidate for commissioner - her party did not get a single seat in the European Parliament! The whole ruling coalition hardly got a seat in the Europarliament. And the next elections will be just municipal ones [in 2005], with the parliamentary ones two years later.

Will your party be able to form a government with the People's Party? Talks have been going on for weeks now.
We have offered this opportunity to the People's Party. We have no problematic disagreements, but we have perhaps very serious disagreements on certain issues, like transparency and the fight against corruption. The reputation of the People's Party is not quite unblemished, and currently they have to decide if they want to form a government with us. [If they do] they will make themselves much more popular with the people and perhaps regain some of their lost glamor.
At the same time they understand that together with us many things that are possible in Emsis' government would no longer be possible, and here I am, of course, referring to the never publicized interests of parties', the dark side of the business. And it's now very difficult to predict which side of the People's Party will prevail.
Honestly, we and other opposition parties - we could make a right-wing government without any problems. But in their attitudes toward transparency and governance principals, [the People's Party] is much closer to Latvia's First Party, the Greens and Farmers' Union and other governing parties.

What did you think of Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons' statements about both Delna, that they are going to examine the organization, and George Soros, a sort of hidden power behind Transparency International?
Well, I haven't paid too much attention to his statements, but again, it's highly unacceptable that the police, and especially the secret police, start repressing and investigating a nongovernmental organization that expresses opinions different from the government. It's unacceptable that the interior minister finds it necessary to open an investigation using secret means of surveillance against a nongovernmental organization that does not do anything illegal - and which is registered - and there is [nothing concrete] that something illegal is behind them, like Mafia-money or foreign intelligence services money, nothing like that. They simply expressed views contradictory to the views of the government.
By the way, [the NGOs] expressed the view shared by most of the people, and ordering the investigation and surveillance by the secret police, which is designed to fight foreign intelligence and organized crime is grotesque, unacceptable and shows the attitude of this government. o

Interview by Aaron Eglitis