Responsible politicians keep their promises

  • 2004-09-09
The National Harmony Party, a core left-wing force in Latvia's Parliament that manages to unite both ethnic Latvians and Russians, decided this week to petition lawmakers to dump the ruling minority coalition of Prime Minister Indulis Emsis. Right-wing forces in opposition, however, appear unwilling to take the bait, as they do not want to be dragged into the Harmony Party's own interests. Boris Cilevics, the party's erudite co-founder, spoke candidly about the education reform protests, this week's deportation and party politics.

Why wasn't Shtab able to bring the same number of people out on Sept. 1 as it had during previous rallies?
That is a PR myth 's that this time there were less people 's not at all. It's unfortunate that the usual practice, of the government and the ruling parties, is to turn to propaganda. They want very much to see this as the case, but it's not. I can't say the number of people was much less. This time the organizers put great emphasis on the participation of adults, not only children. This is why it seemed like the number of people was less, but if you take just adults I believe the numbers were larger than previous demonstrations.

Your party has been involved with trying to find a legal way to stop the education reform. Will you turn to the European Court of Human Rights if you continue to be unsuccessful at home?
There is some important case law in the European court of law, and this case is much more complicated than our previous case against restrictions of private broadcasting in minority languages. In this case the margin of appreciation is much lower, international experience is much less, and basically it's quite difficult to resolve this type of issue in a purely legalistic way. A bit of political will is necessary, and so far the government has concentrated on propaganda efforts.
I believe these clips on TV aimed at, let's say, explaining the essence of the education reform, have increased substantially the number of protesters, because no one knows the situation of the reform better than the parents themselves. And when someone who has very marginal knowledge about the situation tries to teach them about what is good and what is not, it's counterproductive. I believe this is the core of the problem.
Sept. 1 is just a symbolic date, the reform already began some time ago, and it is not going to finish today or tomorrow. In primary schools, in order to meet this language proportion, the number of classes has increased substantially, and a number of parents see that it has a very adverse impact on the level of knowledge of their children. This is why the number of protesters grows.
The most precious thing is the future of my children, and it's completely disregarded by the government 's which claims that all opponents of the reform are either conscious enemies of the Latvian state, who just try to destroy the Latvian language, or they are stupid people who follow Moscow propaganda. This is the worst approach to handle the problem, and just creates radicalization.

Why did your party decide to try to bring down this government?
Because the prime minister and the government did not keep their promises. We always tried to find a good compromise, and we supported the special law on minority schools, which would not contradict with the general idea of bilingual education, but which would have set some specific requirements for minority schools. The majority of parents would decide whether these schools would become a minority school. Sept. 1 was the last deadline we set for the government. We can't wait for a year or so. Responsible politicians keep their promises, or they don't make promises.

Are there problems also within the National Harmony Party?
Every party has its own problems, and, of course, we are no exception. The fact that we didn't manage to get a seat in the European Parliament is a very good manifestation of this. When there is no harmony in society it is very difficult to imagine that the Harmony Party could expect to gain political results.
There were rumors at one time, perhaps still true, that you were thinking of creating your own political party?
No, there is always some milieu around politics. It's true that during the last year-and-a-half I had my own opinion on some strategic and tactical issues, which was different from my colleagues in the party. First of all, I was against the split from For Human Rights in a United Latvia 's now, in fact, it seems to show that I was right. None of the anticipated gains came: We are not a part of the government, we have little influence, and our faction in Parliament diminished from 18 MPs to nine at the moment. What's even worse was that our former partners in this coalition are developing as just a Russian ethnic party. Some of our former colleagues are showing clear signs of Russian nationalism 's which is on the one hand a response to Latvian nationalism.
I believe this is wrong, this ethnic division in politics is the worst scenario we can see here, and our presence in this coalition was a kind of deterrence. And now when there is no interaction in the coalition, it's a loss for everyone.

Will we see a government in the near future that takes a party like yours into a coalition, one that takes into account ethnic Russians' interests?
I believe that the first thing any responsible government should do is ensure real effective equality. It is a very bad sign that Latvia has not ratified the Framework Convention on National Minorities. Whether the Russian minority will participate in this state government, this is the only way. I remember a recent American president saying that my government will look like America. The Latvian government should look like Latvia, both in terms of gender and native language, and of course it'll take time. Because the only alternative will be to build a segregated society, a two community state. In some countries it works, like Belgium, [but] I very much hope we avoid this scenario.

What did you think of the recent deportation of Alexander Kazakov?
From the legal point of view, from what I know now it was done in quite clear violation of Latvian law and our international obligations. My predication is that this is the next case that we're going to lose in the European Court of Human Rights. Someone who was born and spent all of his life in Latvia but took Russian citizenship 's to be deported without any prior warnings. And without recorded violations, or fines 's it's more than suspicious.
It has made huge publicity for Kazakov 's he is on TV, he's everywhere. Now he can be in Moscow and be in the media much more than when he was in Latvia. It was simply stupid. In my first reaction to this event, I recalled the words of Anna Akhmatova, when Josef Brodsky was detained during the Soviet period, she said "They make a good biography for this guy."

Interview by Aaron Eglitis.