For Fatherland and Freedom caught everyone by surprise. Right after agreeing to join the government, where it would have had three ministerial seats, they backed out once it become apparent they would end up with only one. Suddenly in the opposition again, party leaders have painted themselves as the country's true patriots. Maris Grinblats, parliamentary faction head for the party who was at the center of the political tug-of-war, met with The Baltic Times to explain the rationale behind For Fatherland and Freedom's behavior.
Why did your party choose to stay out of the coalition?
We felt that the main goal had been reached, you understand - a broad government has been formed. And we also hope [it is] a long-term one. That was confirmed by the participation of the two largest parties in government, New Era and the People's Party. Furthermore, New Era has the deciding vote, and no decision can be accepted without their support.
We felt that too broad a government would not stick together until the next parliamentary elections. We can also work as a supporting party in opposition.
Is the Framework Convention on National Minorities connected with your decision to stay out of the coalition?
Partly yes. At the same time we won't hide our point of view: We don't see a reason to rush ratification. If Parliament starts discussions we will, of course, actively participate in them. Especially discussions regarding the definition and determination of minorities.
The chairman of your party, Janis Straume, recently said that For Fatherland and Freedom was the only national party in Parliament. Is New Era, your former ally, no longer a national party?
On many questions our party and New Era have a good relationship. We often vote the same way. But I can't say that we agree completely on all questions. For example, on questions about voting rights in the European Parliament election, New Era supported former chekisti and Communist Party employees as candidates, which we did not. These kinds of positions differ from ours.
Your party barely passed the 5 percent barrier in the last parliamentary elections [October 2002] yet was the most successful party in the European Parliament elections. Will you be able to continue this success in the coming local elections?
Local elections will have to be looked at in terms of each city and rural district separately. I don't think I can evaluate them all together. Of course, such good results would be hard to achieve save for a few regions. But the results of the European Parliament elections gave us strong candidates, especially Guntars Krasts, Roberts Zile and Girts Valdis Kristovskis. I predict that our competitiveness could be stronger in this [upcoming] election, especially in Riga. But of course I hope that we at least have better results than in the last parliamentary elections.
What does your party hope to accomplish outside of the coalition?
Outside the coalition? I think that in most situations we support the government and the coalition's position, especially on those questions that concern the budget, greater investment in the health care sector and so forth. We will hold on to our independent voice in those questions where we don't agree with the coalition and where our stance could differ.
We will be, as I already mentioned, a supportive party without feeling obligated to vote for government legislation. And our seven votes in majority situations will only be good for the government. As long as there is no doubtful position, then why wouldn't we support it?
What are the goals of For Fatherland and Freedom now that Latvia has entered the EU and NATO?
Without a doubt they are connected with national security and protection of our national interests. These words in the larger context don't only mean strengthening our language but also Latvia's own economic interests and the promotion of our welfare. Also, the universal development of Latvia's regions - which up to now has not happened. You have to say it's an easily achieved goal.
Will being in the opposition help your party gain more support in the local elections - more so than joining the coalition?
That is difficult to say beforehand. I think that on the smaller scale, in the regional smaller cities at that level, I doubt that [voters] look to see if their party is or isn't in the government. It will partially effect elections in Riga, but not in the rest of the country.
Why is your party opposed to the Framework Convention on National Minorities?
I think that the situation we have today in Latvia is unfortunately due to the years of the Soviet occupation, when a number of immigrants arrived and the Latvian state had no choice - either to agree or disagree. This created definite problems for Latvia and brought about the completion of the state's burdensome education law, as it is now.
At the same time we understand that for now, when discussions about this convention start, we will definitely participate with the goal to make the Framework Convention apply just to those immigrants who have lived in Latvia long term and only in specific regions. But the party still hasn't come to consensus on this specific question.
I personally subscribe to the belief that Ilmars Mezs expressed in a recent newspaper article, which took into account recent demographic issues and separate ethnic groups. That would be a border we could agree to.