Kirsteins survives vote, but doesn't escape criticism

  • 2005-03-23
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - Aleksandrs Kirsteins, the embattled chair of Parliament's foreign affairs committee, easily survived a vote of no-confidence when 53 members of Parliament opposed his removal. Only 16 MPs supported the initiative.

The vote was initiated at the behest of Janis Jurkans of the opposition National Harmony Party, who took issue with an interview Kirsteins gave to Latvijas Avize early in the month.

The newspaper quoted Kirsteins as saying that an agreement should be signed with Russia, similar to the one Latvia signed with Nazi Germany for the repatriation of Baltic Germans shortly before the Soviet invasion of 1940.

The interview, which discussed the assimilation and repatriation of some of the native Russian speaking minority, also drew the ire of Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, both from the same party.

On March 22, the commentary page in Latvijas Avize voiced full support of Kirsteins, when columnist Voldemars Krustins wrote a column titled "The burning of the heretic Aleksandrs," in which he said, "deputy A. Kirsteins is worried about the possible consequences of mass naturalization, something that has already been felt."

Krustins went on to pillory Kirsteins' critics, and worried about the possibility that Riga may be lost forever to the native Russian speakers as naturalization continues. He argued that such a process could erode the majority that ethnic Latvians currently enjoy in the capital.

In the same issue Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, also of the People's Party, assertively argued that Kirsteins' statements had negatively affected relations with representatives of some foreign embassies.

"Kirsteins has at times expressed rhetorical epitaphs, comparisons and radical opinions," Pabriks said, adding that these opinions were not shared by the president, prime minister or foreign minister.

Public rebukes from fellow party members may signal overall displeasure with Kirsteins' statements, and possibly even a warning. His statements are expected to be discussed in a party meeting next month.

Kirsteins seemed to alter his talk of decolonization, albeit slightly, after meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on March 22. Speaking to journalists afterward, he called for Russia to finance the repatriation of former Soviet military officers, as well as also those who wanted to return home, since it was unlikely that they would ever naturalize. And according to law, some do not even have the opportunity.