• 2005-11-09
For weeks now Latvia's political arena has braced itself for what promises to be a year-long battle featuring the slinging of copious amounts of mud, dirt, filth and other refuse not easily washed off. It is already evident that, not unlike elections in many other civilized democracies, the country's political parties will define their platforms not so much on a certain set of socio-economic policies but on a thick file of accusations targeting rival politicians. Not on substance, but on style. In other words, for the next few months in Latvia, it matters not what you stand for, but whom you stand against.

This was first displayed in July during the public appearance of a small group of homosexual rights activists in downtown Riga. Though all ruling coalition parties spoke out against the innocuous gay-pride parade, Latvia's First Party, a centrist organization that has advertised itself as a moral beacon 's its leadership includes several Lutheran ministers 's was particularly vituperative. Party chief Ainars Slesers suggested that, if allowed to "run free," gays would exacerbate Latvia's declining population crisis. Despite the ridiculousness of the statement, the electorate apparently loved it; anti-gay demonstrators outnumbered the actual parade participants by 20 to one.

The latest party to raise a dubious banner is the Greens and Farmers Union. This week one of the party's leaders, Indulis Emsis, and financial backer, Ventspils chief Aivars Lembergs, suggested that there was an anti-democratic conspiracy at work in Latvia and at its core was currency speculator/philanthropist George Soros, whose foundation provides education grants and finances a range of NGOs.

"The Soros Foundation's goal to attack coincides with the state's unfavorable goals 's that is to discredit the state and its official structures," he said on Oct. 30. He added that, as chairman on Parliament's foreign affairs committee, it would be his personal mission to identify the web of Soros-backed agents working in the Baltic state and extirpate them. Much in the same spirit, Lembergs referred to Latvia as "a subsidiary of Soros."

The Greens and Farmers Union has thus defined its pre-election platform: It will offer the electorate a tribe of invisible turncoats led by bogeyman George Soros. This is, of course, more opaque that Latvia's First Party's image of a legion of gays taking over the country, and it could ultimately backfire: Either the Greens and Farmers will come off as a clique of crackpots, or they will anger Soros and get him to put his money where their mouth is.

Generally, the Greens and Farmers Union's tactics reflect their own desperation. Their inherent contradictions 's marrying environmentalists and "agriculturalists" was always a risk 's have caught up with them, as has last year's debacle with ousting Sandra Kalniete and nominating an unqualified Ingrida Udre for the heavyweight position of European commissioner. They are arguably the least charismatic party in Parliament and might fail to pass the 5 percent barrier. If last week is any guide, party leaders will continue spouting bizarre statements and disenfranchising a society in need of more pragmatic leadership.