RIGA - After an arguably lackluster showing on the weekly political talk show Kas Notiek Latvija (What's Happening in Latvia) Jan. 18, Transport Minister Ainars Slesers called for new laws that would limit the participation of NGOs that receive financing from foreign sources to take government contracts for pre-election research.
Slesers, who leads Latvia's First Party, appeared flustered at times during the broadcast, which brings together politicians and outside observers to discuss current issues. In particular, he bristled after another panelist suggested that his party spent heavily in last year's municipal elections, more than what is legally allowed.
Lolita Cigane, a researcher for the political policy center Providus, discussed some of the hidden political advertisements that appeared in the media during the run up to last year's municipal elections, and mentioned Latvia's First Party as a significant offender.
Latvia's First Party wasted no time striking back. The next day [Jan. 19] party officials said they would seek to limit the participation of NGOs with foreign financing.
Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, a critic of Soros who is believed to hold considerable sway over media sources attacking the Soros Foundation, came out in support of the proposal of Latvia's First. He reportedly said that NGOs with a political agenda should be shut down.
Providus receives some 45 percent of its funding from the local affiliate of the Soros Foundation.
Mainstream politicians and independent analysts rushed to defend foreign-funded NGOs.
Justice Minister Solvita Aboltina called the move by Latvia's First "anti-democratic."
"Latvia is a democratic country, and its constitution ensures freedom of expression for everyone. Therefore, I see these proposals of Latvia's First Party as anti-constitutional, as they are aimed at weakening civil society 's the main controller of politicians," she said in a statement, adding that if such a provision was made law, the country's reputation would suffer as a result.
"These guys have been watching too much Russian television," said Nils Muiznieks, a political science professor and former member of Latvia's First Party.
He referred to the Russian government's ongoing efforts to crack down on the freedom of domestic non-governmental organizations. many feel that the recent spy scandal involving four British diplomats, is indicitive of the Kremlin's crackdown.
Slesers' proposal comes at a time when a new law governing what is allowed during the election period is being discussed in Parliament. The Greens and Farmers' Union has proposed restricting political advertising three months before the election, something that Latvia's First Party said they would also support. But restricting the activities of domestic NGOs that receive financing from abroad was unlikely to receive support from the coalition's two largest parties, New Era and the People's Party.
What's more, the legislation against NGOs follows statements by Latvia's First Party's parliamentary faction head, Janis Smits, critical of billionaire George Soros a week earlier.
"I see attempts by those people to influence processes in Latvia. There is no doubt that Soros' people propagate not only secular humanism but also open devaluation of values," Smits said in an interview to the Latvian daily Neatkariga Rita Avize, which is supportive of Lembergs' and the Greens and Farmers Union's views.
The paper that Smits gave his comments to has mounted something of a campaign against the Soros Fund 's and the so-called Sorosists 's or prominent members of society and politics who have taken grants from the foundation and are alleged to now be working together to implement policies favorable to Soros.
The suspicion that the proposed legislation was directed toward the Soros Fund, and Providus, was strengthened further when Latvia's First Party's spokesman Edgars Vaikulis told BNS that the amendment was needed to prevent local NGOs from "receiving money raised through drug dealing." This was apparently in reference to a libel directed against George Soros in a number of countries and is believed to be based on his support for methadone clinics.