RIGA - A debate over the interior minister's integrity turned ugly on May 11, with a nationalist MP suggesting it was perfectly fine to "punch Russians in the face" and two rival lawmakers accusing each other of corruption, drunkenness and lying. The debate was prompted by a motion from New Era, a right-wing opposition party, which wanted to demand an explanation from Interior Minister Dzintars Jaundzeikers for promoting an Interior Ministry official who is under investigation for accepting a bribe.
Peteris Tabuns, an MP from the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party, which is also in the opposition, blasted Jaundzeikers for poor security during the March 16 anniversary of Latvia's Legionnaires. But his criticism soon turned into a diatribe. "Those Russians did what they wanted on March 16. It seems that any repression against Latvians is possible, but God forbid if on March 16 some Russian gets it on the mug," he said from the podium.
The next day Harmony Center, a left-wing bloc, filed a complaint with the parliamentary ethics committee asking for a judgment on Tabuns' words, insisting that it was a gross violation of the ethics code.
The committee said it ordered an official transcript of the parliamentary meeting and would decide whether to open a case on the incident. "If the incident is as [Harmony Center] claims it was, I think a case will be opened. If we started talking about who should get punched in the mug based on the ethnic origin, we will end up in a big conflict," said committee chairman Pavels Maksimovs, a member of Latvia's First Party.
Tabuns told the Baltic News Service that he did not regret or retract his words and that he had simply spoken his mind. "Those left-wingers do not like truth. They have become used to us, Latvians, squirming all the time. You can laugh at a Latvian, you can mock him and get away with it. But as soon as you say something to a non-Latvian, it's bedlam," he said.
Many nationalist Latvians are angry that they weren't allowed to commemorate March 16 this year, since Riga city authorities feared that left-wing forces would use the occasion to trumpet the "resurgence of fascism" in Latvia.
Meanwhile, the debate sprouted another conflict, this one between Ainars Slesers, leader of Latvia's First Party, a coalition partner, and Maris Gulbis, who formerly belonged to New Era but now heads the upstart New Democrats group.
In an attempt to discredit Latvia's First Party, Gulbis, a former interior minister, told Parliament that Slesers had offered him money to join Latvia's First Party.
Slesers responded by telling lawmakers that Gulbis had ordered a raid on a night club while under the influence.
Slesers was recently fired from the transport minister's position after his role in a vote-buying scandal in Jurmala came to light. His party has been swamped with corruption allegations, particularly when five center-left politicians suddenly joined the party in 2004, boosting Latvia's First's presence in Parliament from 10 to 15 seats.
Gulbis, for his part, has been pinning his future political career on a victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, hope for his New Democrats party was recently snuffed when he admitted that Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs would probably not run on the New Democratic ticket.
"It seems that Lembergs might not join us," he was quoted by the daily Diena as saying this week.
Gulbis has been courting Lembergs intensively in recent weeks, though it is still not clear whether the controversial Ventspils mayor will participate in the national elections, scheduled for October.
Gulbis was dealt another blow when New Democrat board members Andris Pudans and Andris Zelonka announced they would leave the party, motivating their decision by Gulbis' "cherished illusion about cooperation with Lembergs."