RIGA - Parliament voted to send a draft proposal for the Latvian-Russian border treaty to the committee of foreign affairs on Jan. 25, paving the way for a long-awaited deal with Russia after nearly two years in limbo. The move was passed with a vote of 68 in favor and 24 opposed.
Debates on the highly emotional border agreement were set to begin Feb. 1.
Some members of Parliament, most notably those of the right-wing New Era party, have described the draft as unconstitutional because it does not mention the original border treaty between Latvia and Russia, signed in 1920, when the province of Abrene (today Pytalovo) belonged to Latvia.
The territory is currently part of Russia, and according to the draft proposal will remain so.
"Unlawfully giving away a state territory is the most serious violation of the Constitution," said New Era deputy faction head Karlis Sadurskis, adding that the "the illegitimate territorial change" could threaten the legal continuity of the state.
Annija Karklina, a lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Latvia, agrees that the treaty could be in violation of the constitution.
"Only the Constitutional Court [can give] the final judgment. If the boarder agreement is signed, it will most likely not conform to the constitution," Karklina opined, adding that this was a convoluted issue.
The border treaty has divided Parliament, with members of the People's Party, the Latvia's First Party and Latvia's Way election bloc, the Greens and Farmers Union and the leftist Harmony Center and For Human Rights in United Latvia all supporting the treaty.
On the other side are New Era, the nationalist alliance For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (also a coalition partner) and Visvaldis Lacis from the Greens and Farmers Union, who oppose the treaty primarily on the grounds that it violates the constitution.
Hundreds of protestors took to the streets in protest of the treaty. The first picket took place outside Parliament on Jan. 25.
Two days later, hundreds of demonstrators congregated outside the Latvian Occupation Museum in Riga's Old Town. Protesters came from a variety of organizations, such as a World War II veterans association and the radical nationalist youth group Klubs 415, as well as opposition political leaders.
The demonstrators refrained from causing too much commotion, with protesters singing traditional patriotic songs around a bonfire.
Once the Constitutional Court receives the treaty, it will pass a final judgment on the draft's constitutionality. If the court declares the treaty unconstitutional, then the government would either have to change the constitution by referendum or nullify the border agreement.
If, on the other hand, the court approves the recently passed draft, it will then have to decide whether the treaty of 1920 should be included in the new legislation, Karklina said.
If the 1920 agreement is included, Latvia would be able to ask Russia for reparations for the lost territory.
The first reading of the treaty is scheduled to take place on Feb. 1. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has agreed to take part in the debates.