Power issues lead to hunger strike

  • 2000-02-24
  • Sandra L. Medearis
RIGA - Latvian Minister of Justice Valdis Birkavs, 58, is going to bed without his dinner until he is cleared of links to an ongoing child abuse matter in Latvia. The latest in a scandal simmering since September is a controversial investigator's announcement in Parliament on Feb. 17 that Birkavs, Prime Minister Andris Skele and the country's top tax collector, Andrejs Sonciks "could be linked" to the pedophilia affair. The three deny involvement.

In starting his hunger strike until all evidence and documents are on the table, Birkavs said he is willing to "fade away" to bring a fast conclusion to allusions to players of varying magnitude, ranging from the organizer of a beauty pageant to unnamed staff in President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's chancellery.

"To me, my honor is greater than my life, and I can only offer my life in return," Birkavs told the Parliament after his name was dropped by MP Janis Adamsons of the Social Democrats Workers Party. The three officials have asked for criminal charges for libel against Adamsons.

Adamsons heads a parliamentary commission formed to investigate both the scandal and the prosecutor general's handling of a parallel investigation. Legal experts and political scientists say Adamsons and the commission have overstepped the line separating powers of the judiciary and the Parliament.

Birkavs overnights at Paul Stradins Clinical Hospital in Riga. He drinks only filtered water and receives no intravenous feedings, according to doctors.

Birkavs may not eat for a month or more if he holds fast to his strike, as Adamsons said he will hand over his evidence only to a new general prosecutor to be appointed in the first part of April.

Adamsons, who refuses to return phone calls, said in Parliament that he "is not afraid" of criminal charges.

Birkavs told The Baltic Times the issue is power and the prize is destabilization of Latvia's coalition government.

"I suppose, behind the curtain, first of all, are small interests and personal ambitions which are not put in democratic framework but used without any limits," he said.

Birkavs admitted his hunger strike was a dramatic move, but said "to stop such actions, something needs to bring the attention of society, attention of politicians, to make order."

Birkavs is hungry for an end to innuendo, he said.

"I would like simply to put an end to all this that has a new story weekly. I want to see a quick resolution," he said.

Birkavs said any evidence found by the commission should be turned over to the "professionals."

"If a commission finds anything criminal, then a real professional starts to work. There can't be a parallel, a professional panel and a commission. The criminal investigation started and led to the politicization of the case, because there is no law on commissions," he said.

Valts Kalnins, political scientist at Latvia University said there is no case law or regulatory law concerning separation of powers, but the separation principle can be clearly derived from the language of the constitution.

"The constitution speaks about the independence of judges. From there you can conclude that there is a separation of powers," he said. "The law on the judiciary sets out the principle of independence more clearly, but it is still aligned with the constitution. Subordinate laws supplement the constitution and form the principles of the judiciary and other branches of power. If you take those laws together, it is clear."

Parliament may have advisory committees, but they do not have the same force as committees under the judiciary, as the prosecutor's committee, according to Kalnins.

"This Parliament has overstepped the boundaries. They have been acting as some sort of investigative body with criminal procedure authority," Kalnins said. "That is only someone's wish. They cannot accuse anyone of criminal activity. Mr. Adamsons has to admit he cannot do it formally."

Aivars Borovkovs of the Latvian Lawyers Association echoed the need and existence of separation of powers. He said that state lawmakers who take on the functions of the courts, whose business it is to interpret the laws - about the constitution, powers of the court itself, the prosecutor's office, children's rights and the criminal code - "has itself overstepped the principles of truth."

"Until now, not-thought-out, baseless and rushed conclusions of the investigation committee's findings undermine public confidence in lawmakers, the power of the court, and the international prestige of the state," Borovkovs said.

Kalnins discounted imminent collapse of the government.

"Should the government collapse, it would not be because of this pedophilia scandal. Interests promoting this scandal can produce a lot of noise, but it cannot lead to any judicial resolution," he said. "The parliamentary committee is neither entitled or capable of carrying out a criminal investigation."

The real spinoffs of the affair may be damage to the image of the government, damage to relations among the coalition and the opposition and psychological tension on the Parliament, he said.