• 2007-05-16

cartoon by Toon Vugts

Latvia is quickly approaching one of the most crucial junctures since gaining independence. In fact, it may be the single most important juncture, depending how one weighs the possible outcomes. If everything were to go wrong, in two months Latvia will have a substandard president, a besmirched reputation among NATO partners and a medieval image among democratic forces in Europe and the United States. To boot, the country could continue sliding helplessly on an inflationary trajectory at the end of which a brick wall of economic ruin stands firm.

There are three events set to take place between now and July 7: 1) a gay and lesbian parade in Riga; 2) a presidential election in Parliament; and 3) a referendum on national security law amendments, the gist of which, if approved, is increased parliamentary control over major investigations.
It is worth pointing out that all three events are taking place during a major crackdown on fraud and graft and that the outcomes of the election and referendum will ultimately decide whether this campaign is a success.
The number of scenarios facing Latvia is staggering. According to one, the country could end up with a droll, uninspiring president whose only ability will be advancing partisan interests. According to another, voters could defeat the amendments, which in turn could be construed as a sign of no-confidence in the government. Yet another scenario holds that voters might uphold the amendments and embolden the government to continue reforming the mechanics of national security, which in turn would disenfranchise Latvia's allies in NATO.

The list, of course, is only partial. There is one scenario, however, that many are secretly wishing for: a flushing out of corrupt lawmakers by law enforcement agencies, which, together with a popular revoking of the national security amendments, would result in the dissolution of Parliament and new elections.
This paper believes that the current government has irreparably discredited itself by forcing through the national security amendments by using an anachronistic right allowing ministers to change laws while Parliament is in recess 's i.e., without any debate.
The government, which was formed by the oligarchic trinity of Ainars Slesers (Latvia's First Party), Aivars Lembergs (Greens and Farmers Union) and Andris Skele (People's Party), wants to increase oversight into national security institutions at a time when investigators are finally making headway into high-profile corruption cases. Lembergs is already in jail, and if one believes the Latvian media, Skele will soon find himself in a neighboring cell.

Naturally these men and their allies don't intend to give up without a fight, and they will use the powers afforded them by virtue of their control over the government and Parliament. The national security amendments turned out to be their instrument of choice, and luckily for Latvia there is a president who called them to the carpet. The final decision, however, belongs to the people, and they will make it on July 7.
Prior to this, a major meeting of the Latvian gay and lesbian community will take place in the beginning of June. Last year the event was banned, and the few who bothered to show up were pelted by eggs and excrement for their troubles. Police did not bother protecting the activists. This year the community has full rights to convene in public, and there is a group of troublemakers 's a poisonous stew of bigots and religious fanatics 's that has declared Latvia the next battleground over gay rights.

No doubt about it 's the summer of 2007 is one that will go into the history books. Whether for better or worse remains to be seen.