Accusations fly, but government appears safe

  • 2000-02-24
  • By J. Michael Lyons
RIGA — Circumstances far less controversial than the ongoing child pornography and prostitution investigation have toppled recent governments in Latvia. But for now, political observers and members of parliament believe the three-party government coalition is secure.

Latvia fell into a political whirlwind late last week when Janis Adamsons, head of the parliamentary committee investigating the existence of a widespread child prostitution and pornography ring and a member of the opposition Social Democratic Workers Party, tenuously implicated Prime Minister Andris Skele and Minister of Justice Valdis Birkavs and another high-ranking state official during a speech that stunned the parliament on Feb.17.

Names rumored to be linked to the committee investigation, which has included a serious number of accusations, then retractions, and has yet to result in any criminal charges, has been swirling for months around government corridors and newspaper headlines.

Soon after the story surfaced last September, rumors abounded that two government ministers were involved, prompting the formation of the parliamentary committee that Adamsons heads.

As of yet, no evidence has been made public.

When Adamsons, without the blessing of his fellow committee members, claimed those two ministers might be Skele and Birkavs during a routine session of parliament, the scandal reached a new level.

"It was not agreed by the committee to do this," said Aida Predele, a member of the investigative committee and of the coalition party For Fatherland and Freedom. "I think Adamsons' impulsive character accounted for this"

Hours after the bomb dropped in parliament, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga called separate meetings with all of the parliament's parties to appraise the strength of the ruling coalition.

All the parties except the Social Democrats told her they would not pursue a no-confidence vote.

Later she told the public that it was a "dark day" in Latvia's history, but that the government would survive.

Political observers agree with her.

"None of the governing parties are keen to destroy the government," said Valts Kalnins, a political science lecturer at Latvia University. "It would be too risky to jump over to Adamsons' camp."

In recent years, governments have fallen over issues like privatization and ethnic relations.

"But they had to do with very clear policy issues," Kalnins added. "This has nothing to do with policy."

Political scandal in Latvia is nothing new but rarely does it make international headlines.

This one has, partly because a contingent of international reporters were in the country to cover a meeting on accused war criminal Konrads Kalejs on the day Adamsons made his announcement in parliament.

Adamsons did not return calls this week.

No opinion polls have yet been released on what the public thinks of the affair but radio commentator and talk show host Karlis Streips doubts it carries much weight with voters. At least not yet.

"There are people wondering who are the puppets and who is pulling the strings," he said. "But I don't think there's anyone walking around saying, 'Oh that's very nice, the prime minister and justice minister are pedophiles.'"

It requires a simple majority to forcibly cave a government, something that hasn't happened in Latvia's post-Soviet history.

Adamsons has found little support in government or elsewhere following the announcement last week.

"The Social Democrats are the only ones who have supported his actions," said Kalnins.