Chancellery candidate steps down over KGB past

  • 2001-03-22
  • BNS
RIGA - The nominated head of the Latvian president's chancellery, who supervised KGB affairs in the Prosecutor's Office in the late 1980s, has asked President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to withdraw his nomination, which she has agreed to do, the presidential office informed March 19.

Aivars Zakis, who was nominated last week to be the new head of the president's staff, withdrew his name after a storm of protests by former political prisoners against his appointment, the Latvian Television news program, "Panorama" reported on March 18, quoting unofficial sources.

Vike-Freiberga in a television interview the same day defended Zakis, saying that Latvia should stop judging people by different standards. Former top executives of Soviet Latvia now hold high offices in institutions in independent Latvia, the government included, she said.

"We have to come to terms with the past in our country and we have to do it in a consistent manner. We have to select criteria for forgiving and not forgiving people," Vike-Freiberga said.

Vike-Freiberga said she was disgusted that "people of lower rank are being singled out as scapegoats to suffer the wrath and bitterness of the public for what the system had done, while top managers who propped up that system with high-ranking decisions now are being forgiven everything."

The president did not mention any names but the most prominent of former Soviet top executives in the current Latvian government is Transportation Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs.

Vike-Freiberga categorically refused to say who had recommended Zakis to her and how much she knew about the prosecutor's past. She said only that her main criteria had been to find a person who is not corrupt and who has "a certain level of intellect."

The president was indignant that nobody cared about Zakis' honesty, only his past.

"For me it is vital, for me it is important," Vike-Freiberga said.

She also said that objections were bound to be made against whomever she picked as the new head of her staff.

"The press will report that the new nominee is a very, very bad person and the conclusion will be that the president has made a very, very bad choice," Vike-Freiberga said, adding she was certain it would happen and was even willing to bet a TV reporter on it.

"The reasons may be different but it is going to happen again. Because of this the situation is very hard," the Latvian president said.

Last week saw a heated public discussion about Zakis' nomination as the president's chancellery head as it was reported that he had participated in the investigation of Soviet dissidents.

Several former political prisoners sent letters to Vike-Freiberga objecting to Zakis' nomination.

In her decision to choose Zakis, Vike-Freiberga said she relied on the opinions of a top Latvian national security agency Constitution Protection Bureau and the Center for Documentation of the Consequences of Totalitarianism, which both, said Zakis, had not collaborated with the KGB and his past was clean.

Zakis, 45, was the prosecutor who opened the criminal case against Latvian-Australian Konrads Kalejs, charged with war crimes and genocide during World War II.

Zakis was to have replaced the previous presidential chancellery head, Martins Bondars, who ran in recent local elections for the For Fatherland and Freedom Party and resigned, hoping to get a seat on the Riga City Council. Bondars was not elected to the council, and the president has offered him his old job back.