LATVIAN COMEBACK FARCE

  • 2002-01-17
This January, as with every year since 1991, Lithuania and Latvia commemorate their nations' unarmed fight for independence, when thousands of people stood at barricades to defend their newly found freedom.

Fourteen people were killed in Vilnius on the night of Jan. 13 as Soviet tanks ruthlessly drove into crowds at the TV tower. Seven people lost their lives in Riga the night of Jan. 21, when fighters from a pro-Soviet OMON militia unit attacked the Latvian Interior Ministry.

The picture was very clear then. People and events had only two colors - black or white, depending on whether they were for or against independence.

Now, with independence a reality for 10 years, the picture has become somewhat muddied. Former independence leaders have top administrative positions, but seem to have forgotten the common idea of liberty, fraternity and equality. Public opinion holds them in low esteem indeed.

Many of those who stood in opposition to them, those who argued passionately against independence and KGB officers who worked to keep the Soviet stronghold together, have become wealthy businesspeople or left for Russia. Only a few of them managed to stick to their ideological purity for the past 10 years. But even those who did are giving up now.

One is Tatyana Zhdanok, an outspoken voice who campaigned against Latvian independence since 1990, first as the leader of Interfront, an pro-Russian extremist movement active in Latvia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then as a leader of the radical left-wing Equal Rights Party.

But now, without abandoning her party, she seems to have given up the fight. She has taken a job with the very same state whose birth she was trying to prevent. On Jan. 14, she was chosen as the most suitable candidate for the post of head of Riga's residential buildings privatization commission.

Zhdanok, a Latvian citizen, is banned from being elected to the country's legislature or municipalities because of her communist past - which is wrong because citizens have the right to choose their representation, regardless of who it is.

Still, some of her party members have already won seats at Riga City Council and have formed a coalition with the Social Democrats.

The current state of affairs only serves to put those who have stuck to their ideological guns in a bad spot. Dainis Ivans, former leader of the Popular Front, Latvia's pro-independence movement, will feel political pressure to vote for his coalition partner Zhdanok's appointment and may have to work hand-in-hand with her at the council.

It is said that tragedy repeats itself as a farce. After 11 years this seems to have happened to Latvia, too.

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