• 2002-01-31
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who has just left for the United States for a two-week pro-NATO tour, has an unenviable job on her hands.

She has to convince high-ranking U.S. diplomats and politicians about her country's intentions to satisfy international demands and stop dividing its citizens who want to run for elected office with a state language proficiency test - on intentions that at home are far less explicit than outside.

Latvia's hesitation to follow the promises its president made to the international community last December may turn out to be a costly move. Although MPs' reluctance to cut language proficiency requirements for their future colleagues and competitors may be easily explained by an election year atmosphere in which nobody wants to upset the voters too much, this issue looks like one that disappointed voters (and politicians) will have to swallow for the sake of higher values.

The president's 12-hour marathon meeting with all the political parties and groups represented in the Parliament revealed something very important.

Despite different motivations, each political force had the same attitude toward the election law changes: to reject them.

No surprises there for right-wing nationalist parties like For Fatherland and Freedom. Yet such apparently liberal forces as the People's Party and Latvia's Way with, respectively, their open denial and reluctant approval, really shocked many hopeful observers.

But Latvia's left-wingers in the For Human Rights in United Latvia alliance, which mainly represents local Russian speakers, were the most amazing of all. They denied Vike-Freiberga's proposal simply because she had earlier rejected a similar proposal made by them.

And, of course, a situation in which "NATO whistles and we're rushing to change our laws," is unacceptable to the nation's pro-Russian leftists. An interesting change of opinion.