Ruling cripples Adamsons' political career

  • 2002-08-22
  • Steven C. Johnson

Latvian lawmaker Janis Adamsons was a staff member of the Soviet KGB and may not run for re-election to the Saeima (Latvia's parliament) this fall, a Riga district court ruled Aug. 20.

The court rejected Adamsons' appeal to overturn an earlier decision by Latvia's Central Election Commission that declared him ineligible to hold public office because of his pre-independence service in the Soviet border guard, an organization run by the KGB.

The ruling makes Adamsons, a member of the Social Democrats and a former interior minister, the first sitting MP to be declared unfit for public office.

Latvian law forbids anyone who served in Soviet or foreign intelligence agencies or was a member of the Communist Party after Jan. 13, 1991, from holding public office.

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Adamsons, who denies involvement in the KGB, called the ruling legally misguided and politically motivated.

"We don't live in a country ruled by the law but in one where the laws can be interpreted whatever way one likes," he was quoted as saying by the Baltic News Service.

The ruling, he said, bans all Latvians who did mandatory military service during Soviet rule from running for election.

Adamsons became a Parliament deputy in 1993 as a member of the center-right Latvia's Way and served as interior minister in the mid-1990s.

He joined the Social Democrats in 1997 and was returned to Parliament as a member of that party in elections the following year.

Accusations of past KGB ties have dogged him throughout much of his career, and a 2000 court ruling declared he had indeed been affiliated with the feared Soviet secret police.

Juris Bojars, the chairman of the Social Democrats and himself barred from holding public office for his past service as a KGB major, said the ruling was part of a revenge campaign by political opponents aimed at his party in general and Adamsons in particular.

"Adamsons was an absolutely good chap and had nothing to do with the KGB while he was a member of Latvia's Way, but as soon as he left, he became a bad boy and a KGB officer," he told The Baltic Times.

Bojars said the ruling was part of an attempt by political opponents to seek revenge against Adamsons, who played a prominent role in a scandal two years ago in which then-Prime Minister Andris Skele was accused of involvement in a child pornography ring.

Parliament later tried to revoke Adamsons' legislative immunity to have him tried on slander charges, but a majority of lawmakers refused.

Prosecutors cleared Skele of any wrongdoing, but his government fell less than two months after Adamsons, as head of a parliamentary commission investigating the matter, made the accusations.

It remains unclear whether Adamsons will be allowed to retain his seat in Parliament when the legislature reconvenes from summer recess on Sept. 4.

Only parliamentary committees or at least 10 MPs can propose to strip Adamsons of his mandate, and a majority of the 100-member Saeima must approve the proposal, said Gunars Kusins, head of the Saeima's legal bureau.

Bojars said he didn't expect that to happen.

Parliament will disband for new elections Oct. 5.

"To my mind, that would be too big a scandal," he said. "Besides, normally deputies are unwilling to surrender one of their own."

The ruling cannot be appealed, but Social Democrat officials said they were considering taking their case to the Strasbourg-based European Court for Human Rights.

Tatjana Zhdanok, a candidate for election with the left-wing Union For Human Rights also banned for her post-1991 ties to the Communist Party, has also filed a petition with the European court challenging the legality of the law.

Experts say it is difficult to predict whether the court would accept such a challenge and how it might rule if it did.

Ilvija Bake, a specialist on the court at the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, said the court gave individual countries considerable flexibility on questions related to discrimination.

"It's not always that the individual is right. A state may have a particular reason for a law based on historical circumstances," she said. "And freedom from discrimination is not an absolute right in the way that right to life, the right not to be tortured, are absolute rights."