RIGA - In a sign of the changing times, ex-KGB staffers and people who held membership in the Communist Party after 1991 may now run in Latvia's upcoming Europarliament elections due to revisions of a law passed on Jan. 29 in the Saeima, the country's parliament.The original law, if it had passed, would have mirrored the current law that bans former members of the KGB and communists active after Jan. 13, 1991, from holding seats in Parliament.
In a sign of the changing times, ex-KGB staffers and people who held membership in the Communist Party after 1991 may now run in Latvia's upcoming Europarliament elections due to revisions of a law passed on Jan. 29 in the Saeima, the country's parliament.
The original law, if it had passed, would have mirrored the current law that bans former members of the KGB and communists active after Jan. 13, 1991, from holding seats in Parliament.
Before the final vote took place those favoring the ban claimed to have over 60 votes. However, shortly before the final vote attitudes changed and momentum shifted.
In an open letter to the country's Parliament, Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks wrote that neighboring Lithuania and Estonia did not have bans of this kind and neither did any EU member state.
Judge Eglis Levits from the European Human Rights Court, Riga Graduate School of Law lecturer Martins Mits and Inga Reina, Latvia's representative to international human rights organizations, spoke before members of Parliament.
"It would be very difficult for the Latvian government to give sound arguments to keep the ban in place," Mits said.
New Era and Latvia's First Party both publicly changed their positions and announced that they would vote against the ban, leaving the People's Party, For Fatherland and Freedom and the Greens and Farmers voting in favor.
Politicians attributed the reversal of the ban to the presentation of current legal arguments.
"There is really no legal aspect for banning them," Solvita Aboltina, head of the Parliament's legal affairs committee, told The Baltic Times. She asked the Saeima not to impose the ban.
"The argument that won the day was the need to separate legal arguments from emotional ones," said Krisjanis Karins, head of the New Era faction. "The previous governments did not bring charges against them [ex-KGB members and former communists], giving a ban a weak legal basis."
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga also approved of allowing former Soviet security service personnel and ex-communists to stand for the upcoming Europarliament election, which will take place in June.
Some felt that the outcome would have differed if the discussion had taken place last September before the country affirmed its decision to join the EU in a referendum.
"I am surprised by the decision. Our party does not support it - it's disloyal to the voters. If this decision had been made before Sept. 20 the election results would have been different," Janis Straume, head of the For Fatherland and Freedom party, told The Baltic Times.
"We will make a horrible mistake if we delete these restrictions now, and the people of Latvia will not forgive us," Anna Seile, an MP from For Fatherland and Freedom, told Parliament.
The initial law, which banned former communists and members of the KGB was put into place 10 years ago, and will expire in June of this year, allowing those previously banned to run in both the European and Latvian parliaments.
People who are currently affected by the ban are Tatyana Zhdanoka of the Equality Party, Janis Adamsons and Juris Bojars from the Social Democratic Workers' Party and former Riga Mayor Alfreds Rubiks of the Socialist Party.