Latvian pro-Russian party to put national issue aside

LATVIA, Riga : A man fills in his ballot during the early parliament elections at a pooling station in Jaunmarupe, on September 17, 2011. (AFP Photo/Ilmars Znotins)
Latvia’s Harmony Center party, which won early parliamentary elections last weekend, has lobbied for a moratorium on laws that defend the rights of only one category of the country’s residents.

­This may mark a shift in the uneasy situation of ethnic Russians living in Latvia, many of whom do not have citizenship status. In this election, of the 2.5-million population only 345,000 Latvian “non-citizens” of foreign descent were not allowed to vote.

The Harmony Center party is considered to be pro-Russian. But as its head, Riga Mayor Nil Ushakov, told the Russian online edition Gazeta.ru, polls revealed only one-third of those who cast their ballots for Harmony Center are Russians, while the rest are Latvians.

“For now our goal is to create a large-scale interethnic force,” the politician said. “No one can accuse us of solely having the interests of the Russian-speaking population at heart. Together with other parties, we put a moratorium on adoption of laws that defend the rights of this or that category of citizens at the expense of the other.”

In any case, it is not the ethnic issue that is going to be the focus of their policies: “In the next three years we will only be dealing with economic and social reforms.”

After the election, some experts in Latvia have been speculating about the possibility of Harmony Center going into opposition, with the Reform Party, headed by former President Valdis Zatlers, right-center Unity and nationalist Union for Motherland and Freedom forming a coalition.

Nil Ushakov has not ruled out such a scenario, as they “are not afraid to work in opposition.” At the same time, entering a ruling coalition is still the primary aim for the moment, because “it can be fully functional and efficient only with the participation of Harmony Center.”

As for the current relations with Russia, Ushakov is “optimistic” about their development.

“Many agreements were reached during the visit of former President Zatlers to Russia in December 2010. He met with President Dmitry Medvedev and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. It is very important for us,” he noted. “But at the same time we stress that Latvia is a member of the European Union and NATO.”

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