A Latvian-American physician’s comments about ethnic Russians in his homeland have apparently resulted in professional repercussions, but no details are available.
Dr. Aivars Slucis, a radiologist with the Albert Lea Medical Center in southern Minnesota, has become the focus of debate in Latvia, Russia and the United States following publication on the investigative journalism website pietiek.com of an e-mail exchange between him and Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, who became Latvia’s new foreign minister on Nov. 3.
A spokesperson for the clinic, which is part of Minnesota-based Mayo Health System, said in a statement that the clinic has “taken appropriate actions” in the case.
“We have completed our internal review of the situation involving Dr. Slucis, which included an analysis of the e-mail communication, a meeting with Dr. Slucis and a review of comments and data posted within this discussion,” the statement reads. “We have taken appropriate actions based on this review. Out of respect for Dr. Slucis and in accordance with our procedures, we will not share the results of this review or the actions taken.”
Patricia Hareid, director of community relations for the clinic, confirmed for Latvians Online on Nov. 10 that Slucis remains employed by the healthcare facility.
Slucis has not responded to requests for comment.
The e-mail exchange took place in October 2009. In an e-mail sent to members of the Pilsoniskā savienība (Civic Union, or PS) party in Latvia, Slucis questioned the party’s commitment to defending the interests of ethnic Latvians. Slucis, who was born in Latvia and escaped to the west with his parents during World War II, has been a vocal critic of Russian influence in his homeland.
In the e-mail, Slucis wrote that as a doctor he would find it difficult to treat Russians equally to Latvians.
Kristovskis, head of the PS party, replied to Slucis and other PS members. While agreeing with the doctor’s sentiments, he warned against hysterical responses and cautioned party members to avoid discussions that would be counterproductive to the party’s political goals.
Kristovskis won a Nov. 9 vote of no confidence in the Saeima that had been called for by representatives from the center-left and pro-Russian Saskaņas Centrs (Harmony Centre) and the conservative Par labu Latviju! (For a Good Latvia!).
While Kristovskis may have escaped the scandal, the debate about Slucis and his comments continues.
The day before the Saeima vote, leaders of Pilsoniskā savienība ousted Slucis from their party and decided to return LVL 11,665 in contributions from the doctor.
In a scathing commentary posted on Russia’s pravda.ru website, Vadim Trukhachev criticized Kristovskis but aimed his final words at Slucis.
“As for Dr. Slucis, his attitude to Russian patients are very similar to [the] worst forms of Nazi punitive medicine, and we say ‘worst’ because even Nazis provided medical assistance to concentration camp prisoners,” Trukhachev wrote. “Slucis should have worked in Salaspils concentration camp on the outskirts of Rīga, where Nazis conducted medical experiments on Russian, Belarusian and Jewish children.”
Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic’s Facebook page in the past week has received hundreds of comments about Slucis. While many are negative, including messages describing the doctor as racist and calling for Mayo to fire him, some offer their support for Slucis.
“Does this mean that people with Russian surnames should avoid Mayo Clinic at all costs?,” one visitor to the page asked.
Defending the doctor, another visitor wrote: “Aivars Slucis has obviously appeared in the middle of Latvian political fights. Russian opposition party wants to get into government for any price, even if they have to make up a stupid story like this.”
In Latvia, an official of the Vītols Fund—an organization that provides scholarships to students in Latvia—voiced her personal support for Slucis, according to local media reports. The doctor has funded a scholarship in his name that this year supported 20 students.
Vita Diķe, chairwoman of the fund’s board of directors, called the decision by Pilsoniskā savienība to drop Slucis “treason against a person who has done no harm to Latvia.”
The Albert Lea Medical Center’s statement in the case also closed with supportive words.
“Dr. Slucis has provided care in Albert Lea for the past three years,” according to the statement. “During that time, he has treated every patient with respect and has been professional in his interactions with all patients.”
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