PBLA urges Saeima not to hurry border treaty

As the Latvian parliament prepares to debate a border treaty with Russia, the World Federation of Free Latvians is asking lawmakers not to rush their deliberations and to ask for international experts to evaluate the document.

The Saeima is prepared to begin discussion Feb. 1 on the Latvia-Russia Border Treaty, which was initialed by both sides in 1997.

A bill prepared by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis and introduced by the Foreign Affairs Commission pushes for quick approval of the treaty without any additional declarations or demands on Russia.

Among reasons for finalizing the treaty, according to the bill, are Latvian officials’ promises to both the European Union and the NATO defense alliance to clear up questions over the country’s eastern border.

“The WFFL does not see any new conditions why right now, 10 years after the 1997 initialing of the Republic of Latvia’s and the Russian Federation’s border treaty, there is such haste to accept the border treaty with Russia without any attached declarations or objections,” the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA) said in a Jan. 31 press release.

In previous negotiations, the two countries have not been able to come to final terms, particularly over the issue of compensation for loss of territory and the 50-year Soviet occupation of Latvia.

The two countries were scheduled to finalize the treaty in 2005, but then Latvia added a declaration that demanded Russia acknowledge the “legal continuity” of Latvia from the time of its original independence in 1918.

At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin had strong words for Latvia, saying his country would never give into the demands of its neighbor.

Particularly troublesome has been Latvia’s demand for compensation over the loss of the Abrene region.

Latvia declared independence from Russia in 1918. The two countries signed a peace treaty in 1920 that also fixed Latvia’s border with Russia. At the time, that meant the eastern territory known as Abrene was part of Latvia. The area is known as Pytalovo District to Russia. It was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944 and made part of Russia.

When Latvia regained its independence, it legally renewed the 1918 republic, which at least in theory included Abrene.

The World Federation of Free Latvians said that if the border treaty is approved without any additional declaration about Latvia’s legal continuity, then the country will have a priori given in to Russia’s wishes and interests.

The border treaty has led to sharp words between Latvian politicians.

Tēvzemei un Brīvibai/LNNK (For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK), a member of the ruling coalition, has announced it will oppose the treaty. Among other objections, the party says the proposed approval of the border treaty would amount to partial legalization of the Soviet occupation and could lead to further Russian demands on Latvia.

Some suggestion has been made that if the treaty is approved, the party might quit the government.

Sandra Kalniete, a member of the opposition party Jaunais laiks (New Era), has said she could not vote for a treaty that would violate Latvia’s constitution. Instead, she said in a Jan. 25 speech, the treaty should be offered to Latvian citizens to consider in a national referendum.

Māris Kučinskis, a member of Tautas partija (one of the members of the ruling coalition), said the question of the border agreement is important to Latvia and the European Union, and that he would like to see it resolved within in the next month.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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