European Court upholds Latvia’s Right to ban former communists frome

European Court upholds Latvia’s Right to ban former communists from elections

Diena, Riga
17 Mar 06

[Report by Sanita Jemberga: “Total Victory for Latvia in Human
Rights Court”]

With 13 in favour and four against, the European Court of Human Rights
[ECHR] overruled the previous judgment and decided that Latvia did
not violate the rights of former Interfronte activist and current MEP
[Member of the European Parliament] Tatjana Zdanoka. The state had
the right to ban former communists from competing in elections.

However, the Strasbourg court points out that these restrictions cannot
be maintained indefinitely and should be reviewed because Latvia,
as a European country, is a stronger entity than it was immediately
after it regained its independence.

By assessing the historical and legal context of the ban, the
ECHR has for the first time clearly stated its opinion on Latvia’s
occupation. The ECHR notes that restrictions that would have been
unacceptable in a democratic country with well-established democratic
institutions are tolerable in the case of Latvia, considering the
threat of the return of totalitarianism. The court points out that
Latvia, the Baltic states, and other countries in Eastern Europe lost
their independence as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, “which
contradicted the generally accepted principles of international law.”

The case summary mentions that in 1940, after issuing an ultimatum,
the Soviet Army invaded Latvia. Later, “the annexation of Latvia was
completed, and the country became part of the USSR.” This statement
clashes with the idea supported by Russia, namely, that the Baltic
states joined the union voluntarily and were not occupied.

Consequently, Zdanoka has lost her battle both ideologically and
legally, because the ECHR has not recognized her right to be freely
elected. Unlike in the previous ruling, Latvia will not be obliged
to compensate her. Diena could not contact the MEP because her cell
phone was switched off.

The judges took into account the opinion of the Latvian representative
at the ECHR and the view of Egils Levits, former judge at the
ECHR, which they expressed after the ruling of the Court of First
Instance. The first ruling was favourable to Zdanoka. The ECHR
has acknowledged that the ban in question did not target specific
individuals. The ban concerned people who had remained active members
of the Communist Party after 13 January 1991, and it prohibited them
from competing in elections. The ban was designed to strengthen the
people’s trust in the new regime. Those who had connections with
the party, which was considered a threat to the new democracy, were
excluded from power. Zdanoka did not distance herself from the party,
which could have lessened doubts about her attitude.

Four judges – from Greece, Slovenia, Armenia, and Bosnia had a
different opinion. There were also three judges, including the
president of the ECHR, who had specific views about certain aspects
of the case.

Zdanoka complained to the ECHR about the ban, which prevents her from
competing in local and parliamentary elections. She could participate
in the European Parliament elections – former communists are free
to take part. The first verdict, which was favourable to Zdanoka,
was appealed by the Latvian state. Latvia believed that the court
had not taken into account the complicated historical circumstances.

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