Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 32

Tatyana Zhdanok, internationally billed as a “human rights campaigner,” threatened yesterday to appeal to the European Court on Human Rights after a Riga court invalidated her mandate of a deputy on the Riga City Council. The defense claims that Zhdanok may have been targeted for criticizing Latvia frequently in the West in her capacity as co-chairwoman of the Riga-based Human Rights Committee (Russian TV, February 15).

Latvia’s Central Electoral Commission initiated the case under a law which bars from elective office those who did not quit the Communist Party after the January 13, 1991 Soviet crackdown on Latvia. Zhdanok remained a party member after that date and until the end of Soviet rule in Latvia. For the same reason, she and others were dropped from the slate of candidates of the leftist People’s Harmony Party in last year’s parliamentary elections (Radio Riga, July 30, 1998).

Zhdanok is a leader of the Equal Rights political movement, which last year formed the bloc “For Human Rights in a United Latvia” with People’s Harmony and the Socialist Party. Equal Rights is the successor to the eponymous faction–representing the Communist Party and the Internationalist Front (Interfront)–in Latvia’s Supreme Soviet. Those forces opposed Latvia’s independence under the guise of “defending the rights of the Russian-speaking population” during the final years of Soviet rule. Today’s Socialist Party is the successor to the Communist Party, led now as it was then by First Secretary Alfreds Rubiks, and allied now as it was then with Zhdanok’s Equal Rights movement.

According to the most comprehensive extant account of those events, Zhdanok and like-minded “opponents of independence presented themselves as defenders of national equality and Soviet law;” “their opposition to Baltic independence left them with no choice but to ally with the hardliners” (Anatol Lieven, The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence, Yale University Press 1994, pp. 140, 189). Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recently taken to defending former pro-Soviet activists against alleged persecution in the Baltic states, and can be expected to kick up dust in the Zhdanok case as well.