Harmony Centre. The Harmony Centre is a political alliance shrouded in controversy in Latvia. The alliance is unique in Latvia for two reasons.
Firstly it is Latvia’s only parliamentary party to identify as left-of-centre, the rest are all centre-right, or centrist at the most.
Secondly, while the alliance is officially open to all Latvians, it is principally comprised of and principally supported by ethnic Russians. The alliance is widely considered to be pro-Russian.
The alliance is comprised of two parties. The larger of the two the Social Democratic Party ‘Harmony’ was formed in 2010 from a merger of four pro-Russian parties. It is more centre-left and broadly pro-European. Harmony’s leader is Nils Usakovs who is currently mayor of Riga. Some have suggested that as building inspections are a local government responsibility in Latvia, he actually held more responsibility for the 2013 supermarket roof collapse than the national government.
The smaller party is the Latvian Socialist Party. This party is much more hard-line and far-left. Its ideology is essentially communist and it refers to the events of 1991, in which Latvia became independent, as a ‘counter-revolutionary bourgeois-nationalist coup. The party’s leader, Alfreds Rubiks, who serves as a MEP for the Harmony Centre, was the last communist era mayor of Riga, and was imprisoned in 1995 for supporting the 1991 attempted coup d’etat by hard-line elements of the Soviet military (this imprisonment is why he serves as a MEP – he is banned from election to the Latvian parliament). Rubiks also has rather unreconstructed views on homosexuality, previously suggesting that if he was still Mayor of Riga he would ban gay pride parades.
Harmony Centre supports fairly typical social democratic positions in most regards. The party signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s party, United Russia, in 2009. The party is generally locked out of power at a national level in Latvia; no Russian majority party has ever been represented in government in Latvia, though there was a brief attempt to bring HC into government after the 2011 election.
Ironically, HC’s position outside government has given it a ‘clean hands’ appearance, though recent events in terms of its running of the Riga mayoralty have undermined this.
With the destruction of the other ethnic Russian party, For Human Rights in United Latvia, Harmony Centre has become the sole party of Russian voters and thus emerged, oddly, as the largest party in the 2011 elections, due to a united Russian electorate versus a highly fragmented ethnic Latvian one.
The alliance’s two member parties are aligned with different European political groups. Harmony is an observer of the Party of European Socialists, whereas the Latvian Socialist Party sits in the European United Left group. Rubiks, the Latvian Socialist Party leader, votes with the European United Left 92.7% of the time, sixth in the group. The alliance’s other MEP, Alexander Mirsky, sits in the Socialists and Democrats group and votes with it 96.6% of the time, slightly below average. Mirsky appears to have defected to a minor party called ‘Alternative’ with negligible support.