Latvia’s first Arabic member of parliament

“You could say I’ve become a bit of a celebrity in Lebanon,” Saeima member Hosam Abu Meri (Unity) told LTV’s Rīta Panorāma news program Thursday morning as the first newly-elected parliamentarian invited by LSM to share their impressions upon beginning work in the 12th Saeima’s assembly.

The gastroenterologist and leader of Latvia’s Arabic Culture Society said that he has received official letters of congratulations from Lebanon’s parliament and foreign minister, and that the Lebanese press has devoted plenty of column-space to the first Arab ever elected to a legislative assembly in any of the Baltic states.

Abu Meri earned his ‘soft’ parliamentary seat as they were vacated by fellow Unity party deputies now serving in the Cabinet of Ministers.

As a doctor he has taken an interest in the issues which stem from his professional field of experience, serving on the Social and Employment Affairs commission. As a naturalized ‘foreigner’ he has also assumed a seat on the Citizenship, Migration Affairs and Social Solidarity commission to work on minority integration issues.

He said he will propose health care system reforms that shouldn’t require any budgetary allocations, but rather administrative changes in the way preventive medicine is practiced.

Abu Meri insisted that Latvian society was open to his joining the national community of minority-group citizens and strongly rejected any notion that there is discrimination against any particular ethnic group here.

“I’ve always said we should be avoiding the ‘us and them’ terminology that separates people,” he told Rīta Panorāma. “Minority communities are a part of our society, they took to the streets with Latvians in 1991 to stand for independence on the barricades. They belong to Latvia and they should be made to feel so, too.

“As a newcomer who has been here only twenty years, rather than fifty, I’ve seen no problems in attitudes towards me, I mean isn’t it proof enough that I’ve been elected to the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia? Maybe there’s been some conservative feelings toward my strange last name or skin color as a member of a different ethnicity, but that doesn’t mean that people fear me or would wish to isolate me from the rest. Minorities are a part of this nation, and there’s no reason they can’t be loyal patriots.”

As for press reports that he suggested forming a coalition with opposition party Harmony, Abu Meri corrected the misperception, recalling his statement that there needs to be cooperation with them in all aspects of executive and legislative state affairs, even if a coalition may be impossible due to Harmony’s eastern-oriented ideology.

 

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