BALTICS          LATVIA   

 

Latvia - Independence


and the Constitution of 1922   

                         
 
by Robin Miranda

 

Perhaps of great importance to the history of Latvia would be their overall sense of independence and the Constitution of 1922.  The formation of this independent nation began in the beginning of the 19th century, when their wishes to live freely and independently as a state became more popularly heard across the land.

On November 18, 1918, a host of Latvian parties, called the Democratic Block, agreed to form the Latvian National Council, declaring the independence of Latvia. For two years after, the Latvians fought against Bolshevist troops, as well as against German and Russian monarchists, to keep their freedom.

After this Latvian War of Liberation, the young battered state had to pick up its pieces and repair all the damage that had been done.  Laws and decrees were set up, and in April, 1920, the first liberal elections took place, following the decision of establishing a Constituent Assembly.  The Latvian Constituent Assembly, made up of 150 members, freely elected, convened on May 1, 1920, and after two years of serious study and research, the Bill of Latvian Constitution was passed, February 15, 1922.

 

The Constitution was made up of seven parts and 88 articles and called for a democratic republic with a freely elected parliament (Saeima) and presidents; with freedom of press, of conscience, speech and assembly; with equal rights for all citizens and cultural autonomy for racial minorities; and equality of opportunity based on the merit system (Bilmanis, 75).

The president of the state was elected by majority and ran a term of 3 years, having the usual duty as head of the republic, but also being responsible to call upon the prime minister, who in turn, organized the cabinet and its members.

The Constitution of Latvia was indeed very progressive and democratic, regarding all citizens as equal in the eyes of the law.  Under such parliament, Latvia became economically successful, particularly in the fields of agriculture, this with the help of certain land reforms and the privatization of property rights.  Cultural changes were also apparent for the better, with more inhabitants studying at Universities, the producement of new literary works, and a greater effort of living standards. 

 

However stable Latvia was economically though, politically it was becoming disastrous.  With this new republic, came the uprising of many political parties.  In the first parliament of 1922, 22 political parties rose; in 1925, 27; in that of 1928, 27; and in the Saeima of 1931, 24 (Bilmanus, 344).  Also, the cabinet came to be changing its members much too often, and the government lost its assurance for a stable administrative policy.

Latvia's problems were basically due to the theories proposed, which had not yet been tested in practice, and it soon became evident that a democratic republic was not possible.  At both extremes, rightists and leftists emerged, threatening to disorder the peace and opening the doors for a possible civil war.

Finally, in May, 1934, the Prime Minister, Dr. Karlis Ulmanis, with the assuredness of the President, A. Kviesis, dissolved the existing Saeima and undertook a new order, beginning a totalitarian regime, consisting of:  a reasonable election law, an elected Saeima to be the legislative agency, and elected President of State, three parties at most (one for labor, one for farmers, and a third for the middle class), and proportional representation for racial minorities.

 

This regime was quite different from the those of earlier times and gained the utmost of support from the people.  Latvia, waiting patiently for good things to come, overcame its own parliamentary crisis, making peace within itself and standing up for what it believed in.  But, the Soviet Union soon took interest in the tiny independent state, and later forced troops onto their land.  A government was setup and from then, Latvia was declared a Soviet Republic.

 Although this was a process of trial and error - freely independent, with a constitution and parliamentary system - a good sense of nationality was spread amongst the Latvians for a time, a sense that was made to be proud of, that of independence.

 

Bilmanis, Alfred.  History of Latvia. Princeton University Press, 1951.

Bilmanis, Alfred.  Latvia as an Independent State. Washington, D.C.:  The Latvian Legation, 1947.

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