chapter  6
23 Pages

Legislative elites in multi- ethnic Latvia after 1990


Historical continuity and the current structure of opportunities Parliamentary history of the independent Latvian state1 started in 1920 with the election of the Latvian Constituent Assembly and enjoyed a period of democracy until 1934.2 The Second Republic of Latvia, after declaring its independence in May 19903 and receiving international recognition in August 1991, demonstrated certain political continuities with the First Republic: national parliaments then and now carry the name “Saeima” and consist of 100 legislators. The 1993 and 1996 presidential victories of Guntis Ulmanis, the grandnephew of the inter-war prime minister of Latvia, and the comeback of Gunars Meierovics, the son of Latvia’s first inter-war minister of foreign affairs, bridge the politics of the First and the Second Latvian Republics as well. Some of those bridges are merely nominal and symbolic, but the reinstatement of the Constitution of 1922 in post1990 Latvia represents a significant historical continuity and has become a part of the current structure of opportunities. The decision of the post-1990 Latvian political elite to adopt the Constitution of 1922 could be best explained in the context of transformation processes in the Baltic states, where transition was not merely about a change of political regime and economic reorganization, but primarily about regaining and re-establishing an independent nation-state. The Constitution of 1922 served as a legitimation of the independent Latvian state; however, restoration of state independence came with the complicated task of nation-building. Latvia’s ethnic composition was influenced to a large extent by Soviet policies4 and had threatened to transform a titular nation into a non-titular one in its own country. The Latvian political elite chose to grant citizenship automatically to those who had it before the Soviet occupation in June 1940 and their descendants.5 This resulted in the disenfranchisement6 of a significant part of the population and turned the regime into what can be called an ethnic democracy.7 The ethnic cleavage or, more correctly, the divide8 between citizens and non-citizens, has been crucial in shaping the politics of post-1990 Latvia and the Constitution of 1922, with no provision for basic human rights;9 the strict law on citizenship10 made the divide more pronounced.