Kas Latvijā tik īpašs?

11. February, 2013


Viljams Eliots Bulmers

Foto: Helen K

Latvijas Satversme ir tik veiksmīgs dokuments, ka ir nopietns pamats cerēt uz veiksmīgu valsts tālāko attīstību un politiskās vides pilnveidošanu. Tomēr ar labiem pamatiem nepietiek. Nepieciešama gudra apsaimniekošana.

Raksts ir angļu valodā, tāpēc piedāvājam īsu kopsavilkumu latviski.
Glāzgovas Universitātes doktors un politikas pasniedzējs Viljams Eliots Bulmers piedāvā savu skatījumu uz to, kas Latvijā ir īpašs. Savā publikācijā autors skaidro – lai arī daudzas no cerībām un solījumiem par to, kādai būtu jābūt mūsu valstij, nav piepildījušies, Latvijai ir ar ko lepoties – īpaši ar mūsu Satversmi.
Rakstā autors piedāvā savu vērtējumu un skaidro, kas mūsu Satversmi padara īpašu citu pasaules valstu konstitūciju vidū: tā ir gan Satversmes izcelsme, gan saturs, gan arī forma, kas savā relatīvajā vienkāršībā un īsumā ir domāta ‘vienkāršajam cilvēkam’. Satversme nav sarežģīts juridisks dokuments, kas ir nepieejams savas sarežģītās konstrukcijas un valodas dēļ. Vēl jo vairāk, politiskais rāmis, kas ietver Latvijas valsts politisko iekārtu, savā ziņā ir daudz veiksmīgāks un demokrātiskāks, nekā, piemēram, Amerikas Savienoto Valstu vai Lielbritānijas.

Autors atgādina, kaut arī valsts konstitūcija ir ‘valsts mājas’ pamati, tomēr tie neapdrošina pret jumta tecēšanu. Tādēļ ar labu konstitūciju vien, protams, ir par maz.

What’s so great about Latvia?

I know from my Latvian friends in Scotland that not all the hopes and promises of statehood have been matched by reality. Latvia has many problems: economic uncertainty, political corruption, and the continuing difficulty of fully integrating an ethnically and linguistically Russian minority into a Latvian state, to name but three. Yet the people of Latvia have something very valuable: a state of their own, which gives them the ability and the responsibility to solve their own problems in their own way. How much worse would these problems be, if Latvia were still governed from Moscow, with no state of its own?

This statehood – and with it the basic right to determine our own future and to solve our own problems – is the very thing for which the Scottish Government, which plans to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, is now working. Even though a large section of the Scottish population is still fearful of the responsibilities of self-government, many are inspired by the potential benefits that statehood brings.

Statehood alone, however, is not sufficient. For the state to truly belong to the whole people – to be a res publica, or ‘public thing’, it must be constituted on a democratic foundation that gives voice, power and rights to its citizens. It is in this respect that Latvia shines: whatever the country’s other faults and failings may be, it has an excellent Constitution. Latvia’s Constitution deserves to be celebrated by Latvians as a great national achievement, and to be revered by foreign observers as an inspiring example of democratic constitutionalism.

Whatever the country’s other faults and failings may be, it has an excellent Constitution.

What makes the Latvian Constitution so great? Firstly, it’s origins. Latvia was reborn as a modern state in the aftermath of the First World War, in an age of great (albeit short-lived) optimism. Its Constitution of 1922 embraced many new constitutional devices, intended to create a more participatory democracy. The most important of these were proportional representation and citizens-initiated referendums – the first broadening the basis of representation to include small parties, rather than the two-party duopoly of many older democracy, and the second going beyond representation, to involve the people in direct decision-making. Although the 1922 Constitution was destroyed by authoritarianism and then by occupation, it was revived when the country regained its independence, and so the Constitution of Latvia, unlike that of other Baltic Republics and other post-Soviet Bloc states, retains a trace of that naïve, charming 1920s optimism.

Nowhere is this optimism – this sense of trusting the people – more visible than in the Constitution’s referendum provisions. If the President wants to dissolve Parliament, the people must decide (Art. 48). Likewise, the people have the right to decide on bills suspended and referred to them by the President or by one third of the members of Parliament (Art. 72), and can enact laws and make changes to the Constitution by way of initiative (Art. 78). Although not unique in Europe, such an impressive range of popular controls over the state is rare.

Although not unique in Europe, such an impressive range of popular controls over the state is rare.

The Constitution of Latvia is also remarkable for its simplicity and brevity. It sets out the framework of the state with clarity, without being burdened by detailed policy pronouncements that are best left to ordinary legislation. In the English translation it consists of fewer than 4,500 words – compared with a European average of about 15,000 words. This is a Constitution written for the people, not just for lawyers and bureaucrats.

This elegant simplicity is reflected in the institutions that the Constitution creates: a single chamber Parliament, proportionally elected; a President who serves mainly as a figurehead and guardian; a Prime Minister and Cabinet who are responsible to Parliament; an independent judiciary; and, at the root of it all, the people, exercising sovereign control over the whole. This is democracy in its most refined form – and a form that other countries would do well to copy. The US model of 18th century constitutionalism, in contrast, favours separation of the powers, bicameralism, federalism. All this complexity is intended to frustrate the expression of the people’s will: the resulting tug-of-war between the president and congress, the house and senate, the federal government and the states, produces a stalemate in which progressive policies are often thwarted. The British model allows effective action, but at the cost of representativeness, and at the risk of having no popular control over a government once it is in office. Latvia does better than both the USA and the UK: its combination of parliamentarism, proportional representation, unicameralism, and a unitary state enables full deliberative ‘inclusion’ to be combined with ‘integrated’ administration. It is an example of what Gerring & Thacker (2008) describe as a ‘centripetal’ form of government. This is very suitable for small states and is usually associated with good governance. A newly independent state such as Scotland would be wiser to adopt a ‘Latvian model’ Constitution, than either an American or British model.

A newly independent state such as Scotland would be wiser to adopt a ‘Latvian model’ Constitution, than either an American or British model.

This lavish praise for Latvia Constitution does not mean we must be blind to the faults, failures and shortcomings of the political system. The Constitution is the foundation of the house: a necessary prerequisite of stability, but no guarantee that the roof will not leak. A good Constitution helps, for sure, but it cannot, by itself, guarantee stable, effective, honest and public-spirited government. These things depend not just on the Constitution, but also on the electoral laws, the laws on party funding, parliamentary procedures, the regulations of the civil service, and so forth. More importantly, they depend on the civic attitudes of the people – their willingness to engage in politics, to share responsibility for the public realm, and to hold their representatives and officials to account. A good government relies not only on a good Constitution, but on good-hearted citizens.

Nevertheless, it is because of the excellence of Latvia’s Constitution that I, as a foreigner who has developed a fondness for Latvia and its people, have hope for the country’s future. Under such a Constitution, the vices of tyranny and foreign rule can be unlearned, and the virtues of good citizenship acquired. The citizens of Latvia would do well to write the Constitution not only on their doorposts and their gates [ 1 ], as outward laws to be obeyed (and thus evaded) by the letter, but also on their hearts, to be obeyed inwardly by their spirit[ 2 ]. For in obedience to such a law there is freedom: freedom flourish and thrive, and to enjoy a ‘civic way of life’ without fear of injustice, oppression, arbitrary power, or corruption.

Skotijas Konstitucionālā komisija raksts

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