04 May 2007

The Fourth of May

Seventeen years ago today, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the declaration restoring our independence -- biographies of the 138 persons who voted in favor of freedom are available here (in Latvian). The text of the declaration in English is here. In Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, Dainis Īvāns reflects on the past and present -- then the young and charismatic leader of the Popular Front, he resigned when the Law on Citizenship did not grant automatic citizenship to those who settled here during the occupation. In the interview, he reiterates his belief that this was a breach of promise and a betrayal of those non-citizens who supported the Popular Front. Īvāns recalls being part of the delegation that visited the Kremlin prior to adopting the Fourth of May Declaration, meeting with an "aggressive" Gorbachev and Ryzhkov -- the latter observed that Landsbergis could be crushed in a couple of weeks, whilst Gorbachev warned the young Īvāns to think about his future. "I know what you say abroad, I have it all on the table."

Dainis Īvāns stresses the absence of structures at that time -- Latvia had no army, no police, no courts. These structures were constructed, and Īvāns emphasizes the importance of Western Latvians' contributions and advice. Egils Levits, who drafted the declaration, went on to become a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and today is a judge at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Īvāns: "It has always been easier for people to believe than to think. But we had to make use of the phenomenon of faith. We are what we are, yet in the period of the Awakening we gathered the nation's intellectual potential and were worthy of the trust people placed in it. The people itself chose who would lead the movement. Then came another time, when a different team emerged from the bushes, with different goals. In essence, to grab what it could for itself." Īvāns observes that no real traditions for celebrating this holiday have yet developed (in fact, this only became an official holiday a few years ago). "Shoot fireworks? We do that on the Eighteenth of November." (18 November is the day Latvia's independence was proclaimed in 1918, and it is our national day.) He notes that a military parade would be unutterably absurd -- non-violence was at the very heart of the Fourth of May.

This year some of us have reason for serious celebration -- I reported on May Day that rumor had it that the signature drive for a referendum on the security legislation had succeeded. It did indeed, and nearly as many people signed in the last week as signed in the preceding three. Ben Nimmo of Deutsche Presse-Agentur writes:

In 30 days of polling, provisional results showed that over 212,000
voters signed the call for a referendum on two amendments to laws
governing the security services - far more than the 149,064 needed,
the Latvian central election commission announced.

The provisional result is a major blow to Latvia's ruling coalition,
which had always opposed the demand for a popular vote on the
amendments - going so far as to cancel the amendments before the
process of gathering signatures even began.
Despite the withdrawal of the legislation, the referendum will not be a useless exercise, because a successful referendum would mean that no similar legislation could be introduced for the remainder of this Parliament's term (if it is, it can be taken to court and found to be in violation of the popular will, then invalidated). With this remarkably cynical Government, which will agitate for people to stay home because 453 730 people must participate if the referendum is to be valid, one wouldn't be at all surprised if they waited for "their" President to take office and reintroduced the offensive parts of the legislation then.

The photograph is of a massive demonstration of support for the restoration of independence on 4 May 1990, on the right bank of the Daugava in Rīga.

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