01 May 2007

May Day

I finally got off my duff and went to the Chemists' Palace of Culture in the Chemistry District (very Soviet, those old names for what is basically a bleak neighborhood of Socialist housing) to sign in favor of a referendum on the ill-conceived security legislation our President refused to sign into law, invoking Article 72 of the Satversme, Latvia's constitution (my previous post on the matter is here). It was an appropriate day to do so -- Labor Day is also the Day of the Convocation of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Latvia. On a similarly sunny May Day in 1920, the freely elected representatives of a free Latvian nation gathered for the first time to make decisions about the present and the future of the newborn state, as Fēlikss Cielēns, one of the delegates, described it.

Walking towards what was then the "Daugavpils Desert," where the Chemistry is today, flags fluttering
in the chill breeze, it felt good to participate in a process those representatives included in the constitution they drafted and adopted. I've since heard a reliable rumor that the required number of signatures, 149 064, was recently reached -- in the nick of time, as tomorrow's the last day to sign (though I understand that in my city, only a few hundred people did so). The governing coalition hastily withdrew the legislation to avoid a referendum, since a referendum will be seen as a vote of confidence, or lack thereof, in this Cabinet -- they've therefore tried to paint the process as a costly "referendum about nothing." The film director Laila Pakalniņa, writing in Diena, observed how she felt when the French visitors attending an event in Rīga excused themselves to fly home and vote, seeing it as their duty -- when most Latvians cannot be bothered to go and sign for a referendum that is crucial to whether our democracy functions or not.

Fēlikss Cielēns, in exile after the 1905 Revolution, marveled at French democracy. He once found a page from a young child's notebook -- notes on the Declaration of the Rights of Man. He kept it all his life and held it, nearly blind, when he dictated his memoirs, including such high points as striding into that May Day assembly eighty-seven years ago. We still have a long way to go before democracy is so ingrained in us -- but reaching the required number of signatures will at least demonstrate that not everybody is apathetic.

The photograph of May Day 1920 is from Wikipedia.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am happy to hear the required number of signatures was reached. I have been wondering if the Saeima acted properly when it voted to withdraw the offending legislation immediately after the President invoked article 72 to effectively "suspend" the ammendments. By suspending the legislation, there is no law on the books to be voted either for or against. I have not heard of a legislative body voting to revoke legislation that has yet to be proclaimed into law.


02 May, 2007 02:49  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks for your commenting, Pierre, as always!

As I wrote (I ought to emphasize this), it's only a rumor, though a reliable one in my opinion... but we'll be almost certain when the provisional results are announced tomorrow!

Of course, then there will be the referendum itself, which will be an uphill battle in view of how we'll only get to it by the skin of our teeth. Though I'm sure that the success of the signature drive will provide additional impetus, the parties in power will probably employ their well-funded polittekhnologiya to discourage voters.

Since the referendum must be held within two months, it will probably take place at the very end of VVF's term in office -- one might hope that the coalition parties will improve their so far sordid behavior in choosing the next President without regard for public opinion... but once they hold the presidency, they'll be a steamroller. It's difficult to see how that could be averted.

By the way, Romania is also in the throes of crisis -- see Edward Lucas' blog.

02 May, 2007 06:19  

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