Annual Report 2010
The President’s Commissions, Councils and Chapter of Orders
The Commission of Historians
The Latvian President’s Commission of Historians continued its work last year in relation to the study and explanation of 20th century historical issues in Latvia, basically focusing on the Soviet occupation (1940-1990). The results of the research were published in the 26th volume of the commission’s papers, “Occupation, Collaboration, Resistance: History and Understanding Thereof”
In June 2010, the Baltic States commemorated the 70th anniversary of their occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union. With the aim of remind society of these tragic events, the Commission of Historians and the Latvian Occupation Museum organised a conference in June under the heading “Latvia’s Occupation in 1940: Historical Problems and Contemporary Issues.” The conference brought together some of Latvia’s most distinguished historians, lawyers, archival specialists, politicians, journalists and people who are interested in history.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the restoration of Latvia’s independence, the Commission of Historians worked with the University of Latvia, the May 4 Declaration Club and other public organisations to put together an extensive international conference, “Latvia’s Independence Declaration: International and Domestic Political Aspects.” President Zatlers addressed the conference, and papers were delivered by recognised historians, legal specialists and active participants in the processes which took place at that time.
Also in 2010, the Commission of Historians worked on a book about Latvian history that would be a summary of history written in a way which the public at large could understand. In June, the commission published a book, “The History of Latvia,” in Latvian and Russian. Authored by Professor Ilgvars Butulis and Professor Antonijs Zunda, the book was presented to all of Latvia’s Russian schools. On September 1, President Zatlers presented the book personally to the Salaspils High School.
The Commission of Historians also continued to work together with the Ministry of Education, the Foreign Ministry, the Association of History Teachers, as well as various museums and archives to study Latvian history and consider various issues therein. The commission has, on several occasions, been asked in official terms to present its views on various historical issues.
President Zatlers has talked about aspects of Latvia’s history in the 20th century while travelling abroad. When he visited Russia, he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on the establishment of a bilateral historical commission of Latvian and Russian historians, also agreeing that Russia would open its archives more extensively. The commission will study aspects of Latvia’s and Russia’s history during the 20th century in greater depth so as to prepare a scholarly and objective description of the relevant events. The Presidential Commission of Historians will delegate its representatives to the commission, too.
The State Language Commission
The purpose of the State Language Commission (VVK) is to identify strategic aspects of language policy on the basis of all-encompassing studies of the existing situation. It is also charged with overseeing the implementation of the state language policy programme, as well as to offer advice and consultations on laws related to the state language.
In 2010, the VVK met regularly, and members also took part in electronic surveys in relation to timely issues. At its meetings, the commission discussed issues that are important in terms of the state language and Latvia’s society – the merger of language-related institutions, issues related to state language exams, as well as Latvia’s media law. The VVK prepared proposals for the new law on the electronic mass media, and some of these were included in the law. The commission has answered letters from various interested parties to explain the application of the state language law, the use of the state language in professional areas and others, as well as the influence of other languages on the state language. Because the commission did not receive financing in 2010, it could not organise larger organisational or informational events. Members of the commission, however, actively expressed their views in individual interviews and articles.
On February 27, 2010, President Zatlers attended a meeting of the VVK at which the issue of the draft law on the electronic mass media which was pending in Parliament was discussed. The focus was on the need to protect the state language on television and radio. Members of the commission also talked about the work of reorganised state language institutions – the Latvian Language Agency and the State Language Centre – at a time of reduced financial and human resources. Members also discussed the acute problem of longer queues of people waiting to take the state language exam, as well as the fact that Latvia cannot ensure Latvian language training for kindergarteners. President Zatlers summoned the relevant government officials to come and discuss ways of addressing these problems.
On March 17, 2010, President Zatlers met with Education Minister Tatjana Koķe, State Employment Agency director Baiba Paševica, and State Language Commission chairman Andrejs Veisbergs to talk about financing for the teaching of the state language to unemployed people and for the ability of such people to take the state language exam. A total of 8,339 unemployed people began Latvian language studies as a part of this programme.
Mr Veisbergs granted several interviews last year to the first digital news channel in Latvia, TV 24, as well as to Radio Latvia, to talk about the situation with the state language in relation to the law on the electronic mass media.
Members of the President’s Strategic Analysis Commission also attended a meeting of the VVK at which the role of the state language was discussed. Members of the two commissions discussed the importance of the state language and its role in Latvia’s “Sustainable Development Strategy Up to 2030.” They also discussed the status of foreign students and lectors at Latvia’s institutions of higher learning, as well as the role of the Latvian language in higher education.
Throughout 2010, members of the VVK promoted international dialogue about the role of language. In the spring, commission chairman Veisbergs met with his opposite number from Lithuania, Irena Smetoniene to discuss and compare timely issues related to the state language – minority education, state language laws, the work of the relevant commissions, and the organisations which work on terminology in Lithuania and Latvia. In October, the chairman and other members of the commission attended a broad international conference, the “Baltic HLT (Human Language Technologies) Conference.”
The Minorities Consulting Council
Last year the President’s Minorities Consulting Council worked on ways of promoting public harmony and consolidation in Latvia by focusing on inter-ethnic dialogue and ways of promoting it. An important events was a roundtable discussion, “Minorities for Latvia’s Growth,” which was held on April 28. Delegates discussed national policies related to minorities, as well as the role of minorities in the country’s economic, cultural, educational, scientific and athletic life. Participants included the theatrical director Gaļina Poliščuka, Latvian Culture Academy Professor Olga Žitluhina, the distinguished long distance runner Jeļena Prokopčuka, the director of the Lomonosov Classical Gymnasium, Romāns Alijevs, history teacher Jeļena Smoļina, and others. Participants in the roundtable discussion supported the idea of involving Latvia’s minorities more actively in political and cultural processes, of developing more regular intercultural dialogue, and of making note of the role of sports in the consolidation of Latvia’s society.
On August 11, the commission met to talk about the role of the mass media in inter-ethnic relations. Journalists from Latvia’s leading Latvian and Russian language newspapers, Latvijas Avīze and Chas, were invited to take part. Participants agreed that inter-ethnic relations in Latvia are normal. They also emphasised the role of the mass media in this. President Zatlers suggested that the print media present more information about achievements in the establishment of inter-ethnic relations in Latvia.
On November 24, the commission met to talk about the participation of youngsters from minority schools in song and dance festivals. President Zatlers called for their far more extensive involvement in the festivals, saying that this means work with schools, parents and local governments so that new choirs and folk dance troupes can be established at minority schools. The commission recommended that financing for this goal be sought from the Latvian Integration Fund. Support was also given to the positive experience of Jevgēnijs Ustinskovs, who teaches music and conducts the choir of the No. 13 High School in Daugavpils.
All told, the Minorities Consulting Council met five times during 2010.
The Commission on Constitutional Law
The Commission on Constitutional Law was established with the aim of supporting the legislative functions of the Latvian President, as enshrined in the Constitution, as well as of offering views about ways of interpreting and improving constitutional norms. The commission is also charged with conducting scholarly research and organising qualified discussions about important aspects of the law.
In 2010, the Commission on Constitutional Law issued written statements about two issues. On January 18, 2010, acting on the basis of a request submitted to the President by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the commission released its views about the need for parliamentary approval of major loans (this had to do with the Constitutional Court’s ruling on December 21, 2009, in relation to pension issues). On May 24, the commission issued its views on legal regulations of the public electronic mass media in a democratic country. Some of the proposals from this statement were used by the Saeima’s Commission on Human Rights and Public Affairs when it worked on the new law on the electronic mass media. When President Zatlers vetoed the first version of the law and sent it back for secondary consideration, he included some of the arguments expressed by the Commission on Constitutional Law in his letter of motivation for the veto.
At this time, at the request of the President, the Commission on Constitutional Law is actively working on the issue of how to improve balance and co-operation among the branches of government so as to ensure a more effective decision-making mechanisms, not least in terms of the role of the President in a modern parliamentary republic.
Members of the commission meet in person in some cases and electronically in others, because commission chairman Egils Levits and member Ineta Ziemele do not work in Latvia. In person meetings included one on August 10, when members of the commission met with President Zatlers, and another on March 9, when the Strategic Analysis Commission organised a roundtable discussion, “Determining the Status of Political Parties and Direct Democracy as Solutions to the Crisis in Latvia’s Political System.”
The National Heraldry Commission
The National Heraldry Commission (VHK) is a collegial institution which does not have the status of a legal entity. Its job is to handle duties that are enshrined in six laws – the law on state seals, the law on the state seal, the law on the Latvian flag, the law on local governments, the law on administrative territories and populated areas, as well as the law on state honours. The VHK collects informational materials about seals and evaluates new seals, aspects of the state seal, as well as the heraldic and artistic solutions of honours granted by the state and local governments.
The chairman of the commission is the artist and graphic designer Laimonis Šēnbergs, and the vice chairwoman is Ramona Umblija, head of the Department of General Study Courses at the Jāzeps Vītols Academy of Music. Members include Dr Kristīne Ducmane from the History Department of the National Museum of History, Māra Eiha, a specialist in faleristics and numismatics, Dr Aina Blinkena from the Latvian Academy of Sciences, Valdis Villerušs, a professor at the Latvian Academy of Art and an artist and graphic designer, Dr Armands Vijups, an associate professor at the Department of Archaeological and Historical Support Disciplines of the University of Latvia’s Faulty of History and Philosophy, Dr Imants Lancmanis, director of the Rundāle Castle Museum, Dr Gvido Straube, dean of the Faculty of History and Philosophy of the University of Latvia. Members of the commission are not paid for their participation.
In 2010, one of the main jobs for the commission was to evaluate the seals of Latvia’s newly defined administrative districts. The panel also evaluated proposals from government institutions and administrative districts as to honours which they award.
The National Heraldry Commission met 11 times in 2010 to review 85 administrative district seals, five family seals, two city seals, one parish seal and three seals of institutions (organisations), four local government flags, 10 honours granted by state institutions (including the Cabinet of Ministers), and four honours granted by local governments.
The commission provided consultations when the law on state honours was amended (the amendments took effect on May 1, 2010). It also made proposals related to Cabinet of Ministers rules on how state and local government honours are to be established (the regulations took effect on October 5, 2010), as well as to regulations concerning the implementation of the law on the Latvian flag (also taking effect on October 5). On two occasions, the commission provided consultations to the Foreign Ministry on the establishment of its graphic style.
The commission also offered 79 consultations related to local government seals and honours, focusing on rules of heraldry and artistic criteria, as well.
The commission also published a supplement to the book “Latvia’s Seals,” adding eight parish seals from Vidzeme and seven parish seals from Kurzeme to the 2008 edition of the book.
The Strategic Analysis Commission
In 2010, the main focus for the Strategic Analysis Commission (SAK) was on the quality and competitiveness of Latvia’s educational system, ways of ensuring economic renewal, as well as ways of promoting innovations and public participation. The commission engaged in various activities in pursuit of these goals:
Seven SAK reports: “The Tax System and Employment: Timely Issues Related to Economic Recovery”; “Specification of the Status of Political Parties and Direct Democracy as Solutions to Latvia’s Political System Crisis”; “Innovative Proposals in Education”; “Latvia’s Schools After 2009: Have Changes Only Just Begun?”; “Higher Education in Latvia: Facts, Problems and Opportunities”; “A Report on Normative Regulations Related to the Process of Innovations and Possible Obstacles Therein”; and “An Analytical Report on the Financing Systems of Higher Education in Other Countries.”
Three roundtable discussions with the participation of President Zatlers: “The Tax System and Employment: Timely Issues Related to Economic Recovery”; “Specification of the Status of Political Parties and Direct Democracy as Solutions to Latvia’s Political System Crisis”; and “Innovative Proposals in Education.”
Three video discussions which were broadcast live on the Internet and recorded on the SAK’s Saki.lv portal of ideas. The topics were industrial policy, the situation in Latvia’s educational sector, and innovative proposals in education.
Six SAK meetings and several working group meetings. Members of the SAK also took part in the work of several other working groups and commissions, including the Functional Audit Commission, the National Development Council, and the working group focusing on reforms in higher education. At the initiative of SAK members, a working group was set up in 2010 the create an innovations platform known as “RIDEON.” Several members of the SAK took active part in the working groups’ work. There were also several areas that are of importance to Latvia’s long-term development which were the focus on in-depth analysis conducted by thematic working groups involving experts invited by the SAK to take part. These included education, the environment and climate, rural and urban development, demographics, the health care system, domestic security, and the national economy.
Consultations by SAK members on various subjects related to the development of the country, provided to President Zatlers, the Finance Ministry, the Economics Ministry, the Welfare Ministry, the European Commission office in Latvia, etc.
An expert panel established by the SAK to identify new ideas and proposals as to how Latvia’s problems can be resolved more effectively. Participants are experienced professionals from various areas, and their job is to evaluate, supplement and improve ideas about solutions, to express views about specific issues, and to take part in discussions about various subjects. This is an E-solution. Experts register in the system and offer their views about decisively important issues and decisions related to the country’s development. In May and June of 2010, the SAK approached experts from various areas – economists, demographers, sociologists, political scientists, cultural workers, medics, etc. – asking them to take part in the establishment of expert panels. 160 experts signed up, and 92 of them filled out the full expert questionnaire. The first survey was conducted in June, focusing on two aspects of challenges related to Latvia’s sustainable development – prognoses in this area, and the most important trends and long-term solutions therein.
The Saki.lv idea platform continued to operate successfully in 2010. The portal contains SAK studies, reports, discussions, expert assessments, and blogs. Each week information is sent electronically to everyone who has signed up at the portal to receive news (this is open to anyone who is interested). The weekly letters contain information about the latest articles and information at Saki.lv. More than 36,000 unique users visited the portal during the course of 2010. The SAK is delighted about this, because visitors facilitate the broader consideration in society of the expert discussions and their reports.
“Latvian Forum” discussions were held to help the people of Latvia to organise themselves. The forum was established at the suggestion of President Zatlers and the Strategic Analysis Commission, and in 2009 and 2010 it involved four rounds of discussions at 25 different locations in Latvia. Some 2,000 people took part. The idea behind the Latvian Forum is that Latvia and its economy will recover from the crisis more quickly only if every single person in Latvia is an active participant in social and economic processes. This can be done by bringing together people who can work together in a constructive and creative way in identifying and implementing new ideas. The fourth Latvian Forum discussion was held on June 18, 2010, in Daugavpils, Valmiera, Ventspils and Jelgava. Juries of citizens were established in each city to talk about various solutions. Some 25 local residents took part in each city. In Daugavpils, people discussed the shadow economy and the payment of taxes. For Valmiera, the subject was education. People in Ventspils talked about demographics, while the group in Jelgava debated the subject of public participation.
Scenāriji.lv is a portal which the SAK and its colleagues established on June 18, 2010. In advance of the 10th Saeima election, which took place in October, the portal offered an in-depth look at seven issues that are important for Latvia’s sustainable development – education, the environment and climate, urban and rural development, demographics, the health care system, domestic security and the economy. Working groups of experts wrote articles about these issues, also establishing interactive tools to model scenarios, and engaging in online discussions. Interactive tools that were developed in tandem with Scenāriji.lv partners included a tax calculator, “Try on Your Party” and “Promises Falling Into Your Pocketbook” (in partnership with Providus and Politika.lv). The tax calculator allowed users to calculate the way in which changes in tax rates would affect their personal budget. People could also assess the programmes of Latvia’s political parties. With the help of strategic partners such as Radio Latvia, the Delfi.lv portal, Latvijas Avīze, the Draugiem.lv portal, and TV 3, the portal facilitated broader public debates. During the course of 2010, Scenāriji.lv was visited by more than 90,000 unique users, while online discussions were monitored by more than 4,000 people.
Several major conferences were supported by the SAK in 2010. The SAK helped to determine the content of the following conferences: 1) A conference organised in May with the active help of the SAK by the Institute of Private Finances of Swedbank about the financial education of Latvia’s residents. The focus at the conference was on the need to educate the people of Latvia about ways of improving the quality of their personal finances and management thereof; (2) An international seminar organised by the SAK and the Rīga School of Economics on September 8, “A New Innovation Platform for Latvia,” where changes in Latvia’s innovation policies were discussed and the establishment of a new platform for innovations was analysed; (3) A conference on December 15 called “Competitive Education,” which was organised by the Ministry of Education. Dr Roberts Ķīlis, chairman of the SAK, took part in the conference and in the preparation of its concept, and more than 490 educators and educational experts from various cities and administrative districts in Latvia took part; (4) Dr Ķīlis and other members of the SAK have taken part in or delivered papers at more than 20 different conferences, forums and seminars.
The National Security Council
The National Security Council (NDP) deals with national security policies and reaches agreement related to government institutions and officials insofar as this issue is concerned. The council seeks to improve national security policies, to address problems, to review legislation and plans related to national security, and addresses other issues, as indicated by law.
The council is chaired by President Zatlers, and it met 11 times in 2010. The fundamental item on the council’s agenda is always Latvia’s security situation and related issues. The NDP regularly hears reports from the directors of national security institutions about timely issues related to national security.
A key issue for the NDP in 2010 was the leakage of data from the State Revenue Services electronic declarations system. The council sought ways of normalising that particular situation.
Another priority for the NDP in 2010 was the drafting and parliamentary approval of a new law on the electronic mass media.
On June 19, the NDP met to consider problems at the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), with members of the council recommending that the prime minister set up an inter-institutional commission to review the bureau’s work. Once the commission was set up, it submitted an intermediate report and then a final report about its activities to the NDP.
The NDP also held several discussions about Latvia’s participation in the international military operation in Afghanistan, as well as other international obligations. Of particular importance for the council was the 2011 budget of the Defence Ministry, along with medium-term budget planning. At the recommendation of President Zatlers, the NDP also evaluated candidates for the post of commander of the National Armed Forces (NBS). The eventual nominee, Major General Raimonds Graube, became commander of the NBS on July 6, 2010.
The Presidential Military Council
The Presidential Military Council was established in accordance with the law on national security, and it is chaired by President Zatlers as the commander-in-chief of the National Armed Forces.
The council supports the President in his work related to the defence functions that are indicated in the Constitution and the law, also helping him to carry out his duties as commander-in-chief of the National Armed Forces.
In July 23, 2010, President Zatlers approved new rules for the Military Council, and the membership of the council underwent substantial changes.
The Presidential Military Council met twice in 2010. The priority for the council is structural reforms of the Armed Forces and the results of same. The council has declared that the reforms were launched correctly and at the right time. Another major issue has been the capabilities of the Armed Forces during conditions of reduced financing in 2010 and 2011.
The Council on Restoring the Rīga Castle
On March 30, 2008, President Zatlers established the Council on Restoring the Rīga Castle to provide consultations, support and evaluations related to the restoration of the Rīga Castle, which is of national importance as a cultural and historical ensemble and is also the most important example of Medieval fortifications and building arts in the Latvian capital city. Former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis was chosen to head the council. He and other members of the panel are not paid for their work.
The focus of attention for the council in 2010 was preparation for the renovation of the interior of the Rīga Castle’s forecastle. The work was based on the assistance of consultants approved by the council – experts, interior design specialists and members of the council itself. The Latvian Association of Architects organised a series of discussions for architects and other interested parties about the interior design of the forecastle.
The Council on Restoring the Rīga Castle met twice in 2010 to discuss the renovation and restoration of the castle, the interior of the forecastle, and solutions related to same. After discussions at the council and among members of the public, it was decided to recommend that the State Real Estate Agency launch a public bid for tenders to find ideas about individual aspects of the renovation of the forecastle’s interior.
The Chapter of National Honours
The law on national honours states that the Chapter of National Orders oversees all issues related to the presentation of state honours. During the course of 2010, the chancellor of the chapter organised six meetings, one of them with the participation of representatives of the Defence Ministry. The chapter considered the nomination of 420 people for state honours – the Order of Three Stars, the Viesturs Order and the Cross of Recognition. It was decided to grant state honours to 220 people:
The Order of Three Stars, Second Grade, to two people; the Order of Three Stars, Third Grade, to 18 people; the Order of Three Stars, Fourth Grade, to 46 people; the Order of Three Stars, Fifth Grade, to 28 people; the (gilded) mark of recognition of the Order of Three Stars, first level, to three people; and the (silver) mark of recognition of the Order of Three Stars, second level, to one person – 98 persons in all;
The Viesturs Order, First Grade, to 19 people, among whom 16 received the award posthumously; the Viesturs Order, Second Grade, to 28 people; the (gilded) mark of recognition of the Viesturs Order to 3 people; the (silver) mark of recognition of the Viesturs Order to seven people; and the (bronze) mark of recognition of the Viesturs Order to five people – 59 persons in all;
The Cross of Recognition, First Grade, two three people (two crosses awarded as part of protocol exchange during state visits); the Cross of Recognition, Third Grade, to four people; the Cross of Recognition, Fourth Grade, to 18 people; the Cross of Recognition, Fifth Grade, to 25 people; the large special-level mark of recognition of the Cross of Recognition to 6 people; the small special-level mark of recognition of the Cross of Recognition to three people; the (gilded) mark of recognition, first grade, of the Cross of Recognition to three people; and the (bronze) mark of recognition, third grade, of the Cross of Recognition to one person – 63 persons in all.
Posthumous presentation of the Viesturs Order occurred for the first time since the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 2010, with the Chapter of State Honours voting to grant posthumous recognition to a number of people as Commanders of the Great Cross of the Viesturs Order. The tradition of issuing posthumous state honours in Latvia began in 1920 and ended in 1928 in the Republic of Latvia, this relating to the Order of Lāčplēsis.
President Zatlers presented state honours during six ceremonies at the Rīga Castle in relation to important events for the country – the date of the proclamation of Latvia’s declaration of independence on May 4, Lāčplēsis Day on November 11, Latvian independence day on November 8, and individual ceremonies in Rīga (seven honours) and abroad (seven honours).
Also in 2010, the Chapter of Orders voted to withdraw one state honour and to replace two lost state honours. The President issued one authorisation for the public bearing of foreign state honours.
Last year the Chapter of Orders also reviewed other issues related to state honours. The chancellor of the chapter, Andris Vilks, joined with chapter member Vice Admiral Gaidis Zeibots and chapter secretary Maira Sudrabiņa, in taking part in the work of a working group which the Legal Commission of Parliament set up in 2008 to consider proposals from President Zatlers on amendments to the law on state honours.
Parliament approved the amendments to the law on April 15, 2010, to establish a miniature of each state honour – the Order of Three Stars, the Viesturs Order and the Cross of Recognition – also addressing the design, awarding and bearing of the various honours. The amendments also provided for the posthumous granting of the Viesturs Order, which allows the President and the Chapter of State Honours to express respect to soldiers, fire-fighters, police officers and others who have demonstrated courage and heroism in service of the state and have died while on duty or not on duty in protecting and defending the country’s independence. The amendments also say that people who have been awarded state honours can purchase miniatures thereof if they need them. The amendments also say that the honours which are dictated by law for the President of Latvia when he or she takes office are to be awarded after the new President takes his or her oath of office.