Annual Report 2009
The President’s Commissions and Councils
The State Language Commission
The primary purpose of the State Language Commission is to draft strategic goals in terms of language policy – ones that are based on all-encompassing research and situational analysis. The commission oversees the implementation of the state language policy, and it takes part in the drafting of laws related to the policy.
The State Language Commission met regularly in 2009 to discuss timely issues related to the state language and the people of Latvia – threats against small schools in Latvia, computerised linguistics projects such as the “Language Shore” project, mergers of linguistic institutions, and laws related to the media. The commission has answered letters from various people who want to know more about the application of the language law, the proper use of the state language in professional and other areas, the effects of other languages on the state language, etc.
Also in 2009, the commission took part in or financed the television broadcast “Language in Latvia’s Regions,” the publication and presentation of the 5th compendium of commission papers, “Translation: A Cultural and Historical Event II,” an international conference called “Lost or Found in Translation,” and a series of lectures on the variations of language and policy related to same. The commission also took part in a discussion about the Lettigalian language, as well as a commemorative event to remember the historian and theologian Haralds Biezais.
The Commnission of Historians
The job of the Commission of Historians is to study the subject of crimes against humanity during the two occupations of Latvia between 1940 and 1956, and to prepare a final report on the matter. Only a few of the members of the commission are directly involved in the research, which is mostly handled by some 25 professional historians. This work will take several years to complete. New archival materials must be identified, and as objective a sense as possible must be established vis-à-vis the issues at hand.
The President’s Commission of Historians also focused in 2009 on various aspects of Latvia’s 20th-century history, explaining these matters to the public. The primary focus was on the German and Soviet occupations of 1940-1990. The commission has released two books which represent the results of its work: “The History of the Baltic Region, 1940s-1980s,” and “Occupation Regimes in the Baltic States, 1940-1991.”
On October 27-28, 2009, the Commission organised an extensive international conference of historians in Rīga, “Occupation, Collaboration, Resistance: History and its Perception.” Scholars from nine countries took part, comparing research into the history of occupations in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. The aim was to identify trends which the historians had in common and those areas in which their work differed.
On April 29, President Zatlers met with history teachers from all over Latvia in the Great Hall of the University of Latvia – some 400 teachers in all. Participants at the meeting analysed the role of history lessons in Latvia’s educational system, and the President signalled his support for the establishment of Latvian history as a separate subject of instruction in Latvia’s schools as soon as possible.
The Commission of Historians has worked with the Education and Science Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Association of History Teachers, and various museums and archives to deal with issues related to the research and explanation of Latvia’s history. It has also helped the Cabinet of Ministers’ representative before international human rights institutions.
During the course of 2009, President Zatlers devoted a great deal of attention to explaining Latvia’s complicated history. He has discussed this matter at all major memorial events, while on foreign visits, in interviews with the mass media, and when meeting with local residents, including schoolchildren.
The Commission on Constitutional Law
The Commission on Constitutional Law was established to support the legislative functions which are granted to the Latvian President in the Constitution, offering views on improvement and interpretation of constitutional norms. The Commission also conducts scholarly research and qualified debates about timely aspects of the law.
In 2009, members of the Commission on Constitutional Law worked to improve the mechanism whereby snap parliamentary elections can be organised in Latvia. They served as experts when President Zatlers’ legislative initiatives were discussed, and they also attended certain meetings of the Saeima Legal Committee. Commission members also took part in the discussion about a presidential initiative on ensuring the political neutrality of members of Latvia’s Civil Service.
On March 18, 2009, the Office of the President and several members of the Commission on Constitutional Law organised a discussion on political advertising and ways of improving Latvia’s elections system. The main topic was the need to limit political advertising to improve the elections system. On March 30, Commission members attended a roundtable discussion held by the President and his Strategic Analysis Commission on possible scenarios in the development of Latvia’s political situation.
Commission Chairman Egils Levits and Commission member Ineta Ziemele both work outside of Latvia, and so the Constitutional Law Commission does most of its work on the basis of electronic means for communication. Meetings of the Commission on Constitutional Law with the participation of President Zatlers were held on February 12 and July 29, 2009.
At this time, the Commission on Constitutional Law is working on views related to Section 58 of the Latvian Constitution. Members are conducting legal analysis of the system of national governance and law, focusing in particular on permanent institutions, their right to issue external normative acts, as well as the right of government ministers to issue such acts.
The State Heraldry Commission
The State Heraldry Commission is a collegial institution established by the President of Latvia – one that is not a legal entity. The Commission maintains information about seals, coats of arms and their establishment, making sure that these materials are publicly available. The Commission evaluates new heraldic and artistic solutions, studies and establishes a system of seals and coats of arms, and engages in research in this area.
The State Heraldry Commission met 11 times in 2009 to review the seals of one dynasty, 15 parishes and 27 administrative districts. It approved the design for the National Cross of Recognition, as well as for three state and four local government awards. The panel prepared draft amendments to the law on the state flag of Latvia (these were approved on October 29, 2009), and to the law on state honours (these have been submitted to the Saeima Legal Commission). The State Heraldry Commission has submitted its views on matters related to the coat of arms of the Republic of Latvia to the Foreign Ministry, the National Protocol Office and the National Security Police.
In the wake of territorial and administrative reforms in Latvia, the State Heraldry Commission prepared proposals on how new local government institutions could establish their seals and coats of arms. The panel offered consultations on these matters more than 30 times, and it prepared four informational materials for the Regional Development and Local Governance Ministry and the Latvian Association of Local Governments on the principles which must be observed in this area.
Two working group sessions have been held with respect to the electronic database of the State Heraldry Commission and its graphic design. The Commission has worked with the Foreign Ministry to organise a seminar for manufacturers of state flags.
On February 26, the State Heraldry Commission released a new book on Latvian coats of arms so as to offer as extensive a look at this matter as possible. President Zatlers attended the presentation of the new book. 350 copies were presented to rural libraries. An addendum to the book is being prepared at this time.
The Strategic Analysis Commission
The Strategic Analysis Commission (SAK) was established on April 2, 2004, at the initiative of Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. She and the then Prime Minister, Indulis Emsis, signed joint instructions on its establishment. The Commission conducts interdisciplinary and future-focused research aimed at presenting long-term views on the development of the Latvia and its society in the context of contemporary international processes.
The Strategic Analysis Commission is chaired by Associate Professor Roberts Ķīlis, and its current membership began its work in December 2008. On January 15, 2009, President Zatlers joined the members of the Commission to define its priorities for the year. The minutes of the meeting indicate that the Commission “fully supports the priorities stated by the President (promoting reforms of the political system and democracy, economic recovery, development of the system of national governance, and improvements to the quality and competitiveness of the country’s educational system), and it is prepared to make its own contributions toward the work of the SAK, establishing active co-operation with the President and the Office of the President.”
As the Commission pondered its strategy for 2009, its members knew that financing would be severely limited. Therefore the decision was taken to concentrate first and foremost on the preparation of SAK reports, the format of expert discussions as a means for concentrating competence, and the interactive publication of information on a new SAK portal of ideas. The targeted decision was to halt voluminous research, the publication of printed books, or the organisation of major conferences.
This strategy proved itself over the course of the year.
The Commission’s main output in 2009 included four reports, three studies, the establishment of the www.saki.lv portal of ideas, eight roundtable discussions and the Latvian Forum. The reports from the SAK covered specific proposals for solutions and activities. Several of these ensured debate and the taking of concrete decisions
The first report, “A View of the Situation in Latvia’s Economy: Short-term and Medium-Term Goals and Recommendations for Action,” made several radical proposals, including the shutting down of all state agencies. The matter was discussed by the government, and there was increased focus on the effectiveness and utility of the work of various state agencies. The authors of the report also proposed a substantial review of activities related to the EU Social Fund; an elimination or at least substantial limitation of the situation in which companies are forced to credit the state in relation to VAT and corporate income tax payments; a speeding up of the reimbursement of VAT payments when a debtor becomes insolvent; amendments to the law to facilitate the restructuring of companies without any insolvency process, etc.
The second report was title “The Views of the Strategic Analysis Commission on the Social, Governance, Educational and Science Sector in Latvia: Urgent Short-Term Steps, Medium-Term Goals and Recommendations for Action.” Here the purpose was to focus the attention of the people of Latvia and the Cabinet of Ministers (during a special meeting of the Cabinet convened by the President on April 24) on increased social tensions in the country. The document stressed the need for an all-encompassing programme of minimal guaranteed social security. The authors particularly accented the fact that there might be an increase in employment to the level of 14% of all people of working age, or some 200,000 people. The panel called for the immediate establishment of a special crisis working group to deal with the relevant social issues. The government subsequently established the so-called ‘social pillow’ to ensure additional financing for families with no jobs or income.
The report also called for immediate and radical structural reforms in national governance; the transfer in national government (ministries) toward a participatory budgeting practice to strengthen the competence of social partners in terms of active and professional involvement; the establishment of commissions of local residents to talk about local government budgets and oversee the distribution and use of budget resources; the establishment of consulting commissions related to the performance of local government functions, as well as other solutions aimed at reducing the consequences of Latvia’s social and economic crisis.
Another important area which attracted increasing public and government attention in 2009 was the quality of higher education and the need for reforms therein.
The third report was called “The SAK Report on the Public Mood in 2009,” and it was presented to the participants of a Cabinet of Ministers meeting which President Zatlers convened on September 15, 2009. The aim was to offer a concentrated look at major trends in the public mood in 2009 – ones which could have an effect on the approval of the 2010 national budget. The report also sought to identify priorities for the government in the next several months, specifically in light of the development of the public mood in this regard. The authors evaluated achievements and failures in the implementation of SAK recommendations from the Cabinet of Ministers meeting which the President had convened on April 24. After hearing the report, the Cabinet declared employment to be the national priority, with ministers understanding the importance of reducing unemployment under circumstances of social tensions.
Finally, the SAK released a report in the quality of research in Latvia, which was related to several recommendations from the second SAK report. This time the panel offered in-depth analysis of indicators in a specific area, offering recommendations for positive changes therein. The report was discussed at a roundtable discussion organised by President Zatlers and the SAK. Participants included the Minister of Education, university rectors and experts. The solutions addressed in the report focused on the introduction of international professorships at Latvia’s higher education institutions, the use of the English language in studies and research, and the importance of internationally reviewed publications to evaluate the staff of higher education institutions. The SAK chairman proposed that these could be seen as points of reference for the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Economics working group on structural reforms in higher education.
In summary, these are the most important steps that have been taken in response to SAK proposals:
1) The government’s work on the so-called social pillow to offer support to the long-term unemployed and poor families so that they can receive sustenance and health care. The focus is also on teachers left without jobs because of school reforms;
2) The spending of EU Social Fund money on housing insulation programmes to reduce the cost of natural gas and heating services in many parts of Latvia;
3) Improvements to the school network on the basis of the principle of financing for elementary education follows the child to his or her local government. The Ministry of Education has said that it is prepared to continue the implementation of this principle in 2010, thinking about parent vouchers and the delivery of financing to specific schools;
4) The Latvian Forum, which was established at the initiative of President Zatlers and the SAK. There were thematic discussions at 24 locations in Latvia on the situation in the country, as well as support for schools. More than 1,000 people took part in the establishment and dissemination of ideas and experience in terms of non-traditional crisis solutions and opportunities for self-organisation.
There were also several substantial proposals which were not implemented, but which remain of great importance:
1) The establishment of a crisis group to analyse social security issues, implement necessary projects, bring in the private sector, and implement private-public partnership projects;
2) Introduction of participatory budgeting practices at the ministerial and local government level;
3) Establishment of a normative base to create social enterprises;
4) Optimisation of the state’s territorial institutions and liquidation of all agencies;
5) Changes to the system of financing for education and science, establishing an Innovative Research Development Fund and a Science Fund for fundamental research;
6) International expertise in the election of university professors, as well as an evaluation of the scientific and innovative contributions of higher education institutions.
The Minorities Consulting Council
On December 22, 2008, President Zatlers restored the work of the Minorities Consulting Council (MTKP) with the aim of promoting dialogue about ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity issues, as well as offering support for the socio-political participation of Latvia’s minorities.
The Council, which is made up of 16 people, began its work on January 23, 2009. Over the course of the year, it held six meetings. The MTKP worked with the National Radio and Television Council to discuss minority issues related to the public media. As structural reforms in the educational sector were implemented, the council worked with the Rīga City Council and the Education and Science Ministry on ways of ensuring the work of Rīga’s minority schools.
The National Security Council
The National Security Council ensures unified national security policies among Latvia’s highest-ranking government institutions and officials. The Council reviews ways of improving those policies, addresses various problems, reviews plans and concepts related to national security, and handles other issues as assigned to it by law.
The National Security Council, which is chaired by President Zatlers, met 13 times in 2009 to review security issues and reports from the country’s security institutions.
In the context of risks created by Latvia’s economic situation, the National Security Council has discussed the work of the country’s top officials in the case of threats against the state. It has also considered the situation in Latvia’s incarceration facilities, as well as the administration of taxes by the State Revenue Service.
Council members have also talked about Latvia’s participation in international military operations, as well as the country’s other international obligations. It has discussed ways of ensuring the work of Latvia’s diplomatic offices in the world under conditions of budget restrictions.
In early 2009, the Council had to choose a candidate to nominate for the post of director of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. After several meetings, the Council agreed to send the name of Normunds Vilnītis to Parliament for its approval.
The Military Council
The Military Council was set up in accordance with the law on national security, and it is chaired by the President as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The council monitors the development of the National Armed Forces and all related issues. The Military Council met for the first time on May 29, 2002, to approve its own statutes.
During the course of 2009, the Military Council met twice to discuss the development and structural reforms of the National Armed Forces, as well as Latvia’s participation in international operations. On August 14, the meeting was held at the Lielvārde Air Base, where President Zatlers learned about the base’s operations.
The council on the Restoration of the Rīga Castle
On March 30, 2008, President Zatlers issued instructions on the establishment of the Council on the Restoration of the Rīga Castle, to receive consultations and evaluations on the restoration of what is a cultural and historical building of national importance, as well as Latvia’s most important example of Medieval fortifications and construction. Former President of Latvia Guntis Ulmanis was chosen as chairman of the Council.
The Council on the Restoration of the Rīga Castle met six times in 2009 to discuss plans for the forecastle’s renovation and restoration. The National Cultural Monuments Protection Inspectorate organised a discussion of experts on the subject of renewing the coned roof of the Tower of the Holy Spirit. The Council also discussed concepts related to the interior renovation of the forecastle, setting up a group of consultants an experts to supervise and co-ordinate this work. Preparation of plans for the restoration and renovation of the Castle has continued despite the fact that the actual renovation of the forecastle has been postponed because of Latvia’s economic downturn. Council members have also consulted with each other between official meetings of the panel. The group of interior design consultants and experts has worked actively with other participants in the project.
Council members all work on volunteer basis and don’t receive any compensation for their work.