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Alberts Kviesis

The President of Latvia, 1930-1936  

 

 

 

Alberts Kviesis was born on 22 December 1881 in Kalnamuiža (Tērvete) small rural district. He obtained his first education at home with his parents. He further studied at Jelgava Grammar School. In 1902, he entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Tartu, which he graduated from in 1907. After the graduation, he worked in Jelgava practicing as an attorney. He took an active part in the public life of Latvia. He was Acting Chief of the Jelgava Latvian Society and a member of the Red Cross Latvian Committee in Jelgava.

 

On 25 April 1917, he attended the Kurzeme local assembly in Tartu, where he was elected at the Provisional Land Council of Kurzeme. On 28 May 1917, the Congress of Latvian Lawyers in Tartu elected A.Kviesis to the Bureau of Latvian Lawyers in Tartu, where he took part in the discussion of Latvian nation rights for self-determination and the new judicial system.

 

On 17 November 1918, A.Kviesis was among the delegates of the People’s Council of Latvia and was elected as the Vice-Chairman of Justice of the People’s Council chaired by Jānis Čakste. Over the first years of Latvia’s independence, he actively worked over the development of the legal system. On 23 July 1919, A.Kviesis was elected as a member of the Judicial Panel and was elected as the Chief Justice on 26 March 1923. In 1927, A.Kviesis ran for the presidency, but Gustavs Zemgals was elected to the President of Latvia.

 

 

In 1930, he became the President of Latvia and was re-elected in 1933. According to the coup organized by the Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis on 15 May 1934, A.Kviesis retained at his post until the end of his mandate (until 1936). After the coup, the President of Latvia lost the real power. 

 

Having resigned from the office as the President of Latvia, A.Kviesis resumed his practice of law. On 14 June 1941, having prior known already about the expected deportation, Kviesis spent hiding in a distant forest-guard house in Tērvete small rural district. On the fall of 1941, Kviesis continued his practice of law. Drekslers, the German general commissar in Latvia appointed A.Kviesis to the Nazis established collaborationist Latvian self-government as Director General of Justice in March 1943. Kviesis resigned due to the heart disease a year later. 

 

A.Kviesis died on boards a ship "Monte Rosa" on 9 August 1944, when it just left the port of Riga to sail to Germany. He was buried at Meža Cemetery in Riga. Throughout the period of his presidency, A.Kviesis neither submitted any own developed bill to the Saeima, nor sent back any bill for reconsideration, nor convened any meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers in Riga Castle.

 

Biography 

After the graduation, Alberts Kviesis returned to Jelgava, where he commenced practicing law and taking an active part in the public life of Latvia. At the age of 34, he was already Acting Chief of the Jelgava Latvian Society and a member of the Red Cross Latvian Committee in Jelgava. In the beginning of World War, Alberts Kviesis moved to Tartu as a refugee, where he operated at the Refugees Assistance Committee, which he helped to establish himself. After the coup of the Russian Tsar Nickolas II, he entered the newly established Latvian Farmers’ Union and he took part in the Kurzeme local assembly convened in Tartu on 25 April 1917, wherein he was elected to the Provisional Land Council of Kurzeme and also to the Executive committee, where Kviesis performed the duties of the responsible Chief of the Legal and Organization Department. Alberts Kviesis also took part in the discussion of the Latvian nation self-determination rights and the new judicial system after the Congress of Latvian Lawyers in Tartu elected him to the Bureau of Latvian Lawyers of Tartu on 28 May 1917.  

 

When the German military troops occupied Vidzeme and Estonia, Kviesis returned to Jelgava, where he continued to practice as the attorney-at-law. Upon establishing the independence of Latvian Republic, Alberts Kviesis started operating at the Latvian People’s Council. When Čakste went to Stockholm jointly with Zemgals aimed at the defence of the interests of the newly established state, Kviesis was elected a Deputy Chairman to the People’s Council together with Ernests Bauers. Upon stepping back of the Latvian government from Riga, Kviesis went to Jelgava and after that to Liepaja. Upon returning of the Government to Riga, Kviesis was elected as a member of the Judicial Panel on 23 July 1919 and as a Chairman of the Judicial Panel on 26 March 1923. Alberts Kviesis was also a member of the Latvian peace delegation in Berlin to conclude peace with Germany. On 15 July 1920, they managed to conclude the agreement with Germany on the restoration of communications, but this interim agreement was not beneficial for Latvia and it had never had the real agreement to follow. 

 

Kviesis was a Member of the Constituent Assembly and a Deputy of the first three Latvian Parliaments (Saeima), where he acted as a Chairman of the Legal Committee. From 15 June 1921 to 27 January 1923, he performed the duties of the Minister of the Interior at the Cabinet of Zigfrīds Meierovics. In 1926, Alberts Kviesis was elected as a Deputy Chairman of the Saeima; he was one of the most active members of the Farmers Union, who played a major role in the development of agrarian reform.

 

Being an admirer of a choral song and a great music enthusiast, Kviesis took an active part in the organization of the National Opera and was a member of Opera Directorate together with Teodors Reiters and Jānis Mediņš between 1922 and 1925.

 


When Gustavs Zemgals flatly refused to stand for the presidency for the second term, Alberts Kviesis was nominated for the Presidency by the Farmers Union. Dr. Pauls Kalniņš was the candidate on the part of social democrats. The election battles took 3 sessions of 11 ballots in total, and Kviesis got 55 votes with 34 “against” and two deputies abstained before 9 April 1930. 49-year-old Alberts Kviesis proceeded with the traditions of his predecessors basically, featuring non-partisan objectivity and sobriety when performing official functions and representing his country honourably. Mr. Kviesis tried to avoid any possible interference into legislative work carried out by the Government. He never submitted any bill developed by him to Saeima, never returned any bill for reconsideration, and never convened any Cabinet meeting in Riga Castle.

 

Kviesis continued to support musical life as well, holding the office of the General Song Festival protector and being Chairperson-in-Office of the honorary supervisory board. On 21 June 1931, he opened the General Song Festival and presented the challenge prize – an ornate harp manufactured after the design of Arvīds Dzērvītis. Moreover, Mr. Kviesis performed the protector’s duties during VIII General Song Festival of 1933 dedicated to the memory of Song Festival I.

 


Alberts Kviesis was the second President of Latvia, who officially visited a neighbouring country – the allied Estonia – in 1933. In Estonia, he took part in X General Estonian Song Festival.  

 

On 4 April 1933, Alberts Kviesis’ presidency term expired and new presidential elections were held. Again, the candidates were Alberts Kviesis and Pauls Kalniņš. This time, Kviesis was elected on the first ballot by having won 52 votes, while Pauls Kalniņš, a social democrat, managed to win 25 votes only. On 11 April 1933, Kviesis officially took an oath to the Latvian State and Satversme (the Constitution). 11 months later, the coup initiated by Kārlis Ulmanis followed.

 


On 15 May 1934, Alberts Kviesis’ fellow-member, Kārlis Ulmanis, staged a coup at short notice, not having notified the sitting Head of State accordingly. The country’s President was actually in isolation in Riga Castle at that time – all telephone communications were interrupted. At 1:00 on the night of May 15 to May 16, Mr. Ulmanis arrived in Riga Castle and demanded a meeting with the president, pinning him down to the fact of seizure of power in the hands of Ulmanis. Although Mr.Kviesis was Commander-in-Chief, he did not dare to look for contacts with the Army to liquidate the coup, putting up with the suspension of Saeima’s operations and the disregard of Satversme (Constitution). Moreover, Mr. Kviesis failed to lay down the duties of President’s office and formally remained the first person in the country until the end of his presidency. On 18 November 1935, he even opened officially the Freedom Monument, the erection of which had taken four years.

 

On expiry of the second presidency term of Mr. Kviesis on 12 May 1936, acting based on the law passed, Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis took over the office of State President on 11 April 1936 all by himself. Mr. Kviesis retired just as the previously dismissed MP’s did - with the right to work in private companies to earn some additional income. On his resignation, Mr. Kviesis resumed his work in advocacy and withdrew from public and political life temporarily, spending a lot of time in his rural household in Vecvagari, the parish of Penkule. However, Mr. Kviesis held senior positions in a number of Latvian companies. He was a Board Member of the Sloka Cellulose Factory, Chairman of the Board of JSC Kvadrats and Chairman of the Board of Liepaja Bank.

 

After WWII broke out in 1939, Mr. Kviesis was forced to quit legal profession and Cheka (KGB) placed him under house arrest with the subsequent supervision by militia. When the arrest was cancelled after some time, Mr. Kviesis left for Vecvagari, where 10 hectare of land and part of his dwelling house were left to him after the agrarian reform. To avoid deportation, being aware of the impending deportation in advance, Mr. Kviesis spent the night to 14 June 1941 together with his wife Elza and his son Ēriks in an isolated house of a forester in Tērvete parish.

 

In autumn 1941, Mr. Kviesis continued his work in advocacy. He was confirmed in office as temporary chairperson of the Bar Council of sworn lawyers, but he began to work as a legal adviser for the General Directorate of the so-called Latvian autonomy – a collaborationist body established by Nazi at the end of the same year. In March 1943, Dekslers, the German high commissioner, appointed Mr. Kviesis as Director General of the Department of Justice. In a year, Mr. Kviesis had to retire due to a heart disease.

 

On 9 August 1944, Mr. Kviesis stepped aboard a German ship to go to exile. However, he died from a heart attack, while the ship was still in Daugava River. Mr. Kviesis was buried on 12 August 1944 at Meža Cemetery in Riga.