Egils Levits
Egils Levits

On 18 January, President of Latvia Egils Levits had a remote meeting with NGO representatives of the Council for Implementation of the Memorandum of Co-operation between Non-governmental Organisations and the Cabinet of Ministers (NGO Memorandum Council). President of Latvia specifically emphasised the immense role of non-governmental actors and Satversme centenary year initiatives strengthening the democratic values. ‘We have strong civic society. Civic society has opportunities to engage that far surpass some of the more established democracies, which is absolutely essential at times like these, when democracies around the world are going through tough challenges. What you did this year in terms of strengthening democracy and civic participation is invaluable,’ President Levits said.

Egils Levits pointed out that involvement of civic society is crucial for Latvian democracy, understanding, strengthening and promotion of values like nation state and rule of law, while NGOs presented their individual plans for this year. Both sides agreed that centenary of constitution is a perfect occasion to launch a more comprehensive discussion on democratic values and how they can be reinforced.

President Levits presented presidential activities of Satversme centenary programme. Presidential Chancery will host a series of youth conversations #Satversme100: values for the future. Series of discussions, which will continue until 15 February 2023, will take place in Riga and all five historical lands of Latvia. These events are supported by European Movement Latvia, Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences and QUO Tu domā? debate club. Presidential Chancery will also co-host a conference, 100 years of Satversme, together with Latvian Academy of Science. H. E. Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, is one of invited speakers of this international conference, which will take place on 16 February 2022.

On 11 February, Riga Castle will welcome participants of  a special conference looking back at the decade since official language referendum. Its participants will discuss how referendum became a turning point for Latvia in the sense of national, legal and political awareness, which was triggered by referendum and paved way for numerous later reforms.

According to NGO representatives, one of this year’s key focuses is sector’s legal framework, stronger societal resilience in democracy, monitoring of general elections in autumn and finding new participatory platforms for reaching target audiences. NGOs also shared their discussion and activity plans, including Democracy Week events for this May.

Youth was identified as a special target group by participants because young people have the right to participate in shaping Latvia’s policies and Covid-19 pandemic has caused palpable digital fatigue. NGOs pledged to look for new participatory platforms and facilities, which will help reach those who hesitate to join civic initiatives.

President of Latvia hopes that ‘Computer for every child’  is a project that will have continued support and provide school children opportunities to boost their digital skills and enable them to access digital participatory platforms.

According to President Levits, Summit for Democracy hosted by US President Joe Biden at the end of last year was a good opportunity to confirm Latvia’s commitment towards building a robust civic society and achieving, inter alia, higher level of media literacy and competence for investigating and uncovering fake narratives. NGOs praised President Levits for emphasising the need to promote fair financing policies in his summit address. As regards to Latvia’s democratic reform experience, participants emphasised the need to extend NGOs assistance to countries participating in European Union’s Eastern Partnership dialogue. President of Latvia responded by underlining the international impact of Crimea Platform, which will help keep the Ukrainian territorial integrity high on the agenda of global civic and political community.

NGOs meeting with President Levits were represented by Kristīne Zonberga, Agnija Jansone, Agnese Frīdenberga, Andris Gobiņš, Āris Ādlers, Inese Vaivare and Baiba Ziemele. Participants agreed to continue meeting in similar format in future to continue dialogue on specific civic society strengthening initiatives.