Acting President as Speaker of the Saeima, 1944–1945

Soviet occupation of Latvia was never recognised as legal either by Latvian people or international community. As an entity of international law, Latvian State continued to exist de iure throughout the occupation period, while international community maintained a consistent policy of non-recognition of illegal annexation carried out by USSR. Latvia’s diplomatic missions and consulates abroad remained fully active, representing Latvian State and its people on the international arena. Meanwhile, national resistance movement gathered force in occupied Latvia. Their demands were clear: restore Latvia’s independence based on state continuity and constitution. A pivotal role in the national resistance movement was played by the Latvian Central Council, founded on 13 August 1943, mostly made up of politicians from majority parties that won the last general election. Latvian Central Council drew its legitimacy from Speaker of the Saeima, Pauls Kalniņš, and his deputies – Kārlis Pauļuks and Jāzeps Rancāns. According to the Latvian Central Council, and Section 12–13 of Satversme (Constitution), mandate of the 4th convocation of Saeima, elected on 3–4 October 1931, remained in force until a new convocation was elected and assembled for its first plenary after free elections held pursuant to Satversme. As Section 16 of Satversme stipulates, Presidium of Saeima has to continue to represent the parliament until its mandate expires. That includes periods of occupation. Since Latvia had lost its president at the time, according to Section 52 of Satversme and Section 23 of the Saeima Rules of Procedure, Speaker of the Saeima (or his deputies when speaker was absent) had to substitute the president. Speaker Pauls Kalniņš, and his deputy Jāzeps Rancāns, according to Satversme, became the successive acting presidents and continued to demand restoration of Latvia’s independence and democratic government explicitly stipulated in the constitution. Continuity of presidency as an institution, with Pauls Kalniņš and Jāzeps Rancāns as acting presidents, contributed to the doctrine of continuity of Latvian State. They remained politically active despite troubling times for the Latvian State, thus showing that, although occupied, national resistance movement continued to act according to Satversme and represented Latvia as best as it could under the circumstances and provisions of the constitution regarding the presidency.

On the position of acting president

Pauls Kalniņš became the Speaker of the Saeima on 20 March 1925, he was re-elected all four times by all inter-war parliaments. According to Section 52 of Satversme, as a speaker, he was required to fill in the position of acting president, as and when necessary. As a Speaker of the Saeima, Pauls Kalniņš became the acting president on 27 March 1927, when former president Jānis Čakste died. He remained in this crucial position until election and swearing in of the successor Gustavs Zemgals on 8 April 1927.

Pauls Kalniņš rejected all collaboration offers from the USSR or Nazi Germany after they had occupied Latvia. He joined the national resistance movement, became a member of the Latvian Central Council, fighting for restoration of Latvia’s independence and democratic government. According to the constitution, mandate of the 4th Saeima was still in force until the next general elections held in line with Satversme and inaugural session of the new parliament, which meant that Pauls Kalniņš would hold the position until election of new speaker, and as the highest official in the country would also serve as the president.

On 13 August 1943, Pauls Kalniņš as the Speaker of the Saeima became a member of the extended presidium of newly established Latvian Central Council. Latvian Central Council was widely supported because of its direct link to the last parliamentary convocation and political parties elected in free elections, and members of the 4th Saeima’s presidium who joined the Latvian Central Council.

Pauls Kalniņš was the first official to sign the 17 March 1944 Memorandum of the Latvian Central Council. This memorandum demanded restoration of Latvia’s independence and was signed by nearly 190 Latvian political and public figures.

Pauls Kalniņš signed the Declaration on restoration of Latvia’s independence at the last meeting of Latvian Central Council on 8 September 1944. Declaration signed by Pauls Kalniņš stated that according to Section 52 of Satversme, he will now assume the position of the acting president and invite senator Mintauts Čakste to form the new Cabinet of Ministers as provided by the Section 56 of the constitution. The purpose of the Declaration was to lay ground for actual restoration of independence once circumstances became more favourable.

Once the Declaration was signed, Latvian Central Council tried to smuggle Pauls Kalniņš out of the country and get him to Sweden, however, his attempts to flee failed as he was caught in a boat by German warship. Towards the end of the World War II, Pauls Kalniņš ended up in Lustenau where he died on 26 August 1945.

Despite being exiled to Germany and Sweden, members of the Latvian National Council continued to consider Pauls Kalniņš the acting president of Latvia. He was often visited by other politicians who wanted to discuss possible political help to Latvia from the exile community.


Pauls Kalniņš was born on 3 March 1872 in Vilce, near Jelgava. Went to Vilce Primary School and Liepāja Gymnasium. Studied natural sciences at the Moscow University and medicine at University of Tartu. Graduated from University of Tartu in 1898 with medical diploma.

While attending Liepāja Gymnasium, Kalniņš joined the New Current and became a member of the Liepāja literary nights. Continued to be politically and socially active as a student, joined Latvian student literary science group (“Pīpkalonija”) and worked as a correspondent for the newspaper “Dienas lapa” (Daily news). Was arrested for supporting revolutionary movement and condemned to exile outside Baltic guberniyas for three years in 1898. Never stopped supporting revolution. Upon return to Jelgava  in 1901, inspired and ran the social democratic movement in Kurzeme. Illegally emigrated to Switzerland in 1903.

Returned to Latvia during revolution in 1905 and became the Chair of LSDSP (Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party) Liepāja Committee. After the revolution was quelled, went underground, joined social democratic Menshevik wing, worked as an editor for newspaper “Cīņa” (Fight) and a physician in Majori. Mobilised by Russian Army during the World War I.

Devoted himself to political career after the revolution of February 1917, becoming a member of the Riga City Council the same year. Following German occupation, remained in Riga and attended meeting of Democratic bloc. Was among those who drafted the philosophy/manifesto of the renewed social democratic Menshevik party or LSDSP.

Took part in establishing  People's Council of Latvia and worked towards proclamation of the Republic of Latvia. Later became  a member of the People’s Council and chair of the LSDSP parliamentary group. Was among those who signed the Republic of Latvia Act on 18 November 1918.

Elected to Latvian Constitutional Assembly and served as the member of the parliament during the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Saeima. Succeeded Frīdrihs Vesmanis as the Speaker of the Saeima after he resigned on 20 March 1925. Continued to serve as the speaker until coup d’état. From 1930 to 1933 was nominated for presidency by the social democrats. Lost both times to Alberts Kviesis.

Arrested and jailed for 4 months at the Riga Central Prison during the coup d’état of 15 May  1934, later placed under home arrest. Lead a quiet life in retirement after release. rejected all collaboration offers from the USSR or Nazi Germany after they had occupied Latvia.

Pauls Kalniņš joined Latvian Central Council to help restore Latvia’s independence and democracy. Was a member of the extended presidium. Signed Latvian Central Council’s Memorandum of 17 March 1944 and agreed to become the acting president of Latvia on 8 September 1944 to sign the Declaration on restoration of Latvian State.

Tried to unsuccessfully flee to Sweden at the end of the World War II. Was caught by Germans while trying to cross the Baltic See. Detained in Gdynia. Came to Lustenau as a refugee, died there on 26 August 1945.

Wife Klāra Kalniņa and son Bruno Kalniņš were also notable public and political figures who took part in proclaiming the Republic of Latvia.