On May 1, 1920, the people greeted the Constituent Assembly with enthusiasm – then the first parliament of Latvia began to function. He developed and adopted the state's main document – the Satversme. In an interview with Latvian Television (LTV), historian Tom Kikut of the National History Museum of Latvia explains the importance of the Constitutional Assembly in the history of Latvia.
- After the proclamation of the state on November 18, 1918, the first general and democratic elections could not be held immediately, as the independence war of Latvia still had to be defeated. They happened in April 1920, after the Latvian army won a decisive victory in front of Latgale and ended an active war.
- The activity of the people in the elections was enormous. 85% of voters voted to vote.
- At the solemn meeting of the Constituent Assembly, the deputies gathered in the old House of the Knights, in the present building of the Saeima.
- The Constituent Assembly adopted the Declaration on the State of Latvia, adopted the symbols of the country – the flag of the coat of arms, the anthem. Established public administration, financial system, involved in the international recognition of Latvia, approved the Electoral Law.
- The task of the Constitutional Assembly was to create the Satversme within a short period of time. It entered into force on February 15, 1922 and determined that the largest holder of power was the nation of Latvia.
- The second most important task of the Constituent Assembly was agrarian reform. The landlords of the German landlord alienated lands of over 100 hectares, were transferred to the State Land Fund and were allocated to the farmers.
- The Constituent Assembly was in operation until November 7, 1922, when the functions of the legislator began to be exercised by the 1st Saeima.
Toms Ķikuts: This is the most important convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and why the days 1, 20 and 30 were especially celebrated as a day of celebration, it is probably that they are the first democratic general elections throughout the territory of Latvia. This is largely a result of the long political life of Latvian society.
From 1917, after the February Revolution, when the main demand is general democratic elections, but can not be implemented because of the war and Latvia is divided by the front line, general elections also do not happen. In 1918, under the conditions of the German occupation, it is also impossible to organize them. In 1919, the War of Independence of Latvia occurred. Obviously, this goal is stated that we need to hold general elections, but this can not be done in war. Since the spring of 1920, when the Latvian army made a decisive victory in front of Latgale and actually ended the active war phase in the Latvian War of Independence, it is
the moment when, for the first time, this long-cherished political goal of democratically electing the representatives of our people, who will then develop our Constitution, it is possible to perceive.
Therefore, the April 1920 elections and the Constituent Assembly meeting on May 1 are so important. Not only because the Constituent Assembly elaborates important laws, the basic principle of economic and social construction, which is the development of the state of Latvia, as well as the Constitution, but also which is in fact a long-held fulfillment of the objective of having our parliament democratically elected can legitimately represent the will of the whole nation.
LTV: Who were the first MPs? What circles did they come from?
The party system at the time of the first general election in April 1920, the system is actually in place. It should be borne in mind that on November 18, 1918, when the state of Latvia was founded, the state of Latvia was founded by representatives of political parties. Then parties in 1917 after the February Revolution, some of them were made earlier. As a Social Democratic Workers Party, it has a long tradition. In 1917 and 1918, these parts, for example, were consolidated. In 1917, many were founded again as the Union of Farmers of Latvia.
When the state of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918, it is the party representatives who express the will of the Latvian people.
Next comes the People's Council of Latvia, which is also an institution of party representatives. Therefore, there is no general election, but the parties supporting this declaration of November 18 are eligible to participate in the People's Council. Join the People's Council with your representatives. Thus, the party system is already in the People's Council in the spring of 1920, the same parties are largely transformed by the transformation, but are the same parties that participate in the elections of April 1920. Its main competition, of course, is between the left , the largest and richest tradition among the Social Democrats, the Social Democratic Labor Party of Latvia. And among these relatively civic parties, mainly central right-wing parties, the largest of which is the Latvian Farmers' Union, established in 1917, with Kārlis Ulmanis at the head, who was then the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government.
The election results, of course, are quite natural and mark what is happening over the period between the two decades of the twentieth century in the Republic of Latvia. The highest number of mandates for the LSDSP, the Social Democrats and a large majority. In fact, 57 of the 150 mandates are for them. And the second with a much smaller number of deputies – only 26 – the Latvian Farmers' Union. Although the Latvian Farmers' Union may have all the most prominent employees, as we would say today, the administrative appeal is on your side. Prime Minister Karlis Ulmanis, who was undoubtedly very popular at the time in a wide and wide section of the nation. But despite this, the Social Democrats are still in Latvian society, say, most can protect and win.
Was the news retained on May 1, 1920? How did this start?
May 1, 1920 is the solemn day of the opening of the Constituent Assembly. A formal session is taking place. Old House of the Knight. Find a meeting in the Chamber of the Constituent Assembly. In this first meeting, the President of the Constituent Assembly, the President of the Constituent Assembly is elected. At that time, the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly said, and emphasized that the newly elected Supreme State Janis Cakste could have more representative powers than we understand what could be the head of the parliament. Because he, at the same time as the election of the Saeima, actually performs all the functions performed by the President before the approval of the first President.
Since May 1, in the main case, there is, of course, a solemn assembly and the election of the President of the Constituent Assembly.
Interestingly, the April 1920 elections were not only marked by high turnout. But on May 1, photographs and descriptions were preserved in the press that really big crowds went to the streets of Riga, congratulating the Latvian flags on this newly elected Latvian parliament. This will probably emphasize once again the importance of the feeling that free and democratic elections have finally taken place. That the long-cherished political ideal that we will be able to hold free and democratic elections in our country has finally been implemented. Well, this big line looks like this May 1st. Of course, cheerful news headlines. Probably on May 1, 1920, it also inspired us to define it as a memorable and remarkable day.
What were the main decisions taken by the Constitutional Assembly in the first Saeima? What were these strategic points?
Of course, there are many very important laws in the Constituent Assembly report, if we can say so. But at the same time, of course, we must remember that the People's Council, which has been in operation since November 18, 1918, has adopted since 17 November a whole series of important laws for Latvia. Since the Constituent Assembly did not arrive in an empty space. Many of these works were and were made by members of the People's Council. The Constituent Assembly has two main tasks, and it is also proven by the number of members of the commission who worked on it. The largest commission is the Committee on Agrarian Affairs, which is the development of agrarian reform. Agrarian reform is undoubtedly the basis on which the interim government of Karlis Ulmanis manages to raise perhaps tens of thousands of men to fight for the country of Latvia. That is the goal – to make general agrarian reform – the Constituent Assembly does this. Basic principles are being developed, perhaps the most important of which is the creation of these small farms because of old manor lands at the expense of. The second, of course, the name of this meeting, the name of the parliament shows – the drafting of the Constitution. It was a very important task. And the second largest committee of Members of this Parliament is the Constitutional Commission. Of course, there are several other laws. More or less technical or comprehensive, which is being drafted during the Constituent Assembly. But what is expected is the agrarian reform and the Satversme.
Land reform – landlords land taken away?
Yes, the foundation of the agrarian reform is the creation of these farms at the expense of the lands confiscated by the farms.
There were no protests?
No doubt there were hitchhiking protests. These former farmers, who are Latvian farmers with large land holdings, are minimally affected by this agrarian reform, we can say. The main recipient is, of course, real estate properties. As we know, the Baltic nobles of the Baltic until the end of the twentieth century, even the People's Union, are fighting against this reform, against the Latvian state's decision on the alienation and division of seigniorial lands. No doubt this type of solution was painful enough. Because the core of this unbreakable land, those 50 acres around the manor centers, was unmatched by the 1,000-hectare manors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Was there anything curious about the constitution? Were there any interesting details about which you stayed for a long time and argued until you recorded a point? What were the main points of discussion?
It may be interesting that Social Democrat Mr Skujenieks, Menders and others are very active in drafting the Constitution in the context of a large part of our Social Democrat Parliament. I want to say that
much in our Satversme is registered from the hands of Social-Democrats.
It may be interesting in this process that, unfortunately, did not accept the so-called second part of the Constitution. Only the first part of the Satversme was adopted in 1922, which is the part we know that determines the principle of state organization. This is largely related and, of course, is not just the atmosphere of the political debate in Parliament very hot and passionate today. At that time, nothing was different. At that time, he could not agree. Conflicts began in 1922 on the issue of the municipality of Latgale, and conflicts over the right to strike began. It was decided not to continue work on the adoption of this second part of Satversme. It can be said that
the adoption of this important statute remained relatively halved, but we can still boast of one of the oldest constitutions in the world in Europe.
And that worked well. And, of course, our case is also interesting, and its constitutional law experts emphasize that, after 50 years of disruption, we have renewed the operation of the same Satversme instead of developing a whole new constitution. This, of course, emphasizes such a political and historical line that we did not create a new country in 1990, but renewed the country that was under Soviet occupation.
Is there any dispute over whether we will have a parliamentary or presidential republic? Probably shared thoughts? How did you finally decide?
The socialist orientation was: we have to do everything to limit the powers of an employee on Satversme anyway.
The Social Democrats opposed the establishment of a separate institution from the president.
They said that it was enough for the President of the Saeima or the President of the Constituent Assembly to perform these representative functions very well, and we do not need other new employees. The civil parties, on the other hand, emphasized that we need the highest official of the state, the President, to carry out his functions of representation.
It was a discussion, but it was not a real debate about a presidential republic. However, the attention of our parents in the Constitution went to the examples of this parliamentary constitution. German constitution of the Weimar Republic, including.
The ideal that was in the eyes of Latvian politicians was this slogan of democracy, the slogan of parliamentarism, and was even older than the state of Latvia.
If we think of the political baggage of the politicians who defended the creation of the Latvian state and of the Constitution, then their aim of struggle was all that was undemocratic in the regime of the Russian Empire. And it is difficult for me to imagine that these Latvian politicians of a democratic mindset would be able to defend something that is not fully parliamentary, democratic. Officials who can somehow recall the regime of monarchical power.
Latvian politicians were very radical, democratically liberal.
And, in vain, opponents often blame Social-Democratic reddening. They are very radical in their policies, but it was the ideal in which this Latvian political activity was built and the political movement was built. Go with all that is old, with all the undemocratic. Well, of course, the side effects may also have been, say, a free parliamentary electoral system with a large number – over a hundred – from the lists of candidates for the interwar period. This was the side effect of this requirement for maximum democracy in the establishment of the Latvian state system.
It is one of the most important stones in the construction of the state. Because, as I said, it is the fulfillment of your political ideal. And the second thing is undoubtedly May 1, and we must not forget that there are also traditions of worker manifestations. In the 1920s, they never disappeared. Parallel to this commemoration of the convening of the Constituent Assembly, the social democrats undoubtedly continued their old traditions and 1 May was a holiday for all. Perhaps for those who are civic, who said, this is a day of our democracy, and also for workers who were very consistent in these demonstrations on May 1.
In the early 1920s, there were even clashes between Esplanade workers and right-wing organizations. Perhaps this coup between May 1 and May 1 of the Constituent Assembly was, of course, a coup by Karlis Ulmanis. At first – in 1935 – on May 1, but by 1936 it was no longer marked.
For Karl Ulman, a leader of a man, the day of worship of this parliament was no longer necessary, and there was no need for May 1 as a holiday event for the workers.
Instead, it was celebrated on May 15 as the so-called Latvian Restoration Day or People's Unity Day, which commemorated the anniversary of the Karl Ulmanis Revolution. From the commemoration of May 1st, it is the 20th anniversary and the first half of the 30 until the coup of Karl Ulmanis.