The idea to unite local and regional governments was conceived by the national political movement Popular Front of Latvia (LTF). This idea was the result of the convergence of several key factors.
One of them was the Latvian tradition of cooperation between regional governments in 1920-s. One of associations still operating even today – the Alliance of Latvian Towns – was renewed as legatee to all rights and liabilities of the association of governments of the towns that was in operation during the time of the of the First Republic and the years of national dictatorship. The other association of that time – the Union of Counties – was never renewed.
During the time of the First Republic, the idea of the Alliance of Latvian Towns was born in 1919. In the Congress of the Towns in 1923, there were debates about statutes and primary principles of such a union. In 1924, the work continued – the 2nd and the 3rdCongress were summoned. In 1925, during 4th Congress of the Towns, the statutes were declared. However, the necessary approval from the Cabinet of Ministers (MK) was not granted. Thos action demonstrates that, during the period between world wars, relationships between national and regional governments were difficult and unstable.
The Congress summoned in 1926 once again confirmed the determination to build the Alliance of Latvian Towns, although the MK did not approve the statues until 1931. The Alliance did not interrupt operations even after the coup d’état in 1934 when the elected authority was replaced by government appointees. On June 16th, 1940, the Unions from all three Baltic States came to the meeting. On that day, Germany occupied Paris, and on the next day Germany’s ally, the USSR, occupied Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The work of Alliance of Latvian Towns was cancelled for many years. On June 27, 1990, at the Congress in Ogre, the Congress of the Towns was summoned, and it renewed the activities of the Alliance and approved the same statutes that had been previously enacted before WWII.
Unlike other similar nations forcibly occupied by the USSR, Latvia chose to deny the occupation of the Soviet Union through legal channels. By denying the legitimacy of communism and fascistic aggression, Latvia chose to renew the situation as it was before1940. In politics it meant the renewal of the national state as a republic with a democratic parliament such as was proclaimed in 1918.
Legally, this meant the renewal of three significant laws of the First Republic:
- In reference to the formation of the country, renewing the Constitution of 1922 (“Satversme”) in its original state.
- In reference to administration of the country, renewing of the Cabinet Structure law.
- In reference to private rights, renewing the original Civil Law of 1937.
The Civil Law had no connection with the dictatorship of Karlis Ulmanis. The Law was based on the Roman civil rights and it was the upgrade of the Civil Law of Russia of 1864. Considering, that no law enacted by Ulmanis during the time of his presidency was considered valid, the Civil Law had to be renewed.
A choice between several options in the field of local governments was necessary. Legally, there were many variations. Renewal of the situation of 1940 meant undemocratic local governments of administrative regions nominated by the State Administration. During the dictatorship, the replacement of local governments with industrial directorates was tried. Although more typical for the Middle Ages, similar administration was chosen in fascistic Italy. Local governments that were governed by the representatives of the Commune were impertinent with dictatorship where there was no place for differences in opinions. Just like Russian Bolsheviks, Italian fascists and German National socialists, Ulmanis expressed the idea of the unity of the nation. The differences in opinions of local governments were an obstacle for realization of such idea.
During this time, there were six chambers: Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chamber of Agriculture, Chamber of Trade, Chamber of Work, Chamber of Literature and Art, and Chamber of Professionals. Chambers were structures of the country that was similar to consultative (not ruling) parliament. Those were consultative organs controlled by the MK that were subordinates to the ministries. Ministers of corresponding ministries appointed members of chambers. Subordinate to the chambers were corresponding network of associations. In the future, there were plans to give more freedom to the chambers. During 1939 and 1940, advancement had started. In the same order that chambers were created, they got the opportunity to vote for the members of the chamber (before that, members of the chamber were appointed).
The LTF rejected the idea of the renewal of chambers. It supported the idea of democratic territorial governments – the same that existed between 1917 and 1934. The Association of local governments was one of the elements in the renewal of such territorial governments. Interesting, that even before the proclamation, there were self governments that were created democratically and that supported the idea of the independent country. The Constitution of 1922 just mentioned local governments; it did not try to “derive” them from the country. It was clear that those local governments that exist and perform even before the country is proclaimed need no “derivation”.
The second key factor was the European Charter of Local Self-government. It includes right to create associations as one of basic elements for local democracy. By stepping back into the past and abolishing the traces of communistic and fascistic regiments, local politics were looking into the future as well. Comparison with Western democratic experiences showed that local self-government associations were active in all of those countries and they had a significant influence on national politics.
The third key factor was practical problems that originated during the development of local self-governments. Local governments quickly became the subject of the power. At the beginning, Soviet laws were still effective, but they were being quickly replaced by new laws. Most of the new laws were concerning local governments. There was a need for a practical mechanism that would consider needs of local governments. It means there was a need to clarify who and with what conditions can speak on behalf of local governments; what conclusions can be made of the information that 4 local governments have voted “yes” and 3 of them “no”, but the opinion of the rest of the 600 local governments is not known.
During those times, the LTF had a majority in the Augstākā Padome (Supreme Council-the parliament of those times). In Parliament, under the local government and public affairs commission, there was an organization that would interface local government politics and parliament politics – the Bureau of Local Governments. It was led by one of the leader of the LTF – Jānis Škapars. The Bureau started to develop an association of local governments. Also, the board of the LTF summoned local politicians to consult about the development of the association.
In summer 1991, the leaders of local governments and deputies from the Supreme Council went to France. They met with the representatives of French local governments, as well as with the representatives from the Conference of local and regional authorities of the Europe Council. Before CLRAE (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe Council) was founded, the Conference had similar duties at the Europe Council. The officials of European local governments suggested to Baltic States to take over the experience of local governments of democratic countries. It included the founding of the Association.
After returning from France, more people got involved into the development of association that would include all local governments of Latvia. There were more conventions and more lectures about Charter principles in European local governments. One of the questions that were discussed in the early stages was the development of the House of Representatives of local governments at the parliament. Since in those days there was a tendency to renew the situation of 1934, the resolution was to renew one house parliament based on the constitution of 1922. The solution did not have strategic approach, but it was the fastest way towards independence of the state. Later it showed that one house parliament does not promote the development of regions in Latvia, and there was a thought to return to the same question. But something that is missed during the revolutionary changes is very difficult to return to. Therefore, it was decided to start an association that would be looking for resolutions for all local governments.