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Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Latvia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 10 July 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Latvia, 10 July 2008, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Period of democratic transition: 1989–1991
Pro-democracy civic movement: present

After having been ruled for centuries by Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Russia, Latvia gained its independence in 1918, only to be annexed by the USSR during World War II. More than 50 years of Soviet occupation saw a massive influx of Russians and the deportation, execution, and emigration of tens of thousands of ethnic Latvians.

Despite the "Russification," Latvian nationalism was galvanized by the liberalizing politics of glasnost introduced by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s. Beginning in 1987, groups promoting religion, folk culture, and the environment (among others) gradually coalesced into the Popular Front of Latvia (PFL), which pressed for autonomy and later full democracy and state independence. In 1989, after rapid growth of membership and increasing influence in government, the PFL and its allies captured a majority in elections to the legislature and proclaimed "sovereignty" in July 1989. The PFL won a majority of seats in the 1990 parliamentary elections as well.

Several unarmed protesters died and many were wounded in a January 1991 clash with Soviet Interior Ministry troops; two months later, 73 percent voted to support an independent Latvia. When the attempted coup against USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev collapsed in August 1991, Latvia rapidly proclaimed independence. A constitutional law was adopted in December 1991 that greatly expanded basic rights, while in July 1992, the new Parliament adopted a constitution restoring Latvia's original democratic constitution of 1922. On June 5–6, 1993, the country held new nationwide legislative elections, the first since independence.

Latvia moved rapidly away from the Soviet political and social structure, and elections have continued, despite political turmoil, corruption scandals, and tensions among government leaders. Voter turnout has slowly declined, with only 62 percent taking part in the October 2006 parliamentary elections, the lowest figure in years.

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