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Direct Democracy in the Baltic States

Institutions, Procedures and Practice in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania


Evren Somer

Over the last decades, provisions for direct democracy have increasingly been added to new constitutions around the world, including in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Using a comparative legal approach, this book identifies a large set of direct democratic instruments in the Baltics that are being activated either automatically, by public authorities or by the citizens. Although direct democracy should empower the people to share state power and to take political decisions over the heads of their representatives, the results of its practical use between 1991 and 2014 do not confirm these assumptions. Besides informal aspects there are many procedural obstacles in each country that restrict not only the use of such tools but also the chance that the referendum will pass.
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I. Introduction


Within the last decades there has been a considerable rise in the use of direct democratic institutions around the world and provisions for direct democracy have increasingly been added to the constitutions of new or re-established democracies.1 Such an increase in the importance of direct democracy has also been seen in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.2

Indeed, the three neighbour countries do not refer to the same ethnic group nor should they be treated as a unity. However, apart from their geographical location along the Baltic Sea, they share many properties and experiences with each other that were decisive in solidifying their common Baltic identity.3 For centuries they were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and later the Russian Empire. In the aftermath of World War I and the breakup of the Russian, Ottoman and Habsburg empires, they became parliamentary democracies supplemented by different institutions of direct democracy. However, as in other European countries, Baltic democracies proved too fragile. In the context of divided societies, weak institutions and poor economies, they lasted only for a short time. In each country, crises paved the way for authoritarian regimes.4 Until the Soviet occupation in 1940 and 1944, none of these three countries seized the opportunity to return to democratic politics.5 With the Soviet incorporation, the Baltic states had become constituent republics within the Soviet Confederation for over fifty years (1940–1991) and thus subject to the Soviet Union’s ideological discourse. Not nationality, but class was the...

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