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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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When I embarked on the research project that resulted in the present volume, I did not expect to find such a wide range of direct democratic instruments in the Baltic states, and in Latvia and Lithuania in particular. This relative ignorance on my side might, in part, be attributed to the existing literature on the subject – or rather the lack thereof. While there are some studies on direct democracy, they either do not address direct democracy in the Baltic republics at all or in a superficial manner. But apart from this dearth of research, the limited use made of these instruments so far has also contributed to their relative obscurity. The Baltic States are comparatively young democracies that became independent (once more) when throwing off Soviet rule at the beginning of the 1990s. It seems that considerable time is required for citizens to get used to direct legislation.

In order to make a reasoned comparison of direct democracy in three republics, this book not only investigates the legal basis of each direct democratic institution, but also addresses the practical experiences of referendums held between 1991 and 2014. By discussing each referendum, the study examines both the development of direct democracy and as well as its functioning respectively dysfunctioning in each country.

The preparation of this study on Direct Democracy in the Baltic States would have been impossible without the help of many friends and colleagues. First, my gratitude is extended to Prof. Dr. Andreas...

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