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26.10.2009

Breakdown of parliamentary deliberations on societal diversity in Latvia (Discussion paper)

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Classical conception of parliamentarism suggests that parliament is a deliberative institution for enlightened debate. There is also a vast and ever growing theoretical literaturei that advocates benefits of deliberative democracy over other models of democracy. The contrast between deliberative and other approaches (regarding conceptions both of parliamentarism and democracy) parallels that of Jurgen Habermas’ distinction between communicative action and strategic action:

By contrast [with strategic action], I shall speak of communicative action whenever the actions of the agents involved are coordinated not through egocentric calculations of success but through acts of reaching understanding. In communicative action participants are not primarily oriented to their own individual successes; they pursue their individual goals under the condition that they can harmonize their plans of actions on the basis of common situation definition.” (Habermas 1981, 285-286)

Consequently, the deliberative approach consists of conscious attempts to reach a common understanding of the current situation and harmonization of their plans of action. In politics it is the contrary of power play.

There are a number of preconditions for the real world success of the deliberative ideal. For instance, in order to succeed, the advocates of deliberative approach must achieve mutuality - the willingness of all relevant parties to engage in a respectful dialogue with an open mind. In the parliamentary context this willingness cannot always be presumed.

Research has been rather scarce on the cases of communicative breakdown, when attempts at deliberative approach result in failure. For example, should one keep insisiting on discussion when all calls for debate have been intentionally rejected or should one try instead to engage in what Habermas would call “strategic action”? And how should the refusal to deliberate and its consequences be interpreted? The underlying idea of this discussion paper is that silence as a response to calls for deliberation may be just as meaningful and important as the discussion itself.

 

The essence of the problem

Since Latvia regained its independence in the early 1990’s, there have remained two central political issues related to societal diversity – the question of non-citizens’ rights and the question of linguistic rights (the extent to which government policies aimed at protecting the Latvian language should limit or allow the usage of other languages, predominantly Russian, which is the language of roughly 38% of the population, in the public sphere).

Non-citizens are a specific category of Latvian residents who are defined by law as "citizens of the former USSR (...) who reside in the Republic of Latvia” – namely, these are the people who immigrated to Latvia during Soviet occupation and have not yet obtained Latvian citizenship (naturalised). They make up approximately 16% of general populationii and are subject to various legal restrictions. For instance, non-citizens are not allowed to vote and stand for election in municipal, national or European Parliament elections or participate in referenda. They are also subject to various employment restrictions.iii Ethnic minorities (for the most part, Russian-speakers) make up approximately 40% of Latvia’s populationiv.

International organizations occasionally point out to the government of Latvia the shortcomings of existing legislation regarding the rights of non-citizens and linguistic rights of ethnic minorities.v Particularly problematic is the denial of municipal election rights and employment restrictions for non-citizens, and very strict state language legislation also in regions that have a high concentration of the Russian-speaking minority.

Since these issues concern a large proportion of Latvia’s population and they fall under the scrutiny of international organizations, it is quite surprising that there is a lack of in-depth parliamentary discussions on the legislative initiatives that propose to enhance the rights of non-citizens and ethnic non-Latvians. For example, in 2008 approximately three fourths (19 out of 26)vi of such initiatives were voted down without any discussion: at best the political party that had come up with the proposal stated its position. If there was a reaction, it was most likely a rebuttal from the parliamentary faction of Fatherland and Freedom /LNNK party (TB/LNNK) – there were 5 such cases. In 2008 there were only two occasions when any other parliamentary faction explained its reasons for voting against the proposal. In both cases the explanation was two sentences long. The more influential parliamentary factions deliberately refuse to engage in a public dialogue over non-citizen and non-ethnic Latvian rights.

Although overall there is much discussion about these groups in the Parliament,vii participation in the debate is noticeably skewed towards the extreme ends of political spectrum. The far right TB/LNNK talks about these minority groups in an exclusionary manner, while the leftish For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL) posits itself as a defender of non-ethnic Latvians and non-citizens and proposes the vast majority of all legislative initiatives enhancing their rights. Indicatively, both of these are relatively small factions - at the moment they have 5 representatives each (out of 100 MPs). Almost all the other parties stay out of debate. viii Therefore, even though there is much talk about non-ethnic Latvians and non-citizens from the rostrum of the Parliament, it is not a genuine discussion that could eventually lead to a change of policy, but rather a favourite pastime of relatively marginal parties at the opposite ends of political spectrum. The influential parties express themselves on the subject in silence - namely, they vote. And their voting is loud and clear – they have voted down virtually all such initiativesix.

Parliamentary silence on behalf of most influential parties requires an interpretation. While there exist several studies on the usage of the words “non-citizen” and “non-ethnic Latvian” in the parliamentary discourse (Ijabs 2008, 24-88), on the discourses of intolerance in the Latvian parliament (Šulmane 2008, 69-91) and on ethnic tensions induced by politicians (Zepa et al. 2005), they have not explored the phenomenon of parliamentary silence on behalf of the numerically larger and more influential parties. In the case of the Parliament of Latvia, the silence may imply a number of different things. Refusal to engage in debate could be a silent agreement with the position of TB/LNNK or a sign of disrespect towards PCTVL and what it stands for. It may also be a purposeful attitude that sends out the message that some issues are simply not worth parliamentary time or a manifest incapacity to come up with counter-arguments.

The refusal of mainstream parliamentary factions to deliberate on societal diversity is even more troublesome because of the already divided nature of Latvian society. Both political parties and media outlets are commonly perceived as divided on the basis of the ethnic principle. For example, 2005 data show that while among ethnic Latvians 84% watch television mostly in the Latvian language, among ethnic Russians 84% mostly watch television in Russian (Zepa et al. 2005, 35-36). In the 2009 election campaign for the European Parliament and municipal elections only one out of 9 political parties that are represented in the Parliament placed its political advertisements also on a television channel predominantly watched by “the other” ethnicity.x

There are no grounds for assuming that the real deliberation on societal diversity has moved from parliamentary plenary sessions to parliamentary committee meetings. Even though it is true that contemporary parliamentarians in general are more interested in parliamentary committee meetings than in plenary debates (Von Beyme 2000, 53), there is no evidence to suggest that the discussions on these issues in committees are more inclusive and of a higher argumentative quality. On the contrary, the available unsystematic evidencexi suggests that the mainstream parliamentary factions’ behaviour in plenary session is symptomatic of their overall political attitudes.

 

Discussion question No. 1. What are the reasons for refusal to deliberate?

There might be manifold reasons for parliamentary silence on the most sensitive issues of societal diversity. Before enumerating those, one should note that the parliament of Latvia is not among the world’s most voluble institutions. Nevertheless, it is apparent that on other topics (for example, the economy, war in Iraq) the participants in plenary deliberations represented the whole political spectrum not just its extreme ends.xii If the call for debate does go unanswered, it is in most occasions due to the unwillingness of governing political parties to face the arguments of opposition parties. When it comes to the issues of interest to Latvia’s non-citizens or non-ethnic Latvians almost all non-radical political parties stay out of the debate, irrespective of whether they are in government or in opposition.

One line of legitimate reasoning would be to attempt to explain the silence as based on Realpolitik arguments. Namely, government parties are not talking about non-citizens and non-ethnic Latvians because of the fear of becoming unpopular among ethnic Latvians and losing voters. 2005 data show that the majority of the citizens of Latvia, especially middle-aged and older Latvians, still make their electoral choices based on ethnicity of the politician (Zepa et al. 2005, 13).

There was but one clear case during 2007 and 2008 when a member of parliament from „non-radical” parties uttered a suggestion that the legal requirements for the use of state language in commerce are excessive. He was immediately scolded in the most influential of Latvia’s conservative newspapers as a ‘trader’ (in Latvian: tirgonis) under the loud heading of “Parliament votes against the protection of state language again”.xiii Fear of criticism definitely may be a real factor.

Another line of reasoning based on Realpolitik would be to search for party-level explanations. One of those is that there is a rational interest among ethnically-Latvian parties to sustain their actual monopoly to form government for as long as possible. Even though at times up to 25 out of 100 members of parliament had been elected from the so-called „Russian parties”, these parties have never been invited to form a government or be part of the government-building process. Throughout most of the 1990s and even later a suggestion that an ethnically Latvian political party might form a coalition with „Pro-Russians/ Moscovites/ Reds” (as these parties were stigmatized) was considered to be a disgrace. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to think that one of the reasons for parliamentary silence might be disinclination to discuss and thus risk redefining the central issues that set apart the political parties that are „suitable for the government” and those that are not.

A rather different approach would be to explain the silence through mostly ideological reasons. After all, citizenship and ethnic issues are perceived as largely solved by ethnically Latvian political parties. And if an issue is perceived as solved, there is no motivation to open it up for discussion.

Finally, one could attempt to explain the silence through psychological reasons. Such keywords as negative intergroup attitudes, xiv collective conservativism, conformity to in-groups and reputational cascades might prove to be particularly elucidatory. For example, all the following reasons listed by Cass R. Sunstein may apply in the Latvian case:

„In the real world, people silence themselves for many reasons. Sometimes they do not want to risk the irritation or opprobrium of their friends and allies. Sometimes they fear that they will, through their dissent, weaken the effectiveness and reputation of the group to which they belong. Sometimes they trust fellow group members to be right [...] In a reputational cascade, people think that they know what is right, or what is likely to be right, but they nonetheless go along with the crowd in order to maintain the good opinion of others. Even the most confident people sometimes fall prey to this, silencing themselves in the process [...] In some cases, most members of Congress support a bill only because a few early objectors are difficult to find; if they are to be found and could be convinced to speak out publicly, then many more might join them.” (Sunstein 2003, 27,74,78)

Refusal of government parties to speak from the parliamentary rostrum on the issues of societal diversity has become an unfortunate tradition of Latvian politics. Even if PCTVL’s public pleas for response and justification about voting down its legislative proposals make some government party politician feel uneasy and wonder about his or hers responsibilities as parliamentarian, they are unlikely to overcome all psychological, ideological and pragmatic hurdles to engage in debate from the parliamentary rostrum.

 

Discussion question No. 2. Are there normative reasons to address the breakdown of parliamentary communication?

Why is parliamentary silence on a controversial subject problematic? One could argue that there are not only pragmatic reasons (which are surveyed below), but also normative reasons. It runs counter to the promise and ideal of classical parliamentarism and deliberative democracy.

Both of these terms are, of course, contested. There are many competing conceptions of parliamentarism, just as there are different ideal-type models of democracy. Not all of them would object against the breakdown of political communication when sensitive political issues are concerned. According to David Held:

“within democratic thinking, a clear divide exists between those who value political participation for its own sake and understand it as a fundamental mode of self-realization, and those who take a more instrumental view and understand democratic politics as a means of protecting citizens from arbitrary rule and expressing (via mechanisms of aggregation) their preferences. From classical democrats and developmental republicans to developmental liberals and participatory democrats, political engagement is prized because it fosters a sense of political efficacy, generates a concern with collective problems and nurtures the formation of knowledgeable citizenry capable of pursuing the common good […] Against this understanding, there are those, no doubt the majority of democratic thinkers, who interpret democracy as a means t protect citizens from their governors and from each other, and to ensure that a sound political structure is in place which can generate a skilled and accountable elite capable of making essential public decisions.” (Held, 2006, 231)

Nevertheless, one can consider the conception of classical parliamentarism to be the most normatively coherent one. It best accounts for the reasons why deliberation is almost universally expected from the parliament.xv It would be much harder to justify the necessity of parliamentary deliberations if one was a defender of party democracy.xvi If parliamentary factions were to be imagined as representatives of various contradictory interests that engage in tooth and nail fight for their enactment, then one should not expect open-ended debate. Instead, strict voting discipline and unwillingness to be persuaded should reasonably be expected.

Deliberative democracy is the only model of democracy that fits well with classical parliamentarism. If other models place emphasis solely on the rights to engage in political debate, then both deliberative democracy and classical parliamentarism are concerned with the features of the debate itself and the inner psychological states of discussants: whether they come to debate with an open mind, allowing for the possibility of being persuaded by stronger arguments. It is possible to argue that one cannot coherently defend classical parliamentarism without choosing deliberative democracy over other models of democracy and vice versa.

It should be noted that both of these conceptions undeniably involve a certain amount of wishful thinking – one has not yet seen a full-blown deliberative democracy, neither has there been a parliament whose voting record could be explained solely by enlightened reasoning of its members or whose thinking had not been biased by the need to please voters to boost their re-election prospects. And yet, these conceptions relate something deeply meaningful about the „shoulds” of parliamentarism and democracy – something that allows one to see the imperfections of the status quo and to reorient the current state of affairs towards the normative ideal, to give democracy a forward vision.

 

Parliamentarism

Classical (representative) conception of parliamentarism posits the parliament as a deliberative body. For example, Bernard Manin sets parliamentarism apart from so-called party democracy and „audience” democracy in this way:

„[In parliamentarism] since representatives are not bound by the wishes of those who elect them, Parliament can be a deliberating body in the fullest sense – that is to say, a place where individuals form their will through discussion and where the consent of a majority is reached through the exchange of arguments. A discussion can produce agreement among participants with divergent opinions at the outset only if they are in a position to change their minds during the course of exchange.” (Manin 1997, 205-206)

Consequently, there is a distance between voters and members of parliament; in the words of Habermas the representative body is set off from the empirical will (Habermas 1988, 184). This allows a rational and unhampered deliberation to take place.

Classical conception of parliamentarism is the reason why deliberation is universally expected from the parliament.xvii On the other hand, it has also served as the pretext for the fiercest critique when parliament fails to live up to these, some would say, impossible expectations. One of the most devastating attacks against classical conception of parliamentarism is almost a century old. Carl Schmitt famously compared discussions in parliament with red flames painted on the radiator in order to give it an appearance of a blazing fire:

The parties do not face each other today discussing opinions, but as social or economic power-groups calculating their mutual interests and opportunities for power, and they actually agree compromises and coalitions on this basis. The masses are won over through a propaganda apparatus whose maximum effect relies on an appeal to immediate in interests and passions. Argument in the real sense that is characteristic for genuine discussion ceases. [Schmitt 1988 [1923], 6]

One can recognise the attitude behind these statements when pondering the lack of deliberations on societal diversity in the Parliament of Latvia. There can hardly be found „shared convictions as premises, the willingness to be persuaded, independence of party ties, freedom from selfish interests” (Schmitt 1988 [1923], 5) that would allow a real discussion.

But are not these demands on parliament impossible and unrealistic? As noted by Jeffrey C.Alexander,

„Critics of contemporary political democracies, whether Left or Right, often posit a golden age in which deliberative democracy and reciprocal dialogue ruled, in relation to which the present constitutes a decline. But the patterns of civil society [...] have a structural status. Boundary relations with noncivil spheres have always been unsettled, civil discourse has always been deeply dichotomized, and its communicative and regulative institutions deeply fragmented from the start.” (Alexander 2006, 125)

So is not the problem imminent to modern day parliamentarism? In some ways it definitely is –there are not only contradictory imperatives hidden in the practice and the ideal of parliament (a member of parliament who wants to get re-elected cannot realistically make his or her decision solely based on the results of rational deliberation irrespective of whether voters would tolerate and approve it), but also there are varying ideals and various legitimising layers of parliament as a representative institution. For instance, do voters really want members of parliament to be independent of their wishes? xviii

There is a virtually insurmountable chasm between the conception of parliament as a deliberative forum and the one where it is conceived as a battleground of (potentially irreconcilable) interests. Unfortunately, the contradiction is not always perceived as such – in Latvia one expects parliament to be an institution where there is enlightened debate on the main issues facing the society, and yet the parliament is simultaneously imagined as an arena for gladiator’s fights (for example, between the interests of ethnic Latvians and non-Latvians).

In respect to the issues of societal diversity in Latvia, this state of affairs is even further aggravated by the unwritten agreement among ‘Latvian’ political parties on government formation that until now has been based on ethnic lines. Therefore a silent vote, disregard for the arguments about the „other” (regarding those groups that ‘Latvian’ parties do not depend upon for their votes) is also a way how to demarcate and cement the line between those who „merit the discussion” and those who do not.

 

Democracy

Deliberative democracy is indissolubly linked with the necessity of talk and discussion (Barber, 2003 [1984] 173), as well as reciprocity – obligation of the part of the citizens to justify their collectively enacted laws and policies (Gutmann&Thompson 2004, 98). Political decision- making is not just the struggle between various interests, but also a normative process which cannot be reduced to instrumental and strategic rationality (Bohman 1996, 5).

This is exactly what is not happening in the Parliament of Latvia regarding the initiatives related to social diversity. The parliamentary majority does not feel the obligation to justify their policies in respect to non-citizens or non-ethnic Latvians. The need for discussion is denied with a silent vote which is a sign of instrumental politics. If, as Michael Walzer says, the power in democracy is distributed by arguing and voting (Walzer 1983, 305), then in this context one part of the democratic decision-making process in Latvia is missing.

Ideally, democracy should mean the possibility of effective participation in political decision- making. Robert A. Dahl defines it as follows:

„Before a policy is adopted by the association, all the members of the demos must have equal and effective opportunities for making known to other members their views about what the policy should be.” (Dahl 2006; 9)

But this is evidently not enough. In case of the political defenders of Latvia’s ethnic minority and non-citizen rights, there is a possibility to effectively make their views known – yet this possibility is not worth much as no one is listening on “the other side”. All lines of argumentation – sometimes very well thought out (such as, for example, giving rights to non-citizens to vote in municipal elections) and universalistic (referring, for example, to all people who have lived in Latvia for 3-5 years, not only to Slavic minorities) – are met with a wall of silence from Latvian parliamentary majority or, in the worst case, mockery from the far-right TB/LNNK.

So the possibilities of expression are a necessary but not sufficient precondition for democratic deliberation. There is also a need for mutual recognition and respect. Mutual respect implies and demands

„more than toleration. It requires a favourable attitude toward, and constructive interpretation with, the persons with whom one disagrees. [...] Open to the possibility of changing their minds or modifying their positions at some time in the future if they confront unanswerable objections to their present point of view.” (Gutmann&Thompson 2004, 79)

In the case of issues that are of interest to Latvia’s non-citizens and non-ethnic Latvians, there is no readiness of most influential political parties to change their views as a result of discussion or even to give a principled and well-reasoned justification for voting one way rather than another. The best reply one can get when producing the arguments in favour of the rights of non-citizens to vote in municipal elections: non-citizens have the rights of going through naturalization procedures, obtaining citizenship and then taking part in elections. This response deliberately ignores more specific lines of argumentation: such as why is there a right for non-naturalized EU citizens to vote in local elections while a Latvian non-citizen who has been living here for maybe 30 and more years still does not have this option?

Of course, one could argue that such conceptions of parliamentarism and democracy is nothing more than a highly idealistic illusion or even a myth. Nothing would change if members of parliament would stage a debate knowing full well in advance that the debate will not change their voting decisions.

One could answer that in most circumstances one should nevertheless insist on the fulfilment of the promise. Unlike Carl Schmitt, one can consider the promise of democracy concerning open, mutually respectful and rational debate exactly the thing which makes democracy of value compared to alternative ways of organizing political decision making.

Even if a deliberative process is staged, there is still a force to reckon with: namely, the transformative power of mutually respectful discussion. When engaging in a discussion one refines his or hers arguments, drops the evidently unreasonable ones, discovers some common ground, then even more of it. Capacity for what Hannah Arendt called representative thinking also grows stronger. xix In the end the illusion may produce its own reality.

 

Discussion question No 3. Are there pragmatic reasons against breakdown of parliamentary deliberations on societal diversity?

Normative grounds aside, are there any pragmatic reasons to be worried above parliamentary no-talk on the issues of non-citizens and non-ethnic Latvians? There may well be such reasons. The attitude of major political parties is but a symptom of some larger, now mostly dormant processes that might (due to intentional manipulation or unfortunate conjuncture) undermine the not yet entrenched foundation of democracy in Latvia.

First of all, there really is no clear motivation for non-citizens to uphold the values of democracy and parliamentarism – after all, they have not only been unable to exercise voting rights, but they and their interests also are a taboo topic for most political parties. What stake do they have in preferring democracy rather than, for instance, a „strong hand”, Putin-style politics?

Almost the same can be said about the majority of non-ethnic Latvian citizensxx – unlike non-citizens they do have voting rights, yet during 18 years of independence their political parties have never taken part in forming a government. Ethnic minority Latvian citizens who vote for PCTVL and Harmony Center (SC) are perceived by part of ethnically Latvian society and ‘Latvian’ political parties not as a subject of politics, but as a sort of homogeneous background that is situated outside politics and radiates dangerous vibes.

Not having one’s electoral choice in the government also means lesser immunity towards populist-style politics which one usually acquires by addressing the gap between campaign promises and politicians’ real deeds while in government. It is exactly the disenchantment with the previous campaign promises that has eventually made the ethnically Latvian part of citizens relatively immune towards ever more refined political advertising techniques. This political learning process was not really available for those citizens who voted for parties that have never been in government.

Secondly, there is also the problematic issue of the message that parliamentary silence sends to non-citizens and non-ethnic Latvians along with political parties that claim to represent their interests. This message is plain and simple: politics is nothing else than a power struggle where majority wins and minority looses. If there is a clear majority, no discussion or argumentation for a specific decision is necessary – might is right. This attitude normalises and habituates the combative, non-argumentative style of politics and might also provoke a sense of revenge. When non-ethnic Latvian parties will finally be a part of governing coalition, they are likely to continue this power play, but now from the side of power elite.

Thirdly, it is indeed fortunate that the constant sidelining that those political parties that struggle for minority rights in Parliament experience has not been deliberately made more salient in the minds of non-citizens or non-ethnic Latvians. In the opinion of Anne Philips:

“Because the modern age makes identity more problematic (much less taken for granted), it also makes recognition far more important to people’s well-being; and if your way of life is not recognized as of equal value with others, this will be experienced as a form of oppression. The required recognition has been widely interpreted as including a more public presence in political life: a public acknowledgement of equal value” (Phillips, 1995, 40)

Highlighting the lack of a public acknowledgment of equal value, betrayal of democratic reasoning on the part of parliamentary majority, in addition to constant humiliation by far-right party might have made the ethnic relations in Latvia potentially explosive. It might also prove dangerous for another reason. As was aptly put by James Bohman:

“If members of a minority believe that their views are never a recognizable part of the outcome of deliberation, eventually they no longer may be willing to cooperate in political problem solving – and rightly so, since such a deliberative process cannot be a public activity for them. Every deliberator must have the confidence that he or she will, at least on the some occasions and on some issues, favorably influence deliberation.” (Bohman 1996, 107)

 

Discussion question No. 4. Is there a deliberative way out of communicative deadlock?

When investigating the legislative initiatives on societal diversity one is struck by the sense of irrationality of the political deliberation process. There is but one political party – PCTVL - that regularly comes up with legislative proposals intended to increase the rights of non-citizens and non-ethnic Latvians. From one parliamentary meeting to another its representatives extensively explain their reasoning and urge other political parties to support the particular proposal.

Since these proposals are always voted down by majority, one may conclude that PCTVL has willingly undertaken a Sisyphean struggle – constantly rolling the boulder up a hill while at the same time knowing very well that it will roll back down. On behalf of influential parties it is also a ritual – to vote down PCTVL’s proposals without engaging in a discussion. There is no deliberation, yet there is a clear sense of boundaries that feel almost sacred in nature. No one is allowed to cross them.

As a result, for quite a long time already both sides are facing a deliberative impasse, while practicing a mutual psychological warfare.

This is exactly the case where there is no deliberative solution. If one party is willing to engage in discussion, but every other party is so decisively against deliberation about particular societal issues, then there is no discussion-based way out. The only strategies that might work for a party that insists on the change are the following:

 

(1) „technocracracizing” the sensitive issues

During 2007-2008 the Parliament of Latvia adopted relatively few legislative initiatives that were intended to empower minority groups. But when the parliament did adopt such initiatives, it usually happened without an in-depth discussion. Most of these initiatives were framed in a depoliticised, technocratic or universalistic way and stemmed from seemingly technocratic EU directives that Latvia is not allowed to ignore. Almost all EU anti-discrimination legislation indirectly benefits Latvian ethnic minorities and also non-citizens.

 

(2) „juridification” of the sensitive issues

Contemporary democracies do not shy away from involving constitutional courts in the issues of utmost political sensitivity. Unsurprisingly, a court decision on a deeply divisive issue might be perceived as an easier and sometimes even more legitimate solution (Barak 2006, 96) than would be the case if the issue was subject to party politics.

“Often its [the Court’s] role forces political discussion to take a principled form so as to address the constitutional question in line with the political values of justice and public reason. Public discussion becomes more than a contest for power and position. This educates citizens to the use of public reason and its value of political justice by focusing their attention on basic constitutional matters.” (Rawls 2005; 239-240)

The rights of non-citizens represent exactly such an issue that might benefit from a well-reasoned constitutional court judgment. It is even surprising that no political party has made sustained attempts to challenge the statutory differences in employment opportunities between citizens and non-citizens.

 

(3) Putting the sensitive issue up for political bargaining

Counterintuitively, one of the reasons why there has been virtually no progress regarding non-citizen and the rights of ethnic/ linguistic minorities might be the PCTVL’s firm ownership of these causes. Its principled stance (by making these issues its key political battle) makes these issues repulsive for other political parties. Once the now clear link between these issues and PCTVL is cut, more political parties might become interested in taking them up in order to attract new voters. When that happens, all kinds of pragmatic, bargaining-based compromises (mutual „trade” of small concessions) become feasible.

One of the most influential founders of deliberative democracy movement, Jurgen Habermas, has himself admitted that the deliberative approach does not always work:

„ [...] Bargaining processes are tailored for situations in which social power relations cannot be neutralised in the way rational discourses presuppose. The compromises achieved by such bargaining contain a negotiated agreement that balances conflicting interests. Whereas a rationally motivated consensus rests on reasons that convince all the parties in the same way, a compromise can be accepted by the different parties for its own different reasons.” (Habermas 1998, 165-166)

Like processes have already started in Riga City Council. After municipal elections of 6th June 2009 the governing coalition for the first time in Riga’s history is formed by two political parties that both are heavily dependent on „the Russian vote”. Without making the issues of Russian language usage their chief political banner, they are now suggesting some incremental changes: such as a possibility for an inhabitant of Riga to submit applications to municipal authorities in Russian. xxi That demonstrates that a more laidback, pragmatic approach that allows more than one political party to see its political opportunity in cooperation might prove to be more effective in producing change than an overly insistent demand for enlightened debate.

Of course, if one accepts the ideals of parliamentarism and deliberative democracy, bargaining would always be a strategy where “all else fails”. As Amy Gutmann and Deniss F. Thompson have remarked “a general defense of bargaining is not likely to be possible.” (Gutmann, Thompson 2004; 45) If there is a possibility to reach a common understanding, it should be explored.

Nor should one forget that breakdown of political deliberations is not an axiomatic evil. There is a productive side to the lack of communication as well. Namely, the silence leaves open the argumentative space for a specific politician or a political party. A party or member of parliament who has chosen to stay silent might turn up at various points of argumentative spectrum once he or she has a definite position. Not necessarily and not even very likely they will turn up at the very extremes.

 

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i See, for example, Bohman, James (1996) Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, and Democracy (The MIT Press); Gutmann, Amy; Thompson, Dennis (2004) Why Deliberative Democracy? (Princeton University Press)

ii Data on citizenship of inhabitants of Latvia. Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 01.01.2009. (In Latvian).

URL: http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/lv/documents/statistika/ISPP_Pasvaldibas_pec_VPD.pdf [Accessed: Aug. 2009]

iii For a detailed discussion of non-citizen status see Kruma, Kristine (2007) Checks and balances in Latvian nationality policies: National agendas and international frameworks. In Citizenship Policies in the New Europe (Amsterdam University Press), p. 63.-88.

iv Data on ethnicity of inhabitants of Latvia. Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 01.01.2009. (In Latvian) .

URL:http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/lv/statistika/dokuments/ISVN_Latvija_pec_TTB_VPD.pdf [Accessed: Aug. 2009]

v The most recent recommendations are: UN Human Rights Council (2008) Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance - Mission to Latvia (A/HRC/7/19/Add.3) URL: (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/LVIndex.aspx) [Accessed: Aug.2009]; Amnesty International (2008). Amnesty International Report 2008 – Latvia. URL: (http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/latvia/report-2008) ) [Accessed: Aug.2009]; Council of Europe (2007). European Commission against Racism and Intolerance(ECRi): Third report on Latvia. URL: (http://hudoc.ecri.coe.int/XMLEcri/ENGLISH/Cycle_03/03_CbC_eng/LVA-CbC-III-2008-2-ENG.pdf) [Accessed: Aug.2009]

vi Data was obtained within the framework of “Shrinking Citizenship” project that was implemented by the Centre for Public Policy Providus. The „Shrinking Citizenship” project was implemented from March 2007 until 2009, and was supported by a grant from Open Society Institute. The final report of the project can be obtained here: Golubeva, Marija; Kažoka, Iveta (2009).Saeima un pilsoniskā līdzdalība. LR Saeimas plenārsēžu un likumdošanas iniciatīvu monitoringa rezultāti 2007.-2009. URL: http://www.politika.lv/temas/politikas_kvalitate/17565/ [Accessed: Aug.2009] An English overview of the initial stages of the project in 2007 is available here: http://www2.providus.lv/upload_file/Dokumenti_feb07/Tolerance/Shrink_Citi_Eng.doc

vii In contrast, there are some groups that are generally uninspiring to the parliament of Latvia – for instance, new immigrants, refugees, LGBT people are seldom talked about either in exclusionary or inclusionary way. See Golubeva, Marija; Kažoka, Iveta (2009).Saeima un pilsoniskā līdzdalība. LR Saeimas plenārsēžu un likumdošanas iniciatīvu monitoringa rezultāti 2007.-2009. URL: http://www.politika.lv/temas/politikas_kvalitate/17565/ [Accessed: Aug.2009]

viii The “Shrinking Citizenship” project attempted to determine the number of cases when a Latvian member of parliament uses exclusionary or inclusionary rhetoric in referring to various minority groups (such as non-citizens, immigrants, LGBT people etc.) For example, a typical statement deemed exclusionary within the framework of the project: „non-Latvians cause problems by participating in protests” or „non-citizens do not belong in Latvia altogether and should be sent back to Russia”. An example of inclusionary rhetoric would be a case when a politician states that some group has made such a contribution to society in general that its rights should be increased. During 2008 there were 35 inclusionary statements on minority groups coming from PCTVL and 5 statements from other parliamentary factions. There were also 21 exclusionary statements on minorities from TB/LNNK (10 from other parties). Four parliamentary factions (TP, JL, LPP/LC, PS) who together have 52 out of 100 places in parliament had not spoken on minorities at all.

ix During 2007 and 2008 just two pro-minority legislative initiatives have been approved in parliament. Indicatively, both were quite technical in nature.

x This information has been obtained by purchasing political advertisement data from a media monitoring company (regarding the political advertisements placed during the pre-election campaign period).

xi There is an illustrative example from my own experience when working as a consultant for a parliamentary committee. Most of the deliberative process (on issues not related to societal diversity) was praiseworthy: both governing and opposition parties, both ethnically Latvian and non-Latvian parties worked side by side in trying to find universally acceptable compromises. But when a proposal came up that would allow non-citizens to form political parties without compulsory participation of 200 citizens, this led to a total breakdown of deliberative communication. The MPs called for an end to discussion in order to hold a vote.

xii For example, in 2008 all 9 political parties represented in parliament participated in the debates on a very divisive issue of administrative reform. Representatives from 5 parties debated more than 10 times each during the second and third readings of the law that would implement this reform.

xiii See Kuzmina, Ilze (2007) Atkal balso pret valodas aizsardzību, Latvijas Avīze, 19.martā, 4.lpp.

xiv See, for example, Duckitt, John (2003) Prejudice and Intergroup Hostility. In Sears David. O et al. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology (Oxford University Press)

xv See, for example, Carey, John M. (2006) Legislative Organization. In Rhodes, R.A.W et al. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions (Oxford University Press), p.431; Thompson, Dennis, F. (1987) Political Ethics and Public Office (Harvard University Press) p.121

xvi Bernard Manin characterized the understanding of parliamentary discussions under the conception of party democracy in this way: “Plenary sessions of Parliament are no longer a forum for deliberative discussion. Strict voting discipline reigns within each camp. Moreover, representatives cannot change their minds as a result of the exchange of parliamentary debate, once the position of the party has been decided.” Manin, Bernard (1997) The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge University Press), p.216

xvii See, for example, Carey, John M. (2006) Legislative Organization. In Rhodes, R.A.W et al. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions (Oxford University Press), p.431

xviii For more literature on this subject matter see Pitkin, Hanna F. (1972) The Concept of Representation, (University of California Press); Van der Hulst, Marc. (2000) The Parliamentary Mandate: A Global Comparative Study (Inter-Parliamentary Union, Geneva); Uslaner, Eric, M.& Zittel, Thomas (2006) Comparative Legislative Behavior. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions (ed. By R.A.W Rhodes et al.) (Oxford University Press)

xixPolitical thought is representative. I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the viewpoints of those who are absent; that is, I represent them [...] The more people’s standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion.” Arendt, Hannah. (2006 ([1977]) Between Past and Future (Penguin Books), p.237

xx An opinion poll of 2005 indicated that Russian-speaking respondents are slightly more likely to agree that parliament and elections should be abolished, and there should be a strong and decisive leader instead. 10,3% of Latvian speaking respondents and 13,8% of Russian speaking respondents completely agreed with this statement; 24,6% of Latvians and 21,7% of Russian speakers disagreed completely. Uzskati par starpetniskajam attiecībām Latvijā: 2005.gada augusts. Latvijas iedzīvotāju aptaujas rezultātu apkopojums. SKDS. URL: http://www.dialogi.lv/pdfs/atskaite_082005_dialogi.pdf [Accessed: Aug.2009]

xxi Just 42% of Riga population are ethnically Latvian. Another 42% are ethnic Russians, 5% - Byelorussians; 4% - Ukrainians etc. Data from Riga Council website.

URL: http://www.riga.lv/LV/Channels/About_Riga/Riga_in_numbers/default.htm [Accessed: Aug.2009]

Iveta Kažoka, Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS, Latvia

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