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Struggle for Suiti Municipality

On 10 June 2020, the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia adopted the Law on Administrative Territories and Populated Areas, which entered into force on 23 June 2020, and which stipulates that the number of municipalities in Latvia be reduced from 119 to 42. Paragraph 21 (Sub-paragraph 21.1) of the Annex Administrative Territories, Their Administrative Centres, and Territorial Units to this Law, provides for the inclusion of the last municipality of the Suiti community – the municipality of Alsunga – in Kuldīga municipality. Paragraph 21, Sub-paragraph 21.3, however, provides for the preservation of the Gudenieki rural territory the Kuldīga municipality and Paragraph 42, Sub-paragraph 42.2, for the preservation of the Jūrkalne rural territory in the Ventspils municipality. This means that by this Law, the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia has decided to remove the last municipality of Suiti cultural space included in the UNESCO’s list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguard and has determined that the future Suiti cultural space will be divided between two municipalities – the municipalities of Kuldīga and Ventspils, in which the Catholic Suiti community will draw up politically insignificant peripheries as the minority of the periphery.

Many countries have long been ethnographically interesting cultural and historical minority areas. In some countries these areas and the communities of national, historical or religious minorities living in them are considered to be national treasures and are promoted nationally. This is also the case in Estonia, adjacent to us, where the Orthodox Setos and Kihnu form their own municipalities and national budgets are granted in support of economic, cultural and road infrastructure in these areas. The experience of Estonia’s many years has demonstrated that such an approach works and allows these minority communities to exist, remain, and develop in the future. Unfortunately, such an approach has not been taken in Latvia until now.

What determines whether any minority community in its long-populated area will remain or disappear in practice? It is only determined by whether a significant part of the new generation of this community will wish to remain in its historic territory and to continue to maintain the identity and associated heritage received from previous generations. For this to happen there is a need for economic activity, an active business environment that creates well-paid jobs, as well as an education system (kindergarten, school, and art and music school) that teaches the young generation in communities to be proud of their local identity and to perceive their various tangible and intangible forms as value.

In the Republic of Latvia, since 1918, people who regard such cultural and historical areas as national value have never had a real impact on national decisions. Therefore, cultural and historical areas and communities of national, historical or religious minorities living in them have, unfortunately, never been a national priority. Throughout the lifetime of this country, we have not seen targeted, timely and meaningful national actions to ensure the preservation of these communities. On the contrary, a number of decisions, particularly those related to the reorganisation of municipalities and the optimisation of the school network, have been focused on the almost systematic destruction of such communities since the 1920s. And unfortunately, such decisions, as those taken by the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia in 2008 and 2020 regarding municipal reform, will continue today.

The ancient cultural and historical areas of Kurzeme (Courland) can be grouped together according to three features of local identity. The first is nationality and language, the second is a common history and the third is religion, as in the case of Kurzeme, the Roman Catholic Church.

The first signs from the rest of Kurzeme were once separated by the Livs Coast (the coastal zone from Oviši to Ģipka). 150 years ago, only a small percentage of the population in the area were Latvian. A hundred years ago, the proportion of the Livs was only half there, and it was rapidly shrinking. The research of the Livs as a Finnish nation on the Livs Coast was based not on local Latvian, but on Estonian, Finnish and Baltic German researchers, such as Anderss Johans Šēgrēns, Augusts Pecolds, Ferdinands Johans Vīdemans, Emils Nestors Setele, Lauris Einars Ketunens, Oskars Loorits, Lauris Posti, Pauls Ariste. Unfortunately, for Latvian researchers, the research of the Livs, like the Livs themselves to Latvians, was not a priority. Or because they did represent a different culture? Maybe.

Having a good knowledge of the imminent threat of assimilation, in 1923 the Livs attempted to establish a separate Jūrmala civil parish with a centre in Mazirbe, which was aimed at bringing the Livs together under one municipality, thus hoping to preserve the identity of the remainder of this nationality. There was even a local referendum on this issue, in which, unfortunately, Latvians living in the coastal villages of Libathia actively voted against. Shortly afterwards, the Latvian government rejected the idea of building a Jurmala civil parish and the villages still inhabited by Libau became a small minority of the Latvian-dominated parishes of Dundaga, Pope and Ance, but the Livs themselves were regarded as a small minority of these parishes on the periphery. Of course, the disappearance of the Livs in their historic territory then continued to accelerate.

The Liiv People’s House, which was conceived as a place to bring together the remaining Libays, was not built for a long time because of the lack of money. Due to the lack of expectations of the necessary funding for Libays in Latvia, the Liv Union sent requests to Estonian and Finnish public organisations in 1927, asking them to help with the collection of the necessary money. Money was also collected in Fenno-Ugrian-populated Hungary. In 1938, it became clear that the construction of the Liiv People’s House would take place anyway and could not be stopped. In the end, of the necessary 100 thousand lats, the Latvian State had also invested its contribution – 17 thousand lats. The rest was mainly funded by foreign governments, including the Finnish and Estonian governments.

In 1991, the political decision taken by the Council of Ministers on the establishment of the State’s specially protected Livõd Randa in the municipal parts of Kolka, Dundaga and Tārgale parishes was already delayed because the Livs were no longer living in the territory in practice. It was therefore eliminated a few years later, in 2003, without much objection. In the 2000 census, only 177 people showed up as Livs throughout Latvia. There are no people who have the Liiv language as their first language in the world today. There are still around 30 people who have learned this language as a second language. The preservation of the Livs in Latvia is now practically and permanently overdue.

A shared history over many centuries was typical of the likely descendants of the rulers of the Curonians, the Curonian Kings. The oldest known Suzerain Book (Tontegodes) dates back to 1320. There were a total of seven free villages of the Curonian Kings: Ķoniņciems, Kalējciems, Pliķu ciems, Ziemeļciems (all in today’s Turlava parish), Dragūnciems (in today’s Rumba parish), Viesalgciems (in today’s Snēpele parish) and Sausgaļciems (in today’s Padure parish). In order to preserve the privileges and the status of suzerain people, the Curonian Kings married only among themselves for centuries. It was a confined community with its own special parades, traditions, culture, and way of living.

In 1919, the Latvian government took away six centuries of autonomy and added these free villages to the surrounding parishes, to whom these people and their peculiarities, traditions and ways of life were foreign. Its squatters became inconsequential periphery minorities of surrounding parishes. On 4 May 1929, the Saeima issued the Law on the Division of Freemasses of the District of Kuldīga in Farmsteads. Not only did arable land and meadows, but also the forests and pastures in the village became a joint-ownership, mostly against the will of the Curonian Kings themselves. It was also the end of the old housekeeping of the Curonian Kings in the village community, which had kept them together for so long.

What the Latvian state did in the destruction of the Curonian Kings, after World War II, the Soviet authorities continued. The historic building of villages of Pliķi and Viesalgas was completely damaged by amelioration. There is one house in the historic village of Curonian Kings (Ķoniņciems) today. In other villages, one or a few single farmsteads have survived better. The descendants of the Curonian Kings have dispersed and the old properties are virtually uninhabited. The graveyards of Viesalgas and Ķoniņciems are abandoned and overgrown, dug by foxes, and many crosses are broken. The relics of the Curonian Kings are only partially preserved in museum shelves and books.

In their long history, Curonian Kings survived under various powers, rulers, reforms and wars, until in the 20th century, in the already independent Republic of Latvia, the foundations for the rapid cessation of existence of their community were laid. Because the new Latvian authority simply didn’t need such kings. Today there are still people who have a kinship with them. People who carry the old surnames. However, as a compact-living historical minority community, Curonian Kings are permanently lost to Latvia.

A significant community builder around the world has been and will be religion. Historically, in Kurzeme there were two stable compact Roman Catholic communities created by local landlords. In religious isolation, where forming marriage with the surrounding Lutherans was a sin, they intermarried over the centuries and created their identities with diverse forms of material and intangible culture. The oldest such community is Suiti. Its history began in 1632, when Johann Ulrich von Schwerin inherited the surroundings of Alsunga (then Alshwang) from his father. He had converted into the Catholic faith nine years earlier himself and, after returning to Alsunga, he also ordered the peasants living in his estates to do the same.

The other ancient Catholic community with a pronounced identity was built in Lēnas, Skrunda municipality. There, Catholic history started a little later, under Ernst Fromhold Osten-Sacken in 1722. The current Lēnas church was built in 1750. Catholics in Lēnas had maintained a Suiti-like dialect 80 years ago. The homeowners here, as in the Suiti community, were called by the names of the houses. Here the Catholics had their own Lēnas parish during the times of tsarist Russia. After it was added to the Lutheran Rudbārži parish, the development of Lēnas on the periphery of the great parish gradually declined.

Just 80 years ago, there were 750 parishioners in the Lēnas church. Today, Lēnas is part of the Lutheran Nīkrāce civil parish in Skrunda municipality. A well-maintained Catholic cemetery has remained, while there are virtually no more local Catholics in Lēnas. The manor has been abandoned with around 30 inhabitants in the neighbourhood (according to 2015 data). Old Catholic congregations were also in Vecpils and the Lamiņi. But these congregations were based on landless peasants and servants who did not contribute to the formation of compact, identity-bound, monolithic communities.

Of all the ancient cultural and historical areas of Courland, only the Suiti cultural space has managed to maintain its identity, albeit to a reduced extent, until our days. The inhabited area of the Catholic Suiti community is roughly equal to today’s municipalities of Alsunga, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne. It is an area of 402 square kilometres with over two thousand inhabitants. From the early days of formation of the Suiti community, the main residential area and its religious and administrative centre has been Alsunga. The present municipality of Alsunga today occupies about half of the territory of the Suiti cultural space and is home to two-thirds of the inhabitants of the cultural space.

Yet, here too, assimilation has done its job. The territory inhabited by the conservative Suiti community, which was included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding by UNESCO on 1 October 2009 in Abu Dhabi, is today largely disappearing in front of our eyes, just as the Livs, the Curonian Kings and the Lēnas’ Catholics once disappeared. Only in this case, this process of extinction of the Suiti community is taking place a little later, in our days. Just as the political decisions of the country that contribute to this disappearance also take place in our days.

Historically, the Suiti cultural space includes the properties of the von Shwerin family, whose inhabitants were converted into the Catholic faith between 1632 and 1634 under Johann Ulrich von Schwerin. From 1740, the Catholic Suiti became the peasants of the Duke, but from 1795 they were peasants of the Russian state. The origins of the administrative municipalities of Courland peasants are to be found in the law on abolition of serfdom in 1817. Then a peasant civil parish (municipality) was created at each manor, regardless of its size. In the Suiti cultural space, such civil parishes were Alshvang, Feliksberg, Grāveri, Blintene, Gudenieki, Jaunā muiža (New Manor), Basi, Adze and Stirnu Manor, as well as in Alshvanga’s pastorate (vicarage). In each such parish, in addition to the Latvian and Suiti identity, a local identity was also formed.

The first major reduction in the number of civil parishes (municipalities) took place during the tsarist Russia period in the late 19th century. It was done with the aim of optimising the functioning of the civil parishes by increasing their population through mergers. Following this reform of the parishes, four civil parishes remained in the Catholic Suiti cultural space, naming, Alsunga, Basi, Gudenieki and Feliksberg (Jūrkalne). The Basi village (parish) has already been added to the Gudenieki parish during the Soviet period, in 1977.

Throughout its history, the whole Suiti community was administratively located in one territory. During the Duchy of Courland, it was the congregation of Alshwang, then it was the district (apriņķis) of Aizpute, but as from 1950 – Alsunga district (rajons). In 1956, the abolishment of Alsunga district was the first time the border between the districts of Ventspils and Kuldīga was drawn through the historic Suiti municipality. The Jūrkalne civil parish remained on the Ventspils side of this border, while those of Alsunga, Basi and Gudenieki became part of Kuldīga municipality. According to sources, that was the wish of the Soviet border guards. Each district lived in its informational world, so with the borderline sketched came a gradual alienation of the inhabitants of Jūrkalne from the rest of the Suiti cultural space.

When Latvia regained independence in 1991, the Suiti cultural space was divided into three parish municipalities and two districts. In Soviet times, many people not related to the Suiti had entered and settled in the county area, mainly Latvians of the former Lutheran provinces. Part of them were even openly hostile to the local identity and the Suiti community.

Two different stages were clearly identified in the administrative territorial or the so-called regional reform of the Latvian government in relation to the Suiti cultural space. The first can be referred to as the stage of a national unification of the Suiti community. It lasted from about 2000 to the end of 2006, largely in line with the time of Ivars Gaters, Andrejs Radzēvičs and Māris Kučinskis as Ministers for Regional Development and Local Government. At this time, the government considered that the Suiti community was valuable and important enough for the Latvian people to fall under the application of an exceptional status during the municipality consolidation process in the name of its preservation, without applying the general criteria for municipality formation to the Suiti.

This view is well illustrated by the laws and regulations of that time. For the first time, the idea of forming a separate Suiti municipality on the part of the state was expressed in Cabinet Order No. 190 of 31 March 2003 On the Project for the Establishment of Municipalities. It provided for the creation of a separate municipality of Suiti (Alsunga), including the cultural and historical Suiti areas (Alsunga, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne parishes). It was further noted that in this case the municipality would be an exception that did not meet the criteria selected, but would be built on the basis of historical and continuously cultivated identity.

It was very unusual that for the first time in the history of this country, the Latvian government advocated the preservation of one culturally-important and still alive (unlike Liv Coast) community. It had not been done in the past neither in the case of Livs, nor Curonian Kings or Lēnas’ Catholics. During this period, joint meetings of deputies of the civil parishes of Alsunga, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne were held periodically, in which both the heads of the respective parishes and the deputies supported the establishment of a unified Suiti municipality within the borders of all three historic Suiti parishes. However, these meetings were dominated by the view that it was not necessary to hurry the formation of the Suiti municipality before there was a serious incentive on the part of the Latvian government to take this step.

Unfortunately, the first phase came to an end, followed by a second phase that can be called the Suiti community’s national splitting phase, which was implemented from outside. Instead of national sense, political intrigues and imaginary local interests became the driving force of public policy. Similarly, as was the case with the Livs and the Curonian Kings, various municipalities wanted to get themselves a piece of the historic Suiti cultural space by splitting it. But splitting never benefits the unity and vitality of nations and minority communities. This phase is marked by the period of Aigars Štokenbergs and Edgars Zalāns as Ministers for Regional Development and Local Government in office.

The second phase started with the development activities of the municipality of Kuldīga in early 2007. This started out with a promise that a certain amount  of state funds would be allocated. On January 16, Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Regional Development and Local Government Arvīds Pīlēģis visited Skrunda where he announced that if two municipalities (Kuldīga and Skrunda) were created replacing the then existing Kuldīga district (rajons) in the framework of a pilot project that year, the state would allocate 20 to 26 million lats to them. It was an unprecedented offer! As early as 25 January, Daina Bērende, the Chair of the Council of the Gudenieki parish, informed her parishioners that she had been offered at the Kuldīga district council that if Gudenieki would withdraw itself from the formation of the Suiti municipality and join the future municipality of Kuldīga, the road from Gudenieki to Kuldīga, 24 km, would be asphalted. One must be a fool not to want to realise a dream, she said. Gudenieki made a list of needs for spending the millions promised by the state, and the parish became involved in the negotiations concerning the development of the new Kuldīga district.

In April 2007, the Gudenieki civil parish council decided to add its civil parish to the Kuldīga, under the pretext of the promised asphalt of the road, while the Council of Jūrkalne parish, referring to the difficulties of changing districts (at that point Alsunga and Gudenieki were in the district of Kuldīga, while Jūrkalne was part of Ventspils district) and the decision, already taken by the Gudenieki Council, decided to include the Jūrkalne civil parish in the Ventspils district.

The council of Alsunga civil parish, left alone, decided on the creation of a separate Suiti municipality even if Gudenieki and Jūrkalne did not participate in it. On the state side, such a decision was blatantly overlooked. On 4 September 2007, the Cabinet approved an already altered municipal map, in which Jūrkalne was attached to Ventspils municipality, while Gudenieki and Alsunga were designated as part of the municipality of Kuldīga.

Various steps, including radical and unusual ones, were taken to preserve their own municipality that would be home to at least part of the Suiti community. On 29 and 30 September 2007, the council of Alsunga parish organised a survey of residents in order to identify the views of its residents. In the survey, nearly 91 per cent of the incoming 332 people voted to preserve their municipality. On 22 November, the Council of Alsunga parish, referring to the results of the popular survey, decided to form a separate municipality of Alsunga within the borders of Alsunga parish. As the Cabinet’s position remained unchanged at the meeting on 11 December, on 29 December the Council of Alsunga parish decided to challenge the Cabinet decision at the Constitutional (Satversme) Court. Ten inhabitants of Alsunga also appealed to the Constitutional (Satversme) Court on 12 March.

In the further course of the reform, the Cabinet decided to include a map of local governments in the Law On Administrative Territories and Populated Areas, thereby directing it to the Saeima for approval. Before the last meeting of the Saeima commission, where the last proposals were still being discussed, with a view to influencing the decision of the responsible Saeima commission, on 23 November 2008 the Board of Foundation Suitu novads (Suiti municipality) took a decision on 6 June 2009, on the Latvian municipal election day, to declare the establishment of an independent Suiti Free State within the borders of the historic territory inhabited by Suiti community for one day. On that day, without the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, a general meeting of the residents was also scheduled to hold their own independent election for the Free State of Suiti. The decision was made public on 24 November, bringing the fuss to the mass media in Latvia and Russia. On 25 November, the Saeima Public Administration and Local Government Committee decided to include three other municipalities in the local government map, including Alsunga municipality within the borders of Alsunga civil parish.

In deciding on the future fate of Alsunga civil parish, the Member of Parliament and the responsible Committee, Māris Kučinskis (People’s Party), called on the Committee not to support its transformation into a municipality, because a small local government will not be able to develop alone. On the other hand, the Chairman of the Commission, Staņislavs Šķesters (Greens/Farmers), stressed that Alsunga must be a separate local government. In his opinion, the municipality would be able to develop, and thus the cultural and historical Suiti traditions characteristic only to Alsunga would be maintained. Support for the Suiti was also expressed by Committee Secretary Gunārs Laicāns (Civic Union). This decision was approved by the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia on 18 December 2008 without discussion.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself. By this decision of the Saeima, the small Suiti community, like the Livs and the Curonian Kings in the 1920s, was divided into three municipalities – the small municipality of Alsunga and, in terms of identity, in the areas foreign to the Suiti, naming, the municipalities of Kuldīga and Ventspils, where the Suiti were small, peripheral and politically insignificant religious minority communities.

What have been the consequences of this decision of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia during the 10-year period between the first and the second Administrative Territorial Reform faced by the Suiti community? The population of Suiti cultural space decreased by 16.7 percent during this period, with the Gudenieki civil parish attached to the Kuldīga municipality seeing a decrease of 27.7 (!) percent. Two elementary schools have been closed at this time in the Suiti cultural space, i.e. in Jūrkalne in 2016 and in Birži (in Gudeniekui civil parish) in 2017. The Jūrkalne school building has been occupied by an old people’s home. In Birži, the building stands empty. This means that under the principle of money following a pupil, the Suiti children are being brought to schools outside the Suiti municipality, where the Suiti children are a small part of the total number of students. There, they don’t learn the Suiti local history and a Suiti-tailored content, and are not raised as Suiti patriots. Children are being managed so that the municipalities of Kuldīga and Ventspils can save their budget money by educating these children in their municipal schools. If they were educated at Alsunga Secondary School, the two municipalities would have had to pay Alsunga for it.

During this ten-year-period, nearly each year has come with a threat of the exclusion of public funding from the high school classes at Alsunga Secondary School. These recurring closing threats became a reason not to open high school classes in Alsunga and undertake normal development of high-school teaching staff in some years. Teachers sitting on suitcases has, of course, affected the quality of secondary education and the competitiveness of the school. The same applies to the recruitment of qualified personnel to other authorities in Alsunga municipality, where politicians have reiterated from time to time that small municipalities in Latvia will be eliminated sooner or later. Due to the fragmentation of the community, the implementation of the points of the Suiti cultural space safeguarding plan submitted by the Ministry of Culture to UNESCO has not been possible mainly for financial reasons. On the state side, the economic development of Suiti cultural space has also not been promoted.

The National Development Plan of the Republic of Latvia, approved by the Saeima on 20 December 2012, included an all Suiti cultural space in economically non-viable areas of Latvia, which do not have their politically-accepted development centres and have the lowest possible access to EU funds. Therefore, many representatives of the Suiti community raised the question as to how the Latvian government would fulfil its commitment to UNESCO on the safeguarding of the Suiti cultural space in an area which is considered not to be economically viable, especially if it hardly participated in the financing of UNESCO’s own proposed safeguarding plan. At the time, we did not realise that a meaningful safeguarding of the Suiti cultural space was not in the Latvian government’s plans.

However, despite the periodic statements by politicians that the municipality would be eliminated sooner or later and that it has no politically-approved development centre, the entrepreneurial Alsunga municipality managed to become one of the most prosperous municipalities in the Kurzeme region in terms of per capita economic indicators. According to the area development index (2019), Alsunga municipality is in 44th place in the country. By comparison, Ventspils municipality is in 52nd place, while Kuldīga municipality is in 54th place. Thus, step by step, the preservation of Alsunga municipality in 2009 allowed it to become, if not political, then at least in practice, a small economic development centre in the Western part of Kurzeme.

On 20 June 2019, the municipal council of Alsunga decided to organise a population survey On the possible addition of the municipality of Alsunga to other administrative areas. Over two weeks, 239 people participated and voted in the survey, of which 92.4 percent voted to preserve a separate Alsunga municipality.

Seeing that the coalition of Latvian ruling parties in the government has decided to continue the merger of local governments, and seeing that this could not happen again in the interest of the preservation of the Suiti community, there was a need to establish an elected representative of the Suiti community – the Suiti parliament – which had already been discussed in 2008. To do this, the formation of the electorate was necessary. Therefore, in September 2019, a group of confederates started issuing Suiti identity cards. At this point, nearly 300 cards have been issued to people who have in writing acknowledged they belong to the Suiti community. On 21 April 2020, the holders of these cards elected 14 people from among their members to the Suiti parliament, which further undertook the formulation of the Suiti community’s views and the work of the community representation.

One of the first public activities of an elected parliament was an advisory survey of the identity cardholders. It took place from 29 April to 1 May 2020, and it revealed that 94.9 percent of the respondents supported the formation of a unified Suiti municipality within the borders of three historic Suiti parishes, naming Jūrkalne, Gudenieki and Alsungs, while 96.6 percent support that such a newly-formed municipality would be named Suiti municipality (Suitu novads).

The Administrative Territorial Reform Committee of the Saeima, as it examined the proposals submitted, considered the question about the Suiti and voted twice. The first vote was taken on 4 February 2020 on the preservation of Alsunga municipality within the borders of Alsunga parish. The preservation of Alsunga municipality was rejected by one vote, and the votes were as follows: Andris Kazinovskis (New Conservative Party), Viktors Valainis (Greens/Farmers) and Regīna Ločmele-Luņova (Harmony) voted in favour of Alsunga as a separate municipality, while members of the ruling coalition parties Ēriks Pucens (KPV LV), Artūrs Toms Plešs (For Development/For!), Arvils Ašeradens (New Unity) and Jānis Dombrava (For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK) voted against.

As for the second time, the Committee voted on 6 May regarding the proposal submitted by its Member, Ēriks Pucens (KPV LV), on the establishment of Alsunga municipality or Suitu novads, which would include the parishes of Alsunga, Gudenieki, and Jūrkalne. The vote was as follows: Ēriks Pucens (KPV LV), Viktors Valainis (Greens/Farmers) and Regīna Ločmele-Luņova (Harmony) voted for, Artūrs Toms Plešs (For Development/For!) and Arvils Ašeradens (New Unity) voted against, while Andris Kazinovskis (New Conservative Party) and Jānis Dombrava (For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK) abstained. Three votes for two against and two abstained. Consequently, the proposal was rejected again by a single vote.

On May 26, 20 days after the second vote, one of the MPs who had voted for the preservation of Alsunga municipality, but abstained in this vote – Andris Kazinovskis (New Conservative Party), former head of Balvi municipality, decided to withdraw from the parliamentary faction of New Conservatives, becoming an independent parliamentarian. As a reason, he publicly mentioned the lack of support from his party in matters of the Administrative Territorial Reform. If that MP had taken his decision earlier, it might have had an impact on the outcome of the Committee’s vote, and perhaps the Saeima would have established the Suitu novads on 10 June. Unfortunately, fate had decided otherwise.

The further course of the bill was no longer a surprise. On 10 June 2020, the Saeima, with 36 votes for, 43 votes against and 11 abstentions, rejected proposal No 221 already rejected by the Committee for the establishment of a separate Suiti municipality. Those unaccustomed to the work of the legislator who had the opportunity to listen to the broadcasting of the Saeima session, including this applicant, were genuinely surprised by the low quality of the Saeima’s debate on the reform, including proposal No 221. The debate, unfortunately, pointed to the extremely weak level of scrutiny of a large proportion of the MPs in the nature of the issues to be decided upon.

Interestingly, at the meeting of the Saeima, seven members of the Administrative Territorial Reform Committee voted in the following way: Andris Kazinovskis (New Conservative Party), Viktors Valainis (Greens/Farmers), Ēriks Pucens (KPV LV) and Regīna Ločmele-Luņova (Harmony) voted for. Artūrs Toms Plešs (For Development/For!) was the only one who voted against, while Arvils Ašeradens (New Unity) and Jānis Dombrava (For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK) abstained. Thus, Andris Kazinovskis, after his withdrawal from the New Conservatives’ faction and no longer linked to the discipline of the party, voted in favour of his own personal conscience. Unfortunately, it was too late for the Suiti community. (

In the course of the adoption of the draft law, the decisions of the Administrative Territorial Reform Committee were left unchanged. This means that the decision not to allow the Suiti to form their own Suiti municipality was adopted by a majority of just one MP of the Saeima vote, who may have been forced to vote not on the basis of his conviction, but on the basis of the discipline of the party (for political reasons) and who withdrew from his party 20 days after the meeting of the Administrative Territorial Reform Committee held on 6 May because of disagreements with the leadership of his party, as announced publicly, on issues of the Administrative Territorial Reform.

In his interview of November 17, Each reform must be tailored to real life with news outlet President of Latvia Egils Levits, on the announcement of the Law on Administrative Territories and Populated Areas, has commented as follows: I could not stop it, I could only pass it on for re-screening. But the ruling coalition was determined to push it forward anyway.

Thus, in deciding not to allow the building of its Suiti municipality in the Suiti cultural area, Latvia has, in our view, joined those countries in whose territory the destruction of the world cultural heritage recognised by UNESCO is being targeted. And if the bombing by the Islamic State of the Old Town of Palmyra or the Taliban blowingof Bamian Buddha was more rapid and visual, then the political and economic destruction of the Suiti community would be achieved slowly and gradually exactly the same as the one achieved in the 1920s by the division of the Livs and the Curonian Kings among different neighbouring and foreign to them in terms of resident identities governments. This led to the slow and practical death of these compact-living communities.

The Suiti cultural space will exist for exactly as long as there are such Suiti for whom its Suiti identity, in addition to the Latvian identity, will be important and worth preserving. If the closure of Suiti schools continues and the Suiti children will be brought to schools outside the Suiti municipality, if there are no preconditions for holding the new generation of Suiti on the ground, local business will not be supported and the money paid in the taxes of the residents of Suiti cultural space will be reallocated to municipal centres outside the Suiti community, the disappearance of Suiti in Latvia may only be a question for two future generations. Latvia should learn from the mistakes made in relation to the Livs and Curonian Kings. Therefore, we believe that the annulment of the previous decisions of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia and the establishment of a Suiti municipality is a mandatory prerequisite for the existence of Suiti in the future of Latvia.

Only its own self-government would allow the Suiti to elect their own leaders, administer their own tax money, set education policy for themselves, and raise priorities for the development of the Suiti cultural space. Only its local government can prevent the artificial redistribution of money inherent in the outskirts of Latvia’s large municipalities from the Suiti cultural space. The current efforts of various politicians to build a homogenous society in Latvia by destroying local identities are not only in conflict with international treaties, but also with the long-term interests of this country. And the use of blatant untruths to divide the Suiti community, such as investments of 20-26 million lats and the promising of a 24-kilometre gravel road in 2007, is even criminal. Whether a Suiti Catholic minority community in Kurzeme, existed for four hundred years, will be here tomorrow or not in Latvia cannot be a subject of political market or party discipline (votes in the Administrative Territorial Reform Committee). It must also not depend on whether or not the Suiti have a strong enough lobbyist in Saeima at some point. Other principles should be ruling here.