There has been little discussion about the role of civil society in democracy and securitability to date, entrusting matters of security only to national security system institutions. In Latvia, the state institutions began to publicly discuss matters of security in 2015, when the National security concept was drafted, and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Latvia presented their intentions on making amendments to the Associations and Foundations Law in order to prevent operation of organisations disloyal to Latvia.
The issue of involving civil society in matters of security became topical due to rapidly changing geopolitical situation in the world resulting in citizens becoming targets used for propagating threats in the geopolitical interest of certain countries. Therefore the Latvian government began to comprehend the importance of preparedness of their citizens and civil society for provocations, and their awareness of proper reaction to them, at the same time observing democratic principles.
Also, security authorities were concerned with the data which presented evidence about the increase in funding from the so-called Russian “soft power programmes”, using various funds to channel approximately USD 70 million per year in order to influence public opinion in Latvia; it was also noted that the intention was to multiply this funding. Meanwhile, the funding available to society loyal to the Latvian state in order to ensure its operations was and has since been insufficient in order to successfully fight disinformation campaigns, provocations and attempts at splitting the society.
Considering this and knowing the risks, as well as the opportunities provided by a stable civil society, a section “Prevention of threat risk against the solidarity of civil society” was added to the new National security concept, thus increasing the importance of society’s integration policies and civil society involvement in socially political processes in building up national security. The concept also included the development of the sense of societal responsibility and understanding of the aspect of national security and strengthening of it, therefore for the past two years the association “Civic Alliance-Latvia” has been introducing a majorly important topic at the Saeima and NGO forum – strengthening of democracy and security in Latvia. This forum is a unique platform for NGO representatives from Latvia, as well as deputies from Saeima and experts to meet, discuss, and arrive at an agreement about further steps on how to improve the situation.
If the participants of the forum of 2016 mainly realised that security risk in Latvia is not a theory anymore, but a reality, paying particular attention to the insufficient funding for improving the capacity of civil society, and the hybrid war’s impact on the public opinion; the discussion at the forum of 2107 revolved around security and securitability from different angles: media, culture, civic activities and economic equality as a guarantee for security.
When talking about the link between culture education and security, a thesis was put forth that culture could be a platform used for addressing society, and culture could also strengthen the sense of security and identity, because Latvians have historically been civilly active, particularly in the field of culture. Several events of the past few years have proved that culture is a successful platform for civil involvement and activation of society, for example, the conversation festival LAMPA, performance “Robežas” (Borders), a stand–up about fake news, and many more. These events were widely viewed on the internet, as well as visited on-site, which proved that culture and creative methods could take the passive part of society in the streets, to make them hear opinions on various matters, including security, unified society, and tolerance.
Other similar activities promoting the matter of security in the recent years are the local movements, such as Miera street festival or Hospitāļu street festival, “Rada Brasa” (Brasa Creates), and others. It is reasonable to say that these events are not only for pure entertainment, but also a way to increase civil security, because the involvement in local movements promotes internal safety, and it is a way to promote the opportunity to care for property’s safety. Initially, people get together to form these local movements to care for the surroundings, to make plans on how to spend their free time together, at the same time having positive impact on the sense of security and belonging to the locality, city or the country in general.
However, the negative “platform” for security mentioned at the forum was the negative economy or the economic inequality with the emphasis on inequality as the main threat to national security. It differentiates society and raises intolerance. It is proved by research showing that the basis of a “healthy” society is not welfare, but the level of equality among its members. It may come as a surprise, but there is connection between economic equality and the number of prisoners in a country.
To relieve the tension among different groups of society, to educate society on how to react to certain provocations, it is in the interest of the state to strengthen public media, ensuring a content which is qualitative, uniting and diverse. At the same time, the state should, on a moderate level, intervene in the content of media to ensure security and integrate society without violating democratic principles, i.e. not limiting the freedom of press.
The field of media is of major importance for security, since it can be used as a positive platform for it – to inform and educate society, but media space is also used to easily manipulate public opinion in the name of political interests. During the forum discussion, media experts pointed out that in recent years there has been a tendency to present information as news, although often it is an advertisement or fake news, and people believe it. Therefore it is crucial to come up with a decision on how to educate society in media-related matters and critical thinking – how to understand the difference between fake news, propaganda and true information.
Needless to say that NGOs or the so-called organised civil society has taken the role of commander in all the aforementioned security aspects – integration of society, education, information, bridging the society and state institutions, etc. NGOs are the ones taking care of national security at the level of society, local communities and regions, thus creating an opportunity for the citizens to participate in the decision-making process, as well as giving them a feeling that their opinion counts and that it is heard at state institutions, a feeling of belonging and trust starting from the closest ones to state officials. Therefore NGOs in Latvia in the recent years have been actively taking part in fighting against fake news.
In the end it is important to say that, regardless of risks, such situation where safety is used as an argument for limiting activities of civil society is unacceptable in a democratic country; however, unfortunately, such trend is popular in Europe and it is gradually “entering” Latvia as well. In the recent years, a series of amendments to the regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers, and laws have been adopted, saying that the activities of civil society are limited in the name of the integration of society or security. For example, to prevent bilingualism in everyday communication and a society which consists of two communities, regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers were adopted, without the consent of NGOs, which provided that from here on the members of associations and foundations shall know the official language of the country at the highest level, thus preventing participation of foreign experts, as well as organisations which are classified as government-acknowledged partners. Also, amendments to the Law on Meetings, Processions and Pickets have been made, providing additional administrative burden for organising protests; also, several intentions among state institutions are in process on how to limit some of the funding sources for NGOs, for example, limiting anonymous donations. However, along with the willingness to stop funding for Russian propaganda, some beneficial donations may be stopped as well; moreover, the initial idea was to discuss this matter in addition to the limitation of commercial activities. It is important to bear in mind not only the aspects of security, but also threats, so that one morning the civil society of Latvia would not wake up in a wholly changed democracy.
Kristīne Zonberga, Civic Alliance-Latvia
Ilze Bērziņa-Ruķere, Pro-police Latvia