Preparing for life in politics

  • 2000-10-12
  • Elina Cerpa
Entering the Riga French Lyceum, one of Latvia's oldest schools, with over 70 years of tradition in top-level French studies, on the afternoon of Oct. 6 a visitor steps into a busy pre-election atmosphere. A poster at the door shouts at you straight away: "The party 'Kirsis' (The Cherry) will give you:" And a list of pre-election promises follows.

And this is only the beginning.

High-school students cluster around in groups, discussing the pros and cons of different parties they have to choose to fill the seats of the country's - oh, no, only the school's - parliament.

The discussions on the idea of a student parliament began in 1995, and the first parliament was elected in 1996, says Lita Silova, the school's deputy director.

"There have always been conflicts between students and teachers, and this is a good way to establish cooperation through discussions," says Janis Kiksis, 17, an ex-MP. Only students from classes 9 to 12 are eligible to vote in the elections, but the campaign process attracts everyone, even the kids from the lower grades.

Each parliament has been different, according to Silova. The first parliament had a strong tendency towards activities outside the school. They even joined Latvia's high school students parliament, which was active at that time. Later, the students' parliament was more in charge of the school's social life. Different spare-time activities at school were organized, like celebration of "Teachers' Day" (first Sunday of October), St.Valentine's Day and others.

In French Lyceum, which has about 1,000 students, one legendary event is the week-long "Slipper days" where everybody, including the teachers, hangs out in slippers.

But for all the antics, the parliament deals with serious issues as well.

"Protection of children's rights is one of the issues we need to improve and our young people should have their own strong point of view. We should also work at perfecting the school's disciplinary rules," said Silova.

This year, only two parties ran for the parliament's seven seats - Kirsis and Party Nr. 1.

"This year is rather poor concerning the number of parties competing, usually we have much more," Kiksis says. The election campaign starts by hanging posters on the walls all around the school, looking for "students who want to participate in their school's social life." The parties are composed, and start their own election campaigns.

Last year, discussions among party members hosted by the school's local radio station were very popular. This year was "free microphone" year - there was equipment in the main hall free for everyone to campaign during lunch breaks. The speeches were transmitted into the school's cafeteria. "Sometimes young 'politicians' snap at one another, with provocation and accusations of plagiarism. Sometimes the parties cajole students with different promises," Kiksis says.

Kirsis promised to introduce a driving school for students. Both parties promised to organize enterprises each month, sport competitions, arrange a football field as well as parking places for bicycles. "Both parties this year promise something that is possible to realize," says Tina Ostrovska, 17, a parliament member from the previous year. Silova also notes that, through the years, the parties have mostly kept their promises.

This year, Kirsis won the elections, defeating their rivals by 4:3. The results of the elections were announced at a special ball on Oct. 6. Now there is only one step left, albeit a very important one, and that is electing the president of the new parliament, which has to be done in the first week after elections.

Two candidates have been nominated this year - Ilze Gore from the winning Kirsis party, daughter of ex-parliamentary speaker Ilga Kreituse, and Zane Jonina from Party Nr. 1.

In late afternoon, shortly before the ball, a certain bustle is noticeable around the school. "She (Ilze Gore) has 100 percent of what it takes to become a president," one guy comments. Still, not all agree. "I have quite a negative attitude against her. Some of her actions let me think she has some negative traits. I'm not even sure she belongs at the parliament," another student says.

Ilze Gore, said to be a very active girl at the school, says she would have nothing against working at the real parliament. "I would like it. I like to take serious decisions. I like to organize different events and actions. If elected in the parliament, I would like to be a minister of culture or minister of education!" Ilze might have been influenced by her mother, Ilga Kreituse, who ran for the post of Latvian president in 1996, but got only 25 votes out of 100.

Janis Kiksis would also like to be a politician in his adult life. "This is so interesting. They are always fighting! And you can get all the media attention and earn a lot of money. Of course, I would like to help the people. If elected, I would like to work with human rights and legislation."

Many students at the French Lyceum have studied in France, which has its own brand of quirky politics, for some years or semesters. "French school life, where the main pressure is studies and social life stays aside, is much more boring. In Latvia we have more opportunities. Here we have the feeling of community and studies sometimes become more interesting," said Kiksis.