About Kristofs Blaus
In the majority of the countries of Europe, there is a widespread perception that the distance between citizens and people with real power is increasing every day, especially at the highest levels. A situation for which citizens are partially responsible, as they are under some sort of anesthesia motivated by being in a comfortable position in which a minimum set of conditions are taken for granted. However, the main reason is the demotivation that people experience, as they have the perception that their opinions are not taken into account by their political leaders. They feel that voting every four or five years is no longer enough. This is the starting point for the online platform ManaBalss.lv (My Voice), which seeks to give an opportunity to any Latvian citizen who wants to participate in the policy-making process of the country.
Kristofs Blaus is one the founders of this web tool that bolsters Latvians’ political participation. Mr. Blaus studied Economics at Riga Commerce Gymnasium and graduated from the International University Audentes, which has now merged with the Tallinn University of Technology. He was an entrepreneur managing various innovative companies in the Baltics. In 2010, he won the Knight News Challenge, a competition that funds the best breakthrough Internet projects in news and information around the world, for creating GoMap Riga, a tool that melds social media, phone book, and community map. Mr. Blaus is the founder and CEO of Education Mobile Ltd., Technology Mobile Ltd. and Politics Mobile Ltd., and founder of the Society Technologies Foundation. He has lectured and presented to young entrepreneurs, teachers, young leaders and business students across the Baltic region.
“I’ve never done anything political before,” he said about his involvement in ManaBalss.lv to The New York Times, “But this was very easy.” ManaBalss.lv was launched at the end of July 2011. It is a lawmaking online platform, similar to Avaaz.org and Change.org, in which Latvians can present proposals that could be enacted into law by Latvian deputies if they gather enough support from their fellow citizens. All initiatives that gather more than 10,000 signatures should be debated in the Latvian Parliament. Nevertheless, what was surprising in the case of ManaBalss.lv, was its immediate success.
Just three days after its release, the former President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers encouraged using the online platform in a public speech. In less than a week, one initiative has already been discussed in the Latvian Parliament, being approved soon after. Currently, more than 800,000 people have signed the around seventy published proposals on the website, and seven legislative reforms have been introduced. Taking into account that Latvia has a population of slightly over two million and that the site has a reliable identity check, as it cross-checks the data with Latvia’s Internet banks, means that around 40% of the Latvian population have used the online platform.
In spite of the serious distrust by Latvian citizens on their political institutions and their political parties, Latvian is currently at the forefront of all European states in relation to the usage of the Internet and innovative mechanisms to promote citizens’ involvement in the political sphere. What still remains to be seen is whether ManaBalss.lv is powerful enough to reverse such a trend.