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ON THE SITUATION WITH NATIONAL MINORITIES IN LATVIA

INVENTING "ALIENS"

Unfortunately, the major peculiarity present in Latvia is the fact that 28% of Latvia's population have not been recognised as the state's citizens after the restoration of independence in 1991. More than a half of this people where born in Latvia. Such a percentage of non-citizens is not present elsewhere in the world. These non-citizens are representatives of national minorities. The ethnic Latvians have the right to receive citizenship of Latvia without any delays, examinations, and oaths.

During the restoration of independence of Latvia, citizenship was promised to all permanent residents of the country at their will. Many have believed in this promise. In March 1991, during the referendum about 45% of the non-ethnic Latvians in Latvia had supported the idea of the state independence, now appearing to be deceived.

On October 15, 1991 the Parliament of Latvia adopted a resolution "On Restoration of the Rights of the Citizens of the Republic of Latvia and General Conditions of Naturalisation." According to this resolution, to the citizenship of Latvia were admitted only those residents, which had it before June 17, 1940, as well as their descendants. One third of the permanent residents of the country were deprived of all political rights, which they possessed to the full before and who had elected that Parliament. This is a unique case within the history of parliamentarism.

The law "On Citizenship" adopted in July 1994 had in effect left this problem unsolved. From the time of its adoption, approximately only twelve thousand from 660 thousand legal Latvian non-citizens could receive Latvian citizenship through naturalisation. In Latvia, there are in total 2,450 thousand residents. Such rates of naturalisation will require for resolving of the problem of statelessness in Latvia not less than a century.

Latvia refuses to recognise non-citizens not only as its citizens but even as stateless persons and officially considers them "citizens of the former USSR". That is - as citizens of a non-existent state. Therefore, Latvia evades the fulfilment of obligations under the 1961 UN Convention "On the Reduction of the Statelessness."

According to the data of research "On the way to a civil society," 81-82% of the non-citizens see the reason of the non-use of an opportunity of naturalisation among those, who has such a right, in the difficulty of examinations on the knowledge of the Latvian language (oral and written) and history of Latvia. In April 1997, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities . van der Stoel mentioned that only few of the Dutch could pass the checks on the knowledge of their language, history and major laws, as required during the naturalisation process in Latvia.

SEGREGATION AND OPPRESSION AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE STATELESSNESS

Thus, almost a third of the whole population in Latvia or 70% of national minorities have appeared to be completely deprived of all political rights, are completely dismissed from ruling the state and are politically repressed. These people have appeared to be deprived of the most effective means and ways of representation and protection of their natural rights. That is, they are doomed to fatal violations of this rights.

As a result, the non-citizens in comparison with the citizens of Latvia are discriminated in 55 areas not only in political, but also in economic, social, and humanitarian spheres. Among them, there are 19 bans on professions. However, this is discrimination only being fixed within the legislation. Actually, it is much more pronounced. Latvia is not a law-governed state, and the slogan "For a Latvian Latvia!" (that is, "Latvia for the ethnic Latvians!") is a program for all the parties included in the government. At the same time discrimination of the non-citizen minority was included into 80 international treaties of the Republic of Latvia at the beginning of 1999. This discrimination concerns legal aid, favourable taxing, visa free travel, protection of investments, intellectual property etc. outside of Latvia.

However, as for the real participation in government, in Latvia there are dismissed not only 70%, of the non-Latvian population, being not considered as citizens, but also 30% of the representatives of national minorities who have Latvian citizenship. Their dismissal from government is carried out as follows. First, through the establishment of obligation of knowledge of the Latvian language at the highest attestation level for any opportunity of access to the state service or elections into representative bodies of authority. Second, through the non-rendering of any necessary help by state, as to teaching the Latvian language for the adult representatives of national minorities. During seven last years no one santim from the state budget has been spent to this help. Moreover, third, through the conduction of such a personnel selection, when on managing posts, as a rule, only ethnic Latvians are being nominated.

As a result, the representatives of national minorities, making up 45% of the whole population of the country, are represented among the deputies of Latvia's Parliament with 16% in total, they are not practically represented among the state employees, and among top officials they are not present at all. It is only natural that within such a representation and negative attitude, predominant in Latvia to "aliens", they are deprived even of opportunities of adequate influence on adoption of the decisions on the problems directly concerning them.

DEVELOPMENT OF SITUATION

During the last years in Latvia, strengthening influence and positions of national radical political groups is steadily observed. In November 1998, a representative of the party block "Tevzemej un Brivibaj/LNNK " (TB/LNNK) was elected Chairman of Latvia's Parliament. Latvia is a parliamentary republic. Earlier, a representative of TB/LNNK headed the government, now TB/LNNK has 7 ministers within the government and completely supervises all power structures. TB/LNNK is a party block of an extremely nationalistic orientation blocking all initiatives directed towards normalisation of the situation with national minorities; a party block, which actively and consistently conducts a policy of strengthening discrimination of "aliens".

In April, 1997, making a speech at the meeting of solidarity with Chechnya, the Deputy Secretary General of TB/LNNK, P. Lace declared: " Gifted freedom is not freedom. It can be won only with sword. And the day will come when we shall expel the Russians, and so we begin to live freely". In November of that year, making a speech on the state TV channel, P. Lace warned again: "All the non-citizens will have to leave Latvia before 2002. Yes, so it will be. These are not words only".

Therefore, the growing discrimination of the non-citizens as well as the representatives of the national minorities is quite natural. If in 1997 the general balance between abolishing an introducing new differences in "non-political" rights between citizens and non-citizens was as 7:10, then in 1998 it was as 5:19, not taking into consideration the growing discrimination in the sphere of the languages and education of the minorities.

It is necessary to mention that during the last years complete politicisation of the law-enforcement bodies, and, in particular, of the justice took place in Latvia. Now, the non-ethnic Latvians have fewer chances to protect their rights, even being availed by the Law. The tendency of the growing politicisation of the legislation may also be validated through statistical data of applications to the Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC). In 1995, the LHRC registered roughly 2 applications related to violations of the right to fair trial per month, while in 1996 7, 1997 14, 1998 24. Polling the public opinion revealed that in 1995 the courts were trusted by some 50% of the residents of Latvia, while in November 1997 32.5%, with no later data available.

AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW ON CITIZENSHIP

In June, 1998 under a strengthened pressure of the international community, Latvia's parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Citizenship cancelling the age quotas of naturalisation and giving Latvian citizenship to the children of the non-citizens, which were born in Latvia after August 21, 1991. However, that very day 36 (out of 100) members of Latvia's parliament addressed the President of the State with a demand not to promulgate the draft with these amendments and to give an opportunity to initiate a referendum. Within one month, TB/LNNK collected more than 226.5 thousand signatures of voters under the petition demanding referendum - almost twice more than required by the corresponding law.

October 3, 1998, with a small overweight (52.5% voted 'yes', 45% - 'no'), the amendments to the Law on citizenship were approved by the referendum. It happened under the influence of the warnings about possible isolation of Latvia on international arena and about a possible loss of the state independence in case of rejection of these amendments, and also due to the maximum activity at the referendum shown by the representatives of national minorities who had the right to vote. Nevertheless, in three of the five electoral districts (except for Riga's and Latgale's, in which most of the non-ethnic Latvians reside) the amendment to the law on citizenship were rejected by the majority of votes, and on the whole more than 60 % of the ethnic Latvians voted against these amendments. To the reference of the research "On the Way to a Civil Society", in the beginning of 1998 only 28% of the citizens of Latvia saw the necessity for changes within the Law on citizenship. And 15% from them considered that this law should even more be stiffened concerning the non-citizens.

It is necessary to take into account that the amendments to the Law on citizenship, as authorised by the referendum, even more tightened restrictions for the right to naturalisation. Earlier, there were deprived of this right those who were condemned for commitment of crimes, as being sentenced to deprivation of freedom for the term of more than one year, now these are those who have incurred any criminal punishment. Let it even be any conditional or only a penal one. Henceforth, for naturalisation are not eligible also those who were engaged in the Union of Communists of Latvia. At the same time, there are still deprived of their rights to naturalisation all those non-citizens who were engaged in the Communist Party, International Front and in a number of other opposition organisations after January 13, 1991. These organisations totalled some hundred thousand members and legally acted in Latvia until September, 1991, when they were banned and terminated their activities. Thus, not less than 100 thousand non-citizens are still deprived of their right to naturalisation.

Notably, the present capacities of the Naturalisation Board allow to naturalise about 10-12 thousand non-citizens per year and the board is not able to manage the flow of applications for naturalisation any more.

STIFFENING DISCRIMINATION OF MINORITIES WITHIN THE SPHERE OF LANGUAGE AND EDUCATION

As paradoxical as it may only be, as a result of the approval of the amendments to the Law on citizenship, the situation with the non-ethnic Latvians in Latvia seriously worsened. Immediately after that approval, the Latvian Parliament, as an indemnification, adopted a number of laws and amendments which essentially stiffen the language discrimination of the national minorities in the country.

On October 14, 1998, a new Civil Procedure Law was adopted, according to which the documents into courts now may be submitted only in the Latvian language, or by "attaching hereunder a notarial translation to the state language" (Article 13). As a result, for the overwhelming majority of the representatives of the national minorities, the upholding of the rights in courts becomes impossible. As a matter of fact, more than 60% of the non-ethnic Latvians or 1/3 of the total population in Latvia do not have any command of Latvian at all or only poor knowledge of Latvian, while almost 80% of the non-ethnic Latvians have income below the crisis subsistence minimum as established, while the services of the lawyers and notaries are extremely expensive.

On October 29, 1998, a new law on education was adopted establishing that in all state and municipal educational institutions "education shall be received in the state language" (Article 9) and shifting all education to the state (Latvian) language should be finished by 2004. This inevitably will have, as a consequence, a substantial regress of the quality of education of the national minorities. Now, at schools with Russian as a language of training do study more than 34% of all schoolchildren, in the beginning of the 90-s' this amount related to the language of training was more than 45% of the schoolchildren. "It is not to allow that the money of the budget should be spent at schools with training in Russian, Polish, Jewish languages" (newspaper Panorama Latvii of 01.10. 1998), as considers the Ex-Premier and the Leader of the National party . Shkele who has received at the last elections to Latvia's Parliament the greatest number of votes, and who is now having the highest rating, as given by the voters.

On October 29, 1998, Latvia's Parliament adopted also amendments to the law on the electronic mass media, which reduced the share of broadcasting and telecasting in the languages of the minorities again - no more than 25% of the time on air. Even films with subtitles in the Latvian language have to be related to such ones.

The Law "On the State Language", causing serious critical remarks of the European experts, is now in preparation. The legislative bill directly forbids or extremely limits the use of the Russian language (being the native one almost for a half of the inhabitants in Latvia) within the spheres of work, public information and while addressing any state and municipal establishments. Actually, it puts the use of the languages of the national minorities outside of the law. At the same time, the law does not make it business of the state to assist in acquiring skills in the state language. However, without knowledge of the state language following the actual working rules and concerning the status of the unemployed (Article 5), no one has a right to receive offers for work.

All these stiffenings altogether with an increasing administrative and judicial arbitrariness essentially worsen the situation with national minorities and strengthen the internal pressure within the society.

BREWING CONFLICT

To the effect of prevention of the danger of establishing a two-community state, as initiated by the European Union, a concept of integration of the society in Latvia has been developed. Nevertheless, this concept recognises that the integration of the society should occur exclusively on the basis of the Latvian language, ethnic Latvian culture, and recognition of the priority role of the ethnic Latvians within the society and the state. Actually, this concept is a concept of assimilation of the national minorities. A member of the Working Group which elaborated the framework document for the Integration Programme, I.Apine in an interview has declared: "The Russian part of the population should understand that there will be no other rules of the game" (newspaper Diena of 26.10.1998).

However, such an approach is not capable of integrating the society and leads to totally opposite results. The human nature instinctively rejects all obtrusive and causes a phobia. The more feasible is the obtrusiveness, the brighter is shown the reaction of rejection and the phobia. Therefore, the stiffened policy of the assimilation of non-Latvians inevitably attracts a phobia against all the ethnically Latvian. This process is already being referred to by sociologists.

Concern is also caused by the idealisation encouraged through these authorities, as for the Nazis' past. A tradition has become on March 16 the performance of processions in the downtown of Riga of legionnaires of SS Waffen with participation of some members of Latvia's parliament, high-ranking officials of both the army and the fleet. In June 1998, Latvia's parliament officially proclaimed March 16, the date of the battle baptism of the Latvian legion of SS Waffen, as the Memorial Day of the Latvian soldiers. In October 1998, Latvia's parliament adopted a Declaration on the Latvian Legionnaires of the Second World War. By this document, to the government in particular, is made a duty "to care of elimination of encroachments on honour and dignity of the Latvian soldiers in and outside Latvia". In this respect, monuments to the legionnaires of SS Waffen in Latvia are opened, while monuments to those who in 1944 liberated Latvia from the Nazis are blown up. These authorities hand over top awards of the country "for special merits before Latvia" to some former legionnaires of SS Waffen and free-of-charge make available apartments of the Rundale Palace for their meetings. Such gestures of honour the veterans of the anti-Hitler coalition never receive. Moreover, in Latvia they are deprived of all privileges they enjoy in all civilised countries. All this has harmonically been introduced into the prevailing ideology of revenge and into the tendency of an increase of aggressive nationalistic and racist frames of mind within the society.

At the same time, the growth of the both self-consciousness and activities of the national minorities in Latvia is observed. Evidence is given by results of the last municipal and parliamentary elections, and also by actions of the protest carried out. A tendency of association of non-ethnically Latvian organisations is obvious also.

Since the middle of 1997, some attributes of development of an interethnic conflict in Latvia from a latent into an open form have appeared. This is the explosion of the memorial to the liberators of Riga from Hitler's military troops in June 1997, by the extreme nationalistic Latvian organisation "Perkonskrusts" (Thundercross). It is the tragedy occurred in September 1997, in the volost of Iecava where a completely despaired Russian shot seven ethnic Latvians and himself, too. This is a murder of the leader of the paramilitary Latvian organisation "Ajzsargi" (Defenders) with a hunting gun in November 1997. These are explosions near Riga's synagogue, the Russian Embassy, the monument to the Soviet soldiers of the war on the Brothers' cemetery in Dobele and numerous facts of desecration of monuments of culture within the period from March till May, 1998. This is initiation and deployment of activities of the Russian nationalistic and radical organisations (like National Bolshevik party, Zhirinovsky's and Barkashov's parties' supporters). This is a verdict of the "Supreme Court of Perkonskrusts" that sentenced 43 persons (mainly, well-known non-Latvians, and also several ethnic Latvians defending "aliens") to a death penalty and 13 persons to "suffer heavy body damages", as made known to some mass media (newspapers Diena and SM of 25.02.1999).

In July 1998, the Centre of Research on the Market and Public Opinion had inquired 1003 residents of Latvia. As it was found out, some 41.2% of the respondents personally participated or witnessed interethnic conflicts at a household level. The presence of interethnic conflicts is being recognised by an approximately identical number of the Latvians and non-Latvians (Diena of 20.07.1998).

Unfortunately, the basic tendencies of development of the situation in Latvia as a whole are rather disturbing. They give evidence to brewing an open interethnic conflict and do not allow expecting its prevention without the help of the international community.

01.03.1999.

Gennady KOTOV
Co-Chairman of Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)


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