MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 58

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Thu Nov 7 07:44:21 2002

Original sender: Alexei Dimitrov <minissues@delfi.lv>

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 58
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
November 1, 2002

- Elections in Latvia: ethnic voting or ethnic parties?
- Position of the Minister for Integration proposed 
- Eleven years of statelessness: unsolved problems
- New Immigration Law: language exams introduced
- Naturalisation: what about pregnant women?
- Language training programme: state policy vs. real problems
- Regulations on language requirements in private sphere revoked
- Language quotas on private radio will be abolished?
- Can a non-citizen belong to minority?
- NGOs' recommendations for new government's declaration: minority

Elections in Latvia: ethnic voting or ethnic parties?

Final results of the parliamentary elections held on October 5 are
published. The data about new MPs is now  available online at
http://www.cvk.lv/cgi-bin/wdbcgiw/base/sae8dev.vel8meg.sa3. Ethnic
composition of the 8th Saeima is the following: 79 ethnic Latvians, 14
ethnic Russians, one Pole, one Jew and one Karelian. 4 of the elected
MPs did not declare their ethnic origin in the documents submitted for
registration of electoral lists (for the first time the ethnicity
record in the electoral documents was optional).

Our commentary

Many journalists in the Latvian language press after elections noted
that the coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia" ("HRUL", 25
mandates out of 100) was overwhelmingly supported by ethnic
non-Latvians. Thus, it was stressed, one can speak about "ethnic vote"
in Latvia, when a pro-minority political party consolidates absolute
majority of electors of non-Latvian ethnic origin. However, according
to exit polls, share of ethnic Latvians among the "HRUL" electorate
was 18% - increase more than twice in comparison with the 1998
elections. It is also essential that all the five factions except for
"HRUL", are represented solely by ethnic Latvians (with one MP, Janis
Reirs from the "New Era" party, who declined to declare his ethnicity).

Thus, one can assume that while more ethic Latvians voted for "HRUL",
less citizens belonging to minorities voted for other parties. 
Keeping this "asymmetry" in mind, we can be very skeptical about
readiness of the new ruling coalition to respond to the appeal of the
President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga made at the conference of the
Latvian intelligentsia on the October 24: "We must tend to get rid of
the Latvian people's division into two main categories: Latvians and
non-Latvians. In my view, everyone, who is a loyal citizen of Latvia,
must be called Latvian ('latvietis')".

Position of the Minister for Integration proposed

The "New Era" party led would-be governmental coalition proposed to
establish a new position in the Cabinet - one of Minister for Society
Integration affairs. The "New Era" nominated for the position Dr Ina
Druviete,  sociolinguist, vice-chairperson of the Commission on the
State Language, and one of the main architects behind Latvia's
legislation and policies in the language sphere. Mrs Druviete is
elected to the new parliament on the "New Era" list, and was the main
author of the "New Era" programme's part related to integration.      

The new position was claimed also by another coalition's party - the
First Latvian party, who nominated well-known musician Aleksandrs
Brandavs. However, the latter candidate was declined by the "New Era"
leader, prime-minister nominee E.Repshe. The negotiations on the issue
are continuing.

Our commentary

As we have already written, the "New Era" programme emphasises
strengthening positions of the Latvian language in private sphere,
thus supporting state interference into business affairs. Mrs Druviete
supports ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection
of National Minorities with significant reservations (to Art.10-12),
as well as elimination of the state-supported secondary education in
minority languages in 2004. During all pre-election debates on private
TV held in Russian, and in interviews for Russian printed media, Mrs
Druviete consistently refused to speak Russian (although her knowledge
of Russian is very good) - on the reason that this way "she would help
Russians to master Latvian better". Thus, we have to share the opinion
expressed by some minority NGOs: if Mrs Druviete is appointed the
Minister for Integration, she could rather be called "the Minister for

Eleven years of statelessness  unsolved problems

On October 15, 1991, the Supreme Council (the Latvian Parliament in
transition period) adopted the "Resolution On The Renewal of the
Rights of Citizens of the Republic of Latvia and Fundamental
Principles of Naturalisation" - on the restoration of the entity of
citizens and the main principles of naturalisation. According to this
act, the citizenship of Latvia was granted only to those persons who
were citizens of Latvia in 1940, and their descendants, despite the
Popular Front (leading political movement in support of Latvia's
independence) in its 1990 pre-election programme promised to grant
citizenship to any permanent resident of Latvia claiming for it. The
questions of the legal status of other residents, as well as practical
implementation of naturalisation, were postponed. In 1993,
approximately 33% of the total population were permanent residents of
Latvia without any citizenship.

The Citizenship Law was adopted only in summer of 1994. It did not
re-consider the main principle  citizenship by registration only for
the "1940 citizens" and their descendants. Persons, who entered Latvia
during the Soviet period, remained without any legal status up to the
adoption of a special Law in April 1995 (the Law on the Status of
Former Citizens of the USSR who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any
Other State). The process of naturalisation started in 1995, before
1998 the naturalisation was substantially limited by the
so-called "age quotas". As of July 1, 2002, approximately 22% of the
total population (511,357 persons) are non-citizens; almost all of
them are persons belonging to national minorities.

According to data of the Naturalisation Board extrapolated by member
of the Latvian Human Rights Committee, newly elected MP Vladimir
Buzayev ("HRUL"), approximately 9,100 non-citizens could get
naturalised in 2002 (compare with 10,637 naturalised persons in 2001
and 14,900  in 2000). Mr Buzayev believes that in fact the number of
non-citizens in 2002 will reduce for approximately 31,000 people,
mainly due to emigration and high mortality rates in Latvia. If the
tendency persists, in the year 2020, 190,000 persons (10% of the total
population) still will remain non-citizens; in 2050 - 33,000
non-citizens will live in Latvia ("Panorama Latvii" ("The Panorama of
Latvia"), October 15,

A number of legal acts reserve certain rights and opportunities to
citizens only, including political (e.g. the right to participate in
national and local elections and to form political parties), social
and economic rights (e.g. property rights, the right to work in a
number of professions, both in the state and the private sector, and
the right to receive some benefits - for the full list of differences
between the rights of citizens and non-citizens, see to
http://www.minelres.lv/count/non_cit-rights_2.htm. For further
comments to the list, see to

The last restriction for non-citizens - to work as firemen  was
re-introduced on October 24, 2002, adopting the new Fire Safety and
Fire-Fighting Law. Similar provision concerning the citizenship
requirement for firemen was included into the Law on Fire Safety
previously in force in December 1994. However, this provision was
abolished in January 1997, following persistent recommendations of the
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, as well as conclusions
of the National Human Rights Office which deemed this restriction as
ill-based and contradicting Latvia's obligations under the
non-discrimination provisions of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights.

In the meantime, under pressure of the pro-minority faction "HRUL" in
the Riga City Council, some municipal regulations have been recently
amended so as to abolish provisions restrciting the non-citizens'
rights. In particular, now non-citizens have equal rights with
citizens to become a member of an Apartment Owners' Association (de
facto to buy a privatised "cooperative" apartment in Riga  earlier
only those non-citizens who lived in Riga for at least 16 years were
eligible), and the right to receive loans offered by the Riga City
Council to buy apartments in newly built houses (however, in reality
the Council does not provide such loans any longer) ("Vechernyaya
Riga" ("The Evening Riga"), October 16,
http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vriga/vr03_16-10.pdf). Besides, the Council
also abolished the provision which banned non-citizens from the
opportunity to be elected to commissions and working groups set up by
the Council. For the time being, this provision is effective only in
regard of the Audit Commission ("Vechernyaya Riga" ("The Evening
Riga"), October 24, http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vriga/vr04_24-10.pdf).

One of the most significant differences concerns Latvia's
international treaties on visa-free regime. The citizens of Latvia are
able to enter 49 countries without visa, but non-citizens  only 6
countries (Denmark, Dominica, Estonia, Lithuania, Samoa, St.Lucia) (as
for October 10, 2002  see at http://www.am.gov.lv/lv/?id=663). In the
meantime, according to head of the Border Guard, Gunars Dabolins,
non-citizens will be able to go to other EU countries without visa,
after Latvia joins EU and abolishes border control with other EU
states  approximately in 2007 ("Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"),
October 18,

Our commentary

In our view, international standards do not provide a clear-cut
evaluation of this situation. The main question is, whether the
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (Latvia joined it on May
4, 1990) and the European Convention on Nationality (Latvian
Parliament is considering its ratification now) cover the situation in
Latvia, taking into account the official concept of legal continuity
of pre-WWII Republic of Latvia. We would be grateful for any comment
on this.

As regards differences in rights of citizens and non-citizens, the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination stipulates that such differences are not covered by the
Convention (Article 1.2  see at
http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/d_icerd.htm). On the other hand,
legislative distinctions that result in unjustifiable, indirect
discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity or language breach
international norms (2001 CERD concluding observations on Latvia
register "[c]oncern [] about reports that there are still unjustified
differences of treatment between citizens and non-citizens, mostly
members of minorities, in the enjoyment of the rights provided for in
article 5 (e) of the Convention [concerning discrimination in
employment]" CERD/C/304/ADD.79, 2001, para. 14  see at
The European Commission also criticised the differences in rights. The
Commission noted, "Several other elements limit the integration of
non-citizens in the economic sphere. Non-citizens continue to be
excluded from some professions (lawyers, armed security guards and
private detectives) on the grounds of state security" (2002 Regular
Report on Latvia's progress towards accession, see at
http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/report2002/lv_en.pdf). The
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance urged the Latvian
authorities to remove "all other unjustified restrictions" for
non-citizens (Second report on Latvia, para. 34, see at 

We believe that Latvian authorities are to implement a special
programme aimed at reduction of statelessness in Latvia and
differences between citizens and non-citizens. It could consist of a
number of measures, such as facilitation of further naturalisation,
including adequate funding for preparatory training for applicants,
easing naturalisation requirements for certain groups (i.e. elderly,
disabled persons), abolishing naturalisation fees for low-income
applicants, further developing information campaigns in the media;
granting automatic citizenship upon request to those permanent
residents without any citizenship, who were born in Latvia; granting
voting rights at municipal (local government) elections for
non-citizens; abolishing all existing restrictions of "non-political"
rights of these non-citizens.

New Immigration Law: language exams introduced

On October 31, the outgoing Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia adopted new
Immigration Law, which will come into force On May 1, 2003.

The new Law is more compatible with modern human rights standards than
the legislation currently in force. It extends the list of reasons for
issuing residence permits. The right to receive a residence permit for
Latvia's citizen's or non-citizen's parents of the retirement age is
introduced for the first time. These parents will have the right to
receive different temporary residence permits, but in 10 years  a
permanent residence permit. Such novelty is significant, because a lot
of Latvia's residents (especially belonging to national minorities)
have lonely old-age parents, often requiring daily care, who live
abroad - mainly in CIS countries. So far these persons have had no
legal basis for re-unification of their families. Besides, the newly
adopted law determines the order of expulsion from the country and
detention of illegal immigrants more precisely, providing new legal
guarantees. For example, an illegal immigrant can be detained for more
than 10 days only on the basis of judge's decision; total length of
detention cannot exceed 20 months.

The Law was amended significantly during consideration in the
Parliament. For example, MPs have supported initiative of Aleksandrs
Kirsteins (the People's Party), who suggested to issue permanent
residence permits in a number of cases only if an applicant knows the
state language. In particular, this requirement applies to Latvia's
citizen's or non-citizen's parent of pension age. In our view, this
provision is not humane. A person comes to Latvia in the age of 62
(pension age in Latvia) or older; in 10 years (see above) he/she is 72
or older, and he/she is forced to pass the state language proficiency

Naturalisation: what about pregnant women?

On October 18, the newspaper "Panorama Latvii" ("The Panorama of
Latvia") reported about an interesting case concerning naturalisation.
A woman  non-citizen had a baby after she had submitted a
naturalisation application, but before she had received the
citizenship of Latvia. Now the woman is the citizen of Latvia, but her
daughter is a non-citizen and can apply for citizenship only through
naturalisation, because at the moment of birth her mother still was a
non-citizen. At the moment of submission of the application the child
had not been born yet, therefore her name could not be included into
the application for automatic naturalisation according to Section 15
para. 1 of the Citizenship Law.

The most curious is the fact that the child would have the right to
receive the citizenship automatically, if her mother would remain a
non-citizen. According to Section 3.1 of the Citizenship Law, a child
 non-citizen has such a right before the age of 15, if his/her
parents  non-citizens submit a corresponding application. Now the
child's mother is the citizen of Latvia, hence she cannot submit such
an application
Therefore, it appears very disadvantageous for pregnant women to apply
for naturalisation.

Language training programme: state policy vs. real problems

The pro-minority parliamentary faction "HRUL" tabled a question to the
Ministry of Education and Science for information about the National
Programme for Latvian Language Training. The Minister for Education
and Science Karlis Greiskalns has answered this request and noted,
that the National Programme for Latvian Language Training was created
in 1995. Administrative and financial administering was realised by
UNDP from 1996 till 2000 and by the Ministry from 2001. The total
financial support gained from international and state resources is LVL
5,745,900 (approx. EUR 9,738,800); from 2001 state annual share in
support is 40%. Supported activities include development of
methodology of teaching Latvian as the second language and bilingual
methodology, publishing of books, support of the Latvian language
training courses for professional groups, important for Latvian
society, realisation of integration activities etc. According to the
public opinion poll "Valoda" ("Language"), only 12% of persons
belonging to national minorities do not know Latvian in 2002. 

However, it should be mentioned that the Programme provides the
language training only to certain professional groups; the Programme
did not support any activity for providing the state language training
for every person, wishing to learn the language.

On October 15, the newspaper "Vechernyaya Riga" ("The Evening Riga")
published information that minority job seekers are denied the right
to participate in professional courses, because of their bad knowledge
of Latvian at State Employment Service. Professional courses in
Russian are an exclusion from the rule. According to the author, this
leads to inequality, as minorities select low-profile professional
courses. Such practice is considered to be discriminatory by political
scientist Artis Pabriks and head of the National Human Rights Office
Olafs Bruveris. Mr Pabriks notes, that it is indirect discrimination,
violating European anti-discrimination law. Possible solutions might
be: registering people for the course and teaching them professional
terms in Latvian, or arrangement of the state language training
courses free of charge for unemployed

Regulations on language requirements in private sphere revoked

State secretaries of Latvia's ministries have revoked draft amendments
to the Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers on Proficiency Degree
in the State Language Required for the Performance of the Professional
and Positional Duties and the Procedure of Language Proficiency Tests.
The amendments were adopted firstly in April 2002 (see Minority issues
in Latvia, No. 48, 
If adopted, they would extend state interference in private sphere
(e.g. establishing necessary level of the state language proficiency
for hairdressers and shop assistants).

On October 28, the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today")
published an interesting photo made in one of Riga hospitals:
notification at the doors stating "Plead to speak in the state
language!" in Latvian (see at
http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_02_994.pdf). This example is not
typical for Latvia, but, in our view, such practice could lead to
different treatment towards patients speaking in different languages,
therefore it should not be encouraged, to say the least.

Language quotas on private radio will be abolished?

National Council on Radio and Television discussed the national
concept of development of electronic media for 2003  2005 on October
24. One of the main points of discussion was language usage on TV and
radio. It is possible that the concept will include abolition of 25%
quota for broadcasting in languages other than Latvian for private
radio companies. Besides, the quota could be fully abolished for
regions inhabited mainly by minorities - however, on the condition
that "sufficient amount" of broadcasting in Latvian will be provided
by other radio stations in that locality.

According to member of the Council Ilmars Shlapins, Latvia will ratify
the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
sooner or later, therefore will be obliged to guarantee ethnic
minorities freedom of distribution and access to information
("Telegraf", October 25,
http://rus.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=4162940). The draft concept
will be circulated to broadcasting companies for evaluation and

Can a non-citizen belong to minority?

An article titled "Minorities: practice is more important than
definition" written by master candidate Arturs Kucs is published on
the portal politika.lv 

Mr Kucs continues the discussion initiated on the portal by Reinis
Aboltins on whether minority definition would be necessary and
consensus upon it achievable in Latvia (see Minority issues in Latvia,
No. 53, http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-August/002234.
html). The author points out that assigning the status of minority to
"those persons who were born in Latvia or lived here for at least one
or two generations" would be the most appropriate, "taking into
account that significant part of persons belonging to minorities are
non-citizens". "In the eyes of international experts such period of
time would be sufficient for a person to integrate into society and to
establish firm and lasting relationship with the new home country",
stresses Mr. Kucs.

He also points out that in case of ascription of the provisions of the
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities only to
citizens "half of Russians and the biggest part of Ukrainians would be
left beyond its regulation". To illustrate that such situation
contradicts the aims of the Council of Europe, Mr Kucs calls on
analogical recommendations of the Committee of Ministers to Estonia
(see at
He emphasises, that taking legally doubtful or formal decisions would
not solve the problem, as the Committee pays attention not only to
legal provisions, but also to their implementation.

Our commentary

We agree with Mr Kucs in his view that the Latvian language can be
protected otherwise than restricting the number of people who are
considered "official minorities". Indeed, it is a matter of fact and
not of definition (the International Court of Justice ruled this back
in 1930s, and this is still true). The efforts of Latvian politicians
and some experts to give as narrow definition of minorities as
possible in order to avoid granting certain rights to these people
only indicate the lack of compliance of current situation in Latvia
with international standards.

NGOs' recommendations for government's declaration: minority issues

The public policy portal politika.lv has published proposals of 12
NGOs for the national declaration of the new government. The Latvian
Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies lists tasks, which the new
government should deal with in the field of integration and minority
affairs. The centre proposes:
- to establish a position of the Minister for Special Tasks for
Society Integration and Ethnic Affairs, who would also be a chairman
of the Council of the Society Integration Foundation, supervise the
work of the Society Integration Department and newly established
Minority Affairs Department and co-ordinate integration policy;
- to increase funding for the Society Integration Foundation, the
National Programme for the Latvian Language Training and for research
related to the Latvian language;
- to establish a new department for minority culture responsible for
national minorities at the Ministry of Culture;
- to ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
- to adopt the new modern Law on the Rights of National Minorities;
- to amend the Education Law, providing the opportunity to receive
state-supported secondary education in minority languages also after

Full text in Latvian is available at

Our commentary

We fully support all recommendations of the Latvian Centre for Human
Rights and Ethnic Studies. We would also like to make use of the
opportunity to warmly congratulate the Centre's director Dr Nils
Muiznieks, who has just received the Unity award by the Society
Integration Foundation for promoting the idea of unity in society.

Compiled by:

Alexei Dimitrov
Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky

Minority issues in Latvia
Newsletter published by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
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