MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 59

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Fri Nov 22 08:51:45 2002


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


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 59
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
November 20, 2002

Content
- New government approved: some statements on ethnic policy
- The Minister for Integration: in search for a candidate
- Minority opposition prevented from speaking in the European
Parliament
- Can the oath to protect the state language be undemocratic?
- Officials of the Riga City Council violate the State Language Law
- First conviction for incitement to ethnic and racial hatred
- Language training free of charge for naturalisation applicants
- Survey on different aspects of integration
- Conference on the Framework Convention: shadow report on Latvia
presented
- Latvian Roma: a socially psychological portray


New government approved: some statements on ethnic policy
---------------------------------------------------------

On November 7, the newly elected Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia
approved the new government led by the "New Era" party leader Einars
Repse. 55 MPs voted "for", 43 "against", 1 abstained.

New ruling coalition consists of four parties: recently established
right-wing "New Era" (26 mandates out of 100), Union of Greens and
Farmers (12), Christian Latvian First Party (10) and radical
nationalistic "For Fatherland and Freedom"/LNNK (7). The pro-minority
leftist coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia" (FHRUL, 25) and
the right-wing People's Party (20) will remain in opposition (for the
results of the recent elections see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 57,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-October/002356.html).

One chapter of the government's declaration is devoted to ethnic
policy. The government declares that it will take into account
interests of both majority and national minorities; legislation in the
field of ethnic policy will be accomplished; high-rank official will
be responsible for ethnic policy. Besides, the government intends to
promote strengthening of the Latvian language's role in all spheres,
making Latvian lingua franca for the society in Latvia; to promote
qualitative society integration, Latvian-language training and
naturalisation; to support (also financially) ethnic cultural
associations, especially those of the Livs (an autochthonous
population of areas adjacent to the Gulf of Riga, now account for
approximately 200 individuals); to promote dialogue about ethnic
groups and languages in Latvia (see at
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=104876&lang=lv).

Our commentary

In our opinion, there are some reasons for concern. First of all, the
newly established ruling coalition demonstrates very undemocratic
approach towards parliamentary work. Thus, the Saeima has adopted
rules on composition of the parliamentary committees. If earlier no
formal criteria for membership in the committees existed, now,
according to the adopted rules, majority in the main committees is
guaranteed for the ruling coalition. The ruling coalition prevented
opposition MPs from becoming chairmen or secretaries of the
parliamentary committees. We are concerned that the same approach will
be used in contacts with national minorities.

The government's declaration does not contain new ideas concerning
ethnic policy in the country Unfortunately, recommendations of the
Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies are not taken into
account (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 58,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-November/002387.html).
Creation of the position of the Minister for Special Tasks in the
Field of Society Integration itself cannot resolve minority related
problems. It will be unfortunate if this position will be used for
promotion of the "image-making" for "external market"  the European
Union and United States. 

Statements about "qualitative society integration... and
naturalisation" make us feel anxious, too. Taking into account
participation of the radical nationalistic party "For Fatherland and
Freedom"/LNNK in the ruling coalition, it could mean even more
restrictive approach to implementation of minority rights standards
and naturalisation. MPs form the party "For Fatherland and
Freedom"/LNNK mentioned repeatedly that the naturalisation procedure
in Latvia is formal and "does not guarantee loyalty towards the
state".


The Minister for Integration: in search for a candidate
-------------------------------------------------------

In the previous issue of our newsletter we described the situation
concerning position of the Minister for Integration (see Minority
issues in Latvia, No. 58,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-November/002387.html).
According to the agreement inside the ruling coalition, the Latvian
First Party should nominate the candidate. However, the first
nomination of well-known musician Aleksandrs Brandavs was declined by
the Prime Minister Einars Repse. Mr Repse mentioned that cultural
associations of minorities do not support the candidature. Repse's
opinion was based on the letter, received from the head of Union of
National Cultural Associations Rafi Haradzhanyan (news agency LETA,
November 11, http://www.delfi.lv/archive/article.php?id=4267518).
According to Haradzhanyan, Brandavs does not fit to be the minister,
as he lacks expertise in the field. Representatives of the Latvian
First Party reacted to Repse's view, stating, that the main reason for
refusal to approve Brandavs' candidature was his ethnic and religious
background (Mr Brandavs is of mixed Latvian and Russian ethnic origin;
and is Russian Orthodox).
 
On November 7, when the government was approved, the position of the
Minister for Integration was left vacant. On November 13, Aleksandrs
Brandavs withdrew his nomination, stating that the Minister should be
responsible also for social integration, not only ethnic.
"Professionalism, not personalities, is crucial for us", Mr Brandavs
said. He assumed that he could participate in the ministry's work,
using his knowledge in the field of ethnic integration.

On November 20, the Latvian First Party announced nomination of
director of the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies
Nils Muiznieks to the position of the Minister for Ethnic Affairs and
Integration.

Our commentary

In our view, Mr Muiznieks is probably the best nominee for the
position. We believe that he is one of very few persons in Latvia who
enjoys confidence of both majority and national minorities, who is
able to promote real dialogue between different ethnic groups, and who
has an extensive experience of real work in the field.

As regards Mr Brandavs, we consider that his candidature was not the
best one. However, if it was indeed declined on the reason of his
ethnic origin and religious affiliation, such attitude towards persons
belonging to minorities makes us feel anxious about real wish of the
new government to promote ethnic policy on the basis of respect
towards minority rights.


Minority opposition prevented from speaking in the European Parliament
----------------------------------------------------------------------

The ruling coalition decided not to allow Boris Tsilevich, MP from
pro-minority faction "FHRUL", to address the European Parliament. The
joint EP session on the EU enlargement with parliamentary delegations
of the candidate countries took place on November 18-20 in Strasbourg.
Each candidate state's delegation was allotted 10 minutes, the time
could be divided between the members of the delegation on the basis of
the delegation's decision. 

Mr Tsilevich pointed out that in his speech he would have touched upon
the issue of integration of the society of Latvia, importance of
implementation of the EU Race Directive, as well as international
standards in the field of human and minority rights ("Chas" ("The
Hour"), November 14,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2002/11/14/l_037.html?r=30&)

As the leader of the ruling faction "New Era" Arturs Karins explained,
"statements of Mr Tsilevich could do harm to the image of Latvia, that
is why his speech is unwelcome".  The leader of the Union of Greens
and Farmers Indulis Emsis pointed out, that, instead, he could address
the Parliament on behalf of the left parties - despite his party
declares itself as the right-wing. "No suspicion will occur", Mr Emsis
said, "because 'greens' are traditionally considered 'left' in Europe"
(BNS, November 12,
http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/article.php?id=4273710).

Reaction of the press, both in Latvian and in Russian language, was
alike. The leading Latvian-language daily "Diena" ("The Day")
published a commentary, where it was stressed that "the Latvian
legislators' tendency to put bounds to expression of dissidence does
more harm to Latvia, than the old Tsilevich's record about the rights
of Russian-speakers... Saeima should care about the quality of
European democracy in Latvia and not about the quality of the picture
shown to foreigners" ("Diena", November 14).

The Latvian-language daily "Neatkariga Rita Avize" published the
article "Tsilevich already won", written by V.Avotins. "Will openness
of the new government become sole demonstration of what is going on at
parliamentary and Cabinet sessions or will it indeed witness genuinely
open politics?... It seems that also in the 8th Saeima those who rule,
choose such way of power implementation, that only devaluates
politics: they sweep the problems under the carpet", states Mr.Avotins
("Neatkariga Rita Avize", November 14).


Can the oath to protect the state language be undemocratic?
-----------------------------------------------------------

The Latvian-language daily "Diena" published an article titled "The
promise of MPs might do harm to the state image" ("Diena" ("The Day"),
November 5).

On April 30, 2002, as a part of so-called "language amendments" to the
Constitution, Article 18 was supplemented with the provision that
every MP is obliged to swear or to give a promise "to be loyal towards
Latvia, strengthen its sovereignty and the Latvian language as the
sole state language, defend Latvia as an independent and democratic
state, fulfil his/her duties in good faith, observe the Constitution
and the laws". 

According to Rules of Procedure of the Saeima, if elected MP omits a
part of the promise, his/her mandate will not be approved. "Human
rights experts foresee that if this indeed happens, Latvia will have
to face a significant resonance, which would be unnecessary before the
Prague summit", thus "Diena" expressed its concern before the
procedure took place. The newspaper quoted Martins Mits, lecturer of
the Riga Graduate School of Law, who said "every state can impose on
MPs a promise to protect the constitution, but not an oath that they
will never try to strengthen any other language as official by legal
means".

It also publishes comment of political scientist Nils Muiznieks, who
points out that it would be complicated to dispute the text of the
promise, despite concerns expressed by OSCE experts, as the
Constitution is superior to international treaties.

However, the procedure took place without any excesses, and it seems
that debates on the issue are also buttoned up.


Officials of the Riga City Council violate the State Language Law
-----------------------------------------------------------------

On November 8-9, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov visited Riga. During the
visit a press conference of Mr Luzhkov and mayor of Riga Gundars
Bojars was held. Journalists asked all questions in Russian, therefore
all answers were provided in Russian too.

Some days later, the State Language Centre received a complaint about
the press conference. According to Section 11 para. 2 of the State
Language Law, if a municipal institution organises an event on the
territory of Latvia, in which foreign persons participate, one of the
working languages shall be the state (Latvian) language; the organiser
has to ensure translation into the state language, except for cases,
when the State Language Centre exempts the organiser from this
requirement.

According to adviser of mayor of Riga Guntars Kukuls, three
interpreters participated in the event, but it was decided to hold it
in Russian in order to save time. None of the journalists asked to
provide translation into Latvian. If the State Language Centre finds
violation in the case, Guntars Kukuls is ready to pay fine ("Diena"
("The Day"), November 12). According to the code of Administrative
Violations, the fine could be 25  50 Lats (approx. EUR 40  80).


First conviction for incitement to ethnic and racial hatred
-----------------------------------------------------------

On November 13, "Diena" ("The Day") reported that Guntars Landmanis,
editor of the newsletter "Patriots" ("The Patriot") was convicted to 1
year in prison (suspended) and assessment of 600 Lats (approx. EUR
1000) by the Kurzeme Regional Court. In January 2001 Guntars Landmanis
was sentenced to 8 months in prison by the Liepaja Court, but he
appealed against the judgment.

Guntars Landmanis had published three issues of the newsletter
"Patriots", all of which contained anti-Semitic and racist material.
He is the first person to be convicted of incitement to ethnic and
racial hatred solely under Section 78 of the Criminal Law since the
restoration of independence in 1990.


Language training free of charge for naturalisation applicants
--------------------------------------------------------------

The Naturalisation Board renews its language courses for
naturalisation applicants in a new way. As representative of the Board
Ilona Stalidzane told the newspaper "Chas" ("Chas" ("The Hour",
November 7,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2002/11/07/l_033.html?r=30&), such
courses take place for some years, last lessons were held in September
2001  January 2002. Several thousands of applicants participated in
the courses; 700 persons will participate this year. The courses
financed by the UK government (35,000 pounds) will last for 2.5
months. They are held in order to speed up the naturalisation process,
as for the first time they will be free of charge for unemployed and
pensioners; other persons will be charged 25 Lats (approx. EUR 40).
The courses are held by the Latvian Popular School.


Survey on different aspects of integration
------------------------------------------

The Society Integration Department of the Ministry of Justice has
presented a survey
(http://www.integracija.gov.lv/doc_upl/Skpetijums.doc?PHPSESSID=ff63db172ccbbe149285fb8d6e536fa6)
prepared by the SKDS company. Survey deals with different aspects of
society integration. One of the basic questions on determinants for
communication with other persons showed sexual orientation to score
high and ethnicity  low. As head of the Department Reinis Aboltins
noted: "As you have noticed, ethnicity question are on the bottom of
the list. Problems in the field of welfare are on the first place.
Therefore, I conclude: if people will have more money, possibilities
to earn them, get normal health care, education, then ethnic questions
will disappear at all. And integration will start at full speed!".
("Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"),
November 5, http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_03_1001.pdf).

Survey results show that majority of population of Latvia is not sure
about its future (Russians are relatively more worried, as well as
minorities overall - 60,6%). Unemployment is among the most important
reasons for concerns, with poor work of parliament, corruption,
political instability and ethnic minority problems concluding the
list. Lots of respondents are disturbed about possibility to get
normal health care, education and development of one's ethnic culture.
Sexual orientation and religion are among the first on the list of
fields where people are discriminated. Results of the survey will be
submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers with the suggestion to work out
the strategy of integration.


Conference on the Framework Convention: shadow report on Latvia
presented
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

On November 15, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies
and Information Centre of the Council of Europe in Riga held the
conference "Society Integration and ratification of the Council of
Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
in Latvia". The Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities was signed by Latvia on May 11, 1995, but has not been
ratified yet. The parliamentary opposition submitted the ratification
bill for three times: in May 2000, March 2001 and September 2002, but
the Saeima (Parliament) rejected it.

Representatives of various NGOs, experts in the field of ethnic policy
presented results of their work concerning the Framework Convention.
Two of the presented projects were devoted to analysis of the
attitudes towards ratification of the Convention in the wide society,
as well as among activists of minority NGOs. The Latvian Human Rights
Committee and Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies
presented two parallel researches concerning legal evaluation of
compliance of Latvia's legislation and practice with the Framework
Convention. On some points the two organisations were of different
opinions (e.g., the Committee suggests to ratify the Convention
without any declaration or reservation, while the Centre proposes to
include a reservation with regard to possibility to display
traditional local names, street names and other topographical
indications intended for the public in minority languages). However,
in general conclusions and recommendations of the two working groups
are similar: the Convention is to be ratified as soon as possible,
some pieces of legislation (e.g. the State Language Law, Education Law
and Law on Radio and Television) are to be amended to comply with the
Framework Convention. Some materials presented at the conference are
available at http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=104769&lang=lv.

The shadow report on the implementation of the Framework Convention
for the Protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Latvia
prepared by the working group of the Latvian Human Rights Committee
(including members of our newsletter's team) and supported financially
by Minority Rights Group International is available by request (345 kb
in .doc format). The text will also be available online at MINELRES
website soon.


Latvian Roma: a socially psychological portray
----------------------------------------------

Results of the research "Roma in Latvia" conducted in 2000 by Sarmite
Dukate, Master in Social Sciences, has been published at the public
policy portal politika.lv on October 29, 2002
(http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=104777&lang=lv).
 
The author builds her research upon interviews with 5 men of Roma
origin and extrapolates the results on the whole community, claiming
them to be "a socially psychological portray of Latvian Roma". Ms
Dukate comes to conclusion that one of the main obstacles to
integration of Roma is "the society's stereotypical attitude towards
them", low education level, lack of motivation and, as the result, low
income level (according to the author, such situation traces its roots
back to early 1990s).

Our commentary

The research starts with acknowledgment that interviews with the 5
respondents were hard to arrange, because "they failed to keep
punctuality", which is followed by conclusion that "Roma care more
about a process and not its results". We would note that such
statements themselves contribute to promotion of "stereotypical
attitudes in the society towards Roma".

----------------
Compiled by:

Alexei Dimitrov
Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky

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