MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 63

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Mon Feb 24 10:02:04 2003


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


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 63
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
February 20, 2003

Content
- Ratification of the Framework Convention  better late than never?
- "Language quotas" for private broadcasting topical again
- The Cabinet approves the state budget: minority-related allocations
- Amendments to the naturalisation regulations submitted
- Ethnicity record: excluded in one document, remains in others?
- Seminar on the Framework Convention for minority NGOs
- Camp for illegal immigrants in Olaine
- New articles on ethnic policy at politika.lv


Ratification of the Framework Convention  better late than never?
------------------------------------------------------------------

Minister for Special Task in the Field of Integration Affairs Nils 
Muiznieks mentioned that Latvia will possibly ratify the Framework 
Convention for the Protection of National Minorities within one year. 
According to the Minister, it should be discussed whether the Convention 
is to be ratified before of after the referendum on joining the EU 
(September 20). The Minister expressed his view concerning ratification 
at the meeting with the Parliamentary Committee on Citizenship on 
February 12.

Mr Muiznieks pointed out that Latvia should not adopt reservations which 
could be incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. He 
also mentioned that the Law on Radio and Television is one of the most 
problematic legal acts because of the language quotas on private 
broadcasting in language other than Latvian. Mr Muiznieks believes that 
the Citizenship Law complies with Latvia's international obligations, 
but there is a need to discuss legal status of non-citizens after the EU 
accession; the working group will be established for this purpose. As 
regards voting rights for non-citizens at municipal elections, the issue 
will become very topical after Latvia joins the EU. The education reform 
(switch to Latvian as the language of instruction in state-supported 
minority secondary schools) scheduled for 2004, in the Minister's 
opinion, could be unsuccessful, because there is still a lot of work to 
do ("Chas" ("The Hour"), February 13).

Prime Minister of Latvia Einars Repse supports ratification of the 
Framework Convention with some reservations. "For example, we do not 
need provision on bilingual information in public places. Unnecessary 
things like this should be excluded," the Prime Minister's aide Dans 
Titavs said. According to him, ratification of the Convention is 
discussed within the New Era party and ruling coalition. However, 
ratification of international treaties is within the competence of the 
Saeima (Parliament), and the Prime Minister is not going to affect the 
decision (the news agency BNS, February 13).

Our commentary

It seems, the Framework Convention will be ratified soon under pressure 
of the EU and the Council of Europe. However, there is no unified view 
within the ruling coalition. The Latvian First Party, which supports 
Nils Muiznieks, is for ratification of the treaty. Mr Muiznieks suggests 
to ratify it with one reservation concerning topographical indications 
in minority languages  such indications are not necessary, in his view. 
The radical nationalistic party "For Fatherland and Freedom"/LNNK is 
strictly against. The Union of Greens and Farmers does not demonstrate 
clear position in the field of ethnic policy at all. A lot depends on 
the position of the leading New Era party. In the beginning of January, 
Minister for Foreign Affairs Sandra Kalniete (nominee of New Era) 
declared that the Framework Convention cannot be ratified now (see 
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 61, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-January/002511.html). 
However, some days later she stated that Latvia is ready to ratify the 
Convention (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 62, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-February/002553.html). Now 
the Prime Minister suggests ratification with some reservations. Thus, 
position of the New Era party is also unclear.

Although the Framework Convention is to be ratified by the Saeima, 
traditionally the Cabinet of Ministers submits draft bills on 
ratification of international treaties and conventions. It was one of 
the pretexts to reject draft bills on ratification submitted by the 
parliamentary opposition. In turn, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
usually initiates ratification of international treaties in the Cabinet. 
We doubt that the Ministry will propose to ratify the Convention soon, 
taking into account opinion of the Minister. The Minister for Special 
Task in the Field of Integration Affairs could initiate discussion about 
the Convention in the Cabinet for sooner ratification, but it would mean 
that division of labour inside the ruling coalition is broken. We hope 
that Nils Muiznieks will be able to find appropriate way to promote the 
discussion and sooner ratification of the Framework Convention for the 
Protection of National Minorities by Latvia.


"Language quotas" for private broadcasting topical again
--------------------------------------------------------

MPs from the pro-minority parliamentary faction "For Human Rights in 
United Latvia" have submitted amendments to the Law on Radio and 
Television. They suggested to exclude provisions of Section 19 para. 1 
and 5. The first one provides that each spot should be in one language 
only  thus, bilingual and multilingual spots without translation or 
subtitles (excluding language-training and musical spots) are 
prohibited. The latter provision establishes that the broadcasting in 
foreign (including minority) languages cannot exceed 25% of the total 
broadcasting time. The amendments were rejected by the Parliamentary 
Committee on Human Rights and Public Affairs on the reason that the 
Constitutional Court will consider the case soon (see Minority issues in 
Latvia, No. 60, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-December/002471.html).

The issue of language quotas for private broadcasting is mentioned also 
by the National Council on Radio and Television in the national concept 
of development of Latvian electronic mass media for 20032005. Some 
private broadcasting companies brought to the Council's notice that the 
quotas restrict their development; besides, the quotas do not comply 
with the Framework Convention. Therefore the Council is going to prepare 
amendments to the Law on Radio and Television concerning language 
quotas, as well as to hold a public opinion survey on the issue (see in 
Latvian at http://www.nrtp.lv/lv/nackoncepcija.php).

Our commentary

In our view, it is not correct to avoid adoption of the political 
decision by the Saeima before the Constitutional Court announces its 
judgment. If such approach is maintained, MPs will be able to adopt even 
absurd populist decisions hoping that the Constitutional Court will 
correct errors. It would mean that the Constitutional Court would become 
a scapegoat responsible for any unpopular action made in order to 
control legislature.


The Cabinet approves the state budget: minority-related allocations
-------------------------------------------------------------------

The Cabinet of Ministers approved the draft state budget for year 2003 
on February 14. Hereinafter we analyse items of the budget related to 
language and minority issues.

The President's Commission on the State Language will receive LVL 47,890 
(approx. EUR 76,000) in 2003. In 2002 the newly established Commission 
received LVL 23,500 from the Ministry of Finance as an emergency 
financial support. The Ministry of Education and Science will receive 
LVL 177,792 (approx. EUR 282,000) for development of the state language. 
LVL 77,792 are allocated for establishing of the State Language Agency 
from April 1, remaining LVL 100,000 are allocated for 20 different 
language projects (compare to LVL 38,400 in 2002).

The National Programme for Latvian Language Training will receive LVL 
1,114,528 (approx. EUR 1,769,000), where LVL 418,691 are allocated from 
the budget income, but LVL 695,837 are received within the framework of 
the Phare program. In 2002 the National Programme received LVL 573,900 
from the state budget.

The State Language Centre (the main institution responsible for control 
in the field of usage of the state language) will receive LVL 98,582 
(approx. EUR 157,000), including LVL 4,400 as own income. In 2002 the 
institution received LVL 99,500. It should be mentioned that the Centre 
plans to check usage of the state language in 2,700 enterprises, 
consider 700 complaints and elaborate 2 legislative acts.

The Naturalisation Board will receive LVL 702,234 (approx. EUR 
1,115,000) instead of LVL 794,400 in 2002. The support is reduced, 
because functions of the Board in the field of minority affairs will be 
transferred to the Secretariat of the Minister for Special Task in the 
Field of Integration Affairs since April 1. Besides that, the project on 
creation of the computerised system of naturalisation process is
completed.

Ethnic cultural associations will receive traditional grants of LVL 
3,624 (approx. EUR 5,750), but the Association of Ethnic Cultural 
Associations  LVL 2,499 (approx. EUR 3,950) for activities in January  
March. After April 1, the Secretariat of the Minister for Special Task 
in the Field of Integration Affairs will allocate financial support for 
them from its budget. Traditional grant for the Roma National Cultural 
Association (LVL 55,000 in 2002) will not be allocated this year - 
apparently, because there is no Roma lobby in the new government, 
contrary to the previous one (leader of one of the Roma associations, 
N.Rudevics, was elected MP in the previous parliament on the list of 
then ruling party "The Latvian Way". At the 2002 elections, "The Latvian 
Way" did not overcome 5% electoral threshold and is not represented in 
the current parliament).

The Secretariat of the Minister for Special Task in the Field of 
Integration Affairs will receive LVL 1,340,593 (approx. EUR 2,128,000). 
However, this sum includes LVL 1,148,900 for functions executed earlier 
by other state institutions:
- LVL 41,200  for functions related to involvement of NGOs to 
decision-making process;
- LVL 1,039,500  financial support for the projects within the 
framework of the Phare program aimed at development of civil society in 
Latvia;
- LVL 30,300  financial support for the programme "The Liv Coast" 
(activities concerning the Liv minority  autochthonous population of 
Latvia, now accounts for only 200 individuals) since February 1;
- LVL 13,700  financial support for the Society Integration Department 
(formerly in the Ministry of Justice);
- LVL 5,900  financial support for the Minority Affairs Department (now 
the Minority Affairs Unit in the Naturalisation Board) after April 1;
- LVL 10,900  grants for ethnic cultural associations after April 1;
- LVL 7,500  grant for the Association of Ethnic Cultural Associations 
after April 1.
Therefore, only approx. LVL 191,700 are allocated for the new functions 
of the Secretariat.

The Society Integration Foundation will receive LVL 1,623,758 (approx. 
EUR 2,577,000). This sum includes LVL 1,022,394 allocated by foreign 
donors within the framework of the Phare program. At least LVL 291,000 
from the Latvian state budget and LVL 647,060 from the Phare support 
will be allocated for ethnic integration.


Amendments to the naturalisation regulations submitted
------------------------------------------------------

On February 6, the Ministry of Justice suggested to amend the 
naturalisation regulations that could speed up the naturalisation 
procedure. Now a person gives an oath (promise) to be loyal towards the 
state after he/she had passed the naturalisation examinations; the 
Ministry proposes to sign the promise immediately after all documents 
necessary for naturalisation had been submitted. However, if a person 
violates rules of naturalisation examination, he/she will not be able to 
pass the examination again. In such cases a person has to submit new 
naturalisation application that is possible not earlier than in one 
year, according to the Citizenship Law ("Vechernyaya Riga" ("The Evening 
Riga"), February 7, http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vriga/vr03_07-02.pdf). The 
amendments are to be adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers to come into 
force.


Ethnicity record: excluded in one document, remains in others?
--------------------------------------------------------------

Due to intervention of the Minister for Special Task in the Field of 
Integration Affairs Nils Muiznieks, the ethnicity record was excluded 
from the Cabinet regulations on registration of the time of alternative 
state service on February 4. The Ministry of Defence prepared the draft 
regulations, where ethnicity record was to be included into the database 
of persons, who conduct alternative state service instead of mandatory 
military conscription. Minister for Defence Girts Valdis Kristovskis 
claimed that each ethnic group has its own features, but agreed that the 
paragraph on ethnicity record was to be excluded ("Vesti Segodnya" ("The 
News Today"), February 6, 
http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_03_1075.pdf). Nils Muiznieks intends 
to analyse all cases, where ethnicity record is required by legislative 
acts.


Seminar on the Framework Convention for minority NGOs
-----------------------------------------------------

A seminar on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National 
Minorities organised by the Information Centre of the Council of Europe 
and Minority Affairs Unit of the Naturalisation Board took place on 
February 7. 200 people, representing 34 minority organisations, gathered 
to discuss provisions of the Framework Convention and its possible 
ratification in Latvia. The seminar was held in both Latvian and 
Russian, with predominance of the latter.

Director of the Information Centre of CoE Uldis Krastins stated, that 
Latvia should ratify the Convention, which it signed in 1995. Nothing 
will change substantially, when the Convention is ratified, but it can 
be a good basis for making mutual understanding between Latvia's ethnic 
groups better. Minister for Special Task in the Field of Integration 
Affairs Nils Muiznieks stressed, that the Convention is rather weak 
instrument, but useful mechanism to make society think about life and 
feelings of minorities.

Professor of the Riga Graduate School of Law Ineta Ziemele touched upon 
legal aspects of ratification of the Convention. She noted, that the 
term "ethnic minority" is to be made clear, mentioning diverse examples 
of international experience in this field. She noted, that the Advisory 
Committee of FCNM, supervising implementation of the Convention by 
Estonia, has made it clear that bilingual secondary education for 
minorities is possible with 60% share of the stat language in studying 
process. The same can be recommended to Latvia. Gita Feldhune, acting 
director of the Institute of Human Rights (the University of Latvia), 
stated that after the Convention is ratified, minority representatives 
will be able to speak in their language and receive answer in it in 
state and municipal institutions.

Representatives of minority NGOs mainly discussed the problems related 
to use of languages. Mikhail Gavrilov (leader of the Russian Party  
marginal political force, not represented in the Parliament) claimed 
that Russian is to become the second state language, as, for example, in 
Latgale Russians are not ethnic minority, but nation. Igor Pimenov 
(Association for Support of Russian-Language Schools in Latvia) noted, 
that the Latvian language is synonymous to independence for Latvians and 
it is doubtful whether Russian as the second state language is needed 
("Lauku Avize" ("The Rural Newspaper"), February 11).


Camp for illegal immigrants in Olaine
-------------------------------------

The Russian-language daily "Panorama Latvii" ("The Panorama of Latvia") 
investigates the situation with illegal immigrants kept in the Olaine 
camp (February 6, 
http://www.panlat.lv/index.php?g=2003&m=02&d=06&w2=p&pub=010&w1=r&r=2). 
There are 35 illegal immigrants living in the camp now. Most of them are 
citizens of the former USSR from Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, 
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia. No residents of Africa or South Asia are 
living in Olaine now.

Most of illegal immigrants have problems with their documents, as they 
entered Latvia. Others, living in Latvia, did not have necessary stamps 
in their documents, even if they are registered in the Population 
Registry. As journalist notes, some 20,000 people in Latvia still failed 
to exchange their old IDs and live with their Soviet passports. Thus, 
they are potential residents of the Olaine camp, if they have not put 
their registration number in their old Soviet passport. For example, 
Karen Vaksanyan who has both family and property in the town of Jelgava, 
became resident of the Olaine camp, because he had no his personal code 
stamped in his documents, while receiving temporary residence permit in 
1993 and having needed code in the Population Registry. Latvian 
legislation contains provisions which make people wait for resolution of 
their cases for years. As an example, Bashir Taldiyev, an old man, 
fleeing from the conflict in Chechnya, was waiting for residence permit 
more than 5 years.

Both persons with criminal record and lawful people with problems in 
documents are placed in the camp. Administration has plans of dividing 
the two groups in the future. Living conditions are not really good in 
the camp. No employment is secured, no water and less food than in 
prisons, according to regulations adopted by the government.


New articles on ethnic policy at politika.lv
--------------------------------------------

Dr. hist. Leo Dribins describes his view on changes to be made in 
Latvian education reform (switch to Latvian as the language of 
instruction in minority secondary schools scheduled for 2004) in the 
article "New Aspects of Education Discussion" 
(http://www.politika.lv/?id=105449&lang=lv). He sees the question of 
minority education as one that can become an obstacle for integration in 
Latvia. Positive rational solution is needed to secure both interests of 
the Latvian nation-state and the rights of ethnic minorities. He does 
not agree with ideas of Belgian researcher Alex Hansen, expressed 
scientifically, and representatives of minorities, expressed more 
straightforward. According to Alex Hansen, Latvia should move to 
linguistic multiplicity, plurality and mixed identities. Latvia should 
"lessen divisive influence of nationalism and ethnicity in society and 
attach itself another national identity". This fits in the views of one 
of Daugavpils' school directors, who suggested creation of multiethnic 
schools in Latvia with youngsters of all ethnic backgrounds learning 
together in Latvian, Russian and English. Latvia should abandon its 
character of national state, which is the source of all nowadays
problems.
Dribins assumes, that as regenerated Latvian national state is one of 
the prime values in the conscience of Latvian citizens, they would not 
accept abandoning it. If any minority starts insisting on ignoring 
national state concept, ethnic tensions will start. However, the policy 
of national state should be cleared from ethnocratic influence, from 
efforts of state ethnic homogenisation and anti-Europeanism, especially 
in education policy. Persons belonging to minorities do make conclusion, 
that Latvia is "an example of ethnocracy", based on isolated negative 
examples, do not want to see prevalence of tolerance. Still, Dr. Dribins 
thinks that the education reform now can be seen as an invitation to 
self-assimilation. View of bilingualism as a "short transition" to 
education in Latvian only is ethnocratic as well.

Dribins suggests to make amendments in education legislation, abandoning 
all, that forms incorrect view of state education policy. The Ministry 
of Education should clarify all definitions of the Education Law, 
including 'bilingualism', and make official commentary of the Law. 
Reform should be implemented in accordance with preparedness of teachers 
to work bilingually.

Professor Ilga Apine notes in her article "Political Correctness" 
(http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=105378&lang=lv), that political 
correctness is not seen as an important problem in Latvia. Latvian 
newspapers speak about it ironically, always using "so-
called" etc. to describe events in this field in the USA or Canada. 
Author mentions lots of cases, in which loss of political correctness in 
Latvia is seen - naming one's ethnicity when speaking of criminal acts, 
Romas being mostly vulnerable in these cases; racist advertising of the 
Freedom Party (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 53, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-August/002234.html); 
mentioning of ethnicity and religious confession of Aleksandrs Brandavs, 
first nominee for position of the Minister for Integration; anti-Chechen 
statements in Russian-language weekly "Subbota" ("Saturday") after 
terror act in Moscow. Xenophobic (as a rule, Russophobic) statements are 
common in readers' letters in all Latvian newspapers.

Political correctness is a step to tolerance, and Latvia should strive 
for the first to achieve the second. Ethnic multiplicity incites 
xenophobia  anti-Arabism in France, Caucasophobia in Moscow. Political 
correctness should be taught to the society. A step towards it is change 
of ethnic democracy to the model of pluralist democracy. A further 
liberalisation of Latvian ethnic policy is needed by ratifying the 
Framework Convention and starting debate on non-citizens' voting rights 
at municipal level. Latvia is a stable society, which can give more 
rights to "others", who are part of Latvian society. This will be a good 
basis for political correctness and tolerance in Latvia, professor Apine 
concludes.

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

Alexei Dimitrov
Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky

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