MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 67

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Mon May 5 10:21:01 2003

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

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 67
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
May 3, 2003

- "Education reform 2004"  the problem getting hot
- Non-citizens in the EU: Minister Muiznieks discovers "secret of
- Latvian language courses: free of charge for naturalisation applicants

"Education reform 2004"  the problem getting hot

We reported repeatedly about various activities concerning the
"education reform 2004". This issue becomes more and more topical now.
Coalition of several pro-minority NGOs lead by the NGO 
LASHOR (Association for Support of Russian-Language Schools in Latvia,
see at http://www.lashor.lv) has started collecting signatures of those
who protest against switch to Latvian as the sole language of
instruction in state-supported secondary schools. Besides, the coalition
is going to hold a mass rally against the reform on May 23, a day before
the Eurovision Song Contest, which takes place in Riga this year.
Moreover, it declared readiness for other actions of non-violent civil
disobedience, as pro-minority political forces cannot achieve abolition
of the "reform" by amending the education legislation: all the proposed
amendments have been rejected.

According to the Education Law, starting from 1 September 2004 all
state-supported secondary education must be in the state language only
(para. 9, sub-para. 3 of the Transitional Provisions), while existing
primary minority schools have to be transformed into bilingual schools.
The Education Law permits, but does not guarantee, education in minority
languages in state and municipal primary education establishments where
"minority education programmes" are being implemented (Section 9 para. 2
of the Education Law). The latter programmes are stipulated but not
defined in the law. The Ministry of Education and Science is authorised
to determine the subjects within minority education programmes to be
taught in the state language (Section 9 para. 2 and Section 41 para. 3
of the Education Law). Another piece of legislation - the General
Education Law - allows for general secondary education programmes to be
combined with "minority education programmes, including teaching
minority languages and subjects related to the identity of the minority
and the integration of the society of Latvia" (Section 42 para. 2).
However, this provision says nothing about the language in which these
subjects can be taught, and in no way can be interpreted as permitting
to teach general subjects like physics, maths, etc in minority

Former Minister for Education and Science Karlis Greiskalns pointed out
in his letter to the pro-minority parliamentary faction "For Human
Rights in United Latvia" that the collision between the Education Law
and General Education Law exists. He mentioned that the Education Law
contains more general norms, but the General Education Law contains less
general norms. According to the collision norm ("one may apply a more
general norm only in cases not covered by an incompatible less general
norm") the General Education Law is to be applied in the case. However,
the Minister did not intend to solve the collision by submitting
amendments to the Education Law, as the collision norm could be used
(see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 56, 

New Minister for Education and Science Karlis Sadurskis promises that
even after the reform is completed, it will be possible to provide
instruction in minority languages within up to 40% of the total
instruction time; each school will determine its own proportion of time
within this framework. Corresponding amendments to the regulations on
standards of general education could be adopted by the Cabinet of
Ministers on May 6. In the meantime, the government is not going to
amend the education laws. Minister for Special Task in the Field of
Integration Affairs Nils Muiznieks believes that the main task of the
Cabinet is to inform the society that the result of the reform will not
be teaching in Latvian only. Leader of LASHOR Igor Pimenov is sure that
not less than 70% of curricula should be taught in minority languages in
minority secondary schools ("Diena" ("The Day"), April 30).

In spring 2003, a number of meetings of parents of minority
schoolchildren were held (Riga secondary school No.34, Anninmuizhas
school, Bishumuizas school, secondary school No.40, etc.).
Overwhelming majority of parents strongly protest against the "reform",
as, in their view, it will drasticaly worsen the quality of education
and, hence, the competitiveness of their children. In some cases, the
parents invited to the meetings representatives of LASHOR, other
pro-minority NGOs, pro-minority political parties in order to get more
information about the reform. The authorities perceive such activities
very painfully. In particular, the Committee on Education, Youth and
Sports of the Riga City Council addressed the minority schools'
principals demanding "not to allow political agitation and incitement of
pupils' parents to ignoring Latvian laws". Therefore parents of some
schools' pupils are forced to hold meetings outside of schools'
premises, but principals are held personally liable for the criticism
("Vesti Segodnya", April 12,

Nationalistic ruling party "For Fatherland and Freedom"/LNNK has asked
the General Prosecutor's Office to evaluate activities of Dr. Paed.
Jakov Pliner, MP from the pro-minority People's Harmony Party. Mr Pliner
stated that secondary education in Latvia should not be in Latvian only
during the meeting of parents in the Riga secondary school No. 34 (see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 66,
Similar request of vice-speaker of the Saeima (Parliament) Eriks
Jekabsons (the First Latvian Party) is addressed to the Parliament in
respect of Nikolai Kabanov, MP from the pro-minority coalition "For
Human Rights in United Latvia", who wrote in his media comment that the
problem "should be brought into the city blocks" ("Vechernyaya Riga"
("The Evening Riga"), April 29,

The party "For Fatherland and Freedom"/LNNK decided also to submit
amendments to the Criminal Law, which will envisage criminal punishment
for public criticism of Latvian laws ("Telegraf" ("The Telegraph"),
April 30,

Our commentary

In our view, the issue of secondary education in minority languages is
crucial for the integration of the Latvian society now. The decision to
start the transition adopted in 1998 was purely political. Now it is
rather popular among ethnic Latvians, as they believe that such
transition will strengthen role of the Latvian language. In the
meantime, the bulk of ethnic Latvians are not aware of the content of
the "reform". Therefore, the ruling coalition is not ready to amend the
laws, as it could be perceived as "concession" by nationalistically
minded voters. In the meantime, without amendments to the education laws
even doubtful proportion "40%-60%" cannot be introduced. The main
problem in this situation remains the persistent and even articulate
refusal by authorities to engage in a dialogue with pro-minority NGOs
and political parties. Instead, they try to restrict criticism of the
"reform" by minority schoolchildren parents, and most radical
government's parties even try to introduce criminal punishment de facto
for dissenting views and advocating minority rights.

In our view, a series of measures should be taken by the government in
order to solve the problem:
- abolish legislative defining instruction only in the state language in
state-supported secondary schools, explaining the voters that the state
language could be protected by other means;
- amend the education laws in order to guarantee the persons belonging
to ethnic minorities the right to receive secondary education in mother
tongue or bilingually, guaranteeing prevailing share of instruction in
minority language;
- grant parents' councils and administration of minority secondary
schools the right to determine the form of teaching Latvian and the
language of instruction of other subjects (instruction in minority
language with teaching Latvian as a separate subject, bilingual
instruction with different proportions, instruction in Latvian with
teaching minority language 
as a separate subject, etc.);
- hold open discussion on abovementioned issues with schoolchildren's
parents, representatives of pro-minority NGOs (especially LASHOR) and
political parties, which were supported by persons belonging to
minorities for their position in respect of the "reform".

We believe that this open discussion is indispensable to ease rapidly
growing tensions, which will inevitably aggravate after the beginning of
envisaged mass rallies in late May. 

Non-citizens in the EU: Minister Muiznieks discovers "secret of 

"We have summed up all available information and drawn a conclusion,
that everything is clear: non-citizens will not have the rights, that
citizens of EU will have", Minister for Special Task in the Field of
Integration Affairs Nils Muiznieks told at the end of the second (and
last) meeting of representatives of different ministries on the question
of Latvia's non-citizens' rights in the European Union. Non-citizens
will have the status of third countries' nationals, which means that
existing rules for entry to the EU countries will remain in force for
them: visas (of all kinds), limited residence permits with no right to
employment, as well as no freedom of movement in the EU until Latvia
enters the Schengen zone. Mr Muiznieks noted that the final report of
the working group will be available in a month ("Telegraf" ("The
April 15, http://rus.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=5216648). 

Latvian language courses: free of charge for naturalisation 

The Naturalisation Board organises Latvian language courses free of
charge for naturalisation applicants. LVL 50,000 (approx. EUR 78,700)
are received by the Board from the state budget for the courses this
year. Courses are organised in Latvia's seven biggest cities. Two flows
are created: first, from May till June, and, second, from September till
December. Selection will take place in regional units of the Board,
where applicant's language skills will be checked free of charge
("Telegraf" ("The Telegraph"), April 15,

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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