Minority issues in Latvia, No. 31

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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 31

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 31

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 31
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
June 8, 2001

Conference "On the Way to a Civil Society 2001"

The Naturalisation Board of Latvia presented on May 28 - 29 results of
two opinion surveys: "On the Way to a Civil Society 2001" and "Survey
of Newly Naturalised." The former was held among residents of Latvia,
the latter - among newly naturalised citizens. 

There are some interesting figures mentioned in the surveys' results.
Approximately 25% of Latvia's population still lack Latvian
citizenship. Since the naturalisation process began on February 1,
1995 42 415 persons have received the citizenship of Latvia by
naturalisation. The overwhelming majority of them are representatives
of national minorities (mainly Russians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians).
Every other naturalised person was born in Latvia. 

Support for Latvia's accession to the European Union is greater among
naturalised citizens (65%) than among citizens by birth (53%) and
non-citizens (55%). Naturalised citizens also express greater support
for National Programme on the Integration of Society (86% of
naturalised citizens, 71% of citizens by birth and 68% of non-citizens
support this programme) and trust the state institutions more.
However, 73% of naturalised citizens are in favour of introducing
Russian as the second official language, while 82% of citizens-ethnic
Latvians are against it. 

The survey of inhabitants of Latvia revealed minority rights as a
point of disparities: 50% of non-citizens and only 16% of citizens are
concerned about restrictions on the minority rights. As for possible
naturalisation, 20% of non-citizens stated they plan to apply within
the next 12 months, while about 20% postpone this decision for some
time in the future beyond the next 12 months. Approximately 40% of
non-citizens do not want to get citizenship of any state, including
Latvia. It shows that the complicated naturalisation timetable (which
severely limited non-citizens' possibility to apply; was abolished in
1998) was groundless and deprived Latvia of many loyal people (the
newspaper "Diena" ("The Day"), May 29). As for those non-citizens who
do not plan to apply for naturalisation, 47% mentioned lack of money
as the obstacle preventing naturalisation. In this context, the recent
amendments to the Regulations on naturalisation (adopted on June 5,
2001 by the Cabinet of Ministers) might help increase interest in
naturalisation. This way, the basic state fee for naturalisation has
been reduced form previous Ls 30 (approx. USD 50) to Ls 20 (approx.
USD 33). The results of secondary school graduation exams will be
considered as naturalisation language exam. Whether this measures will
have a great impact on the naturalisation rate remains to be seen. 

Use of languages in the Riga City Council

As we reported earlier, the Latvian newspaper "Rigas Balss" ("The
Riga's Voice") published an article about the state language
proficiency of the Riga City Council deputies - representatives of
national minorities (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 28, 
On April 25 the chairman of the People's Party faction in the Riga
City Council Edmunds Krastinsh applied to the State Language Centre
with request to examine the state language proficiency of 5 deputies
from the pro-minority faction "For Human Rights in United Latvia"
mentioned in the article. Director of the Centre Dzintra Hirsha has
sent a request to the chairman of the pro-minority faction to
determine where and when the language examination of the deputies can
take place. 

All mentioned deputies already have valid state language proficiency
certificates. Moreover, the law on municipal elections requires the
highest category of the state language proficiency for deputy
candidates, but there are no requirements for already elected
deputies, because this job is not mentioned in the Cabinet Regulations
on the implementation of the State Language Law.

There is also one very curious aspect. One of the representatives of
national minority in the Riga City Council, whose state language
proficiency is thrown doubt upon, is Mikhail Gavrilov, leader of the
Russian Party, which has one seat in the City Council. Recently Mr.
Gavrilov as the only Russian Party's deputy has signed an agreement on
co-operation with Latvian nationalist "For Fatherland and Freedom"
faction. Following the agreement, other members of the party have sent
a letter to Mr. Gavrilov proposing to discuss the situation. However,
they have received answer from Mr. Gavrilov replied them with a letter
in Latvian, stating that their letter cannot be considered, because it
is written in Russian! (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News
Today"), May 28, 

Neo-nazi applies to the European Court of Human Rights

Andris Kiploks, one of the members of Latvian Neo-nazi organisation
"Perkonkrusts" ("The Thunder Cross") has applied to the European Court
of Human Rights. He states that his sentence to 1,5 years in prison is

Members of the "Perkonkrusts" were sentenced to different (but not
very long) terms of imprisonment for series of explosions in Riga.
There was also a victim - one of the "Perkonkrusts" members was killed
by the explosion near the Monument for Riga's Liberators from Nazism.
Almost all former "Perkonkrusts" members are free now, following an
amnesty. Some people in Latvia consider them as Latvian freedom
fighters, despite the fact that the explosions took place already
after the independence was restored. 

At the same time the young people, members of the Russian
National-Bolshevik Party (so-called Limonov's Party), who in November
2000 hung the flag of their party in one of the Riga church towers,
where sentenced to imprisonment for terrorism, because they showed a
lift-man a model of grenade. One of them, an under-age person, was
sentenced to 5 years in prison, two other - to 15 years each. Their
action caused no real explosions or victims. Apparently, extremists
are discriminated in Latvia on the basis of their ethnic origin or
political conviction (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News
Today"), May 28, 

Language examinations in prisons

>From February 1 a person, who wish to receive the state language
proficiency certificate, passes the examination at local commissions
of the Examination Centre (ISEC) of the Ministry of Education and
Science (before February 1 there were commissions of the State
Language Centre and municipalities). Today there are only 4 local
commissions; therefore their officials have no opportunity to check
the state language proficiency of prisoners. 

Since 1995 the Soros Foundation - Latvia have supported the state
language teaching for prisoners. A big part of prisoners in Latvia are
representatives of national minorities. Only good state language
proficiency allows them to feel integrated into the society after the
release from prison. About 2000 prisoners have received the state
language proficiency certificates so far. Now about 100 people more
wish to pass the state language examination. However, the ISEC
promises that the problem will be solved. Probably, in June the state
language examinations will be renewed (the newspaper "Diena" ("The
Day"), May 28)

Repatriation: voluntary or forced?

MP from the radical nationalist "For Fatherland and Freedom" faction
Juris Vidinsh have created a parliamentary group for promotion of the
former USSR citizens' repatriation. As Mr. Vidinsh said, the group
will include also other famous "friends" of national minorities, for
example, Peteris Tabuns ("For Fatherland and Freedom"), Vaira Paegle
(the People's Party), whose words were sometimes cited in the
"Minority issues". Of course, the aim of the parliamentary group is
"promotion of voluntary repatriation" (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya"
("The News Today", May 15, 

Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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