Minority issues in Latvia, No. 32


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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 32


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 32
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
June 29, 2001
 

New regulations on naturalisation procedures
 
As already mentioned in the previous issue of our newsletter, on June
5, the Cabinet of Ministers amended some governmental regulations
concerning naturalisation. New Regulations on the state fee for
naturalisation came into force on June 23. According to them, the
basic fee for naturalisation has been reduced from previous Ls 30
(approx. USD 50) to Ls 20 (approx. USD 33). Besides, some
opportunities to pay the reduced fee or to be exempted from it are
envisaged: the state fee is Ls 10 (approx. USD 16,5) instead of
previous Ls 15 for old-age pensioners, disabled persons of the 2nd
group and schoolchildren, as well as for students, who had no such an
advantage before. The state fee is Ls 3 (approx. USD 5,5) for
low-income persons, the unemployed and persons from the families with
three or more under-age children. Previously, only the Head of the
Naturalisation Board had the right to reduce the fee for low-income
persons. As before, politically repressed persons, disabled of the 1st
group and orphans are exempted from the fee. 

According to the opinion survey "On the Way to a Civil Society 2001",
approximately 40% of Latvia's non-citizens do not want to obtain
citizenship of any state, including Latvia, and 47% of them mentioned
lack of money as the obstacle for their naturalisation.
 
According to amendments to the Regulations on the naturalisation
examinations procedure, which came into force on June 28, the results
of secondary school graduation exam in the Latvian language will be
considered as results of the naturalisation language test in national
minorities' schools. Unfortunately, in fact these amendments will take
effect only in 2002, because the unitary state language exams took
place in May and June.
 
Adoption of these amendments has been recommended long ago by the OSCE
and the Council of Europe (in particular, see the PACE Resolution 1236
(2001) at http://stars.coe.int/ta/ta01/ERES1236.HTM). This decision of
the government should be definitely appreciated, as it removes some of
the obstacles for faster naturalisation. In the meantime, one could
hardly expect drastic increase of the number of naturalisations solely
due to these measures. It would be premature to decide that this
encouraging development resolve all remaining problems in the field,
and further substabtial efforts are needed to eliminate large-scale
stetlessness in Latvia. 


Will the elementary school graduates receive the state language
proficiency certificate?
 
Amendments to the "Regulations on Proficiency Degree in the State
Language Required for Performance of Professional and Positional
Duties and the Procedure of Language Proficiency Tests" adopted by the
Cabinet in January 2001 establish that the graduates from the national
minorities' schools can receive the state (Latvian) language
proficiency category after the unitary graduation exam in the Latvian
language. In that case the state language proficiency category is
indicated in the document about education, which replaces the state
language proficiency certificate. These amendments were to take effect
for the graduates of secondary schools (12 grades) already in this
year, but for graduates of elementary schools (9 grades) - only in the
year 2003/2004.
 
The Ministry of Education and Science suggested to equate the
graduation exam in the Latvian language to the state language
proficiency test for the elementary schools' graduates already in this
year. However, the Cabinet decided to consider this point only on June
12  exactly the day when the state language exam in elementary
schools was conducted. Even on that day, four ministers who represent
the radical nationalistic party "For Fatherland and Freedom" insisted
upon postponing of the consideration. Finally, the amendments were
adopted on June 19 and came into force on June 28. Now the youngsters
who have graduated from the elementary school this year, are waiting
for the decision of the Ministry of Education and Science, whether
they will receive the state language proficiency category. It should
be mentioned here, that even the best marks (9 or 10) guarantee only
the "2B" (medium  fourth out of six) category for graduates of
elementary schools, the same success in secondary school guarantees
the "3B" (highest) category (the newspaper "Chas" ("Hour"), June 12,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/06/12/l_02.html, June 13,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/06/13/l_25.html)
 

News from the Saeima
 
On June 14, the Saeima (Parliament) adopted amendments to the Code of
Administrative Misdemeanours. Some of the amendments concern
administrative misdemeanours in the field of language use and
establish fines for violations of the new State Language Law and
Regulations on its implementation, which came into force on September
1, 2001. Language misdemeanours are established in the Latvia's
legislation since 1992.
 
12 different types of language misdemeanours are mentioned in the
Administrative Misdemeanour Code. The fine for them is up to Ls 250
(approx. USD 400). One of the misdemeanours suggested by the MP from
the radical nationalistic party "For Fatherland and Freedom" Juris
Dobelis is "the obvious disrespect towards the state language" (fine
up to Ls 250). During the 3rd reading the Minister of Foreign Affairs
and the Minister of Justice suggested to exclude this article,
however, the majority of the Saeima decided to retain this provision 
(only 26 MPs voted for its deletion).
 

On June 13, the Saeima adopted amendments to the Law "On the Status of
Politically Repressed Persons". Persons recognised as politically
repressed by the Communist or Nazi regime are granted some social
advantages in Latvia. Before 1995, every person, regardless of
citizenship, was eligible for the status of politically repressed
person. However, the new law adopted in 1995 limited the possibility
to be granted this status to merely citizens of Latvia, as well as
former citizens of Estonia and Lithuania. In the meantime, permanent
resident non-citizens can be granted this status only if they were
repressed by the Communist regime within the territory of Latvia after
1945, or were forcibly brought to Latvia when being minors, detained
in concentration camps or prisons here by the Nazi regime. As result,
non-citizens who had been persecuted by Nazis or were political
prisoners under Communist regime, were deprived of the status of
politically repressed.  

The pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia"
("HRUL") submitted an amednment aimed at restoring the initial
definition of the politically repressed person, i.e. at extending the
opportunity to be granted the status of politically repressed to 
non-citizens. However, this proposal was rejected. The majority of MPs
supported another amendment which envisaged the possibility to receive
the status of politically repressed, besides currently eligible
persons, also for current and former citizens of Poland and Finland.


The Saeima has elected a new member of the National Radio and
Television Council. This Council is the main institution to supervise
and monitor work of radio- and TV-stations in Latvia, both nation-wide
and local, public and private. Traditionally, the seats in the Council
are shared between the representatives of the parties of the
governmental coalition. Three candidates were suggested this time. In
particular,  the "HRUL" faction nominated the Russian-speaking
candidate Vladilen Dozortsev, prominent writer and journalist, one of
the founders and leaders of the Latvian Popular Front. However, he
received only 24 votes, and another candidate was elected. 

Since the establishment of the Council in early 90s, not a single
representative of a big Russian-speaking minority was ever elected its
member, although the Russian-speakers make up more than one third of
Latvia's radio and TV audience. 


EU Commission Delegation Says The Latvian Law on Education is Ok
 
As we already mentioned, parents of the Russian-language school No. 2
in Valmiera town strongly protest against the envisaged elimination of
state-supported secondary education in minority language. They sent a
petition, along with other addressees, to the EU Commission Delegation
in Latvia (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 30,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//05282001-20:42:14-22328.html). 

In his very brief answer Mr. Weiss, Head of the Delegation, said that
"formulation and and adoption of the legislation is Latvia's internal
matter", and that "the law on bilingual education does not run counter
to the European and international provisions which Latvia is obliged
to conform with as the future EU member state". 

In our view, this response does not address the key issue in the
letter, i.e. the envisaged elimination of state-supported secondary
education in minority languages after 2004. Besides, it is not clear
what European and international provisions are meant. For example, the
Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National
Minorities (see eg http://www.riga.lv/minelres/osce/hagrec.htm )
interpret provisions of international instruments on minority rights
in the field of education very differently from how the head of the EC
Delegation in Latvia does. The whole situation causes a number of
questions about the role of the EU in the evaluation and monitoring of
human rights situation and about the division of competence between
the EU and other European organizations, like the OSCE and the Council
of Europe.
 

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


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