Minority issues in Latvia, No. 4


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Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 15:38:53 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 4 

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Original sender: Aleksej Dimitrov <dimiklat@hotmail.com>

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 4 


Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F. I. D. H.)
July 13, 1999


Adoption of the new State Language Law causes serious concerns 

After severe critics of the new State Language draft law by the
European international institutions, the Committee on Education and
Culture of the Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia decided to postpone the
final reaidng of the darft till the autumn session. This decision was
backed by the government, and also supported by the pro-minority
parliamentary faction "For Human Rights in Integrated Latvia".
However, the radical nationalistic factions of the Saeima demanded to
summon an extraordinary session of the Saeima to adopt the Language
Law in the final reading. 

New de facto alliance established at the Presidential elections by the
most radical nationalistic "For Fatherland and Freedom" party, the
People's party (which has the biggest faction in the Saeima but was in
opposition since the last elections), and the Social democratic party,
made hopes of the radicals to have the law adopted in the most
stringent version much more feasible. After the resignation of the
government led by Vilis Krishtopans on July, 5, the voting for the
stringent provisions of the Language law was made in fact the main
criteria for joining the new governmental coalition. Three parties
mentioned above signed an agreement on common voting on several
crucial provisions - most of them running contrary to the
recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
and conclusions of the European Commission.   

On July 8, the State Language Law was adopted with 73 votes "for".
Three parties mentioned above voted in a consolidated manner. "The
Latvian Way" party also supported all but one provisions of the law.
"The New Party" opposed several provisions which restricted usage of
other languages in private sphere, as well as abstained in the final
vote. "For Human Rights in Integrated Latvia" faction voted against,
for all amendments submitted by this faction on the basis of the OSCE
High Commissioner's recommendations had been rejected.    

The final text of the Law keeps the clause declaring all other
languages used in Latvia, except for the Liv language, the foreign
languages - thus denying existence of any minority language in the
country. Article 11 (language of "public events") and 21 (language
usage in written information, announcements etc in public places) of
the Law were adopted in a stricter shape than prepared for the third
reading: all "public events", regardless of whether organized by the
state or private companies, NGOs or persons, must be held in the state
language, if other language is used, the translation must be provided;
all public information must be in the state language, usage of other
languages - along with the state language - is allowed in some cases
to be specified by the governmental regulations. State and municipal
institutions of Latvia accept any applications, complaints etc from
private persons only if they are written in the state language,
complaints in other languages must be supplied with the translation
approved by a notary or otherwise, if specified by the governmental
regulations (according to the 1992 Language Law, applications in
English, German and Russian must be accepted too). Also in judiciary,
Latvian is declared a sole language of proceedings (before, other
languages could be used in court if all parties concerned agree about
this). The two latter provisions particularly hit the vulnerable
groups (poor people, the elderly, refugee claimants, etc) who might
appear unable to question arbitrary or illegal bureaucratic actions
towards them, and their right to fair trial is effectively endangered
(both translation and notarial approval are very expencive in
Latvia).    

The Law contains several other clauses deemed contrary to the
provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and the
Framework Convention by the experts of the European institutions. 

Minority and human rights NGOs held a picket near the Saeima`s
building on July 8, as well as a series of other activities, including
a picket near the Riga Castle - the residence of the President of
Latvia - on July 13, urging the newly elected President Mrs Vaira
Vike-Freiberga not to promulgate the Law. 

The President's decision on whether to promulgate or to decline the
Law must be adopted not earlier than 7 days and not later than 21 day
since the day of adoption of the law by the Saeima. 

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

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