Minority issues in Latvia, No. 5

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Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 22:32:26 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 5

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

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 5

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 5
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
July 28, 1999
The State Language Law not signed. To be continued?
Human rights and national minorities' NGOs welcomed the carefully
thought out decision of the President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga
to return the State Language Law to the Parliament. This decision has
been inspired by the recommendations of international organizations,
as well as the appeal of Latvia's NGOs (including the Latvian Human
Rights Committee) not to sign the law unless it corresponds to the
international minority rights standards.

The Saeima will consider the following 7 proposals of the President on
August 26:

- to clarify the term "state institutions" (article 24 - "it shall be
the duty of state institutions to provide material resources for the
study, ultivation and development of the Latvian language");

- to harmonize the requirement to provide information in the state
(Latvian) language (article 2.2) with the Costitution of Latvia
(article 100 and 116) and the European Convention on Human Rights
(article 10) (the adopted provision violates the right to receive

- to clarify the term "public events" (article 11 - "the state
language shall be used at the public events");

- to cancel the requirement to dubb or provide with the voice-over -
but not sub-titles - in the state language the movies intended for
children of pre-school age (article 17) (in fact, this clause deprives
the children belonging to national minorities of the opportunity to
watch movies in their mothertongue); 

- to make the requirement to use letterheads in the state language
(article 20) comply with the European Convention on Human Rights;

- to harmonize the requirement to place written information in public
places in the state language (article 21.1) with the Constitution of
Latvia (article 100 and 116) (the provision infringes national
minorities` rights to spread and receive information);

- to set concrete deadlines for preparing envisaged governmental and
departmental regulations.

However, it is worth noting that most of these proposals (as well as
most of the recommendations of the European Union) in essence aim at
protecting rights of only one "minority" - English-speaking
businessmen one. In the meantime, several important objections of the
minority NGOs and the pro-minority parliamentary faction have not been
taken into consideration:

- to amend article 5 which declares "all other languages spoken in
Latvia, except for the Liv language" foreign languages, thus denying
the very existence of the minority languages in Latvia;

- to alter the requirement to accept applications, complaints etc.
from private persons in the state language only (documents in other
languages must be provided with a translation and certificatiton by a
notary or "in a way established by the government", except some
specified urgent cases (article 10.2). Translation and certificatiton
are very costly procedures, and the provision in fact deprives many
persons belonging to minorities of the opportunity to protect their
rights in the state institutions;

- to change article 14 which says that education in the state language
only is guaranteed in Latvia, thus denying the right of national
minorities to education in their mothertongue; 

- to cancel the requirement to reproduce all the personal names in
accordance with the Latvian language traditions and norms (article
19), as well as the requirement to use all toponyms (except the
territory of the Liv Shore) in the state language (article 18.1)
(minorities` personal names, transliterated in Latvian, are often
distorted and sound  incorrectly, and there are many places with
Slavic, Estonian, Lithuanian names in Latvia); 

- to permit usage of minority languages in judiciary under certain
conditions (the current version of the law prescribes usage of only
state language even if all parties concerned agree to use other

All these provisions may run counter to the minority rights enshrined
in the Constitution of Latvia, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as
the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Human rights and national minority NGOs are also anxious of the new
government coalition's intention to adopt the State Language Law in
different wording but the same in essence, after the next stage of the
legislation screening with the EU experts is completed. This intention
is openly declared in the new government's official declaration
adopted on July 16. Thus, the problem of the linguistic rights of
minorities still remains urgent in Latvia.
Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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