Minority issues in Latvia, No. 34


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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 34

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 34


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 34
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
August 12, 2001


Youth protests against the education "problem 2004"
 
Elimination of state-supported secondary education in minority
languages scheduled for 2004 causes strong protests of national
minority organizations in Latvia. On August 5, the youth movement
"Solidarity" held a meeting–concert in Riga. According to different
appraisals, from 3000 to 6000 youngsters participated in the event,
thus, it was one of the largest political actions of youth during the
last years. The "Solidarity" leader Ivan Stalnoy told in his interview
to the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour") on August 7 that the series of
activities to support state-financed secondary education in Russian
will be continued (the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), August 7,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/08/07/l_34.html ). 

The movement declares its intention to continue its activities every
month until the discriminatory provisions of the Education Law are
re-considered (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"),
August 7,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=08&d=07&w1=&w2=p&pub=011#banner
). 

On August 10 "Solidarity" was also going to hold a picket near the
Riga City Council. However, the permit to hold it was refused by the
Executive Director of the Riga City Council, Maris Tralmaks. A meeting
with the deputies from the pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in
United Latvia" was held instead of the picket (the permit is not
needed for the meetings with deputies). 
 
The media coverage of the meeting-concert was very different. The
Russian-language dailies evaluate it positively, as the natural
reaction of the Russian-speaking youth to the state politics in the
field of minority education. The Latvian-language press writes less
about the action, stressing the fact that it was a concert, not only
the political event. The biggest Latvian-language daily "Diena" ("The
Day"), unlike all other media, wrote that only approx. 500 people
participated in the meeting. It also interviewed the chairman of the
Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and Public Affairs Antons
Seiksts on the issue. Mr. Seiksts recognised that "it was not the
anti-state activity", however, he said, "organisers of
the event should assume the responsibility for cleaving the society
that does not promote its integration" (the newspaper "Diena", August
6). It was told in the newspaper's comment that the action of
Russian-speaking youth is very similar to "Siegerist's bananas
distributing" (Joachim Siegerist, a populist Latvian politician,
organised distributing bananas for free for his electorate during his
campaign in 1995). Another popular Latvian-language newspaper "Lauku
Avize" ("The Rural Newspaper") even published a satire, where an
author sneers at the aspiration to learn in the native language and is
indignant at "the lifeless reaction of the state".
 
After the publications of the kind the state's reaction is not
lifeless at all. On August 8, Ivan Stalnoy was summoned to the
Security Police. The meeting was cancelled after Mr. Stalnoy had
invited journalists to it. However, the next day another activist of
the movement "Solidarity", Eugeny Obolevich, was summoned to the
Security Police. The conversation lasted for about three hours. Mr.
Stalnoy was near the building of the Security Police at this time. Two
policemen went out and invited him to speak with them; this meeting
lasted for about two hours. After that both youngsters were let go. At
the same time local policemen visited Stalnoy's mother in Cesis (a
small town not far from Riga), where he lives, and asked to give them
Stalnoy's passport without any reason. It should me mentioned here
that neither Mr. Stalnoy, nor Mr. Obolevich were summoned to the
Security Police by the official summons, as required by law. They were
summoned by ordinary telephone calls (the newspaper "Chas" ("The
Hour"), August 10, http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/08/10/l_21.html
). Thus, the desire of the Russian-speaking youth in Latvia to receive
secondary education in mothertongue, asserted without any violations
of the law and by purely legal means, meets an active resistance of
the state, up to involvement of the security service.
 

UN Human Rights Committee finds violations in Latvia's treatment of
national minority candidate  
 
Mrs. Antonina Ignatane has won the first case against Latvia under the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 
 
Mrs. Ignatane was a deputy candidate to the Riga City Council from the
party "For Equal Rights" (currently one of the member parties of the
pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia") at the
municipal elections held in 1997. According to the electoral
legislation of Latvia, all Latvian citizens who received education in
other languages than Latvian, must produce certificate of the third
(highest) level of the state language proficiency in order to be
registered as candidates (see corresponding provisions of the Law on
Municipal Elections at
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/NationalLegislation/Latvia/Latvia_ElecMun_excerpts_English.htm
). 

On February 11, 1997 the Riga Electoral Commission struck off Mrs.
Ignatane from the electoral list on the basis of "insufficient state
language proficiency". This decision was taken after the State
Language Centre issued the reference that Mrs. Ignatane's state
language proficiency did not correspond to the third (highest) level
of the state language proficiency, based on the results of language
examination held by a state language inspector, despite Mrs. Ignatane
possessed a required valid state language proficiency certificate of
the third (highest) level.
 
The Riga Regional Court dismissed the complaint of Mrs. Ignatane.
After that the Supreme Court also dismissed her complaint. The
decision came into force. There was no possibility to submit a
petition to the European Court of Human Rights then, since Latvia had
not yet ratified the European Convention of Human Rights at that
moment. Thus, a written communication was submitted to the UN Human
Rights Committee under the Optional Protocol to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 
According to the views of Mrs. Ignatane and her councel, member of the
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.) Mrs. Tatyana Zhdanok, the
case made a violation of Article 25 of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, as well as discrimination on the basis of
language in respect of the subjective right to stand for election
(article 2 of the Covenant).
 
On July 25 the UN Human Rights Committee considered the written
communication of Mrs. Ignatane. The Committee has considered it
admissible (although the state of Latvia claimed that the case should
be declared inadmissible, because, in Latvia's view, all available
domestic remedies were not exhausted). On the merits, the UN Human
Rights Committee decided: "... 7.5. The Committee concludes that Mrs.
Ignatane has suffered specific injury in being prevented from standing
for the local elections in the city of Riga in 1997, because of having
been struck off the list of candidates on the basis of insufficient
proficiency in the state language. The Human Rights Committee
considers that the author is a victim of a violation of article 25, in
conjunction with article 2 of the Covenant.  8. In accordance with
article 2, paragraph 3(a), of the Covenant, the State party is under
an obligation to provide Ms.Ignatane with an effective remedy. It is
also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations
occurring in the future" (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News
Today"), August 10,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=08&d=10&w1=r&r=1&w2=p&pub=008#banner
). 

----------
>From the moderator: since the decision of the UN HR Committee has
created an important precedent for interpretation of the linguistic
rights of minorities, we will try our best to make the full text of
the Committee's views available online on MINELRES website as soon as
possible.
Boris
----------


The case of "language quotas" in audiovisual media has been brought
before the Constitutional Court
 
According to the amendments to the Law on the Constitutional Court,
since July 1 the Constitutional Court is entitled to consider
constitutional complaints submitted by private persons (before that
the Court could consider complaints submitted only by not less than
20 MPs, some state institutions and local governments).
 
Mr. Vladimir Gurov, owner of the private media holding "Business &
Baltia", applied to the Constitutional Court asking to declare Section
19 para. 5 of the Radio and Television Law unconstitutional. According
to this provision, the broadcasting/telecasting time in languages
other than the state language (i.e. Latvian) should not exceed
twenty-five percent of the total broadcasting time (for the accurate
text of this provision, see
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/NationalLegislation/Latvia/Latvia_TVRadio_excerpts_English.htm
). 

Mr. Gurov considers that this provision runs counter to a number of
articles of the Latvian Constitution, in particular, Article 89 (human
rights protection according to the Constitution, laws and
international agreements), 91 (the prohibition of discrimination), 100
(the freedom of speech) and 114 (the rights of national minorities -
see
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/NationalLegislation/Latvia/Latvia_Const_excerpts_English.htm
for accurate wording), Article 10 and 14 of the European Convention
for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and
Article 19 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. Assistance in preparation of the complaint was provided by MP
from the pro-minority faction "For Human Rights in United Latvia"
Boris Tsilevich and the lawyer of the Latvian Human Rights Committee
(F.I.D.H.) Leonid Raihman; Mr. Tsilevich will be Mr. Gurov's councel
during the trial. On August 9 the complaint was submitted to the
Constitutional Court (the newspaper "Biznes & Baltija" ("Business &
Baltia"), August 10).
 
Broadcasting of the private radio station "Business & Baltia" was
stopped several times for violation of the Section 19 para. 5 of the
Radio and Television Law. Moreover, a court of law will consider the
case The National TV and Radio Council vs. the radio station "Business
& Baltia" soon. The Council has brought the case before the court
demanding annullment of the broadcasting licence of the station. The
Council cannot shut down a broadcasting company by its own decision,
according to the law.


The Government amends the Regulations on naturalisation
 
On August 7 the Cabinet of Ministers amended the Regulations on
passing the naturalisation exams. The amendment concerns the exam on
the Latvian history and Constitution. There were three possible
variants of answers to every question before the amendment, and the
examined person could choose the right one. After the amendment comes
into force, the examined person will also have to write the right
answer without variants.
 
In our view, this amendment can slow down the course of
naturalization. The Naturalisation Board received only 3,862
applications for citizenship in January 1 – June 30, 2001
(http://www.np.gov.lv/en/fakti/stat_uznemti.htm ). During the same
period of 2000,  5,898 persons applied for the citizenship (see also
information given by the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic
Studies, Human Rights in Latvia, 1 January 2001 - 30 June 2001,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//08072001-10:24:40-18108.html
). It is hard to believe that it is worthwhile to adopt the amendment
complicating the naturalisation exam in such a situation. It should be
mentioned here that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe in the Resolution 1236 "Honouring of obligations and
commitments by Latvia" calls on the Latvian authorities to give
further encouragement to non-citizens to apply for citizenship (see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 24,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//02042001-20:31:58-6272.html).
 

The meeting of the Latvian SS-Waffen legion
 
On August 4 approx. 400 former soldiers of the Latvian SS-Waffen
legion gathered at the traditional meeting of legionnaires. Leader of
the Society of Latvian National Soldiers Nikolajs Romanovskis
criticised Latvian politicians for their "cowardice", because they did
not join the meeting. Only two MPs, member of the radical
nationalistic party "For Fatherland and Freedom" Peteris Tabuns and
deputy from the Latvia's Social Democratic Workers' Party Oskars
Grigs, attended the event. Mr. Romanovskis also mentioned the
Russian-language newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour") as calling the
legionnaires "Nazi" and "kindling ethnic hostility".
 
The former SS-Waffen soldiers have called on the President, Parliament
and Government of Latvia to evaluate the role of Latvian SS-Waffen
legion in the WW II and to appeal to the world community for the
support of disloyal non-citizens' repatriation (the newspaper "Chas"
("The Hour"), August 6,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/08/06/l_26.html ).

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

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