Minority issues in Latvia, No.19

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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No.19

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Minority issues in Latvia, No.19

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 19
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
September 1, 2000

The Cabinet Regulations on implementation of the State Language Law
On August 22, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Regulations on the
implementation of the State Language Law (see Minority issues in
Latvia, No. 17, 18). These regulations come into force on September 1,
2000, along with the State Language Law. 
After the wave of criticism from the OSCE, the Latvian National Human
Rights Office, as well as several actions of public protest against
the language policies of the Latvian authorities, the Regulations have
been liberalised (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 17). In
particular, in private sphere an employer determines the necessary
level of the state language knowledge for employees in his/her
business enterprise - however, in accordance with the basic principles
stipulated by the State Language Law. "3B" (the highest) category of
the state language knowledge does not require any longer that a person
must speak Latvian at the level "equal to mother tongue". This highest
category now is not required for media staff, as well as for leaders
of trade unions. If the state language proficiency certificate is lost
or stolen, it can be renewed during the next year after the
examination (in the first version it could not be renewed at all). 

The final version of the Regulations does not provide inspectors of
the State Language Centre with the right to annul the state language
proficiency certificate. Private persons, enterprises or associations,
international institutions, when organising public events, must
translate into the state language only information which relates to
legitimate public interests, as well as information about the event.
Thus, theatre performances, concerts, circus shows, opera, ballet and
pantomime must not be necessarily translated, contrary to the
precribed by the initial draft version of the regulations. Private
institutions, enterprises and NGOs now have the right to publicly
display information in other languages along with the state one (what
was prohibited both by the draft regulations, and the previous
Language Law which was in force till 1 September). Moreover, state and
municipal institutions can (but are not obliged to) provide
information in foreign language by request of a private person. Names
of NGOs and private enterprises can be formed using the Latvian
language's or Latin alphabet's letters (so far they had to be created
and used only in Latvian.  

Thus, several recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner on
National Minorities Max van der Stoel, as well as some suggestions of
the pro-minority faction "For Human Rights in Integrated Latvia" have
been taken into account. 

In the meantime, new regulations still envisage introduction of 6
categories of the state language knowledge instead of existing 3
categories. "3B" category (the highest one) requires ability to "hold
a conversation in different styles", to use different "means of
linguistic expression". This category is necessary for members of all
elected bodies including municipal councils, heads of the state
institutions and enterprises, all lawyers etc. Although there is no
requirement to use "correct Latvian language" in public information,
now written public information must be provided "in accordance with
the standards of the Latvian language". The Regulations still
prescribe "Latvianization" of personal names in documents. Although
personal names in historical or original form can be written, by Latin
letters only, along with the Latvianized name, usage of Cyrillic or
other script is prohibited.

The most painful of the new rules - explicit prohibition for all
state, municipal, and judicial institutions to accept and consider any
applications or complaints from private persons if they are not
written in the state language, except for very few emergency cases -
was not anyhow softened by the Regulations. The language requirements
for employees remain rather unclear.       

On August 31, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max
van der Stoel issued a statement regarding the adoption of regulations
implementing the Latvian State Language Law. In the document, the OSCE
HCNM expressed appreciation for the good co-operation with the Latvian
government over the language regulations issue, and said that, in his
view, the regulations were "essentially in conformity with ...Latvia's
international obligations". In the meantime, the OSCE HCNM "took
special note of the protocol to the Cabinet of Ministers' meeting
..by which the Government has committed itself to amend, before 1
November 2000, the "Regulations on Proficiency Degree in the State
Language Required for Performance of Professional and Positional
Duties and the Procedure of Language Proficiency Tests" with a view to
elaborating a list specifying the required language proficiency in the
private sector only to the extent necessary to fulfil a legitimate
public interest". The OSCE HCNM trusts "that the prospective list
will, in accordance with international standards, be precise,
justified, proportionate to the legitimate aim sought, and limited".
Besides, the High Commissioner invites the Latvian Governement "to
make other small amendments to the regulations as would correct
deficiencies, such as to limit expressly and strictly the scope of
..the "Regulations on Ensuring Interpretation in Events" to
legitimate public interest". 

The High Commissioner trusts "that the public administration of the
implementing regulations and the Law as a whole will be in the spirit
of an open and liberal democracy and ...will fully respect ...Latvia's
international obligations". 

In the end, the OSCE HCNM says: "...it is to be noted that certain
specific matters will have to be reviewed upon Latvia's anticipated
ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities". 

The pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in Integrated Latvia"
will hold a conference on September 4, devoted to evaluation of the
new Regulations and elaboration of further strategy to protect the
linguistic rights of national minorities in Latvia.

The first political trial in the Constitutional Court
In March 2000, MPs from two parliamentary factions - "For Human Rights
in Integrated Latvia" and the Latvian Social-Democratic Workers' Party
- brought an action in the Constitutional Court against the Saeima
(Parliament). They questioned the prohibition for persons who were
active in the Latvian Communist Party, Interfront and some veteran
organisations after January 13, 1991 (the organisations which were
legislatively banned only in August 1991), as well as for former and
present agents of KGB and other foreign secret services, to run for
both parliamentary and municipal elections. The applicants considered
that this prohibition ran counter to the Constitution of Latvia,
European Convention on Human Rights, as well as International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights. On August 30 the Constitutional Court
decided that the restriction is well-reasoned and legitimate. However,
the Constitutional Court recommended to introduce time limit for this

The Constitution Defence Office brought an action against "Kapitals"

The Constitution Defence Office has brought an action for publication
of the allegedly anti-Semitic article "Jews rule the world" in the
monthly business magazine "Kapitals" ("Capital") (see Minority issues
in Latvia, No. 18). The action has been brought by initiative of the
Latvian Council of Jewish Communities. However, experts from the
Institute of the Latvian Language of the University of Latvia analized
usage of the word "Zhids" by request of "Kapitals" and certified that
the word in Latvian is not insulting.

Trial in Daugavpils won by the pro-minority political union
On July 14 in Daugavpils (the second biggest city in Latvia, populated
predominantly by the Russian-speakers) deputies from the pro-minority
political union "For Human Rights in Integrated Latvia" held a meeting
with local activists near the building of local administration. The
meeting was held the same day when the Prime Minister of Latvia Mr.
Berzinsh visited the city. Mr Berzinsh and the chairman of the City
Council Mr. Vidavsky who accompanied him met the participants. In 3
days by the initiative of local administration (probably dissatisfied
with the fact that the meeting "spoiled the city's image"), the police
began an investigation and decided to fine one of the organisers, Mr.
Providenko, for "organisation of a picket without permission" - for
some of the people at the meeting were holding placards. On August 3,
a court declined the police's decision and cleared Mr Providenko, as
the Jury concluded that during the meeting with deputies a
non-organised picket took place. According to the Latvian legislation,
there is no need to receive a permit to hold a non-organised picket.
Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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