Minority issues in Latvia, No. 35


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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 35

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 35


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 35
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
August 31, 2001
 

A monument as an apple of discord
 
Establishing of the bronze monument of the Russian emperor Peter the
Great in Riga caused serious controversies in the society of Latvia.
The monument was erected in Riga for the first time in the beginning
of the XX century for the donations of the residents. During the World
War I the monument was being evacuated to Russia, but a ship with it
on board sunk. Then the monument was lifted by Estonian divers, and
bought from Estonia by the Riga city at the time of Latvia's
independence, but has not been renewed and stayed in storage till
2001.

Some months ago a businessman Eugeny Gomberg restored the monument by
his own and asked the City Council to place it in Riga in honour of
the Riga 800th anniversary. This cultural question soon became a
political one. Representatives of the radical nationalistic party "For
Fatherland and Freedom" in the Riga City Council, as well as other
deputies from the ruling parties, opposed Gomberg's suggestion,
because Peter I "personifies Russian imperialist power, which always
was against the independence of Latvia".

In the night from August 17 to 18, the monument to Peter I was placed
in Riga, on the land owned by the Riga Free Port (the municipal
enterprise of the Riga City Council), with the concent by the port's
leadership. The monument stayed there till August 21, when the
celebration of the city 800th anniversary ended. On August 19 chairman
of the Riga City Council Gundars Bojars ordered to remove it from the
city center, however, this attempt was unsuccessful because of the
lack of necessary equipment (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News
Today"), August 20,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=08&d=20&w1=r&r=1&w2=p&pub=020#banner
), however, the next attempt appeared more successful. This decision
was adopted under pressure of the series of nationalistic statements
of some politicians and articles in the Latvian-language media.
 
Now the monument is placed on the territory of Mr. Gomberg's
enterprise. On August 23 Mr. Gomberg was fined for the monument's
"illegal placing" in Riga, despite he had a valid permission issued by
the administrator of the Riga Free Port. Sum of the fine, Ls 25
(approx. USD 40), is the highest one provided by the law for such
misdemeanours (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"),
August 24,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=08&d=24&w1=r&r=1&w2=p&pub=011#banner
).
 
Placing of the monument to Peter I in Riga clearly demonstrates how
any historical or cultural issue is politicised in Latvia. On one
hand, national minorities' organizations supported placing of the
monument. The Co-ordination Council of Minority NGOs expressed its
thanks to Mr. Gomberg in press (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The
News Today"), August 23,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=08&d=23&w1=r&r=1&w2=p&pub=003#banner
). On the other hand, a lot of Latvian-speaking journalists and
politicians protested actively against this action. The radical
nationalistic faction "For Fatherland and Freedom" even left the
ruling coalition in the Riga City Council. In the meantime, placing of
the monument to the boot (!) of the Swedish king Carl XII, another
conqueror of Latvia, took place some months ago without any conflict
and with full endorsement of all ruling political parties.
 

A new portal of public politics
 
The Soros Foundation – Latvia has opened a new portal of public
politics in Latvian - http://www.politika.lv - recently. At the portal
everyone may find different publications, express his/her opinion,
take part in discussions.
 
The research "Integration of the society: overcoming of alienation",
presented on August 22, is also published at the portal (can be
downloaded in Latvian from
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=101260&lang=lv ). The research was
financed by the Soros Foundation – Latvia, its authors are Dr. Artis
Pabriks, Dr. Elmars Vebers and M. Reinis Aboltinsh.
 
According to the research data, disintegration of the society in
Latvia is quite significant. Mr. Aboltinsh considers that the reason
of a large part's of the society alienation is "restoration of the
citizenship's institute", "A lot of thousand people have lost their
citizenship, but now they do not hurry to naturalise". Mr. Aboltinsh
mentions that the state of Latvia ignores international principle of
relations with national minorities and does not contact their NGOs to
discuss elimination of state-supported secondary education in minority
languages scheduled for 2004.
 
Mr. Vebers mentions that the educational system does not aim at
eliminating stereotypes of the elder generation among youngsters.
During the research an opinion survey was held among schoolchildren in
Latvian-language and Russian-language schools. Authors of the research
consider, "the schoolchildren do not demonstrate a high-level
readiness for ethnic integration".
 
The article of M. Boris Koltchanov, director of the center "Baltic
Insight", titled "Minorities' participation in the integration of the
society" is also published at the portal. The author considers the
problem of the minorities' participation in decision-making, in
particular, speaking about elimination of state-supported secondary
education in minority languages (read in Latvian at
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=101281&lang=lv ).

 
Education Minister Karlis Greishkalns: "Learning in Latvian is good
for Russians"
 
The newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour") published an interview with the
Minister for Education and Science Karlis Greishkalns concerning
elimination of state-supported secondary education in minority
languages. Mr. Greishkalns considers that the program of transition to
Latvian language of instruction scheduled by the Education Law for
2004 is "worked out carefully and does not need to be corrected". He
says that the youth meetings in support of the education in the native
language are only "an unnecessary politicisation of the issue",
because "all the programs are adopted with participation of the EU
experts". "If some teachers are not able to work, others will replace
them… Not the unemployment, but the competition will increase", Mr.
Greishkalns says (the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), August 27,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/08/27/l_26.html ).
 

The third issue of the nationalistic book
 
Aivars Garda, director of the "Vieda" publishers, has announced that
"Vieda" published the third issue of the nationalistic book "Nevienam
mes Latviju nedodam" ("We do not give Latvia to anyone"), which
contains the best compositions sent to the competition for students
and schoolchildren "The way to the new world or the real nationalism
and true culture – the only guarantee of the Latvians' survival and
development" (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 33,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//08032001-09:37:54-21727.html
). As Mr. Garda mentioned, both previous issues (approx. 6000 books)
have been already sold out.

At the same time the Control Commission of the Latvia's Social
Democratic Workers' Party asked MP Janis Leja to withdraw his
signature under the letter addressed to the EU Commissioner on
Enlargement Günter Verheugen. Mr. Leja signed the letter together with
Mr. Garda. The authors demanded "to stop genocide against the
Latvians" and maintain that "the repatriation of colonists" is the
only precondition for possible Latvia's membership in the European
Union. "If decolonisation will not be realized at a good bat, a civil
war threatens Latvia, colonists kindle hostility in our land,
especially Russian-language press", said Mr. Garda, Mr. Leja and
others (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 33,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//08032001-09:37:54-21727.html).
 

The Society Integration Foundation is to be created soon
 
The Cabinet of Ministers has begun the process of creation of the
Society Integration Foundation. Mainly, the Foundation is responsible
for distribution of the funds for various projects under the National
Program "Integration of Society in Latvia". As MP from the
pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia" Boris
Tsilevich mentions in his interview for the newspaper "Chas" ("The
Hour") one of the main problems which may arise: representation of
national minorities in the Foundation board, as well as danger of
"political" criteria for NGOs being applied to receive grants from the
Foundation (their "loyalty" or "disloyalty" towards the current state
politics)  (the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), August 28,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/08/28/l_041.html ).
 
Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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