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No 31/335-2818

22 April 1996

H.E. Mr. Max van der Stoel

OSCE High Commissioner

on National Minorities


I would like to thank you for your letter No 516/96/L of 14 March 1996 containing observations from your recent visit to Latvia.

Your letter has been distributed to relevant authorities and persons, including the Naturalization Board, the National Human Rights Office and the Saeima (Parliament) Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs, Legal Affairs, and Human Rights and Social Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet received any comments from the above-mentioned Saeima Standing committees, as well as from the National Human Rights Office. However, these authorities have taken note of your recommendations.

The Naturalization Board informed us that a new substantive book "The Basic Issues of Latvian History and the State Constitutional Principles" has been issued recently. This book contains basic information about Latvian history and the constitution in easy-to-understand language. Each chapter is also summarized in Russian and English. Thus, the testing requirements for history and the Constitution are reduced to the basic facts in this book.

The Naturalization Board has also recommended that the naturalization fee be reduced by 50% for students aged 16 to 20, day students, and orphans. On 20 February 1996 the Cabinet of Ministers affirmed the previous naturalization fee for 1996. However, the issue concerning reduction of the fee for several categories of inhabitants will possibly be discussed in 1997.

The Law on Citizenship stipulates that the person being naturalized is tested for both written and oral knowledge of the Latvian language, and this provision is being interpreted by both segments being evaluated separately. Therefore, this policy cannot be changed without amending the law itself, which at this point in time would not be an immediate process.

The same applies for persons over the age of 65. The Naturalization board strongly supports the freeing of these persons from the written part of the language test, however, this would entail an amendment to Article 21 of the Law on Citizenship.

The budget cut for the Naturalization Board is indeed a very painful issue. Regrettably, due to the severe budgetary constraints the Government of Latvia faces at the moment, the budget of many state institutions has been cut.

I would like to emphasize that the Government of Latvia is committed to the strengthening of social integration in Latvia. One of the most important steps and means of integration is Latvian language training for those inhabitants of Latvia who do not possess knowledge of the Latvian language. As you may know, Excellency, only about 25% of non-Latvians living in this country know Latvian in addition to another language. Therefore, the Government of Latvia has successfully co-operated with the UNDP in drafting the National Programme for Latvian language training, which was approved on 31 October 1995. The project is currently being finalized, and it will utilize the modern teaching concept of "Latvian as a Second Language" for minority school students and adults. The project will also include activities to support operational delivery of language training and develop managerial and implementation capacities to sustain the National Programme beyond the lifetime of the project. Phase 1 will cover two years (mid-1996 to mid-1998) and will be financed by the UNDP with very significant co-sharing by major bilateral donors (approximately 4 million USD). The Government has established a working groups responsible for the implementation of this project.

Excellency, I can assure you that the suggestions made in your letter have received the most serious consideration, and you will be informed of any new developments.

I look forward to continuous and successful cooperation in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Valdis Birkavs

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia