MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 62

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Mon Feb 10 08:26:41 2003

Original sender: Alexei Dimitrov <minissues@delfi.lv>

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 62
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
February 4, 2003

- Education reform 2004: different opinions inside the ruling coalition?
- Delegation of the PACE Monitoring Committee visits Latvia: "a slight
quandary" declared
- Latvia on the way to the European Union: minority issues
- Draft law on voting rights for non-citizens: is non-citizen a human
- Naturalisation issues – to be considered by courts
- Camp for illegal immigrants – punishment for not changing ID
- School Olympiad as a disintegrating factor?
- The concept of bilingual education remains unclear
- How to prevent a state from occurring of a civil society
- New online publications on minority issues

Education reform 2004: different opinions inside the ruling coalition?

Deputy Prime Minister of Latvia Ainars Slesers (the Latvian First Party)
has proposed to start a discussion about postponing implementation of
education reform 2004 (switch to Latvian as the sole language of
instruction in state-supported secondary schools), if not all schools
are ready for it. According to him, his party backs this view. Mr
Slesers noted regional differences in the implementation of the reform.
There are problems concerning the lack of teachers in Latgale (eastern
region of Latvia, inhabited mainly by Russian-speakers). In the
meantime, Mr Slesers denied that his statement was aimed at questining
the very reform.

Minister for Special Task in the Field of Integration Affairs Nils
Muiznieks mentioned that one should have comprehencive vision of the
situation with the number of schools that are not ready for the reform.
Two strategies result from having such a vision. First, having
individual plans of transition, if there are not so many schools
concerned. Second, delaying reform, if the number of such schoools is
large. Still, he could not define the number of schools, allowing
postponing the reform. All other ruling parties, as well as the Minister
for Education and Science Karlis Sadurskis (the "New Era" party) denied
any obstacles for the reform. Dzintars Abikis, MP of the oppositional
People's Party, voiced his concern with Mr Slesers' statement, as a
signal for society, which can result in worsening of "the whole
situation regarding the state language" ("Diena" ("The Day"), January

During the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Culture
and Science Mr Sadurskis agreed that the case of Latgale should be
treated in a special way, as the reform in some Latgale's schools could
result in the lowering of the quality of education. Therefore individual
plans of the reform could be prepared for such schools; however, it
cannot be a widespread practice. The Minister is going to visit minority
schools in order to investigate the situation and learn about existing
problems. The Latvian First Party suggests creating a working group
consisting of experts from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of
Integration in order to investigate possible impact of the reform on
quality of education. Minister for Special Task in the Field of
Integration Affairs Nils Muiznieks also suggests promoting a wide
discussion concerning the issue within the framework of his Ministry's
consultative council of national 
minorities ("Chas" ("The Hour"), January 23,
The World Federation of Free Latvians (PBLA – influential association
created by Latvian exiles in the West after the World War II) has
written a letter to the Cabinet and parties of the ruling coalition
concerning Mr Slesers' call to start the discussion. PBLA believes that
the education reform is not a question for debates anymore, and
returning to it can harm the state security and society integration
("Panorama Latvii" ("The Panorama of Latvia"), January 30,

In the meantime, the Ministry of Education and Science has prepared the
statistics about language of instruction in Latvia’s schools. 69.91% or
227,552 of the schoolchildren study in Latvian, 29.66% or 96,554 study
in Russian (68.93% or 232,239, and 30.67% or 103,350 in the last year).
In Riga, 44,233 schoolchildren study in Latvian, 49,068 schoolchildren
study in Russian, 784 children - in other minority schools. Majority of
those learning in Russian is also in Daugavpils (the second biggest city
in Latvia) - 12,110, while only 2,525 learn in Latvian there.

Our commentary

Elimination of the state-supported secondary education in Latvia
scheduled for 2004 remains the most topical minority issue. We believe
that the discussion on the issue was to be started long 
time ago, before adoption of the purely political decision without
consultations with minorities in 1998. We welcome initiative of Mr
Slesers, as it is better late than never to start the discussion.
However, we do not have very much time for debates.

Unfortunately, Mr Slesers questions only feasibility of the reform,
while the major question si whether elimination of state-supported
education in minority languages is, in general,  reasonable and complies
with Latvia's international obligations. The ruling parties declare that
the reform is necessary measure for the protection of the state
language, what is, in our view, highly questionable. Restriction of
internationally recoglised minority right to study in mothertongue can
be hardly considered as both legitimate and effecteive tool to promote
the state language. In any case, the problem cannot be solved without
discussions in the society, but these discussions are not welcomed by
the mainstream politicians, as "the decision is taken, and the law must
be obeyed". In our view, an objective analysis of possible benefits and
losses in the result of the reform is necessary to create the basis for
further discussions. If the law is unreasonable and its implementation
will be harmful for minority children, it shuld be amended. 

Delegation of the PACE Monitoring Committee visits Latvia: "a slight
quandary" declared

Chairperson of the PACE Committee on the Honouring of obligations and
commitments by member states of the Council of Europe (Monitoring
Committee) Mme Josette Durrieu and principal administrator of the
Committee Géza Mezei visited Latvia on January 15-16. They met the Prime
Minister of Latvia Einars Repse, ministers and other state officials, as
well as representatives of human rights NGOs and Russian-speaking
community within the framework of so-called "post- monitoring"

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe closed the
monitoring procedure in respect of Latvia on January 23, 2001 (see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 24, 
The Assembly called on the Latvian authorities to ratify as a matter of
priority the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities and to amend and implement legislation, in particular the
State Language Law, in conformity with the provisions and the spirit of
the framework convention; to give further encouragement to non-citizens
to apply for citizenship – through media campaigns and public statements
by the political leadership; to provide additional resources to the
Naturalisation Board and the National Programme for Latvian Language
Training; to amend and implement the Education Law of October 1998 in
accordance with the provisions and spirit of the Framework Convention
for the Protection of National Minorities; to devise and adopt a law on
the protection of national and language minorities and establish a state
body in charge of minority affairs; to ratify as a matter of priority
the Social Charter of the Council of Europe; to speed up the
implementation of the Social Integration Programme (see full text of the
Resolution 1236 (2001) at

In June 2002, Dmitry Rogozin (Russian Federation) and some other members
of PACE suggested reopening the monitoring procedure in respect of
Latvia, because the majority of the PACE recommendations had not been
implemented. However, the Monitoring Committee decided to postpone
consideration of this proposal, as teh issue was to be discussed in the
course of the ongoing post-monitoring dialogue with Latvia (see Minority
issues in Latvia, No. 55, 

According to media, Mme Durrieu felt "a slight quandary" after the
visit. On one hand, the Prime Minister promised her that minority rights
will be observed in Latvia. The Minister for Education Karlis Sadurskis
informed that even after September 1, 2004, 40% of curricula in minority
schools will be taught in minority languages, including such subjects as
maths, physics etc. (although the Education Law stipulates that since
September 1, 2004 instruction in the state and municipal general
secondary schools will be provided only in the state language -
Transitional provisions, para. 9, subpara.3). The Minister for Foreign
Affairs Sandra Kalniete mentioned that Latvia is ready to ratify the
Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

On the other hand, representatives of human rights NGOs and
Russian-speaking community mainly spoke about the issues of minority
education, statelessness and usage of languages in Latvia. The main
attention was paid to the education reform 2004 – participants of the
meetings pointed out that there is no legislative basis for teaching in
minority languages in public minority secondary schools after 2004.

Mme Durrieu mentioned that the situation in Latvia is very complicated.
She intends to visit the country once again at the end of 2003, as the
new government has just started to work, and it needs time to do
something in the field of minority affairs ("Telegraf" ("The
Telegraph"), January 17,
http://rus.delfi.lv/news/press/telegraf/article.php?id=4612116). Mme
Durrieu and Mr Mezei will prepare a memorandum about their visit for the
Monitoring Committee.

Our commentary

It seems, once again the information prepared for foreign guests by
state officials differs from the one provided for "domestic" use. So,
the Minister for Foreign Affairs Sandra Kalniete said some weeks ago
that the Framework Convention cannot be ratified now (see Minority
issues in Latvia, No. 61,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-January/002511.html). The
same applies to different information about the education reform 2004
expressed by the Minister for Education Karlis Sadurskis in different
auditoria. We believe that such "double" approach is not productive and
harms Latvia's image rather than helps to demonstrate the lack of

In our view, the monitoring procedure in respect of Latvia will hardly
be reopened. At the same time, closer attention of the PACE Monitoring
Committee is necessary, especially regarding the education reform 2004. 

Latvia on the way to the European Union: minority issues

An Action Plan on Latvia's integration into the EU drafted by the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs was approved by the European Integration
Council on January 6. The document aims at fixing the drawbacks
identified by the European Commission in its Progress Report 2002 (see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 57,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-October/002356.html). The
draft document was presented in the end of 2002, but was rejected then
because "it contained some outdated information".  

In its Report, the European Commission mentions a number of issues
related to minority rights and integration of the society. Thus, the
Commission urges for ratification of the Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities. Measures aimed at fulfilment of this
call are designed as follows: "To study the eventual effect of the
ratification", timetable: "on the regular basis". No deadline for
completing this study is mentioned. The same is said about ratification
of the Protocol No. 12 of the European Convention for the Protection of
Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (this Protocol contains universal
prohibition of discrimination). 

The need for some legislative initiatives in order to take over the EU
anti-discrimination acquis is acknowledged. However, the way how to
reach the Latvian MPs' agreement upon the issue remains unclear.         

The EU also emphasises the need for finance and human (teachers)
resources needed to ensure the language training. The Action Plan
provides for the state financial support (200,000 Lats, approx. EUR
325,000) for the language training for those who wish to obtain the
Latvian citizenship, enchaining also the funds of the EU PHARE
programme, Society Integration Foundation etc.

Talking about the elimination of the state-supported secondary education
in minority languages, the EU Commission underlines the need for broader
involvement of minorities (parents of minority children, minority
schools etc.) into the decision-making process as regards the reform.
The main measures stipulated in the Action Plan in order to fulfil this
recommendation are as follows: "To continue to organise seminars for
minority parents about changes in minority education. To continue
publishing of information booklets about bilingual education".  

Answering the EU advice to ensure education for children of migrants,
the Latvian officials envisage the need to ensure the Latvian language
training for the citizens of the EU Member States, as well as other
Our commentary

The common feature of the measures envisaged by the Latvian officials in
order to meet the EU criteria in the field of minority rights, is their
inadequacy and purely declarative and formal nature. Instead of solving
the real problems, the Action Plan provides mainly for "designing a
strategy", "working out a document", with no concrete steps to follow
the papers. 

Another peculiarity is that comparing to the previous version of the
document, presented in the end of 2002, all the deadlines were postponed
in the final version (for the years 2004-2007). Thus, Latvia is to
fulfil the obligations only after joining the EU, avoiding taking any
actions during the pre-accession period - intention to escape monitoring
by the European Commission seems the only reasonable explanation for

Besides, as regards the decisions affecting minorities, no feedback or
input by minorities themselves is ever mentioned in the document,
despite the Commission's unambiguous demand to ensure their broad
participation and involvement. Thus, we may conclude that fundamental
requirements of the EU aimed at minority rights protection are ignored
by the Latvian officials. 

Draft law on voting rights for non-citizens: is non-citizen a human

NGO "Union of Citizens and Non-Citizens" has submitted the draft law
providing voting rights at municipal elections for non-citizens
(permanent residents of Latvia, whose ancestors came to Latvia during
the Soviet period) to the parliamentary factions. Vladimir Sokolov, head
of the NGO, told at the press conference that similar draft law was
submitted to the parliament in 1999, and then got support of only by the
pro-minority faction "For Human Rights in United Latvia" (FHRUL). He
suggested to Latvian politicians to take Estonia, which allowed its
non-citizens to vote at local elections, as an example. Non-citizens are
taxpayers, therefore they should have voting rights to influence
distribution of taxes on local level. Mr Sokolov hopes that Latvian
political elite has changed its mind ("Vesti Segodnya" ("The News
Today"), January 22, http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_02_1062.pdf).

Still, as survey of the news agency BNS shows, none of the ruling
coalition parties is ready to change its mind. MP from the nationalistic
faction "For Fatherland and Freedom"/LNNK Maris Grinblats told that this
act will slow down integration, as non-citizens will have no motivation
to get naturalised. His party had initiated amendments in April 2002
establishing voting rights at local elections only for full-fledged
citizens at the level of the Constitution (although the same was
established by ordinary law before; see Minority issues in Latvia, 
No. 49,
MP from the "New Era" party Krisjanis Karins stated that "there are no
obstacles for becoming citizen in our country, but adoption of these
amendments can hinder naturalisation process". According to MP from
Latvian First Party Oskars Kastens, such amendments are not necessary,
as international institutions stated, that electoral rights are internal
issue of Latvia, moreover, other states have similar obstacles for
non-citizens too. Augusts Brigmanis, MP from the Union of Greens and
Farmers, stated that their negative attitude to this idea was known
before elections, and nothing will change. 

In the meantime, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published brief
information about results of the EU – Latvia accession negotiations at
its website. The chapter on to the free movement of persons explains
that the EU citizens will participate in municipal elections in Latvia
as soon as Latvia joins the Union. The Ministry provides the following
commentary about Latvia's benefits concerning this right: "the right to
vote and to be elected at the local elections in the state, where the
citizen reside, promotes integration of the EU citizens in the state of
residence" (see at http://www.am.gov.lv/lv/index.html?id=3283).

Our commentary

It seems, non-citizens of Latvia and the EU citizens are very different
categories of human beings for Latvia’s officials. The right to vote in
municipal elections for non-citizens will hinder naturalisation and
integration, while the same right for the EU citizens in Latvia will
promote integration. We believe that this paradox needs further
research: it would be interesting to learn more about other differences
between Latvia's non-citizens and the rest mankind :-(.  

Unfortunately, the draft submitted by the Union of Citizens and
Non-Citizens cannot be adopted now in any case, as Article 101 of the
Constitution provides that local governments are elected by full-fledged
Latvian citizens. However, this Article is to be amended after Latvia
joins the EU in order to implement Article 19 of the Treaty Establishing
the European Community and the Council Directive 94/80/EC laying down
detailed arrangements for the exercise of the right to vote and to stand
as a candidate in municipal elections by citizens of the Union residing
in a Member State of which they are not nationals. 

Naturalisation issues to be considered by courts

Daily "Vesti Segodnya" has published two articles concerning
naturalisation issues on January 23 (can be downloaded from

The first article concerns restrictions for naturalisation. According to
Section 11 para. 1 subpara. 5 of the Citizenship Law, those persons who
after 17 June 1940 have chosen the Republic of Latvia as their place of
residence directly after demobilisation from the armed forces of the
USSR (Russia) or the internal military forces of the USSR (Russia), and
who did not, on the day of their conscription into service or
enlistment, permanently reside in Latvia, shall not be 
admitted to Latvian citizenship. There are approx. 50,000 such persons
in Latvia. The newspaper reports about one of them – former military
officer Alexander Makanov, who lived in Latvia for 12 years before
demobilisation and has passed naturalisation examinations successfully.
Unfortunately, the Naturalisation Board informs the applicants about the
naturalization restrictions and checks their documents only after the
examinations are passed. Mr Makanov is going to bring an action against
the Naturalisation Board before the court.

The second article reports about the issue of appealing against the
decision on results of the naturalisation examination. Ludmila L.,
resident of the city of Liepaja, passed the naturalisation examination
in the Latvian language in June 2001. According to the instruction of
the Ministry of Justice on organisation and evaluation of the results of
naturalisation examinations, the examination is passed successfully, if
the candidate gets at least 64 points out of 100; however, the candidate
has to got at least 16 point for each of 4 parts of the examination
(reading, writing, listening and speaking skills). Ludmila L. brought an
action before the court and asked for submitting the copy of her written
work. The court declared it as information of restricted availability
and refused to request it. Higher courts also recognised this decision
as correct. Now the European Court of Human Rights has registered Ms L.
application, where she claims a violation of Article 6 para. 1 of the
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms (the right to a fair trial).

Camp for illegal immigrants – punishment for not changing ID

Latvian permanent resident Eliso Dzhahia was detained by the Immigration
Police and sent to the camp for illegal immigrants in Jaunolaine on the
grounds of not having changed her Soviet passport timely ("Panorama
Latvii" ("The Panorama of Latvia"), January 18,

Mrs Dzhahia with her family lives in Latvia since 1983. Policemen took
her from home and escorted to the camp. The Latvian Human Rights
Committee's lawyer appealed Mrs Dzhahia's detention in the Citizenship
and Migration Board. 

As the press-secretary of the Citizenship and Migration Board pointed
out, 6,510 citizens and 14,070 non-citizens have not changed their
Soviet passports yet. Citizens had to change their passports before
January 1, 1998, but non-citizens – before March 31, 2000.  

School Olympiad as a disintegrating factor

School Olympiad in physics among pupils of 9th-12th grade took place in
Riga's Latgale district on January 31. The newspaper "Vesti Segodnya"
("The News Today") reported about problems that schoolchildren from
Russian-language schools could experience at the event. All tests in
physics are Latvian-language only, with no Russian translation, which
hinders equal competition. Ms Indra Vilde, press-secretary of the city
Education Department, thinks that "there should be no problems with
knowledge of the Latvian language and misunderstanding of terms, as
finishing their 9th grade, pupils pass the exam in Latvian". According
to her, participation in the Olympiad is not compulsory and pupils
participating are surely thinking of education in high schools, where
Latvian is needed. The test cannot be translated, as it is distributed
to the organisers two hours before the event. Guntars Jirgensons
(Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party), head of the Riga City
Council's Committee on Education, Youth and Sports, argues that
unavailability of translation violates the rights of children. He thinks
that all the tests are to be translated by one institution to avoid
possible mistakes, still former Minister for Education and Science
Karlis Greiskalns did not agree, when such proposal was submitted in
2002 (“Vesti Segodnya”, January 24,

The concept of bilingual education remains unclear

An article titled "What is the situation with bilingual education in
Latvia?" written by social anthropologist Aivita Putnina was published
in the newsletter "Tagad" issued by the National Programme for Latvian
Language Training (the electronic version is to be published at

The author provides the comparative analysis of the two researches on
implementation of bilingual education. One is contracted by the Ministry
of Education and Science (MES) and another is conducted by the Baltic
Institute of Social Sciences (BISS) (see Minority 
issues in Latvia, No. 54,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-August/002262.html). Ms 
Putnina demonstrates inconsistency of the data of the studies, pointing
out that BSSI research is "more professional and offers deeper
situational analysis". As regards the MES study, it is seen by the
author not as "situational analysis but [rather] situational
justification". Yet, "both studies show that the reform is not taking
place as smoothly as was hoped". 

It is stressed in the article that "regardless of the official position,
bilingual education is a political issue and influences more than just
the education system. One cannot hope for progress in implementing the
language policy if the opponent's opinion is ignored or criticized, as
it is the case in the MES study".    

How to prevent a state from occurring of a civil society

An article named "How to impede civil society establishment" written by
Deniss Hanovs, Master in Humanitarian Sciences, was published at the
public policy portal www.politika.lv 

The author points out that a fine way how to prevent Latvia from
occurring of civil society is "to remind to all the Latvian inhabitants,
disregarding their ethnic background, that one of the 
Latvian society parts - ethnic Latvians – are a very small group, which
is permanently under threat and is about to die out". Searching for
enemies is a good way how to "sidetrack society's attention from
internal political problems – slow improvement of life standards,
criminality, etc.". 

The author claims that "the Latvian political elite, irrespective of
age, professional experience or other identities, is not able to accept
the concept of political or state nation, so necessary for the sake of
the Latvian society consolidation”.    

Analyzing the factors, which contribute to backwardness of political
culture in Latvia, Mr Hanovs emphasizes "genetic connection to the
Soviet political practice "top-down" as well as the overall civic
illiteracy, which causes radicalism, extremism and hatred towards
Otherness as such". To improve radically the situation, the author
recommends commencing discussions about the new definition of the
Latvian nation (political nation), where individuals could become
Latvians of "Russian, Jewish, Roma and other ethnic origin".   

New online publications on minority issues

The "Right to Education Project" (http://www.right-to-education.org) has
published research "Minority Rights in Education: Lessons for the
European Union from Estonia, Latvia, Romania and the former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia" by Duncan Wilson. The research concerns the issue
of minority rights to education in international law, as well as very
comprehensive analysis of minority education policies in four countries,
including Latvia. The report is available online at

"Report on the Implementation of the Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities in the Republic of Latvia” now is
available online at 
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/coe/report/Latvia_NGO.htm. This shadow
report is prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee, including all
members of our newsletter's team. It was presented in November (see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 59,
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-November/002416.html). We
thank the MINELRES team for their kind help, posting the report at the
MINELRES website.

Compiled by:

Alexei Dimitrov
Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky

Minority issues in Latvia
Newsletter published by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
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