MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 69

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Mon Jun 2 17:20:41 2003


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


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 69

Dear Madam/Sir,

As in the previous issue of our newsletter (Minority issues in Latvia, 
No. 68 http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-May/002730.html), 
the topic of mass protest against the minority education reform remains 
the main one. Therefore the largest part of information in this issue is 
devoted to this problem too, although it is divided into a few chapters.

Yours sincerely,
Alexei Dimitrov
editor
-------------------------------------------

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 69
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
June 1, 2003

Content
- Meeting against the minority education reform: no incidents, no
dialogue
- Authorities pressured schools principals not to participate in the
meeting
- The Minister for Integration: contributing to producing democracy on 
export?
- Attitude towards the meeting: division along ideological lines
- Penalizing hate speech in Internet: on a way to precedent?
- Non-citizens in the EU: state asks to limit the rights of its
residents?
- Citizenship of Latvia: children are not welcomed?


Meeting against the minority education reform: no incidents, no dialogue
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mass meeting against the minority education reform took place in Riga on 
May 23. Approximately 10,000 persons participated in the event organised 
by the NGO LASHOR (Association for Support of Russian-Language Schools 
in Latvia, http://www.lashor.lv) with support of some other pro-minority 
organisations. The meeting was permitted by the Riga City Council after 
the mass rally scheduled for the same day had not been allowed (see 
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 68 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-May/002730.html). 
Organisers of the event promise that protest actions will be continued.

There were no incidents reported during the event. Unfortunately, once 
again mass media providing information in different languages evaluated 
the meeting in very different ways. For example, Latvian-language 
newspapers mentioned that “4000-6000” or “a few thousand” persons 
participated in the event, as well as paid attention to “hostile 
slogans”, traffic problems and anthem of the USSR reproduced by mobile 
phone of a participant. In the meantime, the main news agencies and 
broadcasting companies (Reuters, Associated Press, Euronews) stated that 
it was the biggest protest meeting since the independence of Latvia had 
been restored in 1991 (the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), May 26).

The day before the meeting the Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia rejected 
amendment to the Education Law submitted by the pro-minority faction 
"For Human Rights in United Latvia" ("HRUL"). The aim of the amendment 
was to eliminate collision between provisions of the Education Law and 
General Education Law (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 68 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-May/002730.html). Only 
another one pro-minority faction of the People’s Harmony Party has 
supported "HRUL". It demonstrates clearly that the ruling parties do not 
wish to start a dialogue with minorities in respect of secondary 
education in minority languages, but all decisions in this sphere also 
in future will be adopted without any consultations. Moreover, the 
nationalistic ruling party "For Fatherland and Freedom"/LNNK has 
suggested that the state language knowledge of teachers in minority 
schools is to be re-examined in order "to promote the education reform" 
(the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), May 16).


Authorities pressured schools principals not to participate in the 
------------------------------------------------------------------
meeting
-------

Directors of schools with the Russian language of instruction on May 23 
received letters from the Department on Education, Youth and Sports 
Affairs of the Riga City Council. The message instructed not to allow 
participation of the teachers and schoolchildren in the meeting "in 
order to avoid provocations". The fact of receiving such letters was 
confirmed to our newsletter by several school principals. As it was 
mentioned in the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"), "We 
would only remind that the manifestation was scheduled well-before and 
agreed with the Riga Council" (see "Vesti Segodnya", May 24, 
http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_03_1164.pdf). It is interesting to 
mention that the Department did not advise to prevent schoolchildren’s 
participation in activities of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 24, 
although this event was much more problematic from the viewpoint of 
public order (use of alcohol, etc.).


The Minister for Integration contributing to producing democracy on 
-------------------------------------------------------------------
export?
-------

The weekly English-language newspaper "The Baltic Times" published an 
article written by Nils Muiznieks, Minister for Special Task in the 
Field of Integration Affairs ( “The Baltic Times”, May 22-28). There he 
provides his opinion about the meeting on May 23. The Minister informs 
that the aim of the protestors is “to garner sympathy for their cause 
from the many foreign journalists who will be in the city [for the 
Eurovision Song Contest]”. He also points out, “Latvia is a democratic 
society and the government has no problem with peaceful demonstrators 
expressing their views, even if we disagree with them”.

Besides, the Minister provides his own interpretation of the Education 
Law, adopted in 1998. “The law foresaw increasing the percentage of 
instruction in Latvian/bilingually in state-supported secondary 
education to 60 percent starting in 2004... Within Latvia parents, 
teachers and students are divided, according to sociological surveys; 
about half support the reform, and half are uneasy about it”.

Our commentary

We regret that the Minister for Integration is either not aware or 
misinforms the English-reading audience about the running of the 
education reform. At least, there are some facts that must be well-known 
to Mr Muiznieks.

The first is that the aim of the protestors was to make the Latvian 
authorities to revise the minority education reform. It seems weird to 
us, that Mr Muiznieks portrays the journalists writing on music to be 
the target group of organisers of the meeting. Of course, foreign 
journalists could provide a wider information coverage of the event, but 
they are not the target group in any case.
The second fact is that the Education Law stipulates that starting with 
the year 2004 the instruction will be provided ONLY in the Latvian 
language. The government hastily adopted the regulations provided that 
up to 40% of the curricula could be taught in minority languages only 
reacting to the declared manifestation. The Education Law has not been 
amended yet.

Also, the professional sociological surveys demonstrate, that only 4% of 
teachers, 7% of schoolchildren and 14% of the Russian-speaking parents 
would welcome the studies overwhelmingly in the Latvian language (see 
the research “Analysis of the implementation of bilingual education” 
conducted by the Baltic Institute of Social Sciences, 
http://www.politika.lv/polit_real/files/lv/bilingv_en.pdf).

We would urge Mr Muiznieks in future not to sacrifice genuine promotion 
of democracy to its producing on export.


Attitude towards the meeting: division goes along ideological lines
-----------------------------------------------------------------

Two articles evaluating the meeting are published at the public policy 
portal politika.lv. One is written by Gita Feldhune, director of the 
Institute of Human Rights of the University of Latvia, and called 
"Freedom of Assembly – a Hard Nut to Crack" (see at 
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=106209&lang=lv).

There, Mrs Feldhune points out that "it is not a shame if there is a 
thousand, ten thousand or more people, whose opinion does not coincide 
with the government‘s and society’s majority one. It is not a shame, if 
these people want to express this opinion at the moment, where it could 
reach broader auditoria, than insufficiently hearing local ears..." . As 
regards the refusal of the Riga City Council’s authorities to permit the 
rally arguing that it is hard to ensure security, Mrs Feldhune points 
out, that "of course, it is easier to ensure security, when no 
assemblies take place".

Another article, written by Deniss Hanovs, MA in Social Science, 
PROVIDUS Public Policy Fellow, is named "Ilya Muromets has risen. Where 
shall he go?" (see at 
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=106211&lang=lv). There, he stresses 
that "manifestations are short-living moments of aggravation of 
political emotions. They can solve nothing, but worsen much, because 
they function, involving into the policy process emotionally affected 
masses... The protest is only the final point of the segregation
process".

"Sleeping peacefully away, the marginalized Russian-speakers have failed 
to notice that Latvians' attitude towards other nationalities have 
changed, as have the government’s activities. Political backwardness has 
reduced the meaning of Russian culture to the issues of Orthodox 
Christmas and the activities of left-wing politicians in the Riga City 
Council", Mr Hanovs points out. "The Russian political culture is close 
to emptiness. Their identity is in miserable situation, it is deaf and 
dumb towards other cultures. It is developing following the aggressive 
nationalistic and irredentism pattern".


Penalizing hate speech in Internet: on a way to precedent?
----------------------------------------------------------

The first criminal case concerning hate speech in Internet could be 
initiated soon. 16- years-old Russian male, nicknamed "Artyom", was 
arrested for posting comments at the Internet portal Delfi urging ethnic 
hatred and threatening terrorist acts during the meeting in support of 
education in minority languages (the news agency BNS, May 26).

In our opinion, the police should pay attention to hate speech postings 
at the portal Delfi long time ago. We regret that similar hate speech 
postings at Delfi written in Latvian remain unpunished.


Non-citizens in the EU: state asks to limit the rights of its residents?
-------------------------------------------------------------------

As we reported earlier, the issue of Latvia’s non-citizens status in the 
European Union has become topical, taking into account Latvia’s 
forthcoming accession (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 67, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-May/002705.html). Recent 
discussions on the issue in Latvia are related to proposal for a Council 
Directive concerning the status of third-country nationals who are 
long-term residents (available at 
http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/pdf/2001/com2001_0127en01.pdf).

According to the proposal, status of the long-term resident should be 
provided for third-country nationals (non-EU nationals, including 
refugees and stateless persons), who have resided legally and 
continuously for five years in the territory of the member state, have 
stable resources and sickness insurance. For such persons long-term 
resident’s EC residence permit should be issued by national authorities. 
Long-term residents should enjoy equal treatment with nationals as 
regards access to employment, education, social protection. Besides, 
long-term residents might exercise the right of residence in the 
territory of other EU member states for a period exceeding three months.

Two questions arose in Latvia concerning the proposal. The first one is, 
whether all non-citizens of Latvia will be entitled to receive the 
status of long-term residents, or they will be divided into two 
categories, depending on “stable resources” and “sickness insurance”.

The second question is more serious. Latvia has agreed to a transitional 
arrangement in respect of the free movement of workers put forward by 
the EU (2-7 years). In the meantime, the proposal does not include 
transitional provisions in respect of the new member states. Official 
position of the government expressed by Minister for Justice Aivars 
Aksenoks and Minister for Special Task in the Field of Integration 
Affairs Nils Muiznieks is, that Latvia will try to influence the 
decision-making process in order to include such provisions. In other 
words, Latvia will ask to limit the rights of its non-citizens, which 
might appear to be wider than those of citizens. According to Mr 
Muiznieks, it could hinder naturalization and integration of the society 
(the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), May 22).


Citizenship of Latvia: children are not welcomed?
-------------------------------------------------

The Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia rejected amendments to the Citizenship 
Law aimed at easier obtaining of the citizenship by children and 
pensioners on May 15. The amendments were submitted by the pro-minority 
faction “For Human Rights in United Latvia” and supported by the faction 
of the People’s Harmony Party.

The main aim of the amendments was to eliminate gaps in legislation, 
which hinder access to citizenship by children. For example, it was 
proposed to register as Latvia’s citizens, all children of Latvia’s 
non-citizens born after the restoration of independence automatically, 
not by request of their parents, as it is stipulated now (see text of 
the Citizenship Law at http://www.np.gov.lv/en/akti/likums.htm). 
Besides, the draft amendment suggested to register as Latvia’s citizens 
under-age children of naturalised persons upon request of their parents. 
The Citizenship Law stipulates that only children, information about 
whom is included into the naturalization application, could be 
naturalized together with their parents. Therefore there are problems 
concerning children, who are not naturalized because of mistake of their 
parents or were born after the application is submitted, but before the 
citizenship is received (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 58, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-November/002387.html).

The pro-minority faction also proposed to eliminate some limitations for 
naturalization of former military officers, members of the Communist 
party, and KGB agents. Besides, it was suggested to cancel the 
naturalization examination in history of Latvia, Constitution and 
national anthem for persons above 65.

---------------
Compiled by:

Alexei Dimitrov
Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky

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