MINELRES: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 70

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Mon Jun 30 10:26:00 2003


Original sender: Tatyana Bogushevitch <minissues@delfi.lv>


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 70


Dear Madam/Sir,

The Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.) has been publishing an 
electronic newsletter "Minority issues in Latvia" since June 1999. From 
the inception, it was edited by Alexei Dimitrov. Some days ago Mr 
Dimitrov started working for the Secretariat of the Minister for the 
Special Task in the Field of Integration Affairs, the main state 
institution responsible for ethnic policy in Latvia. Therefore you can 
notice changes in our team. We hope that new people will help us to make 
our newsletter even more interesting, but our former editor will remain 
active in the protection of minority rights. We would also like to 
inform that in summer our newsletter will be published once a month.

Yours sincerely,
Tatyana Bogushevitch
editor


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 70
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
June 30, 2003

Content
- Minority education reform: more protest actions, no results
- Language quotas for private broadcasting abolished by Constitutional 
court
- Social exclusion and HIV among ethnic minority youth
- Ethnicity record: whose choice?
- Non-naturalisation as an indicator of a two-community state?
- Radical nationalism: to be combated or supported?
- Presentation of the Ministry of Integration
- Opinion poll: two-community society in Latvia
- The governments action plan in the field of minority protection: will 
new times come?


Minority education reform: more protest actions, no results
-----------------------------------------------------------

Minority activists continue their mass actions aimed at abolishing 
minority secondary education reform scheduled for 2004 (see Minority 
issues in Latvia, No. 69, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-June/002756.html). The 
last action took place on June 18, when after a rally members of 
so-called Headquarter for the support of Russian schools (including 
members of the Latvian Human Rights Committee) handled a petition to the 
European Commission delegation in Latvia. They asked to influence upon 
the government of Latvia in order to abolish the reform. Supporters of 
minority schools declared their intention to call on the people to vote 
against Latvia's membership in the European Union at the referendum on 
September 20, if the European Union does not pay attention to the 
minority education issues in Latvia ("Diena" ("The Day"), June 19).

According to the current version of the reform announced by the Ministry 
of Educatilon, only up to 40% of the curricula will be taught in 
minority languages in secondary schools, but since the year 2007 all 
state examinations and tests will be passed in Latvian only. There is a 
collision between the provisions of the Education Law, on one hand, and 
recently adopted governmental regulations: the former provides that 
after September 1, 2004, all the curricula in secondary schools must be 
taught in Latvian only (for more details see Minority issues in Latvia, 
No. 67, http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-May/002705.html 
and Minority issues in Latvia, No. 68, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2003-May/002730.html). The 
Ministry of Education and Science declared its intention to elaborate 
corresponding amendments to the Education Law in July. Probably, the 
Cabinet of Ministers will adopt the amendments in July or August 
(according to Article 81 of the Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers 
is entitled to amend the law in cases of urgent necessity between 
parliamentary sessions; such amendments are to be accepted by the Saeima 
(Parliament) later) ("Diena" ("The Day"), June 20).

In the meantime, the biggest Latvian-language newspaper "Lauku Avize" 
("The Rural Newspaper") has published an interview with the chairman of 
the parliamentary faction of the main ruling New Era party Arturs 
Krisjanis Karins. Mr Karins stated that the government would be right 
even if it would refuse to support financially schools with minority 
language of instruction. He believes that the very existence of schools 
with the Russian language of instruction is an amazing situation 
comparing with the situation in Europe. There is no directive or other 
document in Europe, which would oblige Latvia to support minority 
schools; in fact, the government does not have to do it, Mr Karins 
stated ("Lauku Avize", June 25).

Our commentary

In our view, the position of the government confirms that it is not 
ready for a dialogue with minorities regarding education issues and does 
not intend to start it. Despite the pro-minority opposition in the 
Saeima suggested to amend the Education Law in April and May, the 
government is going to invent "urgent necessity" for the amendments. 
Besides that, the Cabinet follows practice of the former government  
any initiative in the field of minority rights was presented as a 
"concession", not as fulfillment of a state's obligation, to ethnic 
Latvians. In fact, such approach deprives the government itself of the 
freedom of action: it excludes any voluntary decision promoting minority 
rights: it is quite hard to explain the voters, why the Cabinet is 
forced to make so many "concessions" under international pressure, if 
"the government does not have to do it".


Language quotas for private broadcasting abolished by Constitutional 
--------------------------------------------------------------------
court
-----

The Constitutional Court has declared the language quotas for private 
electronic media unconstitutional. The judgment published on June 6 
provides that Section 19 para. 5 of the Law on Radio and Television is 
null and void. This provision stipulates that broadcasting in languages 
other than Latvian cannot exceed 25% of the total broadcasting time in 
private electronic media (language use in public electronic media is 
regulated by other provisions of the Law).

The case was brought before the Court by pro-minority parliamentary 
opposition in December 2002 (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 60, 
http://lists.delfi.lv/pipermail/minelres/2002-December/002471.html). The 
Court declared that the provision of the Law on Radio and Television is 
in conflict with Article 100 of the Constitution of Latvia guaranteeing 
the freedom of expression (conflict with other provisions of the 
Constitution, as well as ones of the European Convention for the 
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and International 
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was not analysed). The Court 
mentioned that freedom of expression can be limited. The limitation 
(language quotas) is prescribed by the law, it has a legitimate aim 
(protection of the right of other people to receive information in the 
state language). These arguments were not challenged by the applicants. 
Furthermore, the Court decided that the limitation is not necessary in 
the democratic society, because it does not ensure the achievement of 
the legitimate aim, it disturbs free commercial activities, but the 
legitimate aim can be ensured by other means (see the judgment at 
http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/Eng/Spriedumi/02-0106(03).htm).

The Parliamentary subcommittee on radio and television, which prepares 
amendments to the Law on Radio and Television, discusses also new 
methods of regulating language use in electronic media. The majority of 
its members are inclined not to cancel regulating use of languages in 
private broadcasting at all. Apparently, language quotas will not be 
restored in the Law, bet will be indirectly included into conditions of 
each competition for obtaining broadcasting license and tenders for 
frequencies ("Telegraf" ("The Telegraph"), June 19, 
http://rus.delfi.lv/archive/article.php?id=5653395&ndate=1055970000&categoryID=2078302). 


Our commentary

We are satisfied that the Constitutional Court has passed professional 
and deliberative judgment in so sensitive case. We also agree that the 
system of licensing could concern many aspects of broadcasting, also the 
form of broadcasting. In the meantime, we believe that if a broadcasting 
license is refused only on the basis of the broadcasting language, it 
should be considered as discrimination on the ground of language in 
respect of the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 and 14 of the 
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental 
Freedoms).


Social exclusion and HIV among ethnic minority youth
----------------------------------------------------

The research "Living with Heroin. Identity, Social Exclusion and HIV 
among the Russian-speaking Minorities in Estonia and Latvia" published 
by the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights in Tallinn, was 
presented by its author Dr Paul Downes at the Latvian Human Rights 
Committee on June 19.

Dr Downes explores the problem of social exclusion of mainly 
Russian-speaking heroin addicts in Estonia and Latvia through interviews 
concerning their attitudes to relationships, emotions, drug use, social 
policy issues and their own future. The interviews are examined from the 
perspectives of individual identity and the social context of addiction 
levels in the Baltic States.

The author is highlighting the alarming scale of the HIV epidemic in 
Estonia and Latvia particularly affecting Russian-speakers: in Estonia, 
98% of heroin addicts are of Russian-speaking origin. Paul Downes also 
examines the Estonian and Latvian integration policy, which provides 
that Russian-language schools should switch to instruction 
overwhelmingly in the state language. Dr Downes argues on the basis of 
international psychological, educational and sociological research that 
this policy risks exacerbating a cycle of social marginalisation, early 
school drop-out, heroin addiction and HIV among their Russian-speaking 
minorities.

As Minister for Education and Science Karlis Sadurskis reacted to the 
publication, "the correlation between the education reform and the drug 
addiction is absurd. Following such logic, we can relate all the 
tendencies to the education reform, also the GDP growth" (the news 
agency LETA, May 19).

Copies of the book in English and Russian will be available at the 
Latvian Human Rights Committee soon.


Ethnicity record: whose choice?
-------------------------------

The Cabinet of Ministers considered draft amendments to the regulations 
"Order of actualisation of data, incorporated into the Residents 
Register" on June 17. Minister for the Special Task in the Field of 
Integration Affairs Nils Muiznieks noticed that one should not ask 
parents to provide ethnicity of a newborn child, when submitting 
necessary papers to the Register. He doubted necessity of depriving the 
people born in ethnically mixed marriages (every third marriage in 
Latvia) from their personal choice. Minister for Interior Maris Gulbis 
stated that there is no precedent of anyone suing the state for 
collecting ethnicity information yet. Representative of the Board on 
Citizenship and Migration Affairs Janis Citskovskis reminded that the 
Law on Change of Name, Surname and Ethnicity Record allows persons from 
ethnically mixed families to change their ethnicity, if he/she proves 
that one of his/her parents/grandparents belong to desired ethnicity (if 
this ethnicity is Latvian, the state language proficiency certificate of 
the highest level is to be submitted, besides). The regulations were 
adopted with Mr Muiznieks voting against and Deputy Prime Minister 
Ainars Slesers abstaining. Prime Minister Einars Repse stated that the 
regulations will be amended only when someone sues the state on teh 
issue ("Lauku Avize" ("The Rural Newspaper"), June 18).


Non-naturalisation as an indicator of a two-community state?
------------------------------------------------------------

Statements of politicians who think that Latvia will never become a 
two-community state seem to be untrue, Minister for the Special Task in 
the Field of Integration Affairs Nils Muiznieks stated at the conference 
"The meaning of regional aspects in solving citizenship problems", held 
in Riga on June 18.

The minister paid a lot of attention to young people and children, born 
after the independence was restored, whose parents do not register them 
as the citizens of Latvia (such children can be registered as citizens 
by their parents' request, according to the Citizenship Law). Nils 
Muiznieks considers the very low number of such requests a serious 
problem. According to the minister, a lot of non-citizens, especially 
youngsters, do not want to get naturalised. As Mr Muiznieks pointed out, 
"Many Russian-speaking youngsters would rather take part in 
manifestations against the education reform than go to the 
Naturalisation Board" ("Vesti Segodnya (The News Today), May 19, 
http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_04_1186.pdf).

Mr Muiznieks' words were confirmed by the regional research conducted by 
the Naturalization Board. According to the results, the number of 
naturalisation applications has decreased since 1999. Today 
approximately 498,000 non-citizens live in the country ("Chas" ("The 
Hour"), May 19). The research also shows that people do not want to get 
naturalised, because they think that they should become the citizens of 
Latvia automatically. At the conference, several reasons of such 
position were mentioned: the fact that many of them were born in Latvia 
or have lived here for many years and paid taxes, insufficient knowledge 
of the Latvian language and history, and others.

There is one more reason to be highlighted. It is nationalistically 
minded politicians' and society's negative attitude towards non-citizens 
and naturalised citizens. This makes people feel alienated and
unconfident.

Our commentary

Taking into account these conclusions, as well as the data of the 
research, there is no surprise that the process of naturalisation is not 
as successful as many Latvian politicians claim. It seems that the 
government should take off "pink glasses" and offer a real plan to 
improve the situation. Otherwise the problem of two-community society 
may become very serious.


Radical nationalism: to be combated or supported?
-------------------------------------------------

Minister for the Special Task in the Field of Integration Affairs Nils 
Muiznieks has applied to the Prosecutor General's Office asking to start 
criminal proceedings against the journalist of the radical nationalistic 
newspaper "DDD" ("Deoccupation, Decolonisation, Debolshevisation") 
Karlis Rebins. Mr Muiznieks asked to evaluate, whether the article 
written by Karlis Rebins incites ethnic hatred.

The journalist wrote that the WWII was started not by Hitler, but by 
"the richest Yids [Kikes - ed.] and also Churchill and Roosevelt", as 
well as denies the Holocaust, inviting Latvians "not to believe the Yid 
historians". The newspaper also regularly publishes "The Zion Wise Men 
Protocols", which is considered an offence in many European countries 
("Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"), June 14, 
http://rus.delfi.lv/temp/vesti/vs_01_1182.pdf).
However, the newspaper's ideas seem to find support among some Latvian 
officials. Thus, MP, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Human 
Rights and Public Affairs Ina Druviete gives a lengthy interview to the 
"DDD" with the headline "Will Latvians be Ended up Due to the 
Occupants?" ("DDD", June 12-26). There Mrs Druviete states that "during 
the coming 3-5 years the hyper-orientation towards the rights of 
individuals will be revised [to benefit the rights of ethnos]". 
Commenting the journalist's statement that "freedom of expression is 
very malformed in Latvia. My rights as the rights of ethnic Latvian to 
express my legitimate claims to live in a country, free from occupants, 
are limited", Mrs Druviete said "I agree with you. The New Era party's 
[the main ruling party, to which Mrs Druviete belongs  ed.] policy is 
aimed at strengthening Latvianness (latviskums)".


Presentation of the Ministry of Integration
-------------------------------------------

The Secretariat of the Minister for the Special Task in the Field of 
Integration Affairs (the main state institution responsible for 
integration, minority affairs and elimination of racial discrimination) 
held a presentation of its new premises on June 16. Now in newly 
reconditioned apartments there is enough place for 21 employees. 
Minister Nils Muiznieks has noticed that the ethnic composition of his 
staff is exactly the same as of the population of Latvia: 60% are ethnic 
Latvians and 40% - persons belonging to minorities.

Three priorities are to be implemented in the nearest future. The main 
one is a creation of a cultural information centrer for national 
minorities, which will start its activity next year. The second priority 
is social integration that involves the whole territory of Latvia. The 
Secretariat will prepare the conference "Tolerance is a way to the unity 
of society". Special attention will be paid to the integration of young 
people, because currently 110,000 non-citizens are young people below 
27. The future plans of the Secretariat are ambitious: in one year it 
wants to become a real ministry with corresponding authority, broad 
functions, and a staff of 250 employees ("Chas" ("The Hour"), June 17).


Opinion poll: two-community society in Latvia
---------------------------------------------

The centre of public opinion research SKDS conducted a poll about 
interethnic relations in Latvia (May 2003). The main conclusion was that 
in future the contradictions between Latvians and non-Latvians would 
still remain. 47% of respondents do not believe in confluence of 
communities. Young people at age 18  24 presuppose that the gap between 
Latvians and Russians will only deepen.


The government's action plan in the field of minority protection: 
-----------------------------------------------------------------
will new times come?
--------------------

The review of the government's action plan for the year 2003 in respect 
of activities in the field of human rights and minority affairs was 
published at the public policy portal www.politika.lv (see at 
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=106249&lang=lv). The review was 
prepared by former executive secretary of the Latvian Human Rights 
Committee and editor of our newsletter Alexei Dimitrov and named "Human 
Rights and Integration: New Times, Old Problems".
There, the author points out that "the greatest surprise was the action 
plan presented by the Secretariat of the Minister for the Special Task 
in the Field of Integration Affairs. Unlike the action plans of other 
ministries, it mainly contains general sentences: "ensuring dialogue 
with ethnic minorities", "working out and implementing the integration 
policy", etc.

Mr Dimitrov stresses that the ratification of the Framework Convention 
for the Protection of National Minorities is not even mentioned and the 
mechanism of the EU Race Equality Directive's implementation remains 
unclear, although these had been the top priorities for Mr Muiznieks 
before he was approved as a minister. Yet, the author hopes, that "only 
complicated political circumstances do not allow the Minister to include 
these initiatives to the action plan. I am sure that he has not 
forgotten the times, when he worked for NGO and was the proponent of 
such ideas".


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

Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky
Gennady Kotov
Alyona Babitch
Milada Fomina
Milana Fomina


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