Minority issues in Latvia, No. 41


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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 41

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 41


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. The
main aim of this project was to create an alternative source of
information about the problems of national minorities in Latvia. 40
issues of the newsletter have been circulated via MINELRES mailing
list ( http://www.riga.lv/minelres/ ). All back issues of the
newsletter are available online at
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/count/latvia.htm#MinIssuesLatvia . We are
grateful to the MINELRES project team for their kind assistance. 

Since recently, the need to distribute last news and commentaries
about minority issues in Latvia has grown significantly, particularly
taking into account closure of the OSCE Mission to Latvia. Since the
beginning of this year, the newsletter "Minority issues in Latvia"
will be distributed via its own mailing list. The newsletter will be
published semi-monthly.
 
We suppose that you, our readers, are interested in receiving this
additional information on minority issues in Latvia. Our apologies to
those who will receive this newsletter by mistake. You can
subscribe/unsubscribe from our mailing list, sending e-mail to our
address: minissues@delfi.lv 

Please, feel free to inform us about other persons or institutions who
could be interested in subscription. Any your comments are very
valuable. 

Yours sincerely, 

Alexei Dimitrov
editor
-------------------------

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 41
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

January 1, 2002

Content

- The OSCE Mission to Latvia closed
- Dispute over the language requirements for deputy candidates: the
first results from the group of experts
- The Constitutional Court has announced its judgment in the Mentzen
case
- The first grants of the Society Integration Foundation allocated
- The police will have to keep translating all documents of criminal
cases into Latvian 
- Fail to monitor spending of the funds allocated to the Roma
Association
- The Human Rights Day in Latvia
- Anti-Semitic letters to MP


The OSCE Mission to Latvia closed

On December 18, the OSCE Permanent Council accepted report of the head
of the OSCE Mission to Latvia Peter Semneby who suggested to close the
OSCE Mission to Latvia. Therefore, the Mission finishes its activities
in Latvia on January 1, 2002.

The state officials (the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign
Affairs and others) welcomed this decision. In their view, it means
that Latvia does not need special monitoring and is able to handle the
problems of human/minority rights itself.

At the same time, closure of the OSCE Mission does not mean that
Latvia has already fulfilled all its obligations in the field of human
rights. It is necessary to amend the electoral legislation and to
abolish the state language requirements for deputy candidates, as well
as to continue cooperation with the OSCE institutions, such as the
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the High
Commissioner on National Minorities (the newspaper "Diena" ("The
Day"), December 19).
 

Our commentary

The OSCE Mission to Latvia played a very important role in the
development of legislation and administrative practices in Latvia
since its establishment in 1993. The OSCE received direct information
from Latvia with the help of the Mission. Officials of the Mission
could exercise certain influence upon the process of decision-making
concerning national minorities and human rights in Latvia. In future,
the government itself will be the main source of information about the
situation in Latvia, in particular, in the field of national
minorities' situation. 

On the other hand, withdrawal of the Mission will make human rights
and minority rights NGOs to be more active and more rely on their own
efforts. 

The main danger is that the ruling political parties will interpret
the decision of the OSCE Permanent Council as the evidence that all
the problems have been already resolved, and the progress in the field
of human rights and the integration of Latvia's society might slow
down or even reverse. This threat is the more so real, taking into
account coming parliamentary elections (to be held in October 2002):
nationalistic sentiments are usually broadly exploited in the election
campaigns in Latvia.

It remains to be seen whether the ruling political parties will engage
into a new dialogue with national minorities without foreign
mediators. We consider such a dialogue a crucial factor for
sustainable democratic development in Latvia.  


Dispute over the language requirements for deputy candidates: the
first results from the group of experts

The group of experts established by the President of Latvia Vaira
Vike–Freiberga began its active work. The task of the group is to
discuss some topical problems related to the language legislation and
policies in Latvia (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 40,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//12102001-09:16:25-11465.html
).

After its second meeting the group of experts reported its preliminary
conclusion: the language requirements for deputy candidates can be
abolished, because there are legislative provisions for the protection
of usage of the state language in public sphere. The Rules of
Prosecure of the Saeima (the Parliament) stipulate that the single
working language of the Parliament is the Latvian language. In
December the radical nationalistic faction "For Fatherland and
Freedom" submitted similar amendments to the Law "On Local
Governments". After they are adopted (what is very probable), the
Latvian language will be officially declared the sole working language
in municipalities, too.
 
The group of experts also recommended to take measures with the aim to
protect the usage of the state language in private sphere.


Our commentary
 
In fact, the aforementioned amendments to the Law "On Local
Governments" suggested by the radical nationalists, are redundant.
Already now the State Language law (e.g. its Art.7, 8, 10, 11)
strictly prescribes the usage of solely state language in
municipalities (for the text of the State Language law, see 
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/NationalLegislation/Latvia/Latvia_Language_English.htm
). 
 
As already mentioned, abolition of the state language requirements for
deputy candidates is strictly recommended by the OSCE, apparently, as
a follow-up to the views of the UN Human Rights Committee on the
"Ignatane case" (see
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/un/cases/UNHRC_Ignatane_2001.html ). The
President's initiative was undoubtedly aimed at demonstrating to the
OSCE the goodwill of the Latvian top authorities - after the Saeima
had rejected the corresponding amendments to the election laws
proposed by the pro-minority opposition (see Minority issues in
Latvia, No. 38,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//11102001-13:09:24-14154.html
). This initiative was taken right before the anticipated decision to
close the OSCE mission to Latvia. However, it is not clear whether
this initiative - if officially proposed by the President as a bill -
will be supported by the majority of the parliament. So far the
parties representing about 2/3 of MPs clearly spoke out againt the
amendments. 

In the meantime, the experts' recommendation "to better protect the
usage of the state language in private sphere" might be
enthusiastically supported by the ruling parties - in the best case,
in exchange for the Saeima's consent to support the abolition of the
language requirements for deputy candidates. The language rights in
private sphere was the main point of controversy when the new State
Language law was discussed, and some related provisions had to be
liberalised following severe criticism on the part of the OSCE and the
European Commission. Now this debate might appear re-opened. 

Thus, the OSCE initial recommendation aimed at streamlining the
Latvia's election legislation in compliance with the principles of
human rights, might entail quite different results, i.e. introduction
of further restrictions on using minority and foreign languages in
private sphere. Meahwhile, it still remains unclear whether the
election legislation will be amended, indeed. 
   

The Constitutional Court has announced its judgment in the Mentzen
case

On December 21, the Constitutional Court announced the judgment in the
case Mentzen v. the Saeima and the Cabinet of Ministers. The essence
of the case is the problem of personal names' spelling.

The surname of Mrs. Mentzen, a Latvian citizen who married German and
took her husband's surname, was "Latvianized" as "Mencena" in her
Latvian IDs. The current legislation provides that personal names and
surnames must be written in documents according to the grammar of the
Latvian language. The original form of the personal name in Latin
transliteration can be used on some other page of the ID (for details,
see Art.19 of the State Language law at
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/NationalLegislation/Latvia/Latvia_Language_English.htm
, and governmental Regulations on Spelling of Personal Names at
http://www.riga.lv/minelres/NationalLegislation/Latvia/Latvia_LangRegNames_English.htm
). 

Mrs. Mentzen asked the Constitutional Court to declare the current
legislation not corresponding to the Satversme (Constitution) of
Latvia.

The Constitutional Court rendered very complicated judgment in the
case. It ruled that the practice of "Latvianization" of personal names
and surnames is in compliance with the Constitution. The privacy of
personal life in this case is "limited in order to protect the right
of other residents of Latvia to use the Latvian language within the
whole territory of the country and to protect the democratic system of
the state". In the meantime, the Court recognised the so called
"equalisation" unconstitutional, if a person does not wish it. The
legislation in force provides that "equalisation" (changing the
personal name according to modern grammar of the Latvian language) can
be used even if the personal name is already "Latvianized" and written
in the passport. In fact, the Court pointed out that the personal name
can be "Latvianized" only once.

The Court also recognised the provision determining the place where
the original form of the personal name in Latin transliteration is
recorded in citizens’ passports unconstitutional, and declared it
invalid since July 1, 2002. The Court pointed out that the Cabinet of
Ministers did not take all measures with the aim to limit the rights
of the person as little as possible, when it chose the place to write
the original form (see the full text of the judgment in Latvian at
http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/LV/Spriedumi/04-0103(01).htm , and
comments in Russian in the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), December 22,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/12/22/l_049.html ).


Our commentary

Unfortunately, the practice of "Latvianization" of personal names and
surnames remains in force. However, two positive points in the
judgment should be mentioned. First, the repeated "Latvianization"
will not be possible any longer, if a person does not wish it. If a
person could once maintain the personal name and surname more or less
similar to the original form, he/she will maintain it also in future.
Besides, in fact the Court pointed out that in new passports (to be
issued after July 1, 2002) the original form of the personal name must
be written at the same page with the "Latvianized" form. Last, but not
least – the Mentzen case, as well as other similar case Kuharec v.
Latvia, is registered in the European Court of Human Rights. The
opinion of the European Court will be decisive.


The first grants of the Society Integration Foundation allocated

On December 11, deputy chief of the Society Integration Foundation
(SIF) Kristine Vagnere informed that 21 out of 60 projects submitted
to the SIF have been accepted and granted financial assistance. The
total sum for the support of the accepted projects is 126,845 Lats
(approx.USD 207,000). In order to assist all 60 submitted projects,
1,8 million Lats would be needed. The main criterion for selecting
projects was their compliance with the National Program "Integration
of Latvia’s Society". Besides, the projects had to be broad enough to
involve a big part of Latvia's residents (the news agency BNS,
December 11, http://www.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=2311784). 

Dr. Artis Pabriks (the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic
Studies) noticed that there is a danger of SIF becoming an institution
which does not work but can be used as an argument in negotiations on
EU and NATO accession (see the article "Integracijas fonds krustceles"
("The Integration Foundation at the crossroads"), December 2,
http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=102179&lang=lv ). He noted that
there are too many politicians and not many NGO representatives in
SIF. The conflict of interests can appear, as some of the members of
the Foundation’s Council got their personal projects financed (for
example, regarding integration of Roma). Boris Tsilevich, MP from the
pro-minority parliamentary faction "For Human Rights in United
Latvia", shared this concern, noting, that "it seems that words are
right, but there is a wish to view the people to be integrated as
merely an object, there is no intention for a dialogue and
participation" (the newspaper "Vesti Segodnya", ("The News Today"),
December 15,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=12&d=15&w1=r&r=3&w2=p&pub=016#banner
). According to him, many of the accepted projects should be executed,
spending money from the budget of ministries. 

6 accepted projects out of 21 are submitted by ministries, many others
are submitted by schools, museums and libraries. No projects submitted
by NGOs have been endorsed. 4 projects deal with specific minorities:
"Old-Believers of Jekabpils region — mode of life and traditions",
"Integration of Roma in Aizpute Region", "History, research and
remembrance of Holocaust" and "Traditions of Latvian-Jewish
cooperation". Some other projects deal with the problems of the
bilingual education. The project "Teaching of the Latvian language to
naturalization applicants" (prepared by state institutions) is
rejected. According to Mr Pabriks, while foreign assistance is already
significant in this field, Latvia's participation with its money was
essential. 


The police will have to keep translating all documents of criminal
cases into Latvian 

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, every witness, victim or
the accused can testify in his/her native language in criminal case.
However, the State Language Law provides that all documents must be
submitted to court or the Prosecutor’s Office in the state language.
In 2000 and 2001, the police did not have specific budget for
translation. Thus, in fact a lot of documents were not translated from
Russian into Latvian, but judges and prosecutors understood them.

On December 14, the Ministry of Interior (MI) proposed to the Cabinet
of Ministers to submit amendments to the State Language Law with the
aim to allow the police and border guards to send the
evidence/testimonies without translation to the Prosecutor’s Office or
to court un to January 1, 2004. Otherwise, the police will need
approx. 1,620,000 Lats (USD 2,613,000) for translation in 2002.

MI representative Regina Eize suggested that the testimonies given by
witnesses, victims and the accused could be submitted in Russian, but
other documents will be submitted in Latvian in accordance with the
law. The Head of the State Language Centre Dzintra Hirsha objected
these changes, in her view, these "to be one more piece in weakening
the rights of the Latvian language" (the news agency BNS, December 14,
http://rus.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=2336758 ).

The Cabinet had to discuss this problem on December 18. However, the
parties of the ruling coalition decided that the Coalition Council (an
unofficial political body created by leaders of the ruling coalition
parties) would discuss the matter - therefore the technical problem
became a political one. The Coalition Council pointed out that the
police could raise the problem when the state budget for the year 2002
was being elaborated. The lack of finance is not a reason for changing
the State Language Law. Therefore, the police will have to pay for
translation of all documents of criminal matters into Latvian (the
newspaper "Telegraf" ("The Telegraph", December 18,
http://rus.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=2350645 ).


Fail to monitor spending of the funds allocated to the Roma
Association

The Latvian-language daily "Diena" ("The Day") on December 6 published
a big article devoted to the funding of the Roma association in
Latvia. The current state budget envisages a 45,000 Lats (approx. USD
73,000) subsidy for the Latvian Roma National Cultural Association
(LRNCA) in the year 2002. In the previous year, the same association
received 15,000 Lats. Other 200 cultural associations of national
minorities altogether have been granted only 14,500 Lats per year.
Regardless of the generosity of the state in respect of the Roma
minority, it is not clear whether this financial aid meets the needs
of the Latvian Roma themselves. The LRNCA has never submitted any
financial report to the Ministry of Justice. As the president of the
Association Normunds Rudevichs (MP from the ruling coalition party
"The Latvian Way") puts it, the funds have been spent "to prepare the
basis for opening 10 regional Roma information centres next year".
Still, representatives of the Roma communities in regions have
expressed their dissatisfaction about the ways of using the budgetary
subsidy, as their regional associations have never received any
financial aid from the LRNCA. 
 

The Human Rights Day in Latvia

On December 9, the pro-minority parliamentary faction "For Human
Rights in United Latvia" in cooperation with the Latvian Human Rights
Committee and two minority youth NGOs – "Solidarity" and the Latvian
Youth Club held a meeting devoted to the 53rd anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the first activity of
this kind organised jointly by the parliamentary faction and human
rights and youth NGOs. The most interesting part of the meeting was a
scenic performance about topical human rights problems in Latvia (the
newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"), December 10,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=12&d=10&w1=&w2=p&pub=001#banner
; the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), December 10,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2001/12/10/l_055.html ).

After the event, the police demanded one of the organisers - member of
the Riga City Council and activist of the Latvian Human Rights
Committee Ilga Ozisha - to explain in written form why Santa Claus and
a witch (characters of the performance) wore masks. Wearing masks is
prohibited by law for the participants of mass meetings.


Anti-Semitic letters to MP

On December 20, Yakov Pliner, MP from the pro-minority faction "For
Human Rights in United Latvia" ("HRUL"), submitted a complaint to the
Security Police, requesting to initiate investigation in connection
with anonymous anti-Semitic letters regularly sent to him. The last
two letters received by Mr Pliner, an MP of Jewish ethnic origin, were
particularly insulting and made Mr Pliner to take some measures. One
of them contained the caricature of Tatyana Zhdanok, leader of the
"Equal Rights" party (member of the "HRUL" coalition) and a prominent
activist of the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.), from the
newspaper "Lauku Avize" ("The Rural Newspaper") with anti-Semitic
inscription. Another letter, received some days later, contained
caricature of Yakov Pliner himself (from the same newspaper) with
anti-Semitic inscriptions like "Yids are robbers", etc. Besides being
personally insulting, Mr Pliner found these letters to contain the
propaganda of anti-Semitism prohibited by the Latvian law.

Some of similar materials Mr Pliner received earlier were signed by
the "Club 415", ethnic Latvian youth nationalistic organization. Those
letters advised Mr Pliner to "get out to Russia" (the newspaper "Vesti
Segodnya" ("The News Today"), December 17,
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=12&d=17&w1=r&r=2&w2=p&pub=005#banner
).


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

Alexei Dimitrov
Tatyana Bogushevitch
Yuri Dubrovsky

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