Minority issues in Latvia, No. 42

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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 42

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 42

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 42
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

January 17, 2002


- Evolution of the President's "language initiatives"
- The Education Law: a "sacred cow" 
- Riga's ex-mayor insults Russians
- The Orthodox Christmas to become an official holiday?
- MP calls for restriction of the rights of the naturalised citizens
- "Shadow leader" of radical nationalists on positive discrimination
- "The Crisis of the Monologue Culture" - new article at the portal of
public politics
- Protests against placement of a military radar in Eastern Latvia
- Notorious leader of the Latvian National Front declares integration
of the society a crime

Evolution of the President's "language initiatives"

Activities of the expert group established by the President of Latvia
Vaira Vike–Freiberga to discuss some topical problems of the language
legislation in Latvia (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 40,
and No. 41,
cause a question: will Latvia's national minorities benefit or lose in
the end of the day? 

During its meeting on January 7, the group supported the proposal to
officially declare the Latvian language as the sole working language
in municipalities (no exceptions are envisaged even for localities
overwhelmingly populated by linguistic minorities). 

Representative of the State Language Centre Maris Birzulis who was
invited to the experts' meeting, stressed the hardships the Centre
faces when monitoring implementation of the State Language Law. Only
12 state language inspectors are employed in the Centre. The Centre
claims approx. 400,000 Lats (EUR 715,000) per year needed to control
usage of the state language and to carry out other activities. At
present, the Centre's budget is 144,700 Lats (EUR 258,000) per year
(the newspaper "Diena" ("The Day"), January 8).

On January 17, after the next meeting with the group of experts, the
President declared that she was ready to submit the amendments to the
election legislation aimed at abolishing the state language
requirements for deputy candidates. On January 21 she will discuss
these amendments with the representatives of all parliamentary

On January 9, the President had a meeting with another group of
experts which included linguists, artists, and politicians. The state
language policy in Latvia and measures for the protection of the state
language were discussed. Following this meeting, the President decided
to establish a standing Commission on the State Language. Official
decision on the creation of the Commission was signed by the President
and Prime Minister Andris Berzinsh on January 16. The Commission's
main task is "to elaborate guidelines of the Latvian language policy
for the next three years" (TV program "Panorama", January 9,
http://www.latnet.lv/onlinetv/tv1/index.php?id=855533 ). Famous
poetess Mara Zalite has been appointed chairperson of the commission,
other members - "linguists, foreign experts and representatives of the
Russian-speaking minority" - will be appointed till the end of January
(News agency BNS, January 16,
http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/article.php?id=2482301 ).

On January 12 the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour") informed that the
commission of language experts will present its first proposals on
January 17 ("Chas", January 12,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2002/01/12/l_075.html ). Acoording to
"Chas", the commission intends to propose to extend the rights of the
state language inspectors, e.g. to make the inspector's invitation to
visit the State Language Centre binding for every person. One more
possible recommendation – to significantly increase the budget of the
State Language Centre.

On January 17, Mara Zalite, newly appointed chairperson of the
Commission on State Language, spoke out in favor of removing the
language requirements from the election legislation. In Mrs Zalite's
view, "keeping these requirenents [in law] will cause more damage than
abolition of these requirements". International organizations Latvia
strives to accede to, demand abolition of these requirements, and if
Latvia fails to follow these recommendations, it runs risk to be left
outside. "The state's security is at stake", says Mrs Zalite, "we will
stay in Russia's zone of influence". No arguments related to human
rights or legitimate interests of Latvia's linguistic minorities were

Our commentary

It seems that our pessimistic forecasts (see the previous issue of our
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//01042002-12:02:29-13464.html )
begin to come true. Indeed, so far the President's involvement in the
debate over the language requirements for deputy candidates resulted
only in measures aimed at tightening - instead of liberalizing - the
language legislation (no doubt that the amendment declaring the state
language the sole working language in municipalities will be adopted
very soon; proposals of the newly established Commission on the State
Language are - and apparently will be - definitely not aimed at the
protection of the rights of minorities, etc). 

Even if the language requirements for deputy candidates are finally
cancelled (what, however, is not at all for sure, given opposition to
this proposal on the part of the parliamentary majority), the overall
"balance" will definitely not be in favor of the linguistic
minorities. The language requirements for deputy candidates
undoubtedly contravene basic human rights and should be abolished,
however, in practice these restrictions affect very few people and
have no real impact on the results of the elections. On the contrary,
restrictive measures adopted "in exchange for this concession", will
directly and negatively influence many thousands of persons belonging
to the Russian-speaking minority.        

It is revealing that another painful issue raised by the President in
her 6 December speech - the distortion of names of the persons
belonging to minorities, prescribed by the Latvian linguistic
legislation (see Minority Issues in Latvia, No.40,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//12102001-09:16:25-11465.html )
- is not at all mentioned in the debate any longer. 

Unfortunately, representatives of minority and minority rights NGOs
are still not invited to take part in the dispute. 

The Education Law: a "sacred cow" 
On January 10, the President Vaira Vike-Freiberga held a meeting with
the Minister for Education and Science Karlis Greishkalns. The aim of
the meeting was to discuss readiness of the secondary schools with
instruction in minority languages (mostly Russian) for transition to
Latvian as a sole language of instruction scheduled by law in 2004.
After the meeting, the Minister Greishkalns declared: both officials
decided that the reform must be carried out. The President will visit
the Russian-language schools to follow the progress of the reform.

Some days before this meeting, NGO LASHOR (Association for Support of
the Russian–Language Schools in Latvia, http://www.lashor.lv ) sent a
letter to the President, asking to take into account the opinion of
national minorities expressed at the Second Parents' conference "To
learn in mother tongue" (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 40,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//12102001-09:16:25-11465.html ,
reported by the news agency BNS, January 9,
http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/article.php?id=2438018 ). 

In December, the mayor of Ventspils (one of the biggest and richest
cities in Latvia) Aivars Lembergs also expressed his negative attitude
towards the forced transition to secondary education in the state
language only (the newspaper "Chas" ("The Hour"), January 9,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2002/01/09/l_039.html ).

The President did not get acquainted with the LASHOR's letter before
the meeting with the Minister for Education. However, she pointed out
that "there are no reasons to repudiate the reform scheduled for 2004,
and they are not surmised to appear either" (the newspaper "Telegraf"
("The Telegraph"), January 11,
http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/telegraf/article.php?id=2455160 ). "It
is already written in the law, and now it is not the question under
debate", the President said (the TV program "Panorama", January 10,
http://www.latnet.lv/onlinetv/tv1/index.php?id=856697 ).

Our commentary
Although even officials of the Ministry of Education acknowledge that
problems with the transition to Latvian as a sole language of
instruction in minority secondary schools do exist (see, for example,
Minority issues in Latvia No. 39,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//11252001-19:32:33-8254.html ),
the top political leaders deny their existence out of purely political

However, both the President of State and other officials consistently
avoid discussion of a much more serious issue: whether the transition
is necessary at all, whether it corresponds to international standards
and obligations undertaken by Latvia. Active and growing protests of
minority NGOs and political parties, clearly expressed dissatisfaction
of absolute majority of the persons belonging to minorities who assert
their right to learn in mothertongue, are ignored. 

This situation confirms our previous conclusion: one can hardly expect
the President of state to suggest liberalization in the main areas of
concern for Latvia'a minorities. Envisaged elimination of
state-supported secondary education remains the main
conflict-provoking factor in Latvia, and if the situation does not
change after the 2002 parliamentary elections, growing tensions could
be expected.

Riga's ex-mayor insults Russians

On January 10, MP Andrey Klementyev (the pro-minority faction "For
Human Rights in United Latvia") asked the General Prosecutor to take a
legal action against Andris Argalis, member of the Riga City Council,
ex-mayor of Riga and ex-member of the radical nationalistic party "For
Fatherland and Freedom" (the news agency Delfi/BNS, January 11,
http://rus.delfi.lv/archive/index.php?id=2452391 ). In Mr Klementyev's
view, Mr Argalis' interview published in the magazine "Rigas laiks"
("Riga's Time") December issue, contains russophobic statements to be
prosecuted under Latvia's Criminal Law for defamation. In the
interview, Mr Argalis told, "While a Russian is created for thievery
and laziness genetically, a Latvian is absolutely cowardly thief...
Not qualitative, he has big problems". Mr Klementyev assumed this
statement to be an insult for both Russian and Latvian people, as well
as a personal insult for him, being ethnic Russian. In response, Mr
Argalis claimed that he just quoted Russian literature classic Leo
Tolstoy and Lenin speaking about their nation (newspaper "Vesti
Segonya" ("The News Today"), January 11,


Our commentary

We believe that Mr Argalis's statement was rather an awkward joke.
However, it well illustrates the lack of the tradition of political
correctness when speaking about minorities in Latvia. Not only
marginal nationalists but also prominent mainstream politicians used
to afford dubious wording which can be perceived as insult, sometimes
dangerously close to hate-speech, when mentioning Russians, Roma or

Mr Klementyev's application is one of the first attempts to put
somebody to trial for insulting statements. Now the Prosecutor’s
Office must evaluate the interview. In few previous similar cases, no
violations have been found. 

The Orthodox Christmas to become an official holiday?

The Minister for Public Administration Reform Janis Kruminsh submitted
to the Cabinet of Ministers a proposal to proclaim the 7th of January
(the Christmas day for the Russian Orthodox believers) an official
holiday. As Mr Kruminsh put it, "The vote on the issue would be a good
test to elucidate, if the statesmen support integration in practice".
The Minister for Foreign Affairs Indulis Berzinsh said that it was
necessary "to evaluate the economic costs of the proposal first... Too
many holidays would damage the economy" (newspaper "Chas" ("The
Hour"), January 11,
http://www.chas-daily.com/win/2002/01/11/l_073.html ).

So far MPs of the pro-minority parliamentary faction "For Human Rights
in United Latvia" submitted similar bills repeatedly, but all of them
were rejected. The official reaction can be characterised as that put
into words by Ringolds Balodis, head of the Board on Religious Affairs
(the senior state official in charge of supervising the religious
affairs), "Taking into consideration always tense relationships with
our former "metropolis" Russia, such proposal was likely to be
perceived as a political provocation rather than true concern for our
state's believers" (Ringolds Balodis, "Valsts un baznica" ("The State
and the Church"), Riga, 2000, p. 266).

According to he book quoted above, there are more than 100,000
practicing members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Latvia, and the
Orthodox religion is the third prevalent in the state.

MP calls for restriction of the rights of the naturalised citizens

MP from the ruling right-wing People’s party Aleksandrs Kirshteins
published an article in the Latvian-language opinion-maker newspaper
"Diena" calling upon restriction of the rights of citizens, who
obtained citizenship through naturalisation. To substantiate the
proposal, Mr Kirshteins mentions legislation of the USA, where
naturalised citizens cannot stand as candidates for elections for
several years after naturalisation. "In Latvia, respecting the
principle that naturalised citizens cannot change the main law of the
state, they [candidates] could only be citizens from birth", says  Mr
Kirshteins (The newspaper "Diena" ("The Day"), January 14).

At present, more than 500,000 Latvia's residents out of approx. 2,35
mln are non-citizens (see data of the Board for Citizenship and
Migration Affairs at http://www.np.gov.lv/en/fakti/index.htm ).

"Shadow leader" of radical nationalists on positive discrimination

On January 10, the newspaper "Lauku Avize" ("The Rural Newspaper")
published an interview with Mr Normunds Lakuchs, representative of the
radical nationalistic party "For Fatherland and Freedom" in the Board
of Latvia's Privatisation Agency. Mr Lakuchs is known as one of the
main "shadow leaders", or "grey cardinal" of the party. According to
Mr Lakuchs, the process of privatisation as it was implemented in
Latvia, resulted in disastrous economic situation. The process of
social as well as ethnic differentiation between ethnic Latvians and
national minorities takes place. Urban population lives better, but
80% of ethnic Latvians live in the countryside, while being minority
in the largest cities.  Asked about measures to be taken to improve
the people's life, Mr Lakuchs suggested the use of "positive
discrimination" in the sphere of allocation of municipal housing, as
"ethnic Latvians had been discriminated for 50 years in this sphere".
"We could argue, that 80-90% of housing in big cities were allotted to
non-Latvians in the period of 50 years, what can be called ethnocide,
that's why we are using so called positive discrimination now".
According to Mr Lakuchs, positive discrimination could be used in the
process of privatisation too, but in reality the discrimination
against Latvians took place. "This positive discrimination was not
used, but it can be still used, and it is up to politicians, how to do
this", adds Mr.Lakuchs.

"The Crisis of the Monologue Culture" - new article at the portal of
public politics

An article titled "The Crisis of the Monologue Culture" exploring
obstacles to integration of the society has been published on the
portal of the public politics POLITIKA.LV, supported by the Soros
Foundation - Latvia. 
The author Dr Juris Rozenvalds is associated professor of the
University of Latvia, Head of the Political Science Department.

As the professor puts it, the most crucial factor among those impeding
integration is "the idea that only ethnic Latvian politicians know
what the Russians in Latvia should be wanting. There is also the
conviction, flowing out of this idea, that Russians in Latvia would
allow to apply to them the same methods, against which ethnic Latvians
were fighting so desperately during the 50 years of occupation". The
political scientist points out that "currently one of the most acute
problems is the lack of dialogue which can be felt in many areas", in
particular, between political elite and people, ruling parties and
opposition, as well as between the major ethnic groups residing in
Latvia. The author stresses that "the readiness to acknowledge the
values and the way of life of other person or a group of persons" must
be the basis of the dialogue (the full text is available on

Protests against placement of a military radar in Eastern Latvia

In November 2001, the Ministry of Defence decided to buy a radar
TPS-117 and to place in the Rezekne district (Eastern region of
Latvia, inhabited mainly by Russian-speakers) in the framework of the
international military programme BALTNET. The radar can monitor the
airspace of Russia. Because of highly sophisticated equipment, less
then ten jobs will be created for Latvian personnel.

By the end of the year 2001 approximately 20,000 inhabitants of the
Rezekne district signed a petition against placement of the radar
there. The people are concerned of the possible harmful influence upon
environment (a phenomenon most actively discussed in Latvian media
before the destruction of the Soviet radar in Skrunda). They also
think that this radar is not necessary for Latvia, but only for NATO,
and can become the first target for military actions in the case of
any conflict.

The Minister for Defence Girts Valdis Kristovskis pointed out that
antagonistic forces from Russia aiming at preventing Latvia's
accession to NATO inspired the petition through local residents. He
also mentioned that he will ask security institutions to find out all
circumstances of the protest action (the TV program "Panorama",
January 3).

In our view, this accident is one more evidence of lack of "the
dialogue culture". Any attempt to influence the decision-making is
considered as "inspired" and must be investigated, not listened to.

Notorious leader of the Latvian National Front declares integration of
the society a crime

In the end of December 2001, Aivars Garda, notorious leader of Latvian
National Front (LNF) and director of the "Vieda" publishers,
well-known for his intolerance towards different minority groups in
Latvia, wrote a letter to the General Prosecutor Janis Maizitis, in
which he claimed that Latvian officials engaged in promoting the
integration policy, have committed a crime comparable to genocide. 

In Mr Garda's view, integration as meant by Latvian authorities is
nothing more than "ungodly, amoral, criminal, unnatural, unlawful
mixture of peoples", which is the continuation of a crime called
occupation and colonisation. "Intentionally using wrong meaning of the
word "integration", our leading state figures, ministers, deputies are
committing one more big crime — they deceive the Latvian people". The
aim of "mixture" is to destroy ethnic Latvians physically, but lies
are aimed at taking property away from ethnic Latvians to "occupants".
"Integration is a crime against Latvians, ... it is a serious crime
against humanity", Mr Garda writes. 

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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