Minority issues in Latvia, No. 12

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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 12

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 12

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 12
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
February 8, 2000

The Framework Document of the National Program "Integration of Society
in Latvia" adopted
In December 1999 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted the Framework
Document of the National Program "Integration of the Society in
Latvia". The elaboration of the Program began in March 1998. The goal
of the Program is to facilitate establishment of "a democratic,
consolidated civil society in Latvia, founded on shared basic values".
However, the adopted Framework Document appeared disappointing for
many minority representatives.

The Framework Document is of articulately publicistic - and not
legalistic - nature. It is not based on any act of domestic or
international law. The terminology of the Document is very different
from one used in national legislation and international conventions
and treaties.

>From March till May 1999 a broad public discussion was held about the
concept of the National Program "Integration of the Society in
Latvia". Approximately 25,000 people actively participated in the
discussions, including representatives of the radical nationalistic
organizations. The discussion was financed mostly by foreign and
international NGOs and foundations, and not by the state.
Unfortunately, the final version of the Framework Document appeared
substantially different from the draft prepared by the expert group
and publicly discussed. Several points which had been included in the
draft on insistence of the experts who represented national
minorities, appeared omitted in the finally approved document.

The Framework Document declares that the basis of integration in the
field of education, language and culture is the Latvian language; the
environment of the Latvian language use must increase. In connection
with the adoption of the State Language Law on December 9, 1999 it
makes national minorities feel anxious, thinking about the use of
minorities' languages in future. 

The draft defined the purpose of the integration politics in Latvia as
follows: "to establish stable multicultural and multilingual society".
In the adopted document words "multicultural and multilingual" have
been left out.

The Framework Document declares that the National Program guarantees
the right of the people of Latvia to self-determination and the rights
of minorities. However, both the point of the draft on the necessity
to  ratify the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities as soon as possible, as well as the
point which envisaged elaboration and adoption of the national
legislation on minority rights, have been left out in the adopted
document, as well as one of the objectives of the cultural politics
"to provide every person's right to freely preserve, protect and
develop his/her ethnic, cultural and religious identity".

The wording of the provisions which envisage the role of parents and
minority NGO's in establishing the bilingual education system in
minority schools changed in a way that everything essential is decided
by the state officials without taking into consideration views of the
concerned groups. Another point speaks about "undesirability" of using
textbooks issued abroad (particularly in Russia) in minority schools.

Substantial changes in the final version of the Document were
apparently made on insistence of the radical nationalistic party "For
Fatherland and Freedom" which is a member of the ruling coalition.

The Framework Document is used now mostly abroad as a proof of
successful integration in Latvia and as an argument for completing the
monitoring procedure within the framework of the Council of Europe. 

The expanded version of the Integration Program and concrete projects
for the next two years should be prepared till March 1, 2000. Minority
NGOs have elaborated the Alternative Program of Integration, but it
has no chance to be seriously discussed. 

In the current version the document is not based on minority rights
approach, lost much of its initial idea of integration as of the
"two-way road" and outlines a program of "soft" assimilation rather
than that of really democratic integration.

Will minority NGOs take part in preparation of governmental rules?

The Co-ordination Council of Minority NGOs sent a letter to the
government asking to include representatives of the pro-minority
faction of the Saeima (the Parliament) "For Human Rights in Integrated
Latvia" into the governmental working groups which are to prepare
regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers envisaged by the new State
Language Law. At the recent meeting of the EU-Latvian Joint
Parliamentary Committee in Brussels, Latvian Minister of Justice Mr.
Birkavs assured members of the European Parliament that
representatives of all parliamentary factions will be included into
these working groups. However, in his written response to the
Co-ordination Council Mr Birkavs limited himself to pointing out that
heads of the working groups were authorised to invite any person they
consider to be an expert in the field.   

Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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