DECLARATION ON THE SITUATION IN LATVIA

of the 4th Regional conference of Russia’s compatriots in Northern Europe and Baltic Sea countries (April 27-28, 2018, Oslo)

To:  

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein;

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — Chairperson Amir Noureddine;

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance Mr Tendayi Achiume;

Office for democratic institutions and human rights — Director Ingebjorg Solrun Gisladottir;

Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe,

Ms Dunja Mijatovic;

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities,

Mr Lamberto Zannier;

Independent Expert on minority issues Fernand de Varennes;

Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay;

President of the European Parliament, Mr Antonio Tajani;

President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk;

President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

On 8 November, 2002, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, evaluating the October elections to the Latvian parliament, had noted that the creation of mass statelessness in Latvia in the early nineties has led to a formation of a “long-term democratic deficit” in the country (1). On 8 September, 2015, the European Parliament recognised that the lack of citizenship rights, which in a row of countries affects a significant part of population, indicates discrimination (2).

The refusal of the state of Latvia, in the early nineties, to grant citizenship to more than 1/3 of its permanent residents, has not only led to abolition of the basis of democracy – the universal suffrage. It has also very negatively influenced Latvia’s political development. The denial of access to local and parliamentary elections for a large part of the national minoritites has also resulted in a permanent growth of the influence of the far-right parties. They are openly supporting political, historical and cultural re-habilitation of the ethnocratic regime of Karlis Ulmanis (1934-1940) and Latvian Nazi collaborators from the time of the Nazi occupation of Latvia (1941-1945). This, in turn, has led to choosing and gradually implementing the political course of building a so-called “Latvian Latvia”, i.e., a monoethnic country without national minorities. Other results have been the harshening Anti-Russian rhetoric, Russophobia and multiple cases of whitewashing Nazi ideas and practices.

Ethnic Russians have been living in Latvia since the12th century. In different times of history, their number had varied. Starting from the 18th century, ethnic Russians have been playing a growing role  in the political and cultural life of the territory which became internationally recognised as that of an independent Latvian state after the World War I.

The first school with instruction in Russian was founded in Latvia in 1789. In the course of over 200 years, a network of Russian-language schools, funded by the government, was formed. These schools were and still are the crucial condition for the preservation and development of Russian language and Russian culture, i.e., of Russian cultural identity, in Latvia.

The course of building a so-called “Latvian Latvia”, adopted by the Latvian ruling elite in early nineties, has pre-defined a policy of harsh restrictions on the rights of national minorities. This includes their right to preserve native language and own culture.

First, that part of the population of Latvia which was restricted, in the early nineties, from the right to become citizens of the Republic of Latvia automatically, via optation, was also excluded from the scope of national minorities of Latvia. Thus, the state of Latvia has refused to apply to them the internationally-recognised national minority rights.

Second, Russian language was given a status of a “foreign” one (the Official Language Law of 21 December, 1999), despite the fact that Russians have been living in the territory of Latvia for many centuries.

Third, a course to destruction of the schools with Russian language of instruction, traditional for Latvia, has been adopted. Initially, the decision to put an end to schools with instruction in Russian was adopted in 1998, and it had to be implemented, starting from 1 September, 2004. The implementation was postponed due to mass protests of the Russian-speaking part of the country’s population. On March 22, 2018, the parliament of Latvia has repeatedly adopted a law on the abolition of Russian schools (from 2021). On 2 April, 2018, this law was signed by the President the Republic of Latvia, Raimonds Vejonis.

Fourth, amendments have been made to the laws regulating the activities of non-governmental organization. They are not limited to restrictions for the NGO activities, — the very existence of NGOS is being put into risk. This was the reason why the international CIVICUS Monitor has, on April 20, 2018, downgraded Latvia’s civic space rating from Open to Narrowed. The main grounds for the downgrading were the “amendments to the laws governing CSOs adopted by the Latvian parliament in November 2017. These changes aim to ensure that CSOs comply with «national security interests» and they also give greater powers to the authorities to ask for detailed reports, prohibit public activities and freeze bank accounts of organisations. Authorities now have the power to shut down organisations in certain circumstances. This closure of space is also being experienced through a denial of access to government ministries and attempts by the government to curtail funding to the sector … Recent attempts by CSOs in Latvia to reopen dialogue with the government on these issues has proved unfruitful, with the influence of the National Alliance (NA) party, a right wing party which is currently in a coalition government with two other parties” (3)

The authorities of the Republic of Latvia do not simply ignore the criticism from the Council of Europe, European Parliament and UN Human Rights Committee. They  also put more and more efforts into building a monoethnic “Latvian Latvia”, which leads to further disintegration and political radicalisation of Latvian society.

The 4th Regional conference of Russia’s compatriots in Northern Europe and Baltic Sea countries (27-28 April 2018, Oslo) PRОТЕSTS against the growing undemocratic trends in the political development of the Republic of Latvia, and DECLARES unacceptable for Latvia as a European Union member state to conduct a policy of forced assimilation of national minorities (37 % of the country’s population), and to promote, on a state level, a policy of Russophobia and whitewashing Nazism.

The 4th Regional conference of Russia’s compatriots in Northern Europe and Baltic Sea countries СONSIDERS, that the main reason of the undemocratic development of the state of Latvia has been the creation, in 1991, and continuous preservation of mass statelessness,

and CALLS UPON the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Ms Dunja Mijatovic, The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Mr Lamberto Zannier, the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay, the President of the European Parliament, Mr Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker

to take all measures necessary for ending the long-term democratic deficit in Latvia and to ensure respect for the rights of national minorities to preserve own language and culture, including the right to get education in one’s native language.

Faithfully yours,

Delegates of the 4th Regional conference of Russia’s compatriots in Northern Europe and Baltic Sea countries

April 28, 2018

Notes

  1. Parliamentary Assembly. Report of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Observation of the Parliamentary Elections in Latvia (5 October 2002). Doc. 9621 Addendum III (revised, English only). 8 November 2002.
  2. European Parliament 2014-2019. P8_TA-PROV(2015) 0286. Situation of fundamental rights in the EU (2013-2014). European Parliament resolution of 8 September 2015 on the situation of fundamental rights in the European Union (2013-2014) (2014/2254 (INI). Para. 167
  3. https://monitor.civicus.org/newsfeed/2018/04/20/latvias-rating-downgraded-narrowed/