HCNM letter to the Parliament’s Speaker on pre-schools, 2020

Dear Speaker,

I took note that on 22 January draft law No. 407/Lp13, “Amendment to the General Education Law” was supported by the Saeima’s Education, Culture and Science Committee for the second reading. Prior to the consideration of the draft law by the Saeima next month, please allow me to share some consideration, given the salience of the issue of education for the integration of Latvia’s diverse society and for Latvia’s bilateral relations.

AsI have underlined in all my engagements with the authorities of Latvia, I support the important role that knowledge of the State language plays in promoting the integration of society. In this regard, I understand that the reform in the preschool education system is aimed at ensuring that minority children gain a basic knowledge of the Latvian language. At the same time, the current wording of the draft law, which obliges all municipal kindergartens, including those with Russian as a language of instruction, to open a Latvian language group, may result in a reduction of learning opportunities for pupils of a minority background.

In this regard, I encourage you to consider including safeguards to enable pupils of a minority background to continue receiving preschool education in their mother tongue, if their parents so choose. I suggest, for example, including a provision that requires a municipality to provide the acquisition of pre-school education programmes in a national minority language in pre-school educational institutions within its territory, should there be sufficient demand. Thisis in line with my institution’s The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, which advise that “The first years of education are of pivotal importance in a child’s development. Educational research suggests that the medium of teaching at pre-school and kindergarten levels should ideally be the child’s language. Wherever possible, States should create conditions enabling parents to avail themselves of this option.

More generally, in the experience of my institution, any policy or legislative development that may have an impact on minority communities should be developed through effective communication and consultations with all groups concerned to avoid misunderstandings. Likewise, the introduction of the reforms should be approached in a gradual way, while ensuring that the sufficient number of bilingual teachers are trained and available for kindergartens.

My office remains at the disposal of the authorities of Latvia to provide expertise that may be required on the above matters.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Document data: 30.01.2020. Also sent to the foreign ministry. Link: https://www.facebook.com/igor.pimenov.latvia/posts/2590769637687732 & https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2009192379226384 Also available in Latvian at: https://titania.saeima.lv/LIVS13/saeimalivs13.nsf/0/C1C551C2C2ADCCF1C22585040051641D?OpenDocument

Draft amendment to the General Education Law, 2020

To supplement Section 21 of the law with a new Paragraph 2 reading as follows (the existing text of the Section being considered to be Paragraph 1):

(2) A municipality has a duty to ensure acquisition of pre-school
education programmes in the official language in all the pre-school
educational institutions subordinated thereto.

Document data: The text given is the unofficial translation of the one approved by the parliamentary education commission in January 2020, in advance of the 2nd reading of the bill in the plenary. Latvian original text: (2) Pašvaldības pienākums ir nodrošināt pirmsskolas izglītības programmu apguvi valsts valodā visās tās padotībā esošajās pirmsskolas izglītības iestādēs. Link: https://titania.saeima.lv/LIVS13/saeimalivs13.nsf/0/AEA53F00545DBC27C22584F70047D11B?OpenDocument

National Alliance: a profile

NA pre-election newspaper “Nacionalas Zinas”, May 2017. An article by Edvīns Šnore MP. He quotes a long-dead politician speaking of “once let in a coat, Russian lice will be difficult to get out” and immediately explicitly agrees with him: “Indeed, we see that the USSR-time Russian-speaking immigrants, although permanently smearing Latvia, are not going away. At least, not in the amount the ethnic Latvians want it to happen”. Police refused initiating a criminal case. Mr Šnore wasn’t deprived of his Three Stars Order, or of leadership of the Latvian delegation in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – just orally reprimanded (the mildest possible punishment by the parliamentary ethics commission). His statement and the weak reaction to it were criticized by two Council of Europe reports.

As at January 2020, the National Alliance is a co-ruling party with two portfolios in the cabinet and the chair’s position in the Parliament, Ms Inara Mūrniece. It has two MEPs (ECR group) from 8 Latvian ones and 12 MPs from 100. The current head of state, Mr Egils Levits, was proposed as a candidate by the NA and the New Conservative Party (to a large extent, a better-polished split from NA). NA leader is Mr Raivis Dzintars. The party has been formed by merging “All for Latvia!” and “Fatherland and Freedom”/LNNK parties.

NA links with foreign Neo-Nazis as reflected even by state-owned lsm.lv, in 2019: see “Re:Baltica reveals more questionable links of Latvian nationalists”, “Senior National Alliance figure apologises for “cloud” of far-right messages” and “De Facto: British neo-Nazi visited Latvian political party office“.

NA describes Waffen SS Latvian Legion veterans as “Latvian freedom fighters“. Its regular participation in events glorifying them has drawn concern from ECRI.

For criticism of British Tories’ unholy alliance with the NA predecessors in the European Parliament (continued right until the Brexit in January 2020), see: “Latvia’s far right: Inconvenient truths that the Tories ignore“, “Miliband refuses to apologise to Pickles“, “Thousands pay tribute to Latvia’s fallen Nazi troops“, “Conservative Party facing US pressure over links with far-right parties in Europe“.

An English-language article on regular celebrations of the 1934 coup anniversaries by the NA, authored by a reputable journalist and later UN staff Didzis Melbiksis.

Profiles of NA ahead of the 2019 European elections: in French by Jean-Yves Camus, and in English&German by Aleksandr Kuzmin. ENAR & ILGA report on hate speech ahead of the 2014 European elections.

Academic evaluations of NA predecessors: “All for Latvia!” described as “racist” by Nils Muižnieks, later CoE Commissioner for Human Rights: Muižnieks N. Latvia. In: Racist extremism in Central and Eastern Europe. Ed. C. Mudde. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0-415-35593-1 — p. 99. “Fatherland and Freedom”/LNNK described by Jean-Yves Camus as “on the borderline between conservative right and far right” and “an ultra-nationalist party comparable in some respects to the far right which voices anti-Russian feeling” in a report commissioned by ECRI (pages 6 and 30).

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Background and U.S.-Baltic Relations (excerpts), 2020


Potential Hybrid Threats

In recent years, tensions between Russia and the Baltic states have been exacerbated by [..] and a Russian propaganda offensive directed at Russian speakers in the Baltic states. [..]

Disinformation Campaigns and Ethnic Russians in Baltic States

The presence of a large ethnic Russian population in the Baltic states is a factor in these concerns, especially given that Russian claims of persecution against Russian communities were part of Russia’s pretext for intervention in Ukraine. According to statements by Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, one of the central principles of Russian foreign policy is acting as the defender and guarantor of the rights of Russian-speaking people wherever they live.71

71 President of Russia, “Address by President of the Russian Federation,” March 18, 2014, at http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20603.

Russia routinely accuses Estonia and Latvia of violating the human rights of Russian-speaking minorities by discriminating against the Russian language in official usage.72 Although international organizations generally have rejected these charges, some segments of the countries’ Russian-speaking communities are poorly integrated into society. 73 About 230,000 people in Latvia and 76,000 people in Estonia, the majority of whom are ethnic Russians, are noncitizen residents who are not allowed to vote or hold public office because they have not passed a citizenship test, which includes language and history components. Additionally, approximately 55,000 Russian citizens live in Latvia and 89,000 Russian citizens live in Estonia.74

72 In April 2018, for example, Latvia adopted a law mandating that Latvian is to gradually become the sole language of instruction in the country’s public schools. Although the reform is popular among ethnic Latvians, many in the country’s Russian-speaking population have objected to the law as discriminatory. Russia strongly criticized the law and threatened to impose economic sanctions against Latvia in response. See “Russia Threatens Sanctions over Latvian Language in Schools,” BBC News, April 3, 2018.
73 Isabelle de Pommereau, “Estonia Reaches Out to Its Ethnic Russians at Long Last,” Deutsche Welle, February 24, 2018

74 Council of Europe, “Latvia Takes Important Step Toward Eliminating Child Statelessness,” press statement, October 18, 2019; “Number of Stateless Residents in Estonia Drops by over 2,200 in 2018,” ERR News, Estonian Public Broadcasting, January 3, 2019; and “Population of Russian Citizens in Latvia Grows by 28,000 over Decade,” Public Broadcasting of Latvia, July 24, 2017.

Many in the ethnic Russian community receive their news primarily from Russian-language television and newspapers, and Russian media dominates the information market in Russian-speaking regions.75 In the past, Latvia and Lithuania have imposed fines and temporary bans on Russian media outlets, such as Rossiya and Sputnik, due to what authorities considered dangerous and unbalanced reporting.76

75 See Andrew Whyte, “Russian-Speakers Increasingly Turning to RTR Planeta for ‘Propaganda’ Dose,” Estonian Public Broadcasting, October 25, 2018, and Mārtinš Hiršs, The Extent of Russia’s Influence in Latvia, National Defence Academy of Latvia, Center for Security and Strategic Research, November 2016, p. 12 (hereinafter, Hiršs, Extent of Russia’s Influence).

76 “Latvia Shuts Down Russian ‘Propaganda’ Website Sputnik,” Euractiv, March 30, 2016, and Liudas Dapkus, “Latvia, Lithuania Ban Russian State TV Broadcasts,” Associated Press, April 7, 2014

Analysts have documented how Russia uses traditional media (e.g., radio, television) and social media to propagate disinformation in the Baltic states and many other European countries.77 Russian disinformation efforts against the Baltic states typically attempt to polarize society by portraying the Baltic states as illegitimate and dysfunctional, the EU as ineffective and divided, NATO and the United States as imperial powers, and Baltic governments as Russophobe fascist regimes that oppress their ethnic Russian populations. Russian outlets repeatedly have sought to stir up opposition to NATO deployments in the region by fabricating stories of criminal activity by deployed NATO soldiers.78

77 See, for example, Todd C. Helmus et al., Russian Social Media Influence: Understanding Russian Propaganda in Eastern Europe, RAND Corporation, 2018.
78 Edward Lucas and Peter Pomeranzev, Winning the Information War, Center for European Policy Analysis, August 2016

There is no movement among Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic states advocating absorption by Russia, and survey data indicate that these communities are not a unified, homogenous group in terms of how they view competing political narratives.79 Analysts believe most members of these communities prefer to live in Estonia or Latvia rather than Russia; noncitizen residents enjoy benefits such as visa-free travel throughout the EU, and average wages are considerably higher than in Russia.80 Concerns remain, however, that Russia could attempt to foment tensions or civil unrest as a pretext for intervention or in an attempt to seize territory populated by ethnic Russians.

79 Hiršs, Extent of Russia’s Influence, pp. 3 and 9-23.

80 Emily Ferris, Probing the Baltic States: Why Russia’s Ambitions Do Not Have a Security Dimension, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, November 21, 2018.


Document data: version of December 2019 https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20191219_R46139_a55ed65514760d812d5e68ff30e13e83da431742.pdf ; version of January 2020 https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46139

Publisher’s notes: the author himself chose the example of instruction being switched to Latvian only, and wrote that “international organizations generally have rejected these charges”. Tellingly, he did not provide any examples of such rejection. In fact, the legislation has been criticized by various international organisations, see http://minorities-latvia.info/2019/12/31/booklet-on-dismantling-minority-education-in-latvia-2019/