II. ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE FINDINGS
Article 11 of the Framework Convention
Use of minority languages in local topographical indications and private signs
Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring
128. The Advisory Committee called on the authorities to bring their legislative framework into line with Article 11 of the Framework Convention and to facilitate the display in minority languages of local names, street names and other topographical indications intended for the public.
129. The Advisory Committee regrets that there has been no progress regarding the use of minority languages in topographical signs and other inscriptions. Section 18(1) of the Official Language Law provides that place names in Latvia must be created and used in the official language, notwithstanding the use of the Latgalian written language in the Kārsava region. Section 21(1), in turn, provides, inter alia, that this rule is applicable also to private institutions, organisations, undertakings (companies), and self-employed persons, who perform, on the basis of law or other regulatory enactments, specific public functions. No exceptions are foreseen to these provisions. The Advisory Committee deeply regrets this state of affairs, which it considers to be in contradiction to Article 11(2) of the Framework Convention. It is particularly concerned by reports concerning a homeowner in Liepaja who was fined for putting a plaque on her house in three languages (Latvian, Russian, English), instead of Latvian only. The Advisory Committee regrets that the case led to the person in question to contest the relevant sections of the Official Language Law before the Constitutional Court, which examined them only on the grounds of privacy88 and, on 17 November 2017, dismissed the complaint.89
Footnote 88 Article 96 of the Constitution: “Everyone has the right to inviolability of his or her private life, home and correspondence.”
Footnote 89 Decision to terminate the liability case No. 2017-01-01, available (in Latvian) at http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-01_01_Lemums_izbeigsana.pdf; Delfi.lv “Court refuses to consider the case of an inhabitant who was fined for putting-up a trilingual street sign” (Суд отказался рассматривать жалобу жительницы, оштрафованной за указатель улицы на трех языках), available (in Russian) at http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/sud-otkazalsya-rassmatrivat-zhalobu-zhitelnicy-oshtrafovannoj-zaukazatel-ulicy-na-treh-yazykah.d?id=49461003.
130. The Advisory Committee reiterates that denying the possibility of having local names, street names and other topographical indications in certain areas in minority languages alongside the official language, as well as inscriptions and other information of a private nature visible to the public, not only violates the obligation of the State Party under Article11(3), but also neglects the significant symbolic value for integration that such bilingualism carries for persons belonging to national minorities as an affirmation of their presence as an appreciated and welcome part of society.
131. The Advisory Committee urges the authorities to bring without delay their legislative framework regarding the use of minority languages in topography as well as inscriptions and other information of a private nature visible to the public in line with Article 11 of the Framework Convention.
Issues of concern following three cycles of monitoring
198. The situation with regard to the use of minority languages in dealings with the administrative authorities, in topographical signs and other inscriptions, and in the transcription of personal names in other languages into Latvian and their use in personal documents, has not changed in Latvia during the current monitoring cycle. Denying the possibility of using national minority languages in these circumstances neglects the significant symbolic value for societal integration that such bilingualism carries for persons belonging to national minorities, as an affirmation of their presence as an equal and integral part of society.
review the legislative and policy provisions related to the use of languages in relations with administrative authorities for topographical indications and other signage, as well as regards spelling of names and surnames in the minority language in official documents; continue efforts to raise awareness among officials and the public at large of the conditions and terms under which minority languages may be used;
Document data: ACFC/OP/III(2018)001; adopted 23.02.2018, published 15.10.2018 Link: https://rm.coe.int/revised-version-of-the-english-language-version-of-the-opinion/1680901e79 Also available in Latvian: https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-latvian/16808d91ab