FCNM Advisory Committee 3rd opinion on Latvia (excerpts on language), 2018

I. MAIN FINDINGS

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General overview of the implementation of the Framework Convention after three monitoring cycles

10. Latvia has maintained a consistent policy based on an open approach with regard to the personal scope of application of the Framework Convention, albeit restricted to persons holding Latvian citizenship. The authorities have introduced measures to reduce the number of “non-citizens” residing in Latvia on a permanent basis. In particular, steps to facilitate the acquisition of Latvian citizenship at birth and by elderly persons are welcome. The authorities continue to vigorously promote the pre-eminence of the Latvian language in all areas of public life, with the effect of diminishing opportunities to use other languages, in particular those used by persons belonging to national minorities. Consequently, the space for individuals to express publicly their ethnic and linguistic affiliation has been diminishing.

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Language policy

20. The authorities spare no effort in ensuring the predominance of the Latvian language in public life. Increasingly strict proficiency requirements are applied to virtually all professions, adversely affecting the possibility of Latvian non-native speakers – including in particular persons belonging to national minorities – accessing many positions within the public domain. Latvian is the only language authorised in dealings with the administrative authorities, in topographical signs and other inscriptions and in personal identity documents. Language proficiency requirements have been used to terminate the mandates of elected municipal council members. Moreover, members of ruling boards of NGOs are required to be proficient in Latvian at native speaker level.

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II. ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE FINDINGS

Article 3 of the Framework Convention

Personal scope of application of the Framework Convention

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Present situation

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29. At the beginning of 2017, Latvian citizens numbered 1 670 670 persons, “noncitizens” 222 847, citizens of other countries 56 423 (including 42 160 citizens of the Russian Federation), stateless persons 176. Furthermore, according to the data collected during the Census of 2011, the language mostly used at home was Latvian, which was used by 62.1% of the population. The second most spoken language at home was Russian (37.2% of the population). Other languages were spoken at home by 0.7% of the population.13

Footnote 13 See Results of the population and housing census 2011, published in 2015, p. 97, available at http://www.csb.gov.lv/sites/default/files/publikacijas/2015/Nr%2012%20Latvijas%202011.gada%20Tautas%20skaitisanas%20rezultati_Results%20of%20the%202011%20Population%20and%20housing%20census%20in%20Latvia
%20%2815_00%29_LV_EN.pdf.

Article 7 of the Framework Convention

Freedom of assembly and association

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99. In accordance with amendments to Regulations on Positions and Professions which require Official Language Proficiency of 2009, 63 adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers on 21 February 2017,64 members of ruling boards of NGOs are required to be proficient in the Latvian language at C1 level. The regulations, as amended, provide for possible exceptions from this requirement for board members of national minority NGOs. In accordance with the applicable procedure they may request that the State Language Centre65 (operating under the Ministry of Justice) apply lower requirements for their board members. However, the Advisory Committee regrets that criteria to be applied by the State Language Centre when considering exemptions remain undefined, and the procedure itself constitutes a bureaucratic impediment to freedom of association.

Footnote 63 Regulations No. 733 of 7 July 2009 on the Degree of Knowledge of the Official Language and the Procedures for Examination of the Knowledge of the Official Language, (in Latvian: Noteikumi par valsts valodas zināšanu apjomu un valsts valodas prasmes pārbaudes kārtību; Latvijas Vēstnesis, 2009, 14. jūlijs, nr. 110).
Footnote 64 Amendments to Cabinet Regulation No. 7 of 7 July 2009 “On the level of knowledge of the state language and the state language proficiency check procedure for performing professional and official duties, obtaining a
permanent residence permit and obtaining the status of a long-term resident of the European Union and a state fee for examining the state language proficiency”, available (in Latvian) at https://likumi.lv/ta/id/288898.
Footnote 65 Organization website: http://vvc.gov.lv/ (in Latvian only).

100. The Advisory Committee is concerned that the requirement of Latvian language proficiency on the part of the national minority board members may, in some cases, prevent some persons, in particular in the Latgale region (where Latvian language environment is restricted and Latvian language skills among persons belonging to national minorities are lower than average) from continuing to participate actively in civil society activities. This would be most regrettable, given, in particular, the important role that national minority NGOs play in many areas of social integration of society.

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Recommendations

102. The Advisory Committee strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities do not use language proficiency requirements to create impediments preventing persons belonging to national minorities from exercising the freedom of association guaranteed by the Framework Convention.

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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

Publisher’s note: for other language-related issues, please see excerpts on education, language learning, employment, culture, public services, participation, citizenship, media, personal names, placenames.

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