ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on Anti-Semitism and historical memory), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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2. Hate Speech17

17 According to ECRI’s GPR No. 15 on combating hate speech, “hate speech” shall mean the advocacy, promotion or incitement, in any form, of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well as any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat in respect of such a person or group of persons and the justification of all the preceding types of expression, on the ground of “race”, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, language, religion or belief, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics or status.

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Hate Speech in public life

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25. (..) ECRI also received information about antisemitic threats that were made to the Jewish community school in 2015.

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Hate speech in political and other public discourse

27. In its last report, ECRI expressed concern about the annual commemoration ceremonies on 16 March for soldiers who fought in the Latvian Legion of the Waffen SS.24 The authorities explained to ECRI that although they do not support this commemoration, they are unable to prevent it taking place, following court judgements in previous years which had overturned Riga City Council’s ban of the event. The authorities underlined that they remain vigilant and would intervene if any symbols of Nazism were shown during these events. While ECRI understands that the authorities cannot act contrary to court decisions, it emphasises the urgent need for high-level government officials to condemn such commemorations in the strongest possible way.25 In this context, ECRI is particularly concerned about the fact that Members of Parliament belonging to the National Alliance Party, which is part of the governing coalition, have been
repeatedly observed attending these commemoration ceremonies.

24 ECRI (2012): §§ 85 – 87.
25 See also ECRI’s GPR No. 15 on combating hate speech (§ 4g) for the importance of counter-speech.

28. ECRI reiterates its recommendation that the Latvian authorities condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen SS and collaborated with the Nazis. Furthermore, the government should call upon its coalition parties’ Members of Parliament to abstain from attending such commemoration ceremonies.

Hate speech on the Internet

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32. (..) The Jewish community also informed ECRI about a number of antisemitic Internet postings.

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3. Racist and homo-/transphobic violence

Data

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46. The Jewish community of Latvia informed ECRI about five cases of vandalism and desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Riga in 2016. In 2017, Latvian Public Media reported that the Jewish cemetery in Rezekne was vandalised four times in August and September of this year. 51

51 LSM (22 September 2017).

The authorities’ response

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49. ECRI was informed that the 2016 attacks on the Jewish cemetery in Riga (see § 46) were investigated by the police and treated as an antisemitic hate crime. With regard to the incidents in Rezekne, four youths were apprehended in September 2017 and criminal proceedings were opened against them. ECRI has not received any information, however, if these acts are also being treated as antisemitic hate crimes.

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4. Integration

General overview

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53. While ECRI notes that additional state funds have been provided to support the implementation of the Action Plan57 and that the authorities have taken steps to involve various minority representatives more actively (cf. § 51 above), a certain policy principle contained in the guidelines seems to underpin government actions in a way that can easily run counter to promoting enhanced integration. In the Guidelines, the authorities underline their idea that “National identity is rooted in a common perception of a nation’s history. […] Divided social memory means a divided society. […] Ever since Latvia regained independence, a different perception of Soviet occupation and its consequences among a part of the Russian speaking population has become a significant challenge for building a
cohesive national and civic identity.”58 While ECRI fully understands the need for a national narrative, as part of a nation-building process after regaining independence, it would like to remind the authorities that diverging perceptions of the past are an important part of open societies. In this regard, it is vital to pursue a dialogue about the country’s history with various groups, including those that hold views which differ from the state-sponsored historiography, rather than engaging in a top-down politics of memory59 in which an official version of the country’s past is imposed, which might risk alienating rather than integrating certain groups into Latvian society.

57 In 2016, for example, the authorities provided an additional € 200 000 to the Latvian Language Centre for the development of language study aids, which are now in use.
58 Ministry of Culture (2012): 29.
59 Cf. ibid.: 31.

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II Topics specific to Latvia

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2. Restitution of Jewish community property

83. In its fourth report on Latvia, ECRI recommended that the authorities make provision for the restitution of the religious and communal property of the Jewish community and dispel any antisemitic sentiment that may stem from such action.93 In 2016, the Latvian Parliament decided to return five properties, which were owned by the Jewish community until World War II and the Shoah, to the local Jewish community. The list of disputed properties, however, is much longer and contains 265 items. It appears that the authorities have shown no intention to discuss the restitution of the remaining properties and instead consider the matter closed. While ECRI commends the authorities for the restitution of the five properties, it does not view this issue as resolved and underlines the need for a
comprehensive agreement in this respect. ECRI also notes that no particular
activities were conducted to dispel antisemitic sentiments during the discussions about property restitution, as these did not lead to a significant increase in antisemitic hatred. ECRI encourages the authorities, however, to closely monitor this situation in the context of further and more comprehensive deliberations about property restitution to the Jewish community.

93 ECRI (2012): §§ 118-119.

84. ECRI reiterates its recommendation that the authorities make provision for the restitution of the religious and communal property of the Jewish community and dispel any antisemitic sentiment that may stem from such action. The restitution process should lead to a comprehensive agreement about all disputed properties and not be limited to only a small number of them.


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f

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