ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on integration), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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4. Integration

General overview

50. Latvia has a long tradition of being a multi-ethnic country. According to the January 2017 data of the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB), the ethnic distribution of the Latvian population of 1 950116 persons included 62% Latvians, 25.4% Russians, 3.3% Belarusians, 2.2% Ukrainians, 2.1% Poles, 1.2% Lithuanians, 0.27% Roma, 0.25% Jewish, 0.13% Germans, 0.1% Estonians, as well as other smaller ethnic groups.52 In its last report on Latvia,53 ECRI recommended as a matter of priority that the authorities ensure that the then newly adopted Policy Guidelines for the Integration of Society in Latvia (the title of the final document was “Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy, 2012- 2018”) pave the way for a broad based programme focusing on antidiscrimination, an open and integrated society and concrete measures to implement it. ECRI further recommended that sufficient financial resources be allocated in a timely manner to implement the Guidelines and that civil society, national/ethnic minorities and local authorities be involved in its implementation.

52 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 32.
53 ECRI (2012): § 50

51. In its 2015 conclusions, ECRI considered this recommendation partially
implemented. An Action Plan for the implementation of the Guidelines had been formulated and awareness campaigns and training seminars for professionals to encourage tolerance and promote integration have taken place. Furthermore, outside of the Action Plan, the authorities provided a large number of free Latvian language courses to national/ethnic minorities and immigrants. However, ECRI expressed reservations about the proportion of external funds (such as EU and EEA grants) compared to state funding for projects and whether this funding would prove sufficient, as well as about the lack of strategic and conceptual links between the language courses and the Action Plan.54 ECRI considered that more should be done to ensure greater involvement of representatives of different
vulnerable groups in the implementation of the Guidelines.55

54 In this respect, ECRI notes positively that the authorities have made language courses a central element in their integration efforts for “non-citizens” (see § 60 below) as well as for newly arrived refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection (see § 78).
55 ECRI (2015): 5

52. The Guidelines define social integration as “inclusion of all people living in Latvia into society notwithstanding of their national belonging and self-identification” 56. The priorities of the guidelines are the development of civic society; strengthening civic participation; reducing the discrimination of socially marginalized groups and promoting their inclusion; increasing the role of the media in society integration through support for diverse, modern and high quality journalism; and improving the proficiency of Latvian among ethnic minorities, “non-citizens” and new immigrants. The Ministry of Culture has overall responsibility for national integration policy and related measures. Other stake-holders, including representatives of state media, are represented on the Monitoring board for the
implementation of the Guidelines. The authorities also plan to provide financial support to minority NGOs during the period 2018-2020 in order to organise multistakeholder conferences at local and regional level. This initiative aims at overcoming a certain lack of trust in the authorities among some minority groups.

56 Ministry of Culture (2012): 7.

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.

54. With regard to some specific issues concerning historical ethnic and national minorities, such as expressions of a separate identity (for example mother tongue education or minority language media) or their participation in public and political life, ECRI refers to the 3rd Opinion of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), which carried out its last visit to Latvia in parallel to ECRI’s visit. The work of both monitoring bodies is based on mutual complementarity. The Advisory Committee also examined the situation of national minorities which are not covered in ECRI’s report.

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Roma

64. The Roma community in Latvia is relatively small; the CSB 2017 figures indicated 5191 persons.70 Roma associations, however, point out that many Roma do not volunteer information about their ethnic origin to the authorities due to persistent stigmatisation and prejudice against Roma in the public sphere. Roma NGOs estimate that the number might easily be two or three times as high.71 In 2012, in order to promote the integration policy for Roma, evaluate its implementation and increase participation of the Roma community, the authorities set up the Advisory Council for Implementation of the Roma Integration Policy. The Council consists of representatives from public bodies, local governments, NGOs and members of the Roma community.72 In 2015, the Society Integration Foundation
commissioned a research project on Roma in Latvia, which examined their
access to education, employment, health care and housing services. The report shows that although some progress has been made, for example in certain areas of health care (access to obstetrics and frequency of visits to family doctors73), Roma remain one of the most socially marginalised groups in the country.74 In spite of ECRI’s recommendation in its last report,75 the authorities decided not to adopt a new national Roma strategy, but instead opted for a general approach which aims at including Roma into existing mainstream integration policies and programmes. However, given the difficult situation of the Roma community76 and the existing barriers to accessing regular social integration programmes (see, for
example, § 71 below), ECRI encourages the authorities to closely monitor the effectiveness of their choice and to reconsider the decision if necessary.

70 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 32.
71 The Council of Europe estimates the number to be around 12 500. (See:
https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/roma).
72 The Council implemented, for example, the project Latvian Roma platform I “Dialogue, cooperation and involvement”, which supported the dialogue between Roma groups, government and municipality institutions in order to ensure better coordination of integration measures for Roma at national, regional and local level.
73 Society Integration Foundation (SIF) / Market and Opinion Research Agency (2015): 7 and 81.
74 Ibid.: 3-5.
75 ECRI (2012): § 103.

76 See for example: EU Commission (2014).


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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