HCNM statement to the 1229th Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council (excerpt), 2019

During my first visit to Latvia in my current capacity, which took place in March, I engaged with a broad range of interlocutors both in Riga as well as in Daugavpils; an area with a sizeable concentration of minorities in the south-east of the country.

On the matter of citizenship, I took note of a decrease in the number of non-citizens from 29 per cent in 1995 to 10.7 per cent in 2019. In this context, I was encouraged by the President’s initiative to grant automatic citizenship to the newly-born children of non-citizens and welcome the recent adoption of the relevant draft law the Saeima in the first reading. While I recognize that this measure alone will not solve the issue of non-citizenship, I view it as a positive step towards the resolution of this long-standing matter, and as having a symbolic value for minorities. I encouraged the authorities take additional steps to further facilitate and incentivize naturalization, especially for the younger generations, which would be beneficial in the long term.

With regard to the education reforms launched in 2018 and their implications for national minorities, I recognize the intended objectives behind the reorganization and optimization of the school system. At the same time, I reiterated my position that the reform constitutes a departure from a previously well-functioning model of bilingual education, which was based on the advice of my institution. Going forward, it is crucial to proceed with the implementation of the reform in a way that is inclusive and which takes into consideration the concerns of national minorities who will be affected by it. In this regard, I encouraged effective communication and dialogue with minority communities to reduce the risk of misunderstandings and rumours. I also urged the authorities to avoid giving any impression that the reform is unduly penalizing or disproportionately impacting national minorities.

As to the language policy, I highlighted the importance of a pragmatic approach by pursuing a balance between promoting the State language and safeguarding minorities’ languages through positive means and incentives, rather than punitive measures, as the latter may undermine any efforts to increase the use of the State language as a tool for integration. In Latvia, I also looked into other matters related to the integration of society, such as inclusive public spaces and symbols.

Document data: 23.05.2019, Link: https://www.osce.org/permanent-council/420572?download=true

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