Constitutional Court judgment on private minority schools (excerpts), 2019

15.2. [..] The rights of the persons belonging to national minorities, which follow from Article 114 of the Constitution, are oriented to maintain a balance in the society, creating a friendly environment for preservation of minority languages, ethnic and cultural identity, and in the same time ensuring appropriate respect for the constitutional values and social cohesion. This aim can be achieved when both persons belonging to national minorities and the society as a whole perceive the implementation of national minority rights as enrichment of the whole society. The implementation of national minority rights may not be aiming to social segregation and threaten the unity of the society. A movement of those belonging to different identities each to their own identity space threatens the democratic discourse and the possibility of commmon action in a unified society (see para. 23.2 of the judgment of the Constitutional Court of 23.04.2019 in the case No. 2018-12-01).

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21. [..] Learning the state language as a subject cannot ensure as good an understanding of its practical use, and as wide a vocabulary as a pupils gets by using the state language as the medium of instruction in learning other subjects as well. One does not find any other alternative means allowing to achieve the same level of state language acquisition in the general education process as can be achieved by a pupils, using the state language as the medium of instruction [..]

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22.2. [..] private educational institutions are still permitted to implement national minority education programmes in the basic education phase, providing a significant part of the curriculum in a minority language and thus giving appropriate opportunities to use national minority language in learning process to the persons belonging to national minorities.

In turn, in secondary education programmes, the private educational institutions are permitted to include a specialised subject “Language and literature of a national minority” and to assign a notable part of the workload to subjects not mentioned in the secondary education standard, which are directed to preservation and development of national minority identity and to integrating persons belonging to minorities to the society [..]

The legal provisions need to be interpreted in the way that both specialised subject “Language and literature of a national minority” and to subjects not mentioned in the secondary education standard, which are related to national minority identity and culture, need to be learned using a minority language as the medium of instruction [..]

The issue of language use became relevant due to migration promoted by the occupation authorities. Although a part of Soviet-time migrants were not ethnic Russians, their only language of communication in Latvia was Russian. An all-encompassing Russification was implemented, allowing to use Russian without restrictions in everyday communication and imposing its use in public authorities. In education, Russification was implemented by dedicating special attention to learning the Russian language in schools with Latvian as the medium of instruction, and creating schools where Russian was the only medium of instruction, thus, in fact, creating a segregated education system. [..]

Ina Druviete, an invited person, points that sociolinguistically, the Latvian language still does not meet the state language status in some aspects. The main reason for such situation is the linguistic self-sufficiency of Russian language speakers, which impedes improvement of Latvian language skills among these persons. In turn, it follows from the information provided by the Ministry of Education and Science, evaluated in the process of adopting the contested provision, that 22 % of more than a fifth of national minority pupils evaluate their state language skills as low. [..]

Appropriate skills to use the state language allow the persons belonging to national minorities to continue education sucessfully, to freely compete in the labour market of the country, to fully participate in the democratic discourse of the society. It also protects the rights of other members of the society to use the state language in all spheres of life. The ability of all persons belonging to national minorities to communicate freely on every issue in the state language is indispensable in the context of preserving the democratic order and equally important botrh for the persons belonging to national minorities themselves and to the society as a whole, because it is this ability which would allow all members of the society to communicate freely among themselves and with the state” [..]

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23.2. [..] Unlike the national minority education programmes, the opportunity to get education, as an exception, in a EU official language is provided in the Clause 2.1 of Paragraph 2 of Section 9 of the Education Law with an aim to promote deeper learning of a foreign language, not to develop the culture and language of a respective country [..]


Document data: 13.11.2019, published 14.11.2019. Case No. 2018-22-01. Link: http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018-22-01_Spriedums.pdf (in Latvian)

Publisher’s notes:

On para. 15.2.: Actually, Art. 114 of the Constitution speaks (since 1998) not just of the right to “preservation”, but also about the right to “development” of minority languages and identity. Unsurprisingly, the court ignores this, as consecutive amendments since 1998 impede the use of minority languages, to the contrary. Rights of minorities are being made dependent on the perception on the “society as a whole”. Freedom of choice gets interpreted as segregation, contrary both to ECRI definition ( see p. 15 ), CERD ( Thornberry P. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Oxford University Press, 2016. P. 238 ) etc. The point of “democratic discourse” might be arguable if applied to requiring some degree of bilingual education in two specific school subjects – in history and social sciences. However, it gets used to exclude all non-majority languages from all general subjects of the curriculum.

On para. 21: Even if learning the language as a subject weren’t efficient enough, there is the opportunity to have subjects taught bilingually, or to require some specific part of the curriculum (e.g. on social sciences or Latvia’s geography) to be taught in Latvian. The court does not consider these less intrusive measures. There is also no limit set to the level of Latvian skills which could be demanded without discrimination.

on Para. 22.2: The “significant part” and “notable part” are not more than 20 % in grades 7 to 9, and their number is not clear in grades 10 to 12 (secondary school). Integration is presented as a one-way process, just integrating minority as an object. The claim that “migrants” in the Latvian SSR did not use Latvian – Russian only – is not supported by any evidence. Freedom to use Russian in daily life is presented as Russification. Having Russian language as a well-taught subject in Latvian-language schools is presented as Russification. The measures of the current authorities, albeit much more intrusive, don’t receive their proper evaluation – as forced assimilation measures banned by  the Framework Convention. It would be good to have the same way of a “Latvianization” of Russian schools now, as Latvian schools were allegedly “Russified” in the Latvian SSR. Free choice gets interpreted as segregation, contrary both to ECRI definition, CERD etc. The Russian-language schools in the territory of current Latvia pre-independence and during the 1918-1940 independence are ignored – as if Russian schools were created by the Soviet authorities. Having an opportunity to get some services in Russian is presented as an obstacle to learning Latvian and as undermining of the state language. Even if the ministry’s data is correct, it shows that in overwhelming majority of cases, sufficient level of Latvian skills can be achieved without learning in Latvian only in high schools and mostly in Latvian since grade 1. So the restrictions on minority language use are not necessary for the alleged legitimate aim. Latvian skills get confused with having to learn in Latvian.

The OSCE- and UNESCO-recognised benefits of mother tongue education are ignored. This allows the court to misrepresent the issue of the best interests of the child as well.
The point of “democratic discourse” might be arguable if applied to requiring some degree of bilingual education in two specific school subjects – in history and social sciences. However, it gets used to exclude all non-majority languages from all general subjects of the curriculum.

On para. 23.2. Learning in such minority languages as German, Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian (also in English and French) is allowed without percentage limits – but not in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Hebrew or Yiddish. This approach was criticized by the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights in her Human Right Comment of October 29, 2019

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