Resolution on Framework Convention (excerpt), 2021

The Committee of Ministers [..]

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2. Adopts the following recommendations in respect of Latvia:

In addition to the measures to be taken to implement the detailed recommendations contained in sections I and II of the opinion of the Advisory Committee, the authorities are invited to take the following measures to improve further the implementation of the Framework Convention:

Issues for immediate action

  • promote the integration of society as a two-way process, in particular encouraging active participation of all segments of society in all relevant fields, such as education, culture and employment, particularly in the public sector, and enhance intercultural contacts within society as a whole, beyond the promotion of proficiency in Latvian; consider the establishment of a dedicated structure whose functions would include co-ordination of social cohesion policies in all relevant sectors;
  • strongly encourage effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities including ethnic Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Polish, Lithuanians, Jews, Roma and others, in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them, in accordance with Article 15 of the Framework Convention;
  • review whether language proficiency standards regulating access to public employment are necessary and proportionate for all occupations in state and public service; make sure that language proficiency standards regulating access to elected positions and those within civil society organisations do not create undue obstacles;
  • ensure the continued availability of teaching and learning in languages of national minorities throughout the country with a view to meeting existing demand; representatives of national minorities, including parents, should be consulted closely to ensure that their interests and concerns with regard to the languages of instruction in minority language schools are effectively taken into account;
  • step up efforts to identify and remedy the shortcomings faced by Roma children in the field of education with a view to ensuring that they have equal opportunities for access to all levels of quality education; take measures to prevent Roma children from being wrongfully placed in special schools.

Other recommendations

  • review legislative provisions related to personal identity documents and ensure that the right to free self-identification, as stipulated in Article 3 of the Framework Convention, is fully respected;
  • combat stereotypes and prejudices in political discourse and promote tolerance and intercultural dialogue throughout society as a whole; take specific, targeted measures to counteract manifestations of xenophobia in society;
  • reconsider the approach to the quota requirements in the broadcasting media; develop, in close consultation with minority representatives and media professionals, more appropriate means to ensure that Latvian language speakers and speakers of national minority languages benefit from a diverse and shared media space; pursue efforts to promote the State language through incentive-based and voluntary methods rather than through the imposition of quotas or sanctions;
  • review the legislative and policy provisions related to the use of languages in relations with administrative authorities, for topographical indications and other signage, as well as regards spelling of names and surnames in a minority language in official documents; continue efforts to raise awareness among officials and the public at large of the conditions and terms under which minority languages may be used;
  • enhance efforts to prevent and combat inequality and discrimination suffered by the Roma; improve the living conditions of the Roma by increasing employment opportunities and promoting integration within society.

Document data: CM/ResCMN(2021)9; adopted 03.03.2021. Link: https://search.coe.int/cm/pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=0900001680a14111

Report “Preserving national minorities in Europe” (excerpt), 2021

Appendix – Specific case-studies examined in the context of this report

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Latvia

1. Certain elements of the situation of national minorities in Latvia bear similarities to those in Ukraine. A majority – 62.1% – of the population identifies as Latvian, 26.9% as Russian, 3.3% as Belarusian, 2.2% as Ukrainian and the same proportion as Polish, and 1.2% as Lithuanian, with nearly 100 other (smaller) groups identified in the most recent census. Latvian, the State language, is the mother tongue of 60.8% of the population, while 36% of the population have Russian as their mother tongue and 3.2% another language.71 Some data show that pupils following minority education programmes have a lower level of proficiency in the State language than pupils in Latvian-medium education.72 Recent amendments, designed to improve proficiency in the State language, have curbed access to education in minority languages and increased the proportion of instruction that must be provided in Latvian, with teaching in non-EU languages moreover being subject to greater restrictions than that in EU languages in both public and private schools.

71 Central Statistics Bureau of Latvia, Indicators characterising languages used by the population of Latvia, Mother tongue of population of Latvia, 2017.

72 CDL-AD(2020)012, op. cit., paragraphs 22 to 26.

2. In the light of this situation, and in the context of my work on the present report, the committee decided at its meeting of 4 December 2019 to request the opinion of the Venice Commission on the recent amendments to the legislation on education in minority languages in Latvia. I wish to thank the Venice Commission for its rapid and thorough follow-up to this request.

3. As of June 2018, minority education programmes were available in seven languages in Latvia: Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Estonian, Lithuanian and Belarusian. A series of amendments, covering all levels of education from preschool to higher education, were introduced in Latvian legislation and regulations between March and November 2018, and scheduled to come into force progressively over three academic years starting from September 2019. The amendments have been described in detail in the opinion of the Venice Commission.73 Some amendments concerning higher education in private institutions were found by the Constitutional Court of Latvia on 11 June 2020 to be incompatible with the Constitution and void as of May 2021. Another part of this case was subsequently referred to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.74 On 19 June 2020, one day after the Venice Commission adopted its opinion, the Constitutional Court found the amendments relating to pre-school education for children aged 5-7 years to be in conformity with the Latvian Constitution.75

73 Ibid., paragraphs 36 to 58.

74 Judgment in case No. 2019-20-01, summary in English, full text in Latvian, and decision of 17 July 2020, available on the Court’s website.

75 Judgment in case No. 2019-20-03, summary in English and full text in Latvian available on the Court’s website

4. The situation arising as a result of the 2018 amendments can be briefly summarised as follows. At preschool level, a bilingual approach can (still) be used from the age of 1.5 years, but from the age of 5 years (when preschool education becomes compulsory) to 7 years, it is now required that Latvian be the main language of communication in play-based lessons. At primary level, the highest proportion of teaching that can be delivered in a minority language is 50% in grades 1-6, and 20% in grades 7-9 (previously the highest proportion of instruction possible in a minority language at grades 7-9 was 40%). Teaching must be delivered entirely in Latvian in grades 10-12, except for minority language and literature courses, which may be given in the minority language (previously up to 40% of teaching at grades 10-12 could be provided in the minority language). A minority language may also be taught as a foreign language (through the medium of Latvian); however, as of November 2018, the first foreign language taught must be an EU language; non-EU languages can only be taught as a second foreign language.76

76 See in particular paragraphs 41, 51-57 and 94 of the Venice Commission’s opinion.

5. As noted above with respect to Ukraine, there is no question that promoting proficiency in the State language of persons belonging to national minorities is compatible with the requirements of the Framework Convention. However, a balance must always be struck between majority and minority languages in education, and measures taken to promote proficiency in the State language must be both appropriate to this aim and proportionate.77 Having examined the above situation, the Venice Commission raised a number of serious concerns. It observed, inter alia, that the new rules on preschool education would not allow pupils belonging to minorities to preserve and develop their mother tongue – a view shared by three United Nations Special Rapporteurs;78 that there should be a legal requirement to ensure that enough schools offered minority education in grades 1 to 9 wherever there was sufficient demand for it; that at upper secondary level (grades 10-12), the law should be implemented in such a way as to ensure that pupils could attain a level of proficiency that would enable them to address complex issues in their minority language; and that the possibilities for persons belonging to national minorities to have access to higher education in their minority language should be enlarged. It also emphasised the need to guarantee the quality of education received by
pupils in minority education programmes, both through improving teacher training in Latvian and minority languages, and by providing adequate teaching materials.79

77. See Advisory Committee, Thematic Commentary No. 3 on The Language Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities under the Framework Convention, ACFC/44DOC(2012)001 rev, Parts VI and VII.

78. Letter of 24 September 2019 of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

79 CDL-AD(2020)012, op. cit., paragraphs 87, 90, 92-95 and 101-102.

6. In addition to these concerns, I wish to raise three further considerations. First, the less favourable treatment of non-EU languages may lead a significant proportion of Latvia’s population to feel stigmatised and undervalued. This runs counter to the thrust of Article 6 of the Framework Convention, by which States undertake to promote tolerance, understanding and mutual respect among all persons living on their territory. Second, it is not clear whether the authorities considered alternatives that may have been less harmful to minority language education before enacting and implementing the changes described above. Third, the fact that consultations with representatives of national minorities did not enable them to influence in any tangible way the outcomes of this process may be a source of resentment and distrust. It is unfortunately a given, in any consultation process, that not all diverging points can always be fully taken into account. However, effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities remains crucial wherever legislative or other measures may affect their rights, and the State bears responsibility, under Article 15 of the Framework Convention, for creating the necessary conditions for such dialogue to occur.


Document data: 01.03.2021 Links: https://pace.coe.int/en/files/28918/html & https://pace.coe.int/pdf/718141f814ec89f6115eeebd7d87b33f696ff74a4d93df588b4e4e836b6ad637/doc.%2015231.pdf

Press release on a meeting with Latvian ambassador (excerpt), 2021

In the conversation, Ribeiro referred to the developments in December 2020 when Latvian journalists and publicists, reportedly collaborating with the online websites Baltnews and Sputnik (founded and/or owned by Rossiya Segodnya, the Russian state-run news company), were obstructed in their work by the State Security Service of Latvia who searched their apartments and briefly detained them. The two also discussed the most recent incident regarding the suspension of the rebroadcasting of seven of Moscow’s TV channels by the national Latvian telecom operator TET, reportedly due to the legal risks caused by charges of violating EU sanctions against its co-owner.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media underlined the need to enable all journalists to freely report on all matters of public interest in their country and abroad – in line with the international freedom of expression standards and the relevant OSCE commitments – adding that applying economic sanctions should not interfere with media freedom.

The RFoM suggested engaging the Latvian authorities and other stakeholders in joint efforts on how to align the national counteractions towards, in particular, hate speech, with the standards on media freedom. In this regard, the RFoM noted that further communication with concrete proposals would follow.


Document data: 01.02.2021. Link: https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/477241

Links to minority NGOs and QUANGOs in Latvia

Links on language-related documents and statistics

Language and demographics

Central Statistical Bureau. 2011 census results on languages https://www.csb.gov.lv/en/statistics/statistics-by-theme/population/census/search-in-theme/1442-home-latvian-spoken-62-latvian-population (press release); https://www.csb.gov.lv/en/statistics/statistics-by-theme/population/census/tables/tsg11-08/resident-population-latvia-main-language-spoken-home (tables); https://www.csb.gov.lv/en/statistics/statistics-by-theme/population/characteristics/search-in-theme/44-share-resident-population-riga-and-jurmala (maps of Riga and Jurmala cities); http://data1.csb.gov.lv/pxweb/en/iedz/iedz__tautassk__taut__tsk2011/TSG11-07.px/ (Resident population in statistical regions, cities and counties by sex, language mostly spoken at home and age group).

Central Statistical Bureau. 2017 survey results on languages https://www.csb.gov.lv/en/statistics/statistics-by-theme/population/search-in-theme/2747-latvian-mother-tongue-608-population-latvia

Education statistics

Ministry of Education and Science. 2019/2020 statistics on general education https://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/20192020-macibu-gads

Number of daytime schools by language of instruction https://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/media/4093/download (see “pa plūsmām”)

Enrolment of daytime schools by language of instruction https://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/media/4099/download

Evening and distant learning schools by language of instructionhttps://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/media/4111/download

Enrolment of evening and distant learning schools by language of instruction https://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/media/4111/download

Kindergartens by language of instruction https://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/media/4138/download (see “Iestāžu māc. val.”)

Ministry of Education and Science report on tertiary education in 2018. https://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/media/2137/download For demand to education in Russian, shown by private education practice, see pp. 71-73. Since 2019, due to forced gradual elimination of studies in Russian, the reports do not include information on the language of instruction

Central Statistical Bureau. IZG050. Language of instruction in pre-school http://data1.csb.gov.lv/pxweb/en/sociala/sociala__izgl__pirmsskolas/IZG050.px/

Central Statistical Bureau. IZG100. General full-time school enrolment by language of instruction http://data1.csb.gov.lv/pxweb/en/sociala/sociala__izgl__vispskolas/IZG100.px/

Central Statistical Bureau. IZG110. Teaching of [including so-called foreign ones, actually minority languages] foreign languages in the general schools http://data1.csb.gov.lv/pxweb/en/sociala/sociala__izgl__vispskolas/IZG110.px/

Constitutional Court judgments on minority education

http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/wp-content/uploads/2004/08/2004-18-0106_Spriedums_ENG.pdf (2005, on restrictions of minority language use in public schools, see in particular para. 13, ignored in later CC case-law);

https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2005/02/2005-02-0106_Spriedums_ENG.pdf (2005, on denial of co-funding to private minority schools); 

https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2018%2F07%2F2018-12-01-12.-Saeimas-dep_latvie%C5%A1u-valoda-valsts-skol%C4%81s_ENG.pdf (2019, on additional restrictions of minority language use in public schools; see in particular ignoring international human rights bodies’ findings at para. 23.2);

http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Judgment-in-the-case-2018-22-01_EN-1.pdf (2019, on additional restrictions of minority language use in private schools);

 https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-12-01_Spriedums.pdf (2020, on restrictions of minority language use in private tertiary education; full judgment available in Latvian only yet; press-release in English at https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/en/press-release/norms-that-provide-that-the-language-of-instruction-in-study-programmes-of-private-institutions-of-higher-education-is-the-official-language-are-incompatible-with-article-112-and-article-113-of-the-s/ );

http://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019-20-03_Spriedums-1.pdf (2020, on restrictions of minority language use in kindergartens; see in particular ignoring international human rights bodies’ findings at para. 18.3; full judgment available in Latvian only yet; press-release in English at https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/en/press-release/the-norms-that-determine-the-language-of-instruction-in-pre-school-institutions-comply-with-the-satversme/ , excerpt translated at http://minorities-latvia.info/2020/06/19/constitutional-court-judgment-on-kindergartens-excerpts-2020/ )

Constitutional Court rulings on other language issues

Case No. 2001-04-0103 – spelling names in identity documents https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2001/06/2001-04-0103_Spriedums_ENG.pdf

Case No. 2003-02-0106 – language quotas for private radio and TV https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2003/01/2003-02-0106_Spriedums_ENG.pdf

Case No. 2012-24-03 – fines for local councillors for allegedly insufficient skills in Latvian https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/web/viewer.html?file=/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/2012-24-03_Spriedums_ENG.pdf

Case No. 2015-15-01 – language quotas for private radio https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-15-01_Lemums_izbeigsana.pdf (LV only)

Case No. 2017-01-01 – fines for displaying a multilingual plate with a streetname https://www.satv.tiesa.gov.lv/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-01_01_Lemums_izbeigsana.pdf (LV only)