The human rights situation in the Republic of Latvia remains unfavorable. The ruling coalition formed after the October 2018 parliamentary elections proceeds with its line towards building a mono-ethnic state model. The Russian-speaking population of the country is still seen as a foreign destabilizing element. As a result, the nationalist policy of official authorities is accompanied by numerous national minority rights violations.
The fact that a considerable portion of Latvian population live without citizenship (10.7 per cent, or 205,500 persons according to the Central Statistical Office) remains the main human rights challenge in Latvia. For a long time, the official authorities in Riga have taken no real steps to address this problem, limiting their efforts to various “cosmetic” embellishments.
However, upon the entry into force on 1 October 2013 of amendments to the Law of the Republic of Latvia on Citizenship, the share of children of “non-citizens” given Latvian citizenship nearly doubled, reaching 90 per cent of their total number. Besides, on 21 March 2019, Latvian president Raimonds Vējonis resubmitted for consideration by the Saeima the initiative to grant automatic citizenship to children born to “non-citizens” after 1 January 2020. On 5 November 2019, a relevant law that will de-facto terminate the “reproduction” of this status was adopted. However, potential changes are more like a symbolic gesture and will have no effect on the status of more than 200,000 discriminated “non-citizens” living in the country. The particular issue of newborn “non-citizens” in Latvia is not that pressing: in 2018, the status was only given to 33 children (47 children acquired the status of “non-citizens” in 2016, and 51 in 2017). There thus remains a considerable number of people, and the total number of minor “non-citizens” is less than 5,000. At the same time, the 2013 amendments to the 1994 Law on Citizenship, which allow “non-citizens” to register as Latvian citizens upon their own initiative their children born in Latvia, are welcome as a positive development. The birth registration procedure has been simplified. An application for citizenship for a child born to a family of “non-citizens” may be submitted by either parent instead of both, as was the case before. As a result, the number of newborn “non-citizens” reduced in 2017 to 23. 263
263 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
“Non-citizens” are still refused a number of social, economic, and electoral rights. Latvian human rights defenders currently point out about 80 differences between citizens and “non-citizens” (against 61 in 2004), including 47 restrictions in terms of professional fulfillment (against 25 in 2004). “Non-citizens,” for instance, have no right to serve at public, including municipal authorities, in the military, become judges, prosecutors, etc. In the social and political sphere, “non-citizens” are not entitled to found political parties and deprived of the right to participate in the work of courts as lay judges or conclude transactions on land and real estate acquisition without authorization of municipal authorities, etc.
Official statistics confirm the unfavorable state of affairs with naturalization: every year, the naturalization rate slows down (in 2016 through 2018, it remained at a historically low level of 987, 915 and 930 persons accordingly, accordingly, against the rate in 2005, when 19,169 persons were naturalized; in 2012, the number dropped to 2,213).
The latest comprehensive survey on the attitude of “non-citizens” towards naturalization was conducted in 2016 with support from the Office of Citizenship and Migration of the Latvian Ministry of Internal Affairs. It showed a steadily growing interest in acquiring Latvian citizenship. Yet, only 35 per cent of “non-citizens” expressed their readiness for naturalization during the survey (mostly young people under 20 years old).
If the current line in the domestic policy of the Latvian authorities continues, further slow-down in the naturalization rate can be expected. Today, the decrease in the number of “non-citizens” is mostly due to the natural decline and out-migration of this category of population.
Local civil society organizations representing Russian-speaking residents, first of all the Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC), are paying much attention to the “non-citizenship” issue. The organization systematically engages in collaboration with international human rights institutions, the diplomatic corps in Riga and other stakeholders. Its activities arouse suspicions of local authorities and are annually included in the final reports of the State Security Service (former Security Police).
At the European level, the issue of mass statelessness in Latvia and Estonia was discussed in 2017 and 2018 by the relevant committees of the European Parliament (EP) on the initiative of European MP Tatjana Ždanoka and former European MP Andrey Mamykin, who succeeded in gaining 20 thousand votes of EU citizens in support of a petition to grant “non-citizens” the right to vote not only at municipal elections but also at the EP elections. In April 2018, following the results of the vote within the EP Committee on Petitions, it was decided to send letters from European MPs to Latvian authorities expressing concern over the situation of “non-citizens”. In April 2018, the Minority Safepack Initiative launched by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (NGO) (with Tatjana Ždanoka’s active support) helped collect more than a million signatures required for its further consideration by the EU structures.
[..] According to assessments, the share of persons exposed to the risk of economic insecurity totaled 23.3 per cent of the population in 2017 (exceeding by 1.2 per cent that in 2016), with the highest percentage (44.2 per cent) in Latgale, the region predominantly populated by the Russian-speaking minority.
The remaining Great Patriotic War veterans living in Latvia continue to face discrimination. Unlike the “Forest Brothers,” who were recognized national partisan fighters (many of these had served in Waffen-SS volunteer legions during the war years), WWII veterans are not entitled to pension supplements or a social package. In January 2018, the law on the status of the WWII participants was adopted, virtually bringing Soviet Army soldiers on the same footing with legionnaires who had fought for the Nazis. The decision on granting benefits for holders of this status is up to local governments.
These measures are completely in line with the consistent policy of the Latvian authorities to promote historical revisionism, justification and glorification of former SS soldiers and their accomplices, rehabilitation of Nazi criminals. The glorification of Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires and attempts to present Hitler`s sycophants as “freedom fighters” remain a key element underlying the idea of the “Soviet occupation” and the youth’s “patriotic upbringing” 264 .
264 A sufficient number of materials on the issue of the growth in radical nationalism and whitewashing of Nazism in Latvia have been published. See for example В настоящее время издано достаточное количество по тематике роста радикального национализма и обеления нацизма в Латвии. См., например, V.Gushchin. Latvia 1988-2015: a Triumph of the Radical Nationalists. Riga, 2017.
Every year on March 16, former Waffen-SS legionnaires march the streets of Riga, joined by representatives of extreme right-wing parties. Official Riga tries to present these neo-Nazi actions as peaceful events, claiming they are up to democratic standards.
On 16 March 2019, another shameful procession of legionnaires took place in the centre of Riga, featuring parliamentarians belonging of the National Bloc party as well as the prime minister’s advisor on demography. At the same time, the Latvian Anti-Fascist Committee was refused the right to organize symmetrical “response” actions. Despite the timely submission of relevant requests, the venue of the picket of Great War veterans and former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps was transferred from that near the Liberation Monument (which was the destination point of the march in support of the legionnaires) to a more remote location, allegedly “for security reasons.”
Marches of former Waffen-SS legionnaires are severely criticized by the international community. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance set up by the Council of Europe in its reports has repeatedly expressed concern about the annual commemoration ceremonies on 16 March for soldiers who fought in the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS. ECRI has taken note of the fact that parliamentarians from the National Alliance party, which is part of the ruling coalition, were seen among those attending these ceremonies. The Commission has repeatedly come up with recommendations to the Latvian authorities to condemn all attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen-SS and collaborated with the Nazis, as well as to call on MPs to abstain from attending such commemoration ceremonies. 265
265 ECRI Report on Latvia (fifth monitoring cycle), adopted on 4 December 2018, published on 5 March 2019. https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f
But instead of taking measures to combat neo-Nazism, Latvia is applying efforts, at the national level, to shift the emphasis and provide Latvian neo-Nazis with a legal basis for their activities. For instance, the initiative to declare the 17th of March the day of remembrance of the national resistance movement was voiced by Latvian president Egils Levits. The initiative is presented as an urge to pay tribute to the memory of Latvian patriots who resisted “occupation regimes.” This is in fact an attempt to give an official state recognition to the commemoration of the “Forest Brothers,” whose ranks included many of former SS legionnaires who had fled from justice.
Latvian officials make regular public statements to justify and even glorify the Nazis’ accomplices. Among the recent examples one can name the speech of Latvian defense minister Artis Pabriks delivered at an event at the legionnaires’ cemetery near More settlement on 27 September 2019 dedicated to “the 75th anniversary of defense battles against the Red Army.” The head of the defense ministry in his address called SS legionnaires the pride of the Latvian people and state and called to honor their memory. He was supported by his fellow party member, regional development minister Juris Pūce, who said that he did not see any problem with Pabriks’ calling Latvian legionnaires heroes.
Latvian-language mass media serve as a tool for advancing the authorities’ policy. On the eve of 16 March 2019, they published another set of materials aimed at preparing the population for the “right” perception of this date and associated events. The authors recalled “humiliations which befell Latvians through the fault of the USSR” and contraposed the 16 March commemoration against the 9 May remembrance events in Riga to be held “at the Victory symbol imposed by the occupants,” meaning the Monument to Soldiers Liberators in Pardaugava.
Not only do the Latvian authorities persistently call for commemorating the accomplices of Nazi criminals inside the country: they are doing their best to bring the issue to the European level. On 23 September 2018, on the initiative of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, a monument to Latvian Waffen-SS legionnaires who we held in the local POW camp towards the end of WWII was unveiled in Zedelgem, Belgium.
Other efforts to glorify Nazism and falsify history are typical of Latvia. Recent examples include the case of Herberts Cukurs (who was involved in the massacre of the Jewry during the years of the Great Patriotic War), the collection of signatures in support of the demolition of the Monument to Soldiers Liberators and the desecration of the Riga War Memorial.
In February 2019, the Latvian Prosecutor General’s Office ruled that no criminal action on suspicion of Gerberts Cukurs’s involvement (a member of the Arajs Kommando, a division of the Latvian Auxiliary Police, who was nicknamed “the Bucher of Riga) in the mass murder of the Jewish population of Latvia during WWII be discontinued. The criminal proceedings were initiated in 2006 on the accusation of “genocide” under Article 71 of the Criminal Law of Latvia. The Latvian prosecution office failed to establish elements of crime in Cukurs’s actions. Yet, after the application of the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia submitted to the Prosecutor General on 16 September 2019, it was reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office decided to resume the criminal proceedings against Cukurs, having indicated that the judgment pronounced by the previous prosecutor on the case had been reached “prematurely, without due implementation of all the procedural and fact-finding actions provided for in the Law on Criminal Proceedings in order to obtain and verify evidence.” Another prosecutor on the case was appointed.
Repeated attempts to destroy the Monument to the Soldiers Liberators of Latvia in Riga are registered. It should be noted that the demolition of this memorial would mean a violation of the Russian-Latvian Intergovernmental Agreement of 30 April 1994 on the social protection of war pensioners of the Russian Federation and members of their families living in Latvia. In March 2019, over 10 thousand signatures of Latvian citizens were collected in support of the initiative of a certain Ugis Polis to remove the monument. This was enough for the Saeima to start the consideration of the initiative, which was submitted to the first instance – the Saeima’s Mandate and Ethics Committee. On 13 June 2019, the Saeima continued discussions on the future of this initiative: the majority (45) voted in favor of transmitting the initiative for consideration by the relevant Saeima commissions on foreign affairs and on education, culture and science. On 11 September 2019, the Saeima Education, Culture and Science Commission decided to neither support nor reject the initiative to dismantle the monument, promising to develop other ways to minimize the “adverse effect” of the memorial. Furthermore, most parliamentarians agreed that the monument must be altered. The solution that gained most support implied changing the interpretation of the message and meaning of the memorial in a dramatic way. As a result, the initiative was transmitted to the Saeima Foreign Affairs Commission for consideration.
Another example of the cynical revision of history is the attitude of the Latvian authorities to anti-fascist organizations and their activities. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance points out in her report to the 38th session of the Council that the annual report of the Public Order Police Department for 2016 issued in April 2017 contained an entry stating that informal celebrations of Victory Day over Nazi Germany posed a threat to national security. 266 There are no indications whatsoever of a possible shift in the line pursued by the Latvian authorities.
266 Report of the UN HRC Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, A/HRC/38/53, the 38th session of the Council. June 2018.
In the first half of 2019, the Latvian authorities’ campaign aimed at “de-Sovietizing” and downplaying the importance of the feat of Red Army soldiers, placing them on the same footing as Latvian SS legionnaires who fought alongside fascists, reached an unprecedented level. On 30 May 2019, the Saeima transmitted to the Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission for consideration amendments to the Law on Meetings, Processions and Pickets banning the use of St. George ribbons at public and festive events; on 20 June 2019, the Saeima approved in the final reading amendments prohibiting wearing uniforms of totalitarian regimes, among them the Soviet Army uniform, at public events.
The demolition on the night of 30 October – 1 November 2019 of the monument to Soviet submariners of the Baltic near the Latvian Navy Headquarters, which had been taken care of by activists from the sailors’ association and locals, raised concern among civil activists that this action might lead to a chain of similar acts. 267 The memorial was destroyed in violation of the 1994 Russian-Latvian Agreement on the Social Protection of War Pensioners, while the State Real Estate Agency responsible for the works claimed that during the dismantling the monument fell into pieces and was not subject to reconstruction.
267 Цепочка разрушений запущена? В Риге демонтирован памятник героям-подводникам Балтики. Sputnik. [Starting the chain reaction of destruction: a monument to hero submariners of the Baltic dismantled in Riga.] November 2019. https://lv.sputniknews.ru/Latvia/20191101/12696383/Tsepochka-razrusheniy-zapuschena-V-Rige-demontirovan-pamyatnik-geroyam-podvodnikam-Baltiki.html
The trend aimed at restricting the use of non-state languages promoted by the authorities grows increasingly visible. Latvian is the only language authorized in dealings with the administrative authorities, in topographical signs and other inscriptions and in personal identity documents. 268 In this regard, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities concluded that the national authorities’ language policy led to diminishing the space for the use of other languages, in particular those used by persons belonging to national minorities, and thereby restricting the right to freedom of expression for ethnic and linguistic minorities.
268 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
In 2017 and 2018, Saeima parliamentarians from the National Alliance made repeated attempts to push through legislative amendments to make it compulsory for those employed in the services industry to use only the state language, as well as amendments prohibiting election campaigning in Russian and rebroadcasting Russian channels in the Latvian territory.
The de facto elimination of the Russian-speaking educational space is being carried out through a comprehensive education reform (transition of schools and kindergartens to instruction in Latvian, development and introduction of new educational content, optimization of school infrastructure, prohibition of instruction in Russian at private universities).
In April 2018, new amendments to the Law on Education and the Law on General Education were adopted; they provide for a gradual full transition of schools to instruction in the Latvian language starting with the school year 2021/2022. In accordance to these amendments, instruction in primary school (7th through 9th grades) will be provided in the proportion 80 per cent (in Latvian) to 20 per cent (in minority languages), and in secondary school (10th through 12th grades) only in the state language.
Beginning with the school year 2017/2018, all pupils, including those who used to study national minority programmes, are to sit centralized exams in Latvian on such subjects as mathematics, chemistry, biology, computer science, geography and economics.
In June 2018, amendments to the Law on High School Education were adopted, extending prohibition to instruct in Russian to private universities and colleges. Accreditations granted to Russian-language programmes will remain valid until their expiration, but recruitment for these programmes was discontinued in 2019.
Attempts of certain public figures to push through the revision of the school reform have yielded no result. On 23 April 2019, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia decided on a claim against amendments to the Law on Education made by Concord political party. The Court ruled that the educational reform aimed at the de facto elimination of bilingual schools was in compliance with the Latvian Constitution.
In line with this general discriminatory policy aimed at persistently restricting the use of the Russian language in education, are measures applied by the Latvian authorities that have led to a considerable re-structuration of the pre-primary education system in the country. On 1 September 2019, Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 716 of 21 November 2018 on pre-school education came into force. The document provides for the use of Latvian as the main medium of communication when playing with young children. Human rights defenders report that no consultations with representatives of national minorities and human rights activists involved in minority rights’ protection efforts had preceded the development of these measures.
The authorities have announced their intention to ensure a full transition of pre-schools to instruction in Latvian. This and other agreements were reached by the main political forces in Latvia at the Coalition Cooperation Council session on 23 September 2019 (involving five ruling parties) during the discussions on amendments aimed at making it compulsory for local governments to ensure instruction in the state language in all municipal pre-primary institutions, including national minority pre-schools.
Latvianization of education has also affected private education institutions. On 4 July 2018, Latvian president Raimonds Vējonis approved amendments which rule out the possibility of studying Russian-language programmes at private universities (from 2019 study year onwards, there have been no recruitments). The amendments tend to ignore the interests of one third of private university students who used to study in Russian in Latvia and are currently contested in the Constitutional Court by Concord party parliamentarians.
On 14 November 2019, the Constitutional Court of Latvia ruled that the transition to instruction in the state language in private national minority schools was in line with the country’s fundamental law.
Meanwhile, all the above-mentioned measures to transfer education to the Latvian language are being implemented by the authorities without any regard for the opinion of pupils themselves. According to the survey among Latvian schoolchildren organized by the Latvijas Avize newspaper, most of them consider Russian essential for strengthening their future competitiveness in the labor market. Many are interested in learning Russian because they regard it as a language of inter-ethnic and international communication that provides opportunities to work not only with Russia but with other countries, too.
In this regard, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities expressed the view that amendments to the Law on Education adopted in April 2018, providing for the transition of schools to instruction in Latvian by the school year 2020/2021, a fortiori put pupils from national minorities at a disadvantage in terms of academic performance, which in turn may adversely affect their abilities to successfully integrate into the socio-economic life of society. 269
269 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
No formal restrictions for participation in the political life and state governance (except for the “non-citizens” problem) in Latvia have been registered. At the same time, instances of exerting pressure on extreme left-wing forces which position themselves as defenders of the rights of the Russian-speaking population, have been recorded. In June 2018, T.Ždanoka, European MP and Latvian Russian Union co-chair, was denied the right to participate in the Saeima elections (on 6 October 2018) pursuant to the Law on Elections, which bans persons who used to be members of certain Soviet organizations (the Communist Party and others) after 13 January 1991 from participation in elections. Furthermore, language requirements are used as a pretext for terminating powers of elected local council members. One such case concerns Ivan Baranov, Balvi City Council member, whose mandate was terminated on the grounds of insufficient command of the Latvian language. The mayor of Daugavpils, Rihard Eigim, was fined in October 2017 for insufficient command of Latvian. He was asked to improve his Latvian language proficiency within six months, after which time he was to take a new exam. 270
270 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
Violations of civil liberties in Latvia (freedom of expression, assembly and religion) are regularly reported in light of Riga’s policy of forced de‑russification of all spheres of public life.
Activists who seek to resist the official line aimed at Latvianizing public life and aggravating the legal and social status of Russian compatriots have been recently faced with enormous pressure. During 2018, a series of arrests of national minority rights defenders and leaders of the Russian-speaking community (A.Gaponenko, V.Linderman, Y.Alekseyev) occured. The persecution of compatriots who defend the preservation of Russian schools has begun: 11 persons were summoned by the Security Police for questioning on the issue of holding the All-Latvian Parent Meeting in March 2018; a criminal investigation against eight of them (including T.Ždanoka) is still underway. All of them are charged with inciting national hatred and acts against Latvia’s state integrity and security.
It is in the same context that earlier measures should be regarded. In 2015 and 2016, amendments to the Law on Education were adopted, obliging school teachers and administrations to be loyal to the state; otherwise, the new version of the law provides for the dismissal of “disloyal” teachers and school masters. This legal provision obviously aims at eliminating any dissidence in national minority schools, creating a climate of suspicion and apprehension, which is not conducive to the building of trust among different segments of society.
In Autumn 2017, amendments to the Law on Societies and Foundations were also adopted, simplifying the procedure to terminate activities of organizations if they threaten national security and public order, which, according to representatives of the National Alliance, “will allow to suppress the activities of Kremlin-funded non-governmental organizations in case of violations.”
Requirements to have a certain level of proficiency in Latvian are applied to virtually all professions listed in appendices to Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No 733 of 7 July 2009 “On the Level of Proficiency in the State Language and the Procedure of Testing the Level of Language Proficiency for Professional Duties and Duties of Office for Receiving of Permanent Residence Permit and Obtaining the Status of Permanent Resident of the European Community, and State Fee for the State Language Proficiency Examination”, i.e., to about 3,600 professions and positions, including gravediggers, shepherds, stable workers and bus drivers.
Such language practice adversely affects the possibility for Latvian citizens who are non-native speakers of the Latvian language, including persons from national minorities, to take many civil and municipal positions.
Under Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No 733 of 7 July 2009, members of ruling boards of NGOs are required to be proficient in Latvian at the level of native speakers (the highest level, C1). In accordance with the applicable procedure, they may request the State Language Centre (operating under the Ministry of Justice) to apply lower requirements for their board members. However, criteria to be applied by the State Language Centre when considering exemptions remain undefined.
According to the Law on the State Language, other languages may only be used in strictly limited circumstances when appealing to public authorities, such as police, healthcare institutions, rescue services (in case of emergency, emergency calls, need for medical care, crimes or other violations of law).
Though many local authorities, including in Riga, provide interpretation services, Latvian remains the sole language authorized in the work of municipal authorities and councils and in their contacts with inhabitants, irrespective of the proportion of the population affiliated with a national minority. These legal provisions create difficulties in accessing public services for some elderly residents, particularly those who have not studied Latvian at school. According to the last census results, 40.2 per cent of Riga residents declared Russian ethnic affiliation, and the Russian language is, according to the same source, spoken at home by 55.8 per cent of inhabitants of Riga and 60.3 per cent of inhabitants of the Latgale region. The Advisory Committee has repeatedly stated that “the current approach of restricting the use of other languages is incompatible with the Framework Convention and considers moreover that it may be counterproductive.” 271
271 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
The Advisory Committee noted the absence of progress in the long-standing controversy regarding the right of persons belonging to national minorities to spell their names and surnames in their minority language in official documents. Procedure for the transcription of personal names originating in other languages into Latvian and their use in personal documents are determined by the Official Language Law, the Law on Personal Identification Documents, Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 114 of 2 March 2004 on “the transcription and use of personal names in the Latvian language, as well as their identification,” and Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 134 of 21 February 2012, “on the personal identification documents.” The practice of transcription in birth certificates and identity documents of personal names used by persons belonging to national minorities to Latvian under its grammar rules does not take into account minority language norms. The way of spelling of personal names is a right protected under the Framework Convention and constitutes an essential part of cultural traditions. 272
272 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
Unfortunately, there are no arrangements to facilitate observance of Christmas celebrated by Orthodox believers according to the Julian calendar. This is particularly problematic for many Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians, many of whom are Orthodox Christians, and in particular for children of school age and working persons professing that religion. Numerous proposals tabled in the Saeima to amend legislation concerning officially recognized holidays have been rejected.
On 18 June 2019, the NEPLP applied to the Saeima asking to adopt amendments to the Law that would allow to restrict broadcasting of TV programmes from any countries in the territory of Latvia if they violate the set limitations, i.e. if they contain calls to violence or incitement of hatred, discrimination against any person or a group of persons, calls that jeopardize public order, including national security and defense, etc. According to the Council, this will help effectively ensure protection of Latvia’s information space.
On 5 June 2003, language quotas for radio and TV broadcasts were repealed by the Latvian Constitutional Court. Article 32 of the Electronic Mass Media Law prescribes with respect to state-wide and regional electronic mass media, that at least 65 per cent of all programmes, except for the advertising, be in Latvian. In 2014, the Saeima adopted amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law stipulating that an overwhelming majority of commercial (private) radio stations, in particular those operating on the basis of licenses to switch, as of January 2016, to broadcasting all contents in Latvian. This would have affected 50 out of 67 radio broadcasters. Following protests on 17 December 2015, these provisions were amended, postponing their entry into force to 2017 and circumscribing the number of affected radio stations to 37. The 2016 amendments to the law oblige radio stations to fill at least 90 per cent of weekly airtime with their own content, apparently with the aim of restricting retransmission of foreign-produced content. To ensure the enforcement of the language quotas, amendments to the Administrative Violations Code were adopted, increasing the maximum fine for violating license terms from 2,100 EUR to 10,000 EUR. 273
273 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
By opting for a punitive approach, the authorities send a negative message to speakers of national minority languages, in particular Russian. This indicates a lack of acceptance for its presence on the airwaves and by extension within public life in Latvia. Generally, the Advisory Committee recognized that the conditions laid down in the current legislation breach the Framework Convention by going beyond licensing requirements and unduly interfering with private broadcasters and thereby limiting access to the media of persons belonging to national minorities. 274
274 Third Opinion on Latvia of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted on 25 February 2018. https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-en/16808d891d
Inciting national or racial hatred is criminalized (under Article 78 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Latvia). However, there are no provisions in Latvian legislation that prohibit the mass dissemination, production or storage of written, pictorial or other material aimed at depreciating the dignity of a person or a group of persons on the grounds of race, language, religion, national or ethnic origin, and provide for responsibility for public insults, defamation or threats on the above-listed grounds. 275
275 ECRI Report on Latvia (fifth monitoring cycle), adopted on 4 December 2018, published on 5 March 2019. https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f
The Latvian authorities regularly report hate crime data to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). In 2015 and 2016, 11 hate crime incidents per year were reported by the Latvian authorities to ODIHR. In previous years, the number of reported incidents was higher: 13 in 2014, 22 in 2013 and 18 in 2012.
In 2016, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights (LCHR) held interviews with representatives of 11 NGOs and migrants as well as students studying in Latvia about their experiences of manifestations of intolerance and discrimination. Almost 68 per cent had been either victims (33 per cent) or witnesses of hate incidents or discrimination, or had heard about such incidents from others. 13 per cent of respondents had been victims of an attack or an attempted attack or had heard that others were victims of such attacks. According to the respondents, hate crime incidents allegedly occurred due to victim’s skin colour/”race” (36 per cent), ethnic origin/xenophobia (25 per cent), language (22 per cent), and religion (6 per cent). At the same time, NGOs and representatives of minorities have pointed out to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance that victims of hate speech do not often report such incidents to the police due to lack of trust in the willingness or ability of the law enforcement agencies to investigate these cases effectively. 276
276 ECRI Report on Latvia (fifth monitoring cycle), adopted on 4 December 2018, published on 5 March 2019. https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f
Over 40 per cent of third-country nationals report having experienced discriminatory treatment during interaction with public authorities, police, and in health care institutions, as well as on the street and in public transportation. 277
277 ECRI Report on Latvia (fifth monitoring cycle), adopted on 4 December 2018, published on 5 March 2019. https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f
ECRI has noted an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric and hate speech in public and political discourse in Latvia. In the context of discussions about Latvia accepting EU quota refugees, further Islamophobic comments were observed, also equating refugees to terrorist threats and targeting migrants in general. Extreme examples include the case of a Latvian entrepreneur who used the Internet for inciting racial hatred against persons of African descend and stating that he was prepared to shoot them, as well as comments of other Internet users calling for the burning of Muslims. 278
278 ECRI Report on Latvia (fifth monitoring cycle), adopted on 4 December 2018, published on 5 March 2019. https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f
There have been repeated instances of anti-Semitic Internet postings, threats against the Jewish community school, vandalism and desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Riga. Latvian Public Media have reported that the Jewish cemetery in Rezekne was vandalized four times in August and September 2017. 279
279 ECRI Report on Latvia (fifth monitoring cycle), adopted on 4 December 2018, published on 5 March 2019. https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f
International human rights organizations have more than once drawn the attention of the Latvian authorities to the dire human rights situation in the country, particularly with regards to the situation of national minorities.
Latvia is no signatory to the European Charter of Regional Languages of 5 November 1992; it only ratified the fundamental Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 2005. It followed the procedure with two reservations restricting the application of the Convention provisions that allow national minorities, in areas of their compact inhabitance, to communicate with administrative authorities in their native languages and use it in topographical indications. Besides, in an additional declaration adopted by the Latvian parliament when ratifying the Framework Convention specifically stipulates that “non-citizens” are not subject of the Convention, i.e. Riga does not regard them as members of national minorities.
Over the recent years, several dozens of similar recommendations and proposals have been issued; this work has been carried out by agencies of the UN Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe and OSCE, as well as the CE and OSCE parliamentary assemblies. During 2019, relevant organizations repeatedly raised most sensitive issues for Latvia.
On 30 August 2018, in its concluding observations on the periodic reports by Latvia on the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for 2008–2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern over the education reform and the “non-citizens” issue. Experts recommended that Latvia take measures to ensure that its language policy and laws do not create direct or indirect discrimination of the population.
The Advisory Committee’s report of 23 February 2018 recommends that Latvia should more actively support the integration of national minorities in public life. The Committee put to criticism a number of political initiatives, including those aimed at promoting the Latvian language in education, mass media, etc. The Advisory Committee believes that they restrict the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and increase their sense of exclusion. Restrictions against electoral rights of “non-citizens” at local elections and the 2016 amendments on the teachers’ “loyalty” got a negative assessment.
Besides, in 2019 international agencies raised the issue of the “democracy deficit” observed in Latvia. In January 2019, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights made public the materials following the last Saeima elections in the Republic of Latvia. According to the organization, about 227,000 adult “non-citizens” could have taken part in the voting. Latvia was invited to enhance citizens’ involvement in political processes by increasing the naturalization rate, inter alia, by facilitating the citizenship acquisition procedure and increasing the number of free Latvian language courses.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance within the framework of the Council of Europe in its report of 4 December 2018 (published on 5 March 2019) indicated that it would follow with particular attention the process of establishing a unit within the State Police tasked with reaching out to vulnerable groups, as well providing the automatic recognition of citizenship for children of “non-citizens.”
ECRI further recommended that Latvia focus on the rights of Roma, refugees, and investigate allegations of racial discrimination in the health sector.
In March 2019, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Lamberto Zannier paid a visit to Latvia. He gave cautious assessments to the education reform and expressed concern about the problem of mass statelessness; he welcomed, in particular, the legislative initiative of president Raimonds Vējonis to grant automatic citizenship to children of “non-citizens.”
Latvian government persistently disregards recommendations of line institutions concerning “non-citizenship” and the need to preserve the Russian-speaking educational space. They claim that the situation in Latvia is peculiar due to historical developments, in particular, Latvia’s former status as a USSR republic (the 1940–1991 “Soviet occupation”). Emphasis is placed on the idea that, given the “dual occupation” circumstances, no obligation to automatically grant citizenship to persons who have never been Latvian citizens and have entered Latvia during “the occupation” derives for Latvia from international law.
Latvianization of education, according to the ruling establishment, will provide a level playing field for graduates of Latvian and bilingual schools.
By doing so Latvian officials send a clear message that due to a “specific” historical background they do not intend to take any visible action to improve the situation of national minorities. The policy of cultural and linguistic discrimination is likely to continue, which will inevitably bring about an increased outflow of population from the country.
Document data: 07.02.2020 report by Russia’s MFA. Link: https://www.mid.ru/publikacii/-/asset_publisher/nTzOQTrrCFd0/content/id/4025481?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_nTzOQTrrCFd0&_101_INSTANCE_nTzOQTrrCFd0_languageId=en_GB Also available in Russian: https://www.mid.ru/publikacii/-/asset_publisher/nTzOQTrrCFd0/content/id/4025481