The Russian minority in the Baltic States and the enlargement of the EU (excerpts), 1999

The views expressed in this document are not necessarily those held by the European Parliament as an institution.

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IV. LATVIA

In its Regular report on Latvia, the Commission noted that the developments in Latvia confirm the conclusion it reached in 1997: Latvia’s institutions continue to function smoothly and it fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria. The Commission recognised that major progress has been made on integrating non-citizens and that the latest amendments brought to the Citizen Act brings “Latvia into conformity with international standards and should facilitate the naturalisation process.” However, “continuing attention needs to be paid to[…] the promotion of Latvian language learning among non-citizens.”

With the adoption of the 1991 Citizen Act by the Latvian Supreme Council directly after independence, the Latvian government restored the citizenship of individuals who were citizens of Latvia in 1940 and to their descendants. Consequently, the Soviet immigrants and their Latvia-born descendants were excluded from the Latvian citizenry and, with the collapse of the USSR, often became stateless. ( 2) According to figures in the most recent Official Statistical Yearbook 72.72% of people resident in Latvia were classified as citizens. 26.56% were classed as citizens of the Former Soviet Union, but not having any current status. These figures compare with the 32.38% of the population that are ethnic Russians.

2 In early 1995 only an estimated 50,000 Latvian residents were citizens of the Russian Federation (National and Ethnic groups in Latvia, 1996, 42).

i. Legal Situation

After uncertain conditions regarding the naturalisation process had existed for three years, provisions on the acquisition of citizenship were finally laid down in the Law on Citizenship of 22 July 1994. Due to criticism from the Russian Federation and the international community, it has undergone significant changes since. It was amended in June 1998, but the amendments were the subject of a referendum held at the same time at the general election on 3 October 1998. In the event, the amendments were approved by 53% to 45%.

a. The Law on Citizenship
1. Citizens

Under the law the following groups are automatically citizens: people who were citizens of the independent Republic of Latvia on 17 June 1940 and their direct descendants; permanent residents, who are either Latvians or Livs; people with permanent residence who have completed full educational studies in general education schools where the instruction is given in Latvian. The regulation concerning this group was amended on 22 June 1998, granting the citizenship also to their children who are less than 15 years old and permanently resident in Latvia. The decisive factor for descendants of mixed marriages is the ius soli principle or, if the child is born outside Latvia, the permanent residence of the parents on the day of the child’s birth.

2. Naturalisation procedure

Up to 31 August 1998 about 10,260 of the 148,000 people eligible have been naturalised under the 1994 Citizenship Law. One limiting factor has been the “window system” which limited until 2003 the numbers of applicants for citizenship on the basis of age criteria, giving priority to younger age groups. The small number of naturalisations is also due to the relative difficulty of the citizenship test, high enrolment fees, the fact that young non-citizen men do not have to do the Latvian military service, and the ease with which one can travel to the countries of the former USSR with the old Soviet passport.

In response to recommendations in the Commission Opinion and based on assessments by international organisations such as the OSCE, the Latvian Parliament approved on 22 June 1998 the Government’s proposal to abolish the naturalisation windows and to simplify the naturalisation process for people over 65. These amendments were passed in the October referendum.

The law provides now for two types of naturalisation: ordinary and extraordinary. Among the persons that can naturalise on an extraordinary basis are spouses of Latvian citizens, former citizens of the USSR entitled to citizenship under the 1919 Act, people who, during the period 1941-45, were forcibly transferred to Latvia and stayed there after the end of the occupation regime, people educated in Latvian schools, and people who have an excellent command of the Latvian language in compliance with standards set by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The ordinary naturalisation procedure requires a permanent residence permit. The required period of residence is five years counting from 4 May 1990. For those who arrived in Latvia after 1 July 1992, the five-years term shall be counted from the date of issuance of their permanent residence permit. The applicant must also not have acted anti-constitutionally against the Republic of Latvia, if established by a court decree, have propagated, after 4 May 1990, fascist, chauvinist, national-socialist, communist or other totalitarian ideas or have stirred up ethnic or racial hatred or discord, if established by a court decree, have worked as an official of an institution under a foreign state’s authority, have served in the armed forces, internal forces, security service or the police (militia) of a foreign country, have been an employee, informer, agent or has been in charge of a safe house of the former USSR (LSSR) KGB or other foreign security service, intelligence service or other special service, if such a fact has been established according to the procedure set by law, have served a criminal sentence, or undertaken anti-constitutional activities as a member of an organisation hostile to Latvia. The applicant must have a legal source of income pass the Citizenship Exam. This consists of demonstrating a good level of proficiency in Latvian, in particular that one can completely understand information of an every day and official nature, is able to carry out a conversation and answer questions on topics of an everyday nature, can read freely and understand any instructions of an everyday nature, directions, and other texts of an everyday nature and can write an essay on a topic from everyday life given by the commission. Individuals who have acquired a primary, secondary and higher education in Latvian are exempt from taking the language test. Applicants with a disabled status are given a special procedure which is set up by the Cabinet of Ministers. To help the applicants prepare for the examination, Latvia has introduced language-training programmes for Russian speakers. Since 1996 these programmes are supported by Phare.

In addition, applicants are required to know the basic principles of the Republic of Latvia Satversme (Constitution) and the Constitutional Law on Rights and Obligations of a Citizen and a Person, to know the national anthem and history of Latvia and to take an oath of loyalty to the Republic of Latvia.

The citizenship tests are currently under supervision to make them simpler where possible in order to encourage more applications. Applications are received and reviewed by the Naturalisation Board. They must be reviewed and answered within one year after the submission date of all required documents. Reapplications are possible one year after refusal. In the case of refusal of an application, it is possible to appeal to the Latvian courts. All necessary information can be gathered at the regional offices of the Naturalisation Board. Unfortunately, many non-citizens are still hesitant to apply for citizenship because of lack of information on the procedures. As a result, dissemination of the citizenship requirements is still needed. The Latvian Naturalisation Board is currently setting up an information centre to ensure wider information on the citizenship requirements, for which the EU is providing assistance.

3. Stateless children

New amendments to the Citizenship law on 22 June 1998 grant citizenship to a child of stateless persons or non-citizens ( 3) born after 21 August 1991 whose permanent place of residence is Latvia, has not been convicted to a jail term of over five years, and has remained for that period a stateless person or a non-citizen.

3 According to the Citizenship law a non-citizen is a person who is entitled to the alien’s passport issued by the republic of Latvia according to the Law “On the Status of Former USSR Citizens Who Are Not Citizens of Latvia or Any other Country”, i.e. mainly the group of Soviet migrants.

The legal guardians shall apply for citizenship until the minor reaches the age of 15. In the case of failure of the legal guardians to do so, the juvenile has the right to apply himself if he submits a document confirming that the applicant has received special secondary or vocational education with the Latvian language as the language of instruction, and a document confirming the command of the Latvian language of the applicant. This procedure is to be conducted before reaching the age of 18.

4. Non-citizens

The legal status of members of the Russian-speaking minority who arrived in Latvia before July 1992 and who do not hold Latvian or any other citizenship is determined by the Law on the Status of the Former USSR Citizens who do not have the Citizenship of the Republic of Latvia or of another state (April 1995). Individuals who have a “propiska” (residence permit with no time restriction) are, with some exceptions, considered as permanently resident. The law grants them free choice of residence in Latvia, and freedom to leave and return to Latvia, the right to a family reunion, strengthened protection against expulsion, preservation of their native language and culture, assistance by an interpreter in court, the right to choose the language, in accordance with the Language law, of communication with state authorities and administrative institutions.

Furthermore, a non-citizen’s passport is issued to individuals over 16, certified by a former USSR passport containing the personal code of a Republic of Latvia resident or any other identification document issued by the Republic of Latvia containing such a personal code. With this, free leave and return to Latvia without any additional documents is possible.

If a person fails to exchange a former USSR passport for a non-citizen passport within the term determined by the Cabinet of Ministers without any valid reason, his /her status shall be determined by the Law on Foreigners and Stateless Persons – Entrance to and Stay in the Republic of Latvia (June 1992, amended 1994). This law determines the legal status of persons who have entered Latvia after 1 July 1992, setting out very strict conditions for receiving a permanent residence permit. The consequences for the Soviet immigrants (and descendants) who entered before July 1992 are quite severe, since a permanent residence permit is a prerequisite for the Latvian’s citizenship.

Until 20 August 1998, more than 40% of Latvia’s permanent non-citizen residents (270,000 people) have received special non-citizen passports. The expiration date of the old Soviet travel passport was 31 October 1998. However, using this passport until the end of 1998 for returning to Latvia will be possible. After that, about 380,000 people will be without valid a passport or other travel document.

ii. Current social issues

The exclusion of a large part of the Russian-speaking minorities from citizenship has had wide-ranging consequences in many areas. Non-citizens are not allowed to vote, even in local elections. Furthermore, only citizens have the right to submit their candidacy for public office. Non-citizens cannot directly acquire ownership of land. Nor are non-citizens are entitled to join political organisations. They may be elected for administrative positions in political organisations, but they cannot establish such organisations.

Professional restrictions. In the workplace, the Government committed itself to abolish the remaining professional restrictions for non-citizens in the private sector. Restrictions preventing non-citizens from working as fire-fighters, airline staff, pharmacists and veterinary pharmacists, have already been abolished. The restrictions on becoming a private detective, an armed guard or a pilot remain but will be phased out in accordance with a timetable yet to be established. The access of non-citizens to careers in the public sector remains very limited. Under article 4 of the Regulation on the procedure by which non-citizens can be designated as civil-persons, the Prime Minister has the right to set a quota for non-citizens working as civil servants in state institutions. It is presently set at 5%. These individuals have to be confirmed by a Minister, a State Minister or by the head of the institution. The confirmation is valid for two years, during which time the non-citizen must undergo naturalisation. 519 non-citizens have been employed as civil servants so far, 107 of them have already acquired the citizenship of Latvia, and at present, about 378 non-citizens are working in the civil-service.

Unemployment Benefits. In May 1998 the regulations concerning the status of the unemployed were amended. Job-seekers can now register with the State Employment Service (SES) without submitting a certificate verifying their knowledge of Latvian or an education certificate. Since it is no longer necessary to demonstrate proof of knowledge of Latvian language to obtain unemployment benefits, de-facto discrimination of non-citizens has ended.

Use of language. The use of one’s national language is permitted in the court proceedings if all parties agree, otherwise the requesting party is entitled to an interpreter. However, concerns have been raised recently by proposed amendments affecting the use of languages other then Latvian outside the private sphere. A proposed amendment to the Language law, if passed, would impose the use of Latvian in the private sector. Furthermore, the previous Saeima, in February 1998, amended Article 38 of the Labour law code to allow the State Language Inspectorate to ask for the termination of employment contracts with employees who did not meet language requirements as foreseen under Latvian law. The President vetoed it and returned the amendment to the Parliament for review. It has not yet been considered by the new Saeima.

Education. Latvia has two parallel education systems, one in Latvian and one in Russian, which the state finances. Eight other minorities have state-aided schools in their language. In 1995, amendment to the education act introduced the obligation for schools to increase the numbers of lessons taught in Latvian, but lack of qualified teachers has hindered its application. State-financed higher education is only given in Latvian, although higher education in Russian exists.

Integration policy. A Consultative Council of the Nationalities was set up in July 1996, which brings together representatives of eleven ethnic minorities and members of the Human Rights Committee of the Saeima. Its responsibility is to monitor the situation of the minorities and to propose the necessary reforms. On the cultural level, the Association of National Cultural Societies, made up of around twenty organisations, strives to promote tolerance and good relations between the various communities. Furthermore, several NGOs, actively supported by the EU’s initiative for democracy and human rights, are dealing with issues of concern to non-citizens and non-ethnic Latvians.

Recently, the government has adopted a law on Unrestricted Development and the Right to Cultural Autonomy of Latvia’s Nationalities and Ethnic Groups to further the creation of appropriate financial conditions for the development of education, language and culture for the national and ethnic groups living in Latvia.

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VI. THE EUROPEAN UNION

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On Latvia, the Parliament noted “the existence of a certain number of problems such as the status of the Russian minority […]”. Subsequently, the Parliament adopted a on Latvia’s application for accession to the European Union with a view to the Vienna European Council (A4-0430/98). The resolution welcomed “the outcome of the referendum of 3 October in which the Latvian people voted to amend the nationality law so as to abolish the much criticised ‘windows’ system and automatically to grant Latvian nationality to the children of stateless persons born in Latvia since independence”.

ANNEX

POPULATION STATISTICS FOR THE BALTIC STATES

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LATVIA

GroupPopulation%
Latvian1,365,04755.53
Russian796,02332.38
Belorussian97,036 3.95
Ukrainian71,4512.91
Pole53,8772.19
Lithuanian31,4251.28
Other22,0540.90
Jewish9,3830.38
Roma7,6840.31
Estonian2,6690.11
German1,7540.07
Total2,458,403100

Source: 1998 Statistical Yearbook of Latvia


Document data: Briefing No. 42 03.05.1999 Link: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/briefings/42a1_en.htm#top Also available in French

Publisher’s notes: the 1998 referendum was misrepresented in chapter VI. The decision “automatically to grant Latvian nationality to the children of stateless persons born in Latvia since independence” was only adopted in 2019. In 1998, a special procedure for receiving citizenship upon parental application was created for them.

ECRI 1st report on Latvia (excerpt on Anti-Semitism), 1999

L. Other areas

– The Jewish community

24. There have been some instances of desecration of Jewish graves, anti-Semitic inscriptions on Jewish public buildings, bomb explosions and disturbing anti-Semitic statements in the press, particularly in right-wing youth papers. Such instances were publicly condemned in the press and, in some cases, prosecutions were initiated, but no convictions were obtained. Taking into consideration the strong nationalist strain in part of the population of Latvia as well as a general trend in Europe, ECRI encourages the authorities to closely monitor the incidence of these phenomena to make sure that appropriate action can be swiftly taken should problems arise in the future.


Document data: CRI(99)8 . According to the ECRI website, adopted 19.06.1998, published 13.03.1999. According to the text itself, adopted 13.03.1999. Link: https://rm.coe.int/first-report-on-latvia/16808b58ad

ECRI 1st report on Latvia (excerpt on citizenship), 1999

F. Status of non-citizens

– Law on citizenship

7. After the 1991 Renewal of Citizenship resolution, which restored citizenship for those who held Latvian citizenship prior to the 1940 Soviet Union occupation and their descendants, the 1994 Citizenship Law sets out the criteria and time-table for naturalisation.

Some efforts have been made by the Latvian authorities, also in co-operation with the Council of Europe and other international instances, with a view to allowing almost 740,000 persons (i.e. almost 30% of registered residents) to apply to become Latvian nationals by 1 January 2003. Over 72% of the population in Latvia hold Latvian citizenship (approximately 40% of ethnic Russians are citizens). ECRI considers, however, that there is still a considerable margin for improvement.

8. The requirements imposed for naturalisation have been criticised as being overly strict. As of 1998, approximately 148,000 out of 680,000 stateless persons residing in Latvia (mostly former USSR citizens) became eligible to apply for Latvian citizenship through naturalisation in conformity with the Law on Citizenship and the naturalisation timetable or so-called “windows” system. However, only 9,330 persons (6.3%) have applied. Of these, 7,364 applicants have acquired Latvian citizenship while the remaining 1,966 applications are still under review. In particular, the tests of Latvian language and history seem to be demanding for applicants. The timetable or “windows” system does not currently7 allow all those who wish to apply for Latvian citizenship to do so.

Footnote 7 That is, as of 19 June 1998 – see footnote 4

9. ECRI feels that it should be ensured that the application of conditions and requirements are not made too severe in practice. ECRI also considers that the 1995 liberalizing amendments to the citizenship law, which granted automatic citizenship to certain categories of people8, could be further extended to other categories of non-citizens. The introduction of lenient requirements for older people, persons with lower levels of education as well as long-term residents should also be contemplated. In this respect, ECRI notes that, in June 1998, the Latvian Parliament adopted amendments to the citizenship law, following OSCE recommendations to remove the “naturalisation windows” system. According to these amendments, any non-citizen can apply for naturalisation immediately, Latvian citizenship is granted to stateless children born in Latvia after 1991 upon request of the child’s parents, and the testing procedure for applicants aged 65 and over is simplified. A national referendum in October 1998 resulted in the acceptance of these amendments.

Footnote 8 These categories included ethnic Latvians returning to Latvia and persons who successfully completed their secondary education in a Latvian language school.

10. The Naturalisation Board has published and distributes free brochures in Latvian and Russian, which explain the naturalisation process and requirements. The Parliamentary Committee on the Implementation of the Citizenship Law meets weekly and reviews these issues. ECRI encourages the government to continue to devote high priority and adequate resources to implementing the naturalisation law in as fair and expeditious a manner as possible. To this end, it is paramount that the regulations on receipt and review of applications referred to in Article 17.2 be well publicized, that the right to appeal against refusal of naturalisation (Article 17.3) be actually granted and that there be a thorough parliamentary control on the implementation of the Citizenship Law as provided for in Article 29.

– Law on the Status of Former Soviet Union Citizens Who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State

11. ECRI considers that the adoption, in April 1995, of the Law on the Status of Former Soviet Union Citizens Who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State – which establishes a legal status for this group of non-citizens equivalent to that of permanent resident aliens, confers on them certain fundamental rights, and provides for issuing aliens’ passports – might constitute an important step towards the removal of discrimination against these non-citizens.

ECRI is aware that the rights and status of this group of non-citizens are not determined exclusively by the provisions contained in this law, but that they also depend on a wide range of laws and regulations both at national and local level. It is stressed, however, that Article 2(3) of the Law puts State institutions under an obligation of ensuring that the rights of this group of non-citizens are not restricted in any act issued by State or local government institution. The implementation of this legislation should be very closely monitored.

12. While some of the restrictions to which non-citizens are subject are understandable, especially as regards certain political rights, many others – in the fields of employment, social rights and other political rights (e.g. vote is limited to citizens even in local elections), – appear to have an unjustifiable discriminatory character. It is therefore hoped that all possible measures will be taken in order to ensure that all unjustified and arbitrary discrimination against non-citizens is actually removed.

13. Non-citizens in Latvia appear to encounter even more serious problems in the fields covered by the activities carried out by the Department of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (DCMA). In this respect, ECRI notes that, although improvements have been made, there is evidence that some officials are still acting improperly and that, for example, residents are unjustifiably refused registration, courts decrees overturning negative DCMA decisions are not being followed, unnecessary documentation is requested and letters and enquiries are not answered. It is therefore highly desirable that proper training be given to DCMA staff members, that control mechanisms be established and adequate disciplinary action be taken as might be necessary. A simple complaint procedure whereby victims of improper behaviours on the side of officials can have their claims promptly dealt with and redressed could also be established.

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J. Employment

20. There are some unjustified restrictions in employment opportunities for members of the community of non-citizens, for example as concerns such professions as barrister and lawyer’s assistant, captains of aircraft, private detectives and armed security guards. There are also limitations as concerns posts in elected bodies of religious congregations. ECRI stresses once more that all discrimination between citizens and non-citizens which is arbitrary or unjustified should be abolished.

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General data as supplied by national authorities
For reasons of consistency, ECRI, in its CBC reports, has, in this box, reproduced statistical data only from the replies of Governments to ECRI’s questionnaire. The questionnaire was sent to the Latvian authorities on 26 March 1996.
ECRI accepts no responsibility for the data below.
740,231 non-citizens of which 476,790 Russians; 88,151 Belorussians; 65,183 Ukrainians; 28,454 Lithuanians; 25,465 Polish; 8,456 Jewish; 822 Roma/Gypsies; 22,446 Other


Document data: CRI(99)8 . According to the ECRI website, adopted 19.06.1998, published 13.03.1999. According to the text itself, adopted 13.03.1999. Link: https://rm.coe.int/first-report-on-latvia/16808b58ad

ECRI 1st report on Latvia (excerpt on language), 1999

15. The struggle to re-establish Latvian independence included a strong focus on multiculturalism in society and, especially, in education. Although the Latvian language was adopted as the official state language in 1988 and the study of the Latvian language has become compulsory for all students, during the 1994-95 school year 41% of all pupils in Latvia’s elementary and secondary schools were taught in a language other than Latvian. Eight ethnic groups in Latvia have their own schools and classes (Russians, Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Belorussians and Roma/Gypsies). ECRI notes that these schools for the general education of national minorities are state financed and considers that it is important that such funds are not reduced but are kept instead at a similar level as the funds of the other schools.

16. As regards the difficulties in obtaining textbooks in foreign languages, ECRI considers that while Latvian authorities have the right to monitor the quality of the education imparted in schools based in Latvia, the right of members of national minorities to carry out their own educational activities, including the use and teaching of their own language, cannot be properly guaranteed without providing adequate means.

17. The National Programme for Latvian Language Training has been implemented since 1996. This extensive programme for teaching Latvian as a foreign language was prepared with international financial assistance and under the co-ordination of UNDP. The aim is to provide Latvian language teachers with the necessary methodology and assist in preparing the necessary teaching materials for teaching Latvian to adults and children in non-Latvian schools. ECRI welcomes and encourages such initiatives. Further efforts and funds should also be devoted by the Government to improve the knowledge of the Latvian language in schools for national minorities; a greater number of teachers specialised in teaching Latvian as a foreign language appears to be necessary.

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21. The Language Law requires employees of the State and of all “institutions, enterprises and institutes” to have a sufficient command of Latvian to be able to carry out their profession and to be able to deal with the public. It is noted that this provision is very far-reaching, as it includes also private institutions and enterprises. Special attention should therefore be paid to ensuring that legislation in this area is in line with human rights protected in the Council of Europe’s conventions, including the protection of contractual rights, private life and freedom of expression and association as well as prohibition of discriminatory treatment in respect of these rights. Latvian language classes as part of job training courses (for example for recipients of unemployment benefits) could also be further developed.


 

Document data: CRI(99)8 . According to the ECRI website, adopted 19.06.1998, published 13.03.1999. According to the text itself, adopted 13.03.1999. Link: https://rm.coe.int/first-report-on-latvia/16808b58ad

CEACR Direct Request to Latvia under ILO Convention No. 111 (excerpt), 1999

2. The Committee notes that, in July 1999, the Government adopted but did not promulgate a State Language Act requiring the use of the Latvian language in employment-related activities that would extend not only to the public service, but also to private enterprise and self-employment. The Act was to be considered for revision in December 1999. Noting that section 4 of the Latvian Constitution of 15 February 1922 establishes Latvian as the official state language, the Committee points out that such a provision does not, per se, contravene the Convention. However, language restrictions that are intended to or in fact operate to deprive ethnic minority groups of equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of their employment and occupation, including access to education and employment, occupational guidance and vocational training, would constitute discrimination on the ground of national extraction. A number of provisions contained in the draft State Language Act contain employment-related restrictions that could be found to place linguistic minorities in Latvia at a disadvantage with regard to their employment activities. These include sections 6(2) and (3) and 8(2) and (3), which require private institutions, organizations and companies, and their employees, and self-employed persons to use the state language, inter alia, where their activities relate to the public interest. The Committee notes that article 114 of the Latvian Constitution provides that “persons belonging to ethnic minorities have the right to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity”. The Committee expresses the hope that the Government will reconsider the draft State Language Act in light of the analysis set forth above. The Government is asked to indicate the manner in which the relevant constitutional provisions, including articles 91 and 114, are applied to prevent and eliminate discriminatory practices with regard to Latvia’s ethnic and linguistic minority groups. Further, the Government is requested to provide a copy of the final version of the State Language Act as soon as it is adopted.


Document data: adopted in 1999, published in 2000. Link: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:13100:0::NO:13100:P13100_COMMENT_ID:2181432