Minority issues in Latvia, No. 54

Minority issues in Latvia, No. 54 Prepared by the Latvian Human
Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.) August 31, 2002


- Enforcement of bilingual education: support to appear highly
overestimated - Naturalisation goes on very slowly - Power of
the National Council on Radio and TV extended - Website on
minority names' spelling created - On-line discussion of popular
daily on minority education - Experts discuss activities of the
Parliament in the field of human rights and education - Popular
Latvian-language daily launches monthly supplement on
integration - Exhibition devoted to the Latvian Roma community

Enforcement of bilingual education: support to appear highly
overestimated -------------

The Baltic Institute of Social Sciences published the results
of its study «Analysis of the implementation of bilingual
education» on the portal www.politika.lv (see English version at

The first recommendation of the authors is «to amend the
Education Law, to strike off the norm that says that 10th grade
studies in state- and local governments-funded secondary schools
will be taught 'exclusively in the state language' from
September 1, 2004». According to the results of the survey, 50%
of schools are not ready to switch to Latvian as the main
language of instruction in 2004, given that another 40% will
have to overcome difficulties in order to implement the reform.

As regards the schoolchildren, 15% of those who will have to
study in Latvian in the secondary school in 2004 «definitely
will not be able to do this». Another 69% will face
difficulties. Only 4% of teachers, 7% of schoolchildren and 14%
of Russian-speaking parents would welcome the situation when the
studies are connducted overwhelmingly in the Latvian language.

More than a half of the teachers pointed out that the
competence of the schoolchildren decreases as the result of the
bilingual education methods (62%). 50% of the school directors
underline that the reform «negatively affects the way
schoolchildren feel themselves psychologically».

Nevertheless, as the authors point out in the project's
annotation, «the results of the research show, that the
bilingual education reform goes on successfully – during the
last years minority pupils proficiency in the Latvian language
has improved» (see the conclusions at

Our commentary

As the authors point out, the goal of this research was «to see
how successfully the Ministry of Education implemented bilingual
education, as well as to look at the extent to which minority
school had been preparing successfully for the next phases in
the project». Obviously, the essence and exigency of the reform
as such were not questioned. In other words, the researchers
analyzed only rthe feasibility of the reform, not its
desirability for those who are directly affected. In our view,
exactly the latter issue remains crucial - whether a democratic
state can impose such a painful decision, i.e. elimination of
public education in the native langauge, against the will of a
clear majority of those parents whose children are targeted by
this reform. Besides obvious incompatibility of the elimination
of education in minority langauges with the modern standards of
minority protection, the results of the study confirm that the
parents have good reasons to be concerned of the impact on their
children of the switch to the study in non-native language, as
the quality of education, indeed, seriously suffers.

It is worth noting that the research was carried out owing to
the financial support of the Canadian International Development
Agency, the OSCE and the Soros Foundation-Latvia. Thus, the
Latvian government demonstrated no interest in exploring the
possible outcome of the impposed reform.

Naturalisation goes on very slowly

On August 24, daily «Neatkariga Rita Avize» («The Independent
Morning Newspaper») published the latest naturalisation
statistics. This year, 6,024 people have acquired Latvian
citizenship. In total 55,419 people have acquired Latvian
citizenship since the naturalisation process was launched in

The full naturalisation statistics as on July 31, 2002
available also at the website of the Naturalisation Board

Our commentary

According to the data provided by Head of the Naturalisation
Board Eizenija Aldermane, the number of non-citizens interested
in naturalisation has grown up for 20%-30% since the information
campaign about naturalisation started in November 2001 (see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 52,
However, the newly published statistics demonstrates that the
growth of applications for naturalisation is not very big,
especially since May 2002. For example, the number of
applications registered in July 2002 (484) is even less than one
in July 2001 (636). According to the data of the Board for
Citizenship and Migration Affairs, there are 514,298
non-citizens living in the country (22% of all residents – see
at http://www.np.gov.lv/en/fakti/index.htm), therefore the rate
of naturalisation (approx. 800 applications per month in January
– July 2002) is very slow. In our view, naturalisation procedure
in Latvia will not be effective without free language courses
available to all applicants, and without significant amendments
in legislative provisions (e.g. reduction of the state fee,
simplification of examinations or automatic citizenship for all
persons, who lived or were born in Latvia before the restoration
of independence).

Power of the National Council on Radio and TV extended

On August 27, the Cabinet of Ministers approved draft
amendments to the Code of Administrative Violations. Chairman of
the National Council on Radio and Television will have the right
to impose administrative sanctions for violations in the field
of electronic mass media, including violations of the provisions
on the use of languages (see in Latvian at
http://www.mk.gov.lv/files/3/11276.doc). The amendments should
be adopted by the Saeima (Parliament).

Section 19 para. 5 of the Radio and Television Law provides
that the broadcasting time on private radio and TV channels in
the languages other than Latvian should not exceed 25 percent of
the total broadcasting time (see the text of the law at

). Now the National Council on Radio and Television can bring an
action before court in order to impose administrative fine for
violation of this provision. If the amendments are adopted by
the Saeima, the Council will have the right to impose fine
itself. In our view, it could lead to increase of the number of
cases regarding administrative sanctions against private radio
and TV companies, which broadcast/telecast in minority language,
because of simplification of the procedure.

Website on minority names' spelling created

On August 30, the pro-minority coalition «For Human Rights in
United Latvia» («HRUL») presented its new website
(http://www.pctvl.lv). One of the chapters is called 'SOS' -
'Save our surnames' (see in Russian and Latvian at
http://www.pctvl.lv/surnames/index.php?cat=00075&lan=lv). It is
devoted to the issue of minority namesТ spelling in Latvia.

According to the legislation currently in force, personal names
and surnames must be written in documents according to the
grammar of the Latvian language. The original form of the name
of a person of minority origin in Latin transliteration can be
written on some other page of the passport (see Minority issues
in Latvia, No. 51,

The practice of «Latvianization» of personal names and surnames
was considered by the Constitutional Court on December 21, 2001
in the case Mentzen v. the Saeima (Parliament) and the Cabinet
of Ministers (see Minority issues in Latvia, No. 41,
and the full text of the judgment in English at
Unfortunately, it was recognised legitimate by the Court. At the
same time the Mentzen case, as well as other similar case
Kuharec v. Latvia is registered in the European Court of Human
Rights. The opinion of the European Court will be decisive.

The new website on minority names' spelling contains
information about provisions of domestic and international law
related to the issue, relevant case-law (including judgments of
the European Court of Human Rights, European Court of Justice
and views of the UN Human Rights Committee), opinions of experts
in the field of human rights, information of historical nature.
One can find practical information (e.g. the list of lawyers
dealing with the issue and specimens of complaints and lawsuits)
at the website too. Our author Tatyana Bogushevitch is the
co-ordinator of the project, MPs Boris Tsilevich and Miroslav
Mitrofanov and member of the Latvian Human Rights Committee
Leonid Raihman also worked on the project actively. As Tatyana
Bogushevitch informed us, the website will be supplemented by
information about Russification of personal names in Latvia
during the Soviet period in future. We hope that the website
will assist the further handling of the very complicated and
sensitive issue of minority names' spelling in Latvia.

On-line discussion of popular daily on minority education

On August 20, the newspaper «Chas» («The Hour») held an on-line
discussion with Igor Pimenov, leader of the NGO LASHOR
(Association for Support of Russian-Language Schools in Latvia,
for details see http://www.lashor.lv). The full text of the
discussion in Russian is available at

When asked if he thinks whether suspension of the elimination
of the state-supported secondary education in minority languages
is possible, Mr Pimenov claimed it is, if the parents, as
tax-payers, will show that the demand for secondary education in
Russian really exists. He noted that it is necessary to show,
that education in Russian is not a threat to the Latvian
language, and that one must not study in Latvian only to learn
Latvian. Asked about real and/or planned results of LASHOR's
activity, Mr Pimenov said that LASHOR does not only criticize
the reform, but elaborates alternative education programmes.
LASHOR will try to press on politicians to get the Education Law
amended. Asked, would it not be better to fight for learning the
Latvian language, Mr Pimenov answered that it is impossible to
protect the Latvian language by suppressing education in other

Experts discuss activities of the Parliament in the field of
rights and education --------------------

The daily «Diena» («The Day») during the pre-election period
publishes a series of articles about the achievements of the
outgoing 7th Saeima (Parliament) in different spheres. The first
article about human rights issues is written by Nils Muiznieks,
director of the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic
Studies. Mr Muiznieks mentions that the State Language Law and
regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers adopted in 1999 – 2000
were recognised «essentially in conformity with...Latvia's
international obligations» by the OSCE High Commissioner on
National Minorities Max van der Stoel (for more details see
Minority issues in Latvia, No. 19,
but there were problems regarding implementation of these

Nils Muiznieks points out that the new Labour Law contains
strong anti-discrimination provisions, compliant with the Race
directive of the European Union. He is satisfied with abolition
of the state language requirements for deputy candidates, too.
Mr Muiznieks believes that the next Parliament will have to
ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National
Minorities («Diena» («The Day»), August 24).

The second article about education issues is written by the
editor of «The Review on Education in Latvia», Dr. hist. Guntars
Catlaks. Mr Catlaks pays attention to elimination of
state-supported secondary education in minority languages
scheduled for 2004. He believes that a broad awareness programme
for teachers and parents should be urgently developed. Guntars
Catlaks is convinced that there are two aspects, which will
ensure the quality and success of the reform – highly qualified
teachers and support for the reform at least from one of the
groups - either from parents or from teachers («Diena» («The
Day»), August 28).

Popular Latvian-language daily launches monthly supplement on
integration -----------

>From August 16, «Neatkariga Rita Avize» («The Independent
Morning Newspaper») launches monthly supplement on integration
in cooperation with the Society Integration Foundation. The
first supplement consists of 6 articles: two devoted to
naturalisation, one about Estonian minority in Latvia,
comparison of Estonia and Latvia in the field of minority
education, an article devoted to racism in Latvia as seen by
Russian-language press, and dictionary of basic integration

Our commentary

We welcome publication of the supplement on integration in the
Latvian-language daily. In our view, it is necessary to
demonstrate clearly that the issue of society integration is a
problem of the whole society, not only of the persons belonging
to national minorities.

Exhibition devoted to the Latvian Roma community

An exhibition devoted to the memory of Latvian poet and painter
of Roma origin Karlis Rudevics (1939-2002) took place in the
Latvian Academic Library on August 15-20. Karlis Rudevics
published the first Roma alphabet with linguist Lexa Manush,
contributed to «Roma-English-Latvian dictionary» and
«Latvian-Roma dictionary». Both works of the painter and other
materials of the library on Roma theme were exhibited (articles
from newspapers etc) («Chas» («The Hour»), August 15,

---------------- Compiled by:

Alexei Dimitrov Tatyana Bogushevitch Yuri Dubrovsky

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