Statement by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council regarding discrimination of national minorities in Latvia Vienna, April 12, 2018
We again have to speak about the policy of the Latvian authorities to restrict tuition at the national minority schools in the country to the official language. Back in January 2018, the Latvian Government adopted amendments to legislation on the gradual transition to Latvian-only secondary education by the year 2021. The Latvian Parliament approved these amendments on March 22.
According to some observers, the Latvian authorities’ “blitzkrieg” in a socially and politically sensitive sphere such as education could foster ethnic tension in that multi-ethnic state. The move has been described in Latvia as “linguistic genocide,” and it is far from the strongest description. The Federal Union of European Nationalities, which unites over 90 member organisations in 33 European countries, has strongly protested against “such hard restriction of the right of Russian-speaking Latvians to use their native language and to have school education in their native language” and has appealed to the President of Latvia “not to proclaim the [latest] amendments to the Education Law and to the General Education Law.”
In effect, these amendments will destroy the entire system of education at national minority schools. The shortage of Latvian language teachers and textbooks, the absence of any expert analysis of the Latvian system of education and many other problems were discussed at the Latvian Parents’ Meeting held in Riga on March 31. The event was attended by parents, schoolchildren, teachers together with representatives of public organisations. The resolution that was adopted following the meeting has been forwarded to the European Parliament, the European Commission, the UN and the OSCE as well as to President of Latvia Raimonds Vejonis. That resolution has also been circulated at the OSCE and is available to those who would like to read it. The document points out that “these amendments, the only goal of which is the forceful assimilation of the Russian speaking residents of Latvia or the encouragement of emigration, run contrary to Articles 91 and 114 of the Latvian Constitution, decisions of the Constitutional Court and Latvia’s international commitments under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Discrimination in Education.”
The Latvian authorities are violating not only their international commitments but also their own national laws. For example, Article 91 of the Latvian Constitution says that “[A]ll human beings in Latvia shall be equal before the law and the courts. Human rights shall be realised without discrimination of any kind.” Article 114 says that “[P]ersons belonging to ethnic minorities have the right to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity.” Meanwhile, a forceful assimilation of Russian speakers has been underway in Latvia for over 25 years. As we see, this process has been accelerated now.
Regrettably, President Raimonds Vejonis has disregarded the opinion of a considerable part of the Latvian population. On April 2, one day after Western Easter day, he signed the amendments to the laws on education into law. This provoked mass protests, including a demonstration that rallied some 2,000 people in Riga on April 4. Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs said the Latvian President’s decision was “yet another big mistake” and confirmed the intention of the Social Democratic Party Harmony (Saskana) to file a complaint at the Constitutional Court.
Furthermore, the Latvian authorities continued their offensive against Russian language education. The Latvian State Language Centre has notified the schools in Riga about the upcoming Latvian language test for all teachers, which can lead to more persecution.
In other words, the legitimate interests and internationally accepted rights of over one third of the Latvian population have been trampled underfoot under the pretext of “integration” and “the strengthening of the state language.” We drew the attention of our EU colleagues to these discriminatory measures at the December 21, 2017 meeting of the Permanent Council. We still hope for a response from Brussels.
We also hope that the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights will provide an objective assessment of these actions by the Latvian authorities.
By the way, Russia is not alone in expressing serious concern over this. We have mentioned the open letter from Federal Union of European Nationalities, which has proposed formalising the EU commitment to respect the rights of national minorities, including in the sphere of culture and language. The other day, FUEN completed the collection of signatures in the EU countries for its Minority SafePack Initiative, which stipulates a package of practical measures. Over 1.2 million people have signed the petition. It is interesting that Latvia is one of the countries where the number of people that signed the petition exceeded the quota. This is proof that national minorities want the EU to protect their rights if the domestic authorities are unable to do this.
One more relevant example is a recent joint petition from German public figures and organisations to their deputies in the European Parliament. In it, they express concern over the amendments to the education laws approved by the Latvian Parliament and say that these amendments violate not just the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but also the main democratic principles that Latvia pledged to respect upon joining the EU. These public figures and organisations from Germany point out that native-born Russians in Latvia are being persecuted and express serious concern over the future of the European Union, because people in a member state are being deprived of their democratic rights and freedoms on ethnic grounds.
I hope that these words will get people not just in Riga but also in Brussels thinking about how to improve the situation.