Assimilate before voting?

10. October, 2001


Boris Cilevics

Foto: B. Kolesnikovs

The division of the Latvian population between citizens and non-citizens cannot be upheld eternally, while the increasing number of ethnic Russians in Latvia’s citizenry threatens the future of the “nation state”. That is why there is a visible yearning to assimilate as many Russians as possible before they are granted suffrage. This ethnic policy must be adjusted.

The attention of Latvia’s government is concentrated on membership negotiations with the European Union. It seems that in the eyes of the government, the EU is becoming the main arbitrator in the area of human and minority rights, replacing the Council of Europe, the United Nations, the OSCE and other international institutions. Yes, minority rights are mentioned in the Copenhagen criteria, but let us remember that the European Union has not adopted any legally binding documents in the area of protecting minorities. It has neither the mechanisms nor the institutions that could be responsible for monitoring the situation in this area.

How does the EU judge the extent to which candidate countries have satisfied the Copenhagen criteria? It is basically on the basis of reports from the governments of the candidate countries themselves. I believe that is why Soros decided to finance reports that were prepared by local experts. The reports are submitted to the European Commission as “alternative” information about the situation of minorities in the candidate countries. This is what largely determines the specific nature of these reports. They basically represent the first attempt to provide an overall, systematic and objective description of the status of the Russian minority in Latvia.

What are the specifics of the ethno-political situation in Latvia? At the restoration of independence, the ethno-demographic proportions were nearly 50-50. The political dominance of ethnic Latvians was ensured through the concept of “reinstated citizenship”. On the one hand, this underpinned the viability of the legislative authorities. On the other hand, it took away the right of political participation for most non-Latvians. These factors dictated policies toward minorities, as well as the content of relevant laws such as the language law, the education law, etc.

This division between citizens and non-citizens cannot be upheld eternally, however. International organizations are demanding that naturalization be promoted and that money be awarded to this goal. An even more important role here is played by “natural” factors such as mixed marriages. The number of ethnic Russians among Latvia’s citizens is increasing, and this creates fears about the future of Latvia as a “nation state”. There is increasing pressure on minorities. In other words, we see a yearning to assimilate as many Russians as possible before they are granted suffrage. That is the exact reason why Latvia is avoiding the ratification of the Framework Convention on Minority Rights, as well as the inclusion of stricter norms in the education law and, to a certain extent, language laws.

That is the context within which the integration concept is being implemented. The policy is effective to a certain extent, one can say – a certain share of minority residents choose adaptation or even voluntary assimilation. Alongside this, however, there is the opposite process – disintegration or alienation from the state. The main cause of this alienation is the clear refusal of the state to engage in dialogue with this share of the Russian minority – a much larger share, as far as I am concerned – so as to take into account the interests of these people.The information in the report clearly shows that Latvia’s ethnic policies need serious adjustment. It is inevitable that the range of citizens will be expanded, and it would be more far-sighted to take the interests of new and future citizens into account to a greater degree. Ratification and honest implementation of the Framework Convention on Minority Rights could become a decisive step in this direction. Integration must be seen as participation, because integration without participation will always be nothing more than something that bureaucrats have thought up. raksts

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