Parliamentary Small Talk

06. decembris, 2007

Recently Latvian MPs have had several lively debates on the comparative rights of citizens and non-citizens in Latvia. This time, the debates were about the right to own and carry weapons and about the right to serve as public prosecutor. The right to carry weapons is reserved for citizens. The same concerns the right to be considered for the office of public prosecutor. According to the opposition parties whose electorate are predominantly Russian-speaking citizens, many of whom have family ties with non-citizens, this situation is no longer justified. According to the parties whose electorate consists mainly of hereditary citizens, this situation is fully justified. This blog is not about the rights of non-citizens, but about the argumentation which MPs use to support their views.

3 arguments were repeatedly used in the debates, all three fascinatingly pointless and manipulative.

1. The argument which is most popular with the opposition parties defending the rights of non-citizens. The main point being the blunt denial of the fact that the citizenship of the former USSR was NOT the same thing as the citizenship of Latvia. According to the most outspoken proponent of this argument, Vladimir Buzajev from the party For Human Rights in United Latvia, ‘Non-citizens are former citizens, who have been deprived of their political rights and of some other rights 16 years ago.’ Sorry Mr. Buzajev, they are not. They are former USSR citizens who have a special status due to the special situation in which they found themselves in 1991. Their naturalisation is still an urgent and controversial point on Latvia’s agenda, but it cannot be solved by rhetorical manipulations.

2. The argument that the right to bear weapons is connected to the duty of citizens to defend the country. This was a statement from Dzintars Ābiķis of the People’s party. Obviously, yet another manipulation – since the right to bear weapons is historically and legally more connected to the right of self-defence than to the obligation to defend the country.

3. The argument that non-citizens should ‘first naturalise and then speak about their rights’. This one can be heard regularly in various forms, coming from the right-wing parties. One does not have to be a lawyer to see that there are different sets of rights, and some of them can and should be equally enjoyed by all people, while other sets of rights (e.g. voting in national elections) are reserved for citizens. The border between these different sets of rights is by no means always clear. Therefore, debate on ambiguous cases is sometimes legitimate. If, of course, it is a geniuine debate and not an exchange of manipulative remarks.

In other words, both in the case of those defending the expansion of non-citizens’ rights and in the case of those opposing them, we are dealing not with genuine arguments, but rather with a kind of parliamentary small talk between right-wing and left-wing parties. The rules of etiquette remain the same – one side claims that all that is good for non-citizens is generally good, the other side claims that all that is good for non-citizens is suspicious. These exchanges happen with remarkable regularity, and to no point at all. Perhaps it is time to drop the small talk and have a genuine debate about integration policies instead?

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