OSCE official leaves noncitizens wanting

  • 2004-10-13
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Rolf Ekeus, the OSCE's high commissioner for national minorities, made a two-day visit to Latvia on Oct. 11 to evaluate the implementation of the state school reform.

The visit was widely anticipated, particularly among the country's minority community, since it was the first high-profile visit since the start of the controversial school reform program on Sept. 1. Ekeus visited two schools and met with the foreign and prime ministers, the special task minister for integration and the head of the naturalization board.

Ekeus did ask the government and Parliament to ratify the Framework Convention on National Minorities, signed by the Baltic state 10 years ago, though this plea fell on deaf ears.

New Era MP and head of the human rights and public affairs committee Ina Druviete dismissed talk of a quick ratification, claiming that it could split society. Other commentators said that state laws already fully comply with what is required in the framework convention.

The visit also came at a time when naturalization numbers are breaking records. Even if previous numbers were dismal, there has been a steady stream of noncitizens receiving Latvian passports since EU accession. Nearly 15,000 people applied for naturalization in the first nine months of this year, and in some areas of Riga there are even waiting lists for those wanting to take the citizenship exam.

During his brief tour, Ekeus called on the government to open more dialog with its minorities and to ensure that education in minority schools would not suffer due to the reform. He also reiterated a common international judgment on the education reform, saying that "each state has the right and the obligation to acquire quality education in the state language."

Hard-line opponents of the reform have seen little, if any, results for their vociferous protests on the streets of Riga. Furthermore, they have both abandoned their hidebound hunger strikes and their "empty school" initiative. Their fortunes have faded on all fronts, even the new umbrella organization Russians in Latvia, seems to have marginalized the hardliners.

The state may, however, forbid at least one activist of the radical anti-education reform organization Shtab, its leader Jurijs Petropavlovskis, from naturalizing. The only thing clear at the moment is that his application has been delayed.

In Latvia's main right-wing daily, Latvijas Avize, numerous articles have appeared as of late discussing the possibility. And for his part, Petropavlovskis has resigned to his fate of failure.

"I am 95 percent sure that I will not receive citizenship, even though I passed the exams almost a year ago," Petropavlovskis said.

Security police admitted that they sent information concerning Petropavlovskis to the naturalization board, but spokeswoman Kristene Apse-Krumina, citing restrictions, would not reveal what was sent. Liga Lukso, a spokeswoman for the naturalization board also could not comment on the outcome due to restrictions. An answer concerning Petropavlovskis' case would be made public next week, she said.

Petropavlovskis promised to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where he predicted a win over Latvian authorities should they try to deny him citizenship.