President: ratify minority convention only with reservations

  • 2005-01-06
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - In a series of holiday interviews, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga confirmed that Latvia would only ratify the Council of Europe's minorities protection convention with reservations and that the government was right in its assessment that the ultimate origins of foreign investment should be closer examined.

In an interview with the local press, Vike-Freiberga stressed that Latvia could only ratify the convention with reservations and dismissed the possibility that it might not be allowed to do so.

"This is absurd! Very many states have had reservations. Legally and in line with the principle of justice there are no grounds to set different criteria for Latvia than for other states," she told the Latvijas Avize newspaper. "This is something I am not ready to accept!"

In the past government officials have proposed ratifying the convention with reservations on having street names in a minority language (Russian) as well as the national one and allowing municipal authorities to use the minority language as a means of communication.

She stressed that Latvia acknowledges the principles under the convention. "We acknowledge that people who do not form a majority do have the right to their cultural heritage. The question is how the convention is being applied - namely the reservations. We should find wordings matching the situation in Latvia and the interests of the state," said the president.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has stated that the convention should be ratified with reservations about the use of language in street names and in the day-to-day work of municipal authorities. Meanwhile, Special Task Minister for Integration Ainars Latkovskis announced that he planned to stage a broad information campaign on the convention, including a public discussion and an action plan for implementation.

The campaign, according to Latkovskis, is planned from May until December and will inform the public about the content of the convention and its requirements. But before launching it, the special task minister will analyze every article under the convention and the related international experience to ensure all the required information and expertise are given to Parliament, which will ratify the document.

Estonia and Lithuania ratified the convention years ago, as have most of Europe's countries. Russia has repeatedly used Latvia's failure to ratify it as an example of the Baltic country's intransigence on minority issues, though that hasn't prevented it from continuing to criticize Estonia in almost all major international forums on the issue.

Also, Vike-Freiberga said she agreed with Kalvitis, who caused a minor scandal when he proposed last month that the government check foreign investment flowing into the country. She told the Russian language newspaper Telegraf on Dec. 30 that financial resources are often raised through illegal means.

"On principle, the free market economy does not look at the color and origin of the money. But it is growing clear lately that it is a kind of illusion," she said. "There is money raised by drugs and arms dealing, with attempts made to legalize it in various ways, and capital of such origin brings nothing good to any country."

The president said she believed security requirements for banking activity, for example, could be even tighter.

"On principle, capital should be watched over," she said.

Kalvitis said that a separate department could be set up at the Constitution Protection Office, the country's top security agency, to check information on other states' interets in Latvia and investment flowing into Latvia.

"Those are risks we should assess. There is a whole line of companies that have certain interests to influence Latvia's economy," he was quoted as saying.