Council of Europe closes post monitoring of Latvia

  • 2005-11-30
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The Council of Europe closed its monitoring in Latvia after the organization voted on Nov. 23 to cease following the country's minority situation on a day-to-day basis.
Latvian delegates said the vote was aided by the absence of several country representatives, allowing for a vote of 10 to 9 in favor of ceasing the continued international scrutiny.

"I really consider this a victory for the country and an end to a very long process," Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks told The Baltic Times.

The move fit nicely with one of Pabriks' main goals when he arrived at the foreign ministry - to reduce the role that the country's minority situation has played in the international arena by supporting the ratification of the Framework Convention on National Minorities.

The convention had languished in Parliament for a decade after being signed and was often used as evidence of minority rights violations by Russia.

Boris Cilevics, an MP from the left of center National Harmony Party, and a member of Latvia's delegation to the Council of Europe, was against closing the post-monitoring by the Strasbourg based international body.

"Usually only one-quarter or one-third of the delegates show up, and this time the Foreign Ministry was really active and lobbied hard to get the monitoring closed," said Cilevics, who was present at the vote.

"The monitoring is useful for us," he added. "While there have been substantial improvements in the country for the good in the last year, in many post-communist countries these positive trends only come about with help from the outside."

The next meeting will take place on Dec. 15 and cover problems the country still needs to deal with. An ongoing discussion on the implementation of the Framework Convention between Latvia and the Council of Europe will follow the post-monitoring dialogue's closing, as is the case in other states party to the treaty. The monitoring will be based more on a legal level, and will examine whether the country abides by the Convention.

Gyorgy Frunda, chairman of the parliamentary assembly's monitoring committee, also reportedly opposed the regime's closing. Frunda was in Latvia for a two-day visit Oct. 17-19 to write a report on the country's implementation of the framework convention, a Council of Europe document that Latvia ratified in May of this year.

The state ratified the convention with two reservations: that Latvia views minorities only as citizens who are long-time residents of the country, and that only the Latvian language may be used on street signs and as official state communication.

At the time, Pabriks called for ending of the monitoring program.

Frunda, who comes from the Hungarian minority in Romania, had called on the state to waive reservations to the convention and to speed up naturalization of the country's large noncitizen population.

Local commentators blasted his apparent lack of knowledge concerning the country's minority policy while he was in Latvia.

But it was Frunda's bizarre accusations that became the focus of his visit. Not only did he claim that noncitizens were not allowed to own land within 200 kilometers of the border, but he cited the International Herald Tribune as the source.

He later retracted his statement.

During the Council of Europe's meeting, Frunda recommended allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections, something that President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said would reduce the incentives for noncitizens to naturalize.