OSCE starts Latvian tour

  • 2008-04-22
  • By Mike Collier

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS TO PARTIES: Vollebekk's visit will address voting and educational rights (Photo: OSCE)

RIGA -- The latest in the never-ending round of inspections ofLatvia's citizenship rules and minority rights provisions has kicked off withthe arrival of Organization for Security and Co-operationn in Europe (OSCE) highcommissioner Knut Vollebekk on a two-day working visit which will include atrip to Latvia's second city, Daugavpils.

Depsite an initial show of solidarity between Vollebekk andForeign Minister Maris Riekstins at a press conference to launch the visit,significant differences of opinion quickly emerged on the subject of Latvia'sremaining 'non-citizens', the vast majority of whom are ethnic Russians.

"I would particularly like to follow up the work oneducation reform and the naturalisation process. Speaking of education itshould be noted that Latvia has to deal with an extremely complex legacy of theSoviet Union's assimilation policies and therefore I support the right andindeed the duty of the state to promote national integration," Vollebekk said.

"However, I would also like to mention that this shiould bedone with due respect for minority rights and their cultural identity.

"The number of non-citizens still is high 's about 372,000 Iam told 's and I intend to discuss with the Latvian government ways that I canhelp speed up the naturalization process. It is my firm position that theLatvian government should devote more attention to identify the causes of thisand I am very happy to learn that there is a survey that is presently beingtaken on why there is still such a large number of non-citizens.

Defending the governmental position, Riekstins responded saying:"People who want to participate in local or national elections are advised to takethe very simple process of naturalization because both the language test andthe history test are not very complicated. They should take these tests, becomecitizens and gain full participation."

However, Vollebekk identified this as not in line with theOSCE position. "I beg to disagree with the minister on this issue because Ibelieve the right to vote in local elections, instead of taking away some ofthe incentive for gaining citizenship, might work the other way and worktowards integration," he said

Asked by The Baltic Times if he had read a report coveringsimilar areas as his own brief, produced recently by UN Special RapporteurDoudou Diene, Vollebekk said "If I recall correctly the report is around 150 or160 pages and I must admit I haven't read it but I have read some of thecommentaries about it."