FIFTH COLUMN: Non-citizens enjoy virtually the same rights as citizens, says government.
RIGA - Due to the increasing instability in eastern Ukraine today, orchestrated by Russia, say analysts in the West, the Latvian Transatlantic Organization (LATO) is calling on the government to endorse and submit to Saeima a strategy for increasing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2020. The organization also wants the government to limit the number of temporary residence permits issued to third-country citizens in light of the national security threat they pose, reports LETA.
LATO said in a statement that Russia poses a threat to not only Ukraine, but to all neighbor countries and Europe as a whole. LATO believes that Latvia’s attitude toward defense and security has been irresponsible so far, noting defense budget cuts in violation of the NATO collective defense principles and hesitation in taking decisions important to national security.
The organization urges the Cabinet of Ministers to adopt several important political decisions by the next Saeima elections, as well as to submit to Saeima several important bills, including a Defense Ministry proposal. Also, the government must complete talks with NATO on the placement of NATO military bases in Latvia, whereas the Interior Ministry and the Home Guard must increase personnel and equipment spending.
LATO also proposes that the availability of European Union taxpayer money and aid for exports in the 2014-2020 period be focused on companies that depend on exports to countries that are the source of major political risk (such as Russia) and have been hit by international sanctions.
Temporary residency permits, LATO says, should not be issued to citizens of countries that are hostile to the EU and NATO, and that investments in real estate be eliminated as a sufficient reason for issuing residency permits to third-country citizens.
The security group believes that the natural gas and electricity market liberalization plans should be aimed at reducing energy dependence on Russia in the long run, supports increasing the proportion of classes taught in Latvian in ethnic minority schools, and wants the broadcasting of Russian TV channels manipulated by Russian authorities to be stopped in Latvia.
Subject matter, particularly history, needs to be taught in minority schools according to the Latvian curriculum, which does not follow Russian or Soviet rhetoric.
Russian hostility and attempts at destabilization continue to be directed towards Latvia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement early last month that calls for Latvia to comply with recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on integration of its non-citizens. The ministry claimed that the Latvian government’s response to these recommendations indicate “ignorance” of the rights of non-citizens and ethnic minorities as well as disrespect for international obligations concerning human rights.
Additionally, the Russian ministry expressed “disappointment over the fact that Latvia denies any problems with non-citizen status - which is a key matter for about 15 percent of the population, or 300,000 inhabitants.” The ministry also said that despite their having been born in Latvia and now living there, they are denied many civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
However, the Latvian government counters that it has always underlined how simple it is for a non-citizen to become a citizen. And, international experts have pointed out that because of the minimal differences between the rights of citizens and non-citizens that exist in Latvia, non-citizens (who choose not to attain citizenship) find little reason to follow the naturalization route.
In other words, contrary to the Russian claims, there is no discrimination against non-citizens in Latvia.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, speaking on the issue in April, told reporters that the recommendations in question (from the U.N.) are “not binding and are the mildest possible.”
“I advise those causing a commotion to read the recommendations. They contain suggestions in the mildest form on re-reviewing various matters, without any categorical condemnation,” Rinkevics said.
The recommendations were made public by the U.N. in March, and they urge Latvia to facilitate integration into society for non-citizens