Rights for Russian wanted

  • 2001-01-18
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - The battle over the status of Russian in Latvia goes on. A high-ranking bureaucrat in the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded on Jan. 10 that Russian be given official recognition.

"We have said, and we'll continue to say, that in countries where Russians account, if not for half, then for one-third of the population, the question of granting the Russian language the status of a second official language, or at least an official status, must be solved," director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department for international cooperation and human rights Teimuraz Ramishvili said during an interview with the Internet portal Strana.ru.

Nils Muiznieks, director of the Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, responded by making it clear that the status of Russian would not change.

"First of all, as of July last year, only 29.5 percent of the population are Russians, so I don't think we qualify," Muiznieks said. "It's clear that Russian will never be an official language in Latvia."

During the interview, Ramishvili stressed that all countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States are in one way or another meeting Russia's wishes halfway and are willing to discuss questions concerning the use of Russian and observation of Russian speakers' rights. It is only in Latvia and Estonia that "there is very little progress."

"Discrimination against the Russian language in those countries clearly has an ideological and political undertone," Ramishvili concluded referring to the Baltic states.

"If conditions are not created for the use of Russian in courts, administrative institutions, police, housing maintenance offices, etc., it will be extremely difficult to neutralize discrimination on language and ethnic grounds."

Still, more and more Russian native speakers undergo the naturalization process in Latvia every year as part of the process to become Latvian citizens.

"Granting Russian an official status would take away the incentive for Russians to ever learn Latvian," Muiznieks said. Leonid Raihman, a representative of the Human Rights in a United Latvia political faction, has a different theory about why Russian will not be given official status in Latvia.

"We should consider this question in relation to international human rights standards," Raihman told The Baltic Times. "But we must also realize that we live in a Latvian reality. Russian should be given some sort of official status in areas where a majority of the population are Russian speakers, like Riga, but this will never happen because we have a ruling coalition of nationalist radicals in Parliament."