Key integration post created by new government

  • 2002-11-28
  • Kristine Kudrjavceva

Nils Muiznieks, a non-aligned specialist in ethnic issues, was appointed Special Task Minister for Integration Affairs last week in what is regarded as a concerted attempt by the new government to strengthen dialogue between the state and minorities.

Prime Minister Einars Repse and the new government is hoping the new post, created on the basis of two existing councils - the Social Integration Council and the Naturalization Board - will expedite the naturalization process in Latvia and help placate disgruntled non-citizens, many of whom voted for the For Human Rights party in October parliamentary elections.

Approximately 22 percent of Latvia's population, or one-half million, are non-citizens.

Tasks that are to come under the special task minister for integration affairs' profile will include culture, social integration, ethnic problems, regionalism, as well as discrimination and minority confessions.

Nils Muiznieks, 38, was born in America and arrived in Latvia in 1993. During the past nine-and-a-half years he worked in an institution related to human rights and ethical issues.

His candidacy, originally endorsed by Latvia's First Party, for the post did not go unchallenged. The ruling coalition, including For Fatherland and Freedom, opposed Muiznieks on the basis of lack of experience in relevant issues.

"The main task now is strengthening ties with national minorities and creating new dialogues" Muiznieks told The Baltic Times, adding he will emphasize cooperation with the opposition.

He said that several fractions had already come out in favor of National Minority Protection Convention ratification, which would promote communication among municipalities and national minorities, as well as insure the possibility to receive and spread information in their native language.

One idea Muiznieks favors is having street names in both Latvian and Russian, though he is strongly in favor of keeping Latvian as the state's only language.

The two standpoints did not contradict one another, the minister said.

The primary task, according to Muiznieks, will be the creation of a working group and a chain of advisory councils to promote dialogue among both politicians and the population that is the target.

"The substance of work is creating a team that would develop the integration process," said the newly appointed minister. "I will fight for budget [funds] to support culture," he said.

The minister admits that although the post is inherently "controversial," he believes in it.

He also said that it was essential to establish contact with other ministries, for example, the Ministry of Education, to promote integration processes through improving quality of teaching and program development in the minority educational institutions.

The new minister stressed he will develop the state program for Livs in Latvia, which has seen a lack of support due to "low level of responsibility in the government to solve the problems of the national minorities."

The Livs are a small Fino-Ugric speaking ethnic minority inhabiting only the north-western coast of Latvia and is risk of becoming completely assimilated among Latvians.