• 2004-02-19
Too often it seems that people in Latvia are unwilling to listen, or that they listen but do not hear. So when someone offers helpful, commonsensical advice, the words are distorted, taken out of context, marginalized to the point that they are no longer recognizable.

Expectedly, the report written by the Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles was immediately vituperated by one segment of society (the nationalists) as heretical and by the other (the minorities) as revolutionary. The truth, of course, is somewhere between the extremes, and it is the duty of moderates to underscore it and thereby expose Latvia's predominant weakness: the recklessness of radicalization.
By and large, Gil-Robles' report on the human rights situation in Latvia, which only bears consultative status, is evenhanded. In the executive summary it states, "Since Latvia gained its independence in 1991 the whole country has made great strides toward building a democratic, plural society based on human rights and tolerance... At the same time a number of problems remain." Could any assessment possibly be fairer than this? The premise is irrefutable - progress made, problems remain - and proof that Gil-Robles has something important to say.
Specifically, the 23-page report examines many of the traditional button issues on human rights - police behavior, minorities, women, the elderly, the mentally ill - but the strongest recommendations are reserved for Latvia's children. He says the fact that 16,000 of the 20,000 children born in Latvia to noncitizens after independence have not been naturalized but by law have that right (Article 3.1 of the Citizenship Act of 1998) is "extremely unsatisfactory."
"It seems to me that Latvian society as a whole needs alerting to the citizenship issue affecting the children with whom the country's future lies," writes Gil-Robles, who spent four days in Latvia last October.
"I believe that the state has a responsibility to see to it that, within its boundaries there are not numerous cases of children who do not possess any citizenship, regardless of whether they are categorized as stateless or noncitizen," he opines. His recommendation: "I call on the Latvian authorities to resolve the matter [children's citizenship] as soon as possible, for it is unacceptable, to put it mildly, that in the citizens' Europe we are building there should be huge numbers of people with no citizenship."
The advice has been given, now it is up for responsible Latvians to listen and heed.