Books on Latvia
Update No: 294- (28/06/05)
The EU spat
The two 'no's in France and Holland have put the EU into turmoil. Latvia, as it
so happens, recently earned its European spurs when its parliament ratified the
Also, more importantly, while other EU countries are wondering about the future
of the euro, Latvia in April joined up to the European Exchange-Rate Mechanism (ERM
11), the prelude to full membership in 2007.
There is no doubt where Latvia is heading - to the West. But, as it so happens,
Latvia has more detritus from the Soviet epoch than any other Baltic state.
During the Soviet period hundreds of thousands of mostly Slav people were moved
to Latvia, bringing the share of ethnic Latvians drastically down from 75% of
the pre-war population to little over half following the end of communist rule.
Russians predominate in its seven largest cities, notably so in Riga, its
Relations between Latvia and Russia, have long been contentious since the fall
of the Soviet Union during the early 1990s. Recently Moscow and Riga have also
been involved in a war of words over a border agreement and the two nations have
also clashed over the meaning of the end of the Second World War. While the
three Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - say it was the beginning
of the Soviet occupation, Russia denies this, saying they joined the Soviet
Union of their own accord, a view that surely only Russians would assert in all
earnestness, ignoring the persuasive power of Red Army bayonets.
Minorities accord hots up tensions in Latvia
This all makes inter-ethnic relations a particularly delicate topic. Latvian
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga ratified a controversial agreement on minority
rights in early June, after a stormy marathon 13-hour session in parliament
passed the convention. The Framework Convention on National Minorities was
finally passed a decade after it was signed by the nation's parliament with the
accord having again exposed tensions in the nation caused by its large Russian
The long 13 hours of deliberation by parliament followed unsuccessful attempts
by members of a nationalist party to block the agreement. The debate dragged on
as members of the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party left the
committee hearing making it impossible to form a quorum to pass the legislation.
The agreement faced unusual pressure by the government to pass it, and was
pushed through two readings in one day, a week ahead of a visit from the OSCE's
high commissioner for minorities, Rolf Ekeus. The legislation passed with 64
votes, as some nationalist elements voted against, and the minority parties
refrained from participating.
The Kremlin has used the fact that Latvia has not ratified the convention as
proof that the government does not respect the rights of its minorities.
However, ratification of the framework convention would change little in
The document passed with two attached exceptions both dealing with language. One
would forbid the use of Russian on street signs, and the other would make
Latvian the only language to be used in local government. A declaration was also
added stating minorities will only be regarded as citizens.
This is already the situation today in Latvia, and officials say that a return
to the Russian language on street signs would remind many of the communist era
and ultimately harm the process of integration. "Nothing will change with
the ratification of the convention," said Former Integration Minister, Nils
Muiznieks, long a proponent of ratifying the conventions. He went on to say that
although it was legally binding instrument, it was weakly worded and gave some
room for interpretation. Many on all sides of the issue have overstated the
importance of the document.
But in a country fraught with internal discord over its minorities, questions
like citizenship and language have taken a paramount position in all political
Russia's Lavrov blasts decision
Indeed, they have taken a paramount place in geopolitical discourse too.
Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, described the ratification of the
European Union's Convention on National Minorities by the Latvian parliament,
which removed certain provisions, as a profanation, Interfax News Agency has
"I think that in many ways, this is the profanation of the obligations that
Latvia has allegedly assumed," Lavrov said on May 27th. Lavrov said that
the convention was ratified after large sections of it had been removed.
"The Latvian authorities said the convention does not apply to
non-citizens. Meanwhile, non-citizens suffer the worst from violations of human
rights in Latvia," he said. Over 400,000 people "who live in Latvia,
who want to live in Latvia and to be loyal citizens, and who voted for Latvia's
independence during the referendum, are non-citizens in that country," the
foreign minister said. He refers to the mainly older generation Russians who
have not been able to qualify for