Facts regarding society integration in Latvia

17.05.2017. 16:06

sabiedribas integracija eng istais
Society integration in Latvia

Latvia has a modern, tolerant, open,multilingual society which promotes equality and has traditions rooted in centuries old European culture. People of different ethnic, religious and sexual backgrounds living in Latvia all feel welcome.

  • Latvia’s Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and prohibits discrimination;
  • Latvia offers a unique education system, with state financed minority education programmes in seven languages (Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian) and at least 60 % of subjects taught in Latvian or bilingually;
  • people in Latvia speak many different foreign languages – 95% at least one, 54% two, 13% three – figures that are far higher than the EU average, according to the Eurobarometer Survey 2012;
  • more than 94% of those belonging to national minorities can communicate in Latvian, according to a study, “Sense of Belonging to Latvia”, 2014;
  • about a third of marriages are those between people of different ethnic backgrounds;
  • Russians living in Latvia feel less discrimination than Russians living in other parts of the EU, according to the  EU Fundamental Rights Agency Survey “European Union Minorities and Discrimination” of 2009 (only 5% in Latvia compared to 27% in some other EU member states).
  • Overall, discrimination by ethnicity is totally rare in Latvia as recognised by 52% of respondents, compared to 37% of the EU average. In addition, 16% think that ethnic discrimination is non-existent in Latvia, while only 2% on average recognise this in the EU, according to the 2012 Eurobarometer survey;
  • Many Latvians of Russian ethnic background hold high political positions, and Latvia’s Parliament has elected members whose mother tongue is Lithuanian, Arabic, Russian and Ukrainian;
  • Diplomats of Russian, American, Polish, Armenian, Uzbek and other backgrounds serve in Latvia’s diplomatic service;
  • Since regaining independence in 1991, there have been no racially motivated killings or serious incidents in Latvia; 
  • Latvia’s Jewish population least sees anti-Semitism as a problem, according to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Survey “Discrimination and hate crime against Jews in EU Member States” of 2013.
  • Latvia automatically grants citizenship to children born in Latvia to stateless or non-citizen parents. 96% of children residing in Latvia are citizens of Latvia.
  • Latvia encourages and welcomes people who apply for citizenship – it is a simple process in line with all European standards. 62% of Latvians of Russian ethnic background are citizens and 84% of all of Latvia’s inhabitants are citizens;
  • Latvia has the highest proportion (over 40%) of women in senior business positions amongst EU countries (“International Business Report”, 2014). In the world rankings, considering the proportion of women occupying middle and senior management positions, Latvia is in 7th place (International Labour Organization ”Women in Business and Management”, 2015);
  • A majority of graduate, post graduate, doctoral students and scientists in Latvia are women (UNESCO Institute for Statistics research “Women in Science”);
  • In terms of gender equality Latvia consistently ranks amongst the top 15 countries globally (World Economic Forum survey “The Global Gender Gap Report”).

CITIZENSHIP POLICY IN LATVIA

In accordance with the doctrine of state succession in national and international law, the Republic of Latvia retained the legal personality of the state that, de facto, lost its independence in 1940 as a result of occupation by the USSR, followed by Nazi Germany, and then again by the USSR in 1945. The Baltic States were the only three members of the League of Nations that did not regain independence immediately after the Second World War.

The occupation of Latvia in contravention of international law, and the persistence of de iure independence of the Republic of Latvia throughout the Soviet occupation was recognized by our Western partners, and was accepted by other states, international organizations and tribunals, among them the European Court of Human Rights.

On 4 May 1990, the Republic of Latvia declared the restoration of its independence with all legal consequences - restoring the body of law (including the Constitution, Civil Code, Property Law, the Law on Citizenship, etc.) and democratic institutions.

On 17 September 1991, the Baltic States became members of the United Nations. And the USSR ceased to exist in December 1991. The Baltic States are not successor states of the USSR.

An integral part of restoration of independence of the Republic of Latvia was the restoration of the status and rights of those persons who were recognized as Latvia’s citizens under the 1919 Law on Citizenship, as well as their descendants. 

At the same time, Latvian authorities recognised that a group of persons, who had immigrated during the period of Soviet occupation and who lost their USSR citizenship after the dissolution of the Soviet Union but who had never been citizens of the Republic of Latvia or their descendants, were permanently residing in Latvia.

Since these individuals were not eligible for automatic acquisition of Latvia's citizenship, a special temporary status was established for former USSR citizens: the status of “former citizens of the USSR without the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia or any other country” (hereinafter “non-citizens”).

Non-citizens of Latvia are not stateless persons. The protection provided to non-citizens in Latvia extends beyond that which is required by the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Non-citizens enjoy equal protection under the law both in Latvia and while living or travelling abroad, and are the only group of persons, in addition to citizens, who are granted permanent residence in Latvia ex lege. They can have permanent residence in a foreign country while retaining all rights and privileges, inter alia, to travel freely and to return back to Latvia at any time. Non-citizens have the same social guarantees as Latvian citizens including, for example, with regard to pensions and unemployment benefits. As to political rights - the only significant difference between Latvian citizens and non-citizens is the right to vote and to work in the civil service or occupy posts directly related to national security.

Non-citizens are able to become citizens of Latvia through a simple naturalization procedure, and currently more than 142,000 persons have been granted citizenship of the Republic of Latvia in this manner. Latvia's authorities stress that the status of non-citizens is considered temporary in nature.

Naturalization

The percentage of non-citizens has dropped to 12% (257 377) in July 2015 compared to 29% (approximately 730 000) in 1995, when the naturalization process began. 84% of Latvia's residents are now citizens. As of 31 July 2015, 143 061 persons have been granted Latvian citizenship through the naturalization procedure.

99% of the children born in Latvia in 2015 are Latvian citizens.

Latvia continues to encourage non-citizens to apply for citizenship both through passage of legislation which facilitates naturalization and also by engaging in public information campaigns.

Since their introduction, the Latvian language and history exams have been simplified. The naturalization fee has been reduced for low-income, unemployed, retired persons, and abolished for politically - repressed and disabled persons, orphans and persons from social care institutions.

Amendments to the Citizenship Law -9 May 2013                               

On 9 May 2013, after more than two years of meticulous work the Saeima (Parliament) adopted Amendments to the Citizenship Law (hereinafter – Amendments). The Amendments were endorsed by the President of Latvia on 23 May 2013 and came into effect on 1 October 2013.

The overall aim of the Amendments is twofold: to adjust the Citizenship Law taking into account developments since 1998, and to further simplify citizenship acquisition and the naturalization process.

Regarding the first aim, increased mobility of Latvia's population after joining the EU and, consequently, the need to sustain ties with citizens all over the world determined the need to extend significantly the scope for dual citizenship.

Regarding the second aim, several measures have been implemented.

In accordance with the Amendments, Latvian citizenship is granted automatically to children of stateless persons and non-citizens: one parent’s consent is sufficient to register a newborn child whose parents are stateless or non-citizens as a citizen of Latvia at the time of the birth registration at the Civil Registry Office. The Amendments also eliminate a previous requirement for the parents to make a pledge of loyalty when registering citizenship of the child of a stateless person or a non-citizen.   

According to the Amendments, a child under the age of 15 that has not been registered as a citizen of Latvia at the time of the registration of their birth can be registered as a citizen with an application submitted by one of the parents. Between 15-18 years of age, a child can themselves apply to be registered as a citizen.

The Amendments also provide that pupils who have acquired more than half of the basic educational program in the Latvian language are exempt from all naturalization examinations and are registered as citizens upon submitting a naturalization application in accordance with the standard procedures.

The Amendments also simplify the requirements regarding permanent residence for the naturalization applicants, removing the requirement for uninterrupted residence in Latvia. A specific paragraph of the Amendments deals with the Latvian language test and exemptions therefrom. Namely, the requirements of the Latvian language naturalisation test have been standardised and are in line with the requirements of the centralised language tests in educational institutions, be it Latvian or national minority educational institutions. As a result of the Amendments, former military personnel of USSR (Russia) who opted to remain living in Latvia after the breakup of the Soviet Union now have the possibility to acquire Latvian citizenship by completing the naturalization procedure. 

Since restoration of independence in 1991, Latvia has engaged in a challenging long-term effort to promote societal integration. We believe that the Amendments to the Citizenship Law attest to yet another expression of Latvia’s will and interest to further consolidate and integrate its society.

LATVIA’S LANGUAGE POLICY

The Latvian Constitution and laws guarantee and protect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities so that they can preserve and develop their language, and their ethnic and cultural identity.

State Language Law is aimed at preservation, protection and development of the Latvian language, but at the same time provides for the integration of national minorities in the society of Latvia by observing their rights to use their native language or any other language.

Latvia continues to develop and finance its liberal education model: the state finances national minority education programmes in seven languages – Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Estonian, and Lithuanian. 109 schools implementing national minority education programmes and 75 schools with both Latvian and minority language programmes are funded by the state. Secondary schools are entitled to determine which subjects are taught in Latvian, but the total should be 60% of all subjects. Primary schools have the option of choosing from five national minority education models, one of which allows schools to devise their own unique educational model.

On 18 February 2012, a referendum was held in Latvia where a large majority of voters rejected constitutional amendments that would make Russian the second state language.

The referendum prompted a high turnout: 71.1% of Latvia's eligible voters participated in the referendum. Results were clear: only 17 % of eligible voters voted in favor of adopting Russian as the second state language. No substantive complaints about the conduct of referendum were received.

Concerning Russia's claim that part of the population (non-citizens) was not allowed to vote in referendum - the Latvian Government's position is that the right to vote is an integral part of citizenship. Non-citizens are ensured easy access to naturalization and citizenship. 

The referendum reaffirmed that sensitive issues can be addressed through democratic means, and that work will continue towards developing an open and consolidated society on the basis of European democratic values and Latvian as the only state language.

SENSITIVE HISTORY RELATED ISSUES IN LATVIA

During and after the Second World War Latvia suffered under the occupation of two totalitarian regimes - Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Using repressions and terror the occupying Nazi and Soviet powers forcibly drafted many people in Latvia to join military units on one or other side of the battle-front.

During the Second World War more than 100,000 Latvian citizens were mobilized into various formations of German armed forces and about the same number in Soviet armed forces. 

Nazi Germany formed the Latvian Legion in 1943 thus breaching the Hague Convention of 1907 which prohibits occupying powers to draft inhabitants of the occupied territories for military service. The conscripts were labeled "volunteers" to circumvent the Convention. Those who attempted to avoid conscription into the Legion risked imprisonment and later - death penalty.  The Latvian Legion was a frontline unit, one third of its soldiers died in the front. No member of the Legion was ever convicted of war crimes as a member of the Legion.

Former soldiers who fought on one or other side of the battlefront during the Second World War remember their fallen comrades on different dates. 16 March is not an official day of commemoration of war dead in Latvia, however, some former soldiers, purely by their private initiative, choose to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers. They attend church services, gather in cemeteries and lay flowers at the Monument of Freedom without any ideological pretext. There is no marching in order to express support to any totalitarian ideology. No Nazi uniforms, symbols or slogans appear on this or other days in Latvia - they are banned by law.

Latvia's Government or any other State institution does not provide support or participate in the private activities mentioned above. Latvia honours its fallen soldiers on Lāčplēsis Day on 11 November – the Heroes' Remembrance Day.

In recent years some radical groups have tried to disrupt the private commemorative events to call attention to themselves and their agenda. Russian Federation has attempted to conduct a smear campaign against Latvia's government to allege Nazi sympathies of Latvian government or Latvian population.

Latvian authorities have consistently condemned all crimes against humanity committed by both totalitarian regimes.  Latvia categorically denounces the Holocaust, mourns its victims and is strongly committed to education, remembrance and research of it.

Latvia is a democratic country with all the freedom guarantees provided for in the Constitution, and as a party to the European Convention for Human Rights provides the right of everyone to a peaceful assembly.