Ethnic Composition and the Protection and Promotion of the Cultural Identity of National Minorities

15.01.2015. 11:38

The Latvian society is and has always been multicultural - more than 150 ethnicities live here.

During the 1920s and 1930s, national minorities constituted one fourth of Latvia’s population. The Republic of Latvia ensured cultural autonomy for its national minorities. The national minorities actively used their guaranteed opportunities to establish national schools, societies, organizations, cultural institutions, and to publish newspapers and magazines in their native language. From among European countries, only Latvia and Estonia broadly financed the education of national minorities in their native language from the state budget.

After World War II, as a result of the policy pursued by the Soviet Union, approximately 1.5 million people from various regions of the Soviet Union arrived voluntarily or were forcibly moved to Latvia. Nearly a half of them remained in this country, causing a significant change in the ethnic structure. In 1989, the share of ethnic Latvians in their home country had decreased to 52 % in comparison to 77 % in 1935 (see graphs below).

Ethnic Composition in Latvia in 1935 and 1989

Ethnic composition in LV 1935 1 Ethnic composition in LV 1989 2

After the restoration of Latvia’s statehood in 1991, the rights of people belonging to national minorities were also renewed, and the naturalisation and integration of the Soviet era immigrants began. Society integration became one of the top priorities for the Government of Latvia.

The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia enshrines a basic principle that persons belonging to national/ethnic minorities have the right to preserve and develop their language, ethnic and cultural identity. Further implementation of the principle is stipulated by the 1991 Law "On the Unrestricted Development and Right to Cultural Autonomy of Latvia's National and Ethnic Groups" providing that government institutions should promote the creation of material conditions for the development of the education, language and culture of national and ethnic groups residing within Latvia's territory, through allocating funds from the national budget for such purposes.

For a number of years, several national programmes are being developed and successfully implemented in the field of society integration. A state support system for national minorities and their NGOs has been set up with the aim of preserving their cultural heritage and identity, promoting tolerance and the development of an intercultural dialogue.

Advisory Councils on National Minority Issues

Five advisory councils on national minority issues are currently functioning at the national level:

The President’s Advisory Council on National Minorities was established with the aim of promoting dialogue on the matters of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of national minorities and providing support for their socio-political participation.

The Advisory Council on Minority Education Affairs (the Ministry of Education and Science) aims at supporting dialogue between education policy makers and implementers and facilitating a high quality education process at national minority schools, thereby promoting the spread of humanitarian values in a multicultural society, respect, and awareness of cultural diversity.

The Advisory Committee of Representatives from Minority Non-governmental Organisations (the Ministry of Culture; established in 2006 as the Committee of Representatives from Minority Non-governmental Organisations for Monitoring the Implementation of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) aims at promoting the participation of NGOs in the formation of civic society, the development of ethnopolicy and national minority rights. The Committee supports the Ministry of Culture in ensuring the coordination of the fulfilment of commitments under the Convention, the grafting of national reports and building a dialogue with the CoE Committee of Ministers.

The Advisory Council for Implementation of Roma Integration Policy (the Ministry of Culture) was established by the Ministry of Culture in 2012 with the aim of facilitating and evaluating the integration of Roma, strengthening cooperation between the Roma community and public institutions, and intensifying civic participation of the Roma community. The Council's members are representatives from the Roma community, NGOs working to protect the Roma interests, representatives from public institutions, local authorities and education institutions, and experts on Roma integration matters. 

The Advisory Council for the Integration of Third-country Nationals (the Ministry of Culture) was established by the Ministry of Culture in 2013 to promote an inter-institutional debate and cooperation in the field of the integration of third-country nationals, facilitate their participation and that of organisations representing them in the formation of the national integration policy. The Council brings together national minority representatives, NGOs, public institutions, local authorities and schools.