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Mar 10th 2009 11:49AM Non-citizen status doesn't indicate that one isn't considered a person -- non-citizens are permanent residents and enjoy most of the rights citizens enjoy, these rights guaranteed by law. There are indeed numerous distinctions between citizens' and non-citizens' rights -- the civil service is only open to citizens, for example -- the most significant distinction being that non-citizens lack voting rights.
Citizenship entails not only rights but also responsibilities, and few countries grant it to everyone automatically (there are jus solis and jus sanguinis, and mixtures of the two approaches -- children born to non-citizens after Latvia regained its independence do not need to naturalize to obtain citizenship). The UK now has a language requirement for naturalization, too -- so does Russia, in fact. Latvia is committed to human rights and abides by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
As Edward Lucas responded to the 2006 Amnesty International report on Estonia in The Economist:
"Estonia, like Latvia next door, decided to give these uninvited guests a free choice. They could go back to Russia. They could stay but adopt Russian citizenship. They could take local citizenship (assuming they were prepared to learn the language). Or they could stay on as non-citizens, able to work but not to vote.
"Put like that, it may sound fair. But initially it prompted howls of protest against 'discrimination', not only from Russia but from Western human-rights bodies. The Estonians didn’t flinch. A 'zero option'—giving citizenship to all comers—would be a disaster, they argued, ending any chance of restoring the Estonian language in public life, and of recreating a strong, confident national identity.
"They were right."
Non-citizens were *never* citizens of the Republic of Latvia -- they were citizens of the USSR, now defunct. Those who complain that they should hold citizenship because they were "born in Latvia" 1940-1991 either neglect or deny the fact that Latvia was occupied; they were born in occupied territory (and Latvia was occupied in June 1940, not September 1939, by the way).
Vegetables can't be naturalized, Maria -- naturalization requires some personal effort in every country. Compare, for instance, Switzerland's stringent requirements to Latvia's -- but note that the Swiss Confederation wasn't under foreign, totalitarian rule when the applicants got there. Bear in mind that a substantial minority of the population here opposed the very existence of the Republic of Latvia. Some were citizens, like Tatyana Zhdanok -- taking advantage of the democracy she tried to nip in the bud, she became the only ethnic Russian in the European Parliament.
I can sympathize with some of those who were relegated to non-citizen status; I think those who took a risk and registered with the Citizens' Congress should have been granted citizenship because of their clear commitment to independence, for example. I also think that the "windows" for naturalization should have been abolished earlier. I'm quite familiar with the reasons for resentment, some valid, that many Russophones profess. If those resentments are so overwhelming that you consider making any commitment to Latvia a waste, however, I don't think you deserve citizenship through naturalization, which is essentially a form of adoption. A person asking for citizenship should show a degree of integration -- some knowledge of the national language, and some familiarity with the nation's history. To my mind, a familiarity with our history would give you some understanding of why we have the language and citizenship policies we do, even if you don't agree with them, which is your right -- but I see no such understanding in what you write.
Mar 6th 2009 10:39AM Maria wrote: "...I think he did make quite clear that the hatred of everything Russian still continues..."
Such a blanket statement completely obscures reality. Latvians like a lot of things Russian, from literature (a translation of Turgenev's Накануне was just published, for example) to theater (the venerable Russian Drama Theater in Rīga is being reconstructed, and the Latvian director Alvis Hermanis is well-known here and in Moscow, working among other things with Russian classics) to pelmeni and dubious Russian TV series.
What many Latvians don't like are Russians -- really homines sovietici -- who cannot or do not speak the national language and feel they retain a conquerors' right to force Russian upon us, and those who otherwise disrespect the culture of the country they live in.
Mar 5th 2009 2:18AM
Your post is riddled with serious errors.
"When Latvia achieved independence in the 1990s it quickly began to marginalize the ethnic Russian population that had settled here, giving citizenship to anyone who would claim purely Latvia ethnicity..."
Citizenship was not and is not based on ethnicity. Those ethnic Russians who held Latvian citizenship prior to the occupation and their descendants received citizenship without the need for naturalization or Latvian language skills. Others have to naturalize, and well over 100 thousand people have done so. There are even some ethnic Latvians who do not have citizenship -- ethnicity is immaterial to the process, and the naturalization reuirements are comparatively liberal.
"Is there much of a difference between the two languages? No. Latvians understand Russians fluently, and certainly ethnic-Russians living here understand Latvian. I have a good background in Slavic languages..."
Latvian is a Baltic language, not a Slavic language. If the difference were so slight, Russophone non-citizens would have no difficulty learning Latvian and naturalizing, no? There are many Russians living here who don't speak the language, and the percentage of Latvians fluent in Russian is in decline. When independence was restored, only about one in five non-Latvians could speak Latvian. More than half can now. That's a sign of the language policies' success, not an indication that "Latvians haven't helped things." Even now, however, the linguistic environment is far from ideal -- some nurses were recently fined for their lack of Latvian language skills, for instance. Latvians have the right to expect service in Latvian in Latvia, especially in institutions like hospitals or police stations.
The education reform does indeed call for an increased percentage of classes to be taught in Latvian -- but there are several different tracks in the system, some of which provide for plenty of instruction in Russian in minority schools (and Latvia also provides state supported education for the Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Roma minorities). Most Russian schools aren't actually "ethnic Russian schools" but relics of the Soviet era. It is quite natural that some would be closed -- not a few Russophones prefer to educate their children in the Latvian language. Latvia has very high inter-ethnic marriage rates, and the vast majority of mixed Russian-Latvian couples choose to send their children to Latvian-language schools, for example.
One of the primary purposes of our language policies was to reverse the asymmetrical bilingualism that was forced upon Latvia by the Soviets and was leading to the death of the language. If most everyone can speak Russian but most Russophones do not use Latvian -- and they made up a majority in most urban areas by the time independence was restored -- language death is imminent. Fortunately, the policies you say aren't helpful have been largely effective, and most younger Russophones are now fluent in Latvian.
Sep 24th 2007 12:50AM I'm a cynic, too -- but in this case I agree with Dylan Carr-Michael. I didn't come to this through football, though -- after discussing Uzbekistan with someone who's been involved with democracy movements in Central Asia, I sent my friend a link to Murray's site (though my friend is no fan of the Uzbek dictatorship, he had thought the "boiling his enemies" bit an instance of "the Kaiser eats babies" propaganda...). But lo and behold, Murray's site was snuffed. Hopefully "the Streisand Effect" will serve a higher purpose in this case, with readers taking an interest in the sorts of governments "the coalition of the [un]willing [and coerced]" is willing to work with in the so-called "war on terror"...