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Latvia: Treatment of ethnic Russians; whether ethnic Russians face discrimination; availability of state protection (January 2004 - December 2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 19 January 2006
Citation / Document Symbol LVA100686.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Latvia: Treatment of ethnic Russians; whether ethnic Russians face discrimination; availability of state protection (January 2004 - December 2005), 19 January 2006, LVA100686.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Information on the treatment of ethnic Russians was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. Sources reported contradictory information on whether ethnic Russians face discrimination. Country Reports 2004 indicated that "[t]here was public debate about the existence of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity" (28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5) while Freedom House reported that "political, social, and economical discrimination suffered by the Russian-speaking community is a subject of much debate" (July 2005, 363).

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty stated that "Latvia remains a split society still struggling to overcome ethnic divisions and forge national unity" (19 May 2005). In its annual report, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia reported that "there is widespread hostility against Russians in the newly independent states ... as noted in the NFP [National Focal Point] reports for Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia" (EU 2005; Telegraf 4 Dec. 2005). On the other hand, another article from the BBC indicated that Russians and Latvians were able to cohabit peacefully and that "[t]here is no ethnic strife in the streets of Latvia" (25 Mar. 2005).

Russians residing in Latvia who do not possess citizenship cannot hold certain public positions (e.g. pharmacists, lawyers, firemen, doctors, police officer and elected politicians) and cannot vote (Russia in Global Affairs 21 Nov. 2005; n.d.; AP 4 Sept. 2004). One source indicated that this situation would be the case for "[a]bout half of Latvia's native Russian-speakers" (ibid.). An assistant professor from the State University of New Jersey alleged that

[t]here are at least three "worlds" in Latvia:

Ethnic Latvians who have no limits on their mobility or choice of occupation;

"Latvianized" Russians ... who enjoy citizenship and official access to state jobs, but are confronted with informal barriers to certain careers and occasionally suffer from slights by ethnic Latvian counterparts in their daily lives;

Non-citizen Russians ... who are explicitly barred from state jobs, are disenfranchised, face bureaucratic nightmares when traveling or seeking state aid, and who are regularly treated with disrespect by ethnic Latvians in their daily lives (Russia in Global Affairs 21 Nov. 2005).

In 2004, the government proceeded with a reform of its educational system whereby Latvian would be imposed as the main language of instruction (Interfax 14 July 2004; EU 4 Feb. 2005; Russia in Global Affairs 21 Nov. 2005). More specifically, 60 per cent of courses have to be taught in the Latvian language (ibid.; EU 4 Feb. 2005; BBC 29 Mar. 2005) "for the final three school years" (ibid.). While this reform has brought on criticism, "the EU [European Union] has said Latvian language laws, including the new school language law, conform to European minority rights standards" (AP 4 Sept. 2004).

The chairman of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Gyorgy Frunda, made recommendations, following his visit to Latvia in October 2005 (COE 14 Oct. 2005), to abrogate the requirements for naturalization of immigrants from the Soviet era, to allow voting in local elections of non-citizens and to waive the reservations that Latvia had imposed when it ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ibid. 23 Nov. 2005; Eurasia Daily Monitor 30 Nov. 2005). Eurasia Daily Monitor reported that the Monitoring Committee of PACE "overruled Frunda's recommendations regarding 'national minority rights' in that country and discontinued the monitoring procedure on Latvia, of which Frunda was in charge" (ibid.).

Latvia joined the European Union as a member on 1 May 2004 (EU n.d.). In its comprehensive monitoring report on Latvia's preparations for membership, the European Union stated that "[p]articular attention should also be given ... to integrating ethnic minorities" and "Latvia is strongly encouraged to promote integration of the Russian minority by, in particular, continuing to accelerate the speed of naturalisation procedures, and by taking other proactive measures to increase the rate of naturalisation" (2003).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Associated Press (AP). 4 September 2004. Timothy Jacobs. "Latvia Deports School Language Protest Organizer to Russia." (Dialog)

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 29 March 2005. Angus Roxburgh. "Latvian Lessons Irk Russians." [Accessed 6 Dec. 2005]
_____. 25 March 2005. Angus Roxburgh. "Citizenship Row Divides Latvia." [Accessed 6 Dec. 2005]

Council of Europe (COE). 23 November 2005. Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). "Post-Monitoring Dialogue with Slovakia and Latvia Closed." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2005]
_____. 14 October 2005. Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). "Monitoring Committee Chair Visits Latvia for Post-Monitoring Dialogue." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2005]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. United States Department of State. [Accessed 2 Dec. 2005]

Eurasia Daily Monitor. 30 November 2005. Vol. 2, No. 222. Vladimir Socor. "Council of Europe's Biased Rapporteur Overruled on Latvia." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2005]

European Union (EU). 4 February 2005. European Commission. "The Euromosaic Study: Russian in Latvia." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2005]
_____. 2005. European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). "Racism and Xenophobia in the EU Member States: Trends, Developments and Good Practice." Annual Report 2005. [Accessed 5 Dec. 2005]
_____. 2003. Comprehensive Monitoring Report on Latvia's Preparations for Membership. [Accessed 15 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d. European Commission in Latvia. "European Commission Welcomes Latvia." [Accessed 15 Dec. 2005]

Freedom House. July 2005. "Latvia." Freedom in the World 2005. [Accessed 6 Dec. 2005]

Interfax. 14 July 2004. "Presidential Bulletin Report for July 14, 2004." (WNC/Dialog) N.d. "Latvian Citizenship." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2005]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 19 May 2005. Jeremy Bransten. "Latvia: Despite Progress, Ethnic Divisions Still Split Society." [Accessed 19 May 2005]

Russia in Global Affairs [Moscow]. 21 November 2005. No. 4. "Between Assimilation, Irredenta, and Globalization." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2005]

Telegraf [Riga, in Russian]. 4 December 2005. "Latvian Russian Commentary Argues Ethnic Discrimination Still Exists in Latvia." (BBC Monitoring/Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Attempts to contact two oral sources were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including:, Amnesty International, European Centre on Minority Issues, European Country of Origin Information Network, Factiva, Human Rights in Latvia, Human Rights Watch, International Helsinki Federation, The Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, The Latvian Institute, Minorities at Risk Project (University of Maryland), Minority Electronic Resources (MINELRES), Minority Rights Group International, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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