Letter: Rights of citizens under Latvian law

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The Independent Online
Sir: While the report 'Latvian Parliament restricts citizenship' and the leading article 'A rash expression of Latvian loathing' (both, 23 June) provide some sense of the critical demographic situation in Latvia that is responsible for the 'backlash' of the citizenship law, several inaccuracies in these articles provide a skewed perception of the effects of the law.

Adrian Bridge reports that 'up to 500,000 mainly ethnic Russian residents of Latvia are set to find themselves almost indefinitely excluded from citizenship - and with it the right to vote and own property'. This figure is in fact closer to 410,000, of whom an estimated 160,000 are retired Soviet military and KGB personnel and their families. This latter group, by international standards (Geneva Convention on Occupied Territory), must not be 'forced' on Latvia as potential citizens.

Latvian law does not exclude the right to own property for non- citizens - at present it excludes the right to own land. It is also internationally accepted that non-

citzens do not possess the right to vote in government elections. Therefore this cannot be construed as a 'violation of human rights'. By law, the permanent residents of Latvia are guaranteed all other human rights.

An important aspect of the rate of naturalisation of non-citizens concerns the present demographic situation in Latvia (52 per cent ethnic Latvians) and the potential effects on the impending parliamentary elections in October 1995 and October 1998 of a significant number of persons who may not assimilate into the Latvian culture. While the recommendations of the Council of Europe and the CSCE were seriously considered, and many were incorporated into the citizenship law, the critical demographic situation in Latvia precludes implementation of a rapid naturalisation process.

The 'wisdom' of the citizenship law in its present form is a matter for discussion. However, to state that 'Latvians have many reasons for loathing the Russians' is misleading. Many ethnic Russians presently are citizens of Latvia and are actively engaged in the state-building process. The 'loathing' is directed at remnants of the occupying forces and results from 50 years of suppression. Would any European country allow such a major shift in its citizenry in such a short period?

Yours sincerely,



Embassy of Latvia

London, W2

23 June