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24.04.2012   Movement "For Equal Rights": Q&A

-           What does ‘For Equal Rights’ stand for?


‘For Equal Rights’ is a Latvian social movement, which was created in 2011. It has a very specific goal - to initiate a national referendum to amend the Citizenship Law Under the proposed legislation, the Latvian citizenship will be automatically granted to those non-citizens, who wish to take up the citizenship in Latvia.


The initial task was to collect 10,000 citizens' signatures under the draft amendments before September 2012. It was achieved, gathering more than 12,600 signatures. However, the Central Election Commission refused to launch the next stage of signatures-gathering, claiming itself to be competent to evaluate the bill's consistency with the constitution. despite the conslusion of the only independent expert it had invited, and claiming the bill to contradict he principle of state continuity, despite the example of Lithuania


-           What are the main reasons to hold the referendum on citizenship?


Already for twenty years, Latvian residents are divided into citizens and non-citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people, (most of whom resided in Latvia before the restoration of independence of 1991) are excluded from many social, political and economic rights.


In 1991, the Latvian government made the decision to exclude the 1/3 of the population from the political process of the country. People were denied Latvian citizenship, despite previous promises of the newly elected representatives to treat everyone equally. People felt disillusioned and betrayed when the government turned against their voters. After twenty years of exclusion and unequal treatment, would it be democratically and morally fair to ask people what they really want?


-           What are the roots of the problem?


In October 8, 1988, the Popular Front of Latvia (PFL) was established and a year later, the PFL declared its aim to restore the independence of Latvia.


One of the main points of the Popular Front’s programme was to respect the rights of people who moved to the Republic of Latvia after 1940 (the year of incorporation of Latvia to the USSR) based on international norms. In the declaration of the second congress of the PFL, representatives of the movement clearly expressed that “the Popular Front of Latvia stands for equal treatment of all Latvian residents and citizenship should be granted to all residents, who wish to link their fate with the Republic of Latvia”.


Similarly, the Atmoda - a PFL weekly newspaper, which targeted Latvian and Russian-speaking audience and was published in both languages, actively promoted the idea of equal rights and democratic participation of all residents in Latvia. Elta Veidemane, one of the activists was writing that argument against equal treatment of all Latvian residents is an absurdity. Any division sets one group against another and this only could be proposed by people with totalitarian logic inherited from the Soviet System.


Influenced by big promises, the majority of people voted for the independence of Latvia in the national referendum and representatives of the Popular Front to be elected to the Supreme Council in the first transparent elections in early spring of 1990.


On May 4, 1990 the Supreme Council adopted a declaration “On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, which was followed by the transitional period until August 21, 1991 when Latvia fully restored its independence and was officially recognised as an independent state by other countries.


On October 15, 1991 the Supreme Council passed legislation “On the Renewal of the Rights of Citizens of the Republic of Latvia and Fundamental Principles of Naturalization” that in practice meant that only persons who were citizens of Latvia on June 17, 1940 and their descendant could take up the citizenship. As a result, 715,000 non-citizens out of 2.6 million Latvian residents became non-citizens.


-           How the rights of non-citizens are restricted?


According to the Latvian Human Rights Committee, there are 80 differences between the rights of Latvian citizens and non-citizens. These differences are not only related to political rights, but also social and economic ones.


Just a few examples:

-           The right to work in state offices or police (in some cases, even cleaning jobs are available to citizens only)

-           The right to travel visa-free to many countries

-           The right to pension (in some cases, citizens are entitled to receive bigger pensions, even with the same work experience)

-           The right to receive privatisation certificates (citizens were allowed to receive more privatisation certificates than non-citizens)

-           The right to education (certain higher education establishments for citizens only, such as the Academy of Police and the National Academy of Defence)

-           The right to self-defence (possession of firearms is allowed to citizens only)


There is a long list of real-life examples how exclusion from mainstream society influenced people’s lives. Especially, in the first half of the 1990s, this ‘imaginary’ division had tragic consequences. Some non-citizens received provisions on mandatory departure from Latvia. For example, one person committed a suicide being unable to accept the fact that after several decades of living in Latvia, he was expelled from the country.  


-           Is it only about non-citizens?


Besides creating ‘imaginary’ division between citizens and non-citizens, the Law on Citizenship is used as a mechanism to restrict the rights of ethnic minorities in Latvia. In 1993, over 60 per cent of Russians were non-citizens, 90 per cent of Ukrainians and 70 per cent of Belarusians.  Since the right to vote is denied to non-citizens, the majority of ethnic minorities cannot express their political will. Their voice has been silent for years.

As a result, restrictive language laws were introduced and ethnic minorities lost their right to be educated in their mother tongues.


-           Why does the problem of mass non-citizenship still exist?


The answer is very straightforward – the Latvian government simply does not want to solve it.


Prior 1999, the majority of non-citizens did not have the right to naturalisation. There is still a very specific category of non-citizens who are denied naturalisation.


Naturalisation exam in Latvia along with Denmark and Estonia (where non-citizens also do exist) is the most difficult one in Europe. If in the case of Denmark, tough requirements can be justified based on the fact that only new-comers apply for citizenship; in the case of Latvia the same requirements are applied to people, who were born and lived all their lives in Latvia.

Despite heavy criticism of different international human rights monitoring bodies (e.g. European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and United Nations Human Rights Committee) and European Court of Human Rights’ judgements (e.g. Andrejeva vs. Latvia), the situation of non-citizens in Latvia remains unchanged.  

-           Why Latvian citizens should vote for the rights of non-citizens?



To sign for the rights of non-citizens is not a question of justice only. It is a question of a possible political change. If now elections do not bring any visible results, 300,000 new citizens can breathe new life into the society.


Those who are not happy with economy and situation of ethnic minorities, and concerned about the future of Latvia and the fate of their children, there is a real chance to change the country.


We need this change in order to be more democratic and transparent, to look forward to the future and close cooperation with our neighbours and to use our capacity in order to advance our society and develop our economy.


- What is the content of the suggested amendments to the Citizenship Law?

To amend the Citizenship Law (“The Herald of the Saeima and the Cabinet of the Republic of Latvia”, No. 17, 1994, No. 8, 1995, No. 22, 1998) as follows:

1. To add to the Section 2 the following Clause 6:

“6) Since 1 January 2014 – non-citizens, who have not submitted an application on keeping the status of a non-citizen until 30 November 2013, in a manner to be determined by the Cabinet”.

2. To add to the Transitional provisions the following Paragraphs 5 and 6:

“5. The Cabinet shall by 30 August 2013 determine the form of an application on keeping the status of a non-citizen, the order of its submission and review, as well as the order in which the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, not later than by 23 December 2013, shall send a certificate of becoming Latvian citizens since 1 January 2014 to the subjects of the Section 2, Clause 6. Since 1 January 2014, a passport of a non-citizen, combined with the said certificate, shall be equated to a passport of a Latvian citizen.

6. The Cabinet shall by 30 August 2013 submit to the Saeima amendments to the Personal Identification Documents Law on the order of exchange of a passport of a non-citizen for a passport of a Latvian citizen, foreseeing that the exchange is free of charge.”


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