02.11.2012 Latvian authorities have banned the referendum aimed to solve mass statelessness problem
The mass statelessness and the absence of official status for Russian language are the cornerstone problems for the Russian-speakers in Latvia.
The idea to initiate the referendum on a legislative proposal to grant Latvian citizenship to all Latvian non-citizens appeared one year ago alongside with the one on the introduction of Russian as a second state language.
The language referendum in Latvia took place on February 18. The overwhelming majority of voters in Latgale (one of four Latvian historical regions), as well as almost half of those voting in Riga supported granting Russian the status of a second state language. The only conclusion the ruling Latvian elite made after this referendum was the intention to change the procedure of initiating the popular vote in order to make it almost impossible. Therefore the initiators of the referendum on statelessness were forced to conclude the first stage of the process before September 1 (the date when amendments to the law were scheduled to enter into force). This action was successful, and 12,791 signatures certified by notaries have been submitted to the Central Election Commission (the required minimum is 10 thousands).
Nevertheless, the ruling party has made a pressure on this Commission in order to compel them not to proceed with further stages. The top politicians of this party have declared that the proposal to grant Latvian citizenship to all Latvian non-citizens is in contradiction with the concept of state continuity. Under their pressure the Central Election Commission has postponed the final decision taking moment until November and required the legal opinions on the subject from several experts. Out of nine experts chosen only one is independent. The others are either state institutions (such as the Ministry of Interior) or the state financed academic bodies (such as the University of Latvia). The independent expert, namely Dr. Mārtiņš Paparinskis from the University of Oxford, has concluded that the idea to grant Latvian citizenship to all Latvian non-citizens is not in principle in contradiction with the concept of state continuity. The responses from the state-affiliated experts were negative: some of them referred to the very same concept of continuity while the others – to some technical aspects of the legislative proposal.
The Central Election Commission adopted its decision on November 1. By 6 votes against 3 the Commission has decided to reject the application for referendum. It is worth noting that the chairman of the Commission, Mr. Arnis Cimdars, was among those in minority position. He has made a statement that the draft law was to be submitted to the next stage (state-organized collection of signatures).
The Movement “For Equal Rights” will continue the activities in order to resolve the painful mass statelessness problem. In particular, we call upon the bodies of the Council of Europe to submit a request to the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) for opinion on a proper, politically neutral and legally sound mechanism of evaluation of draft laws submitted for a referendum.
Co-ordinator of the Movement “For Equal Rights”
Riga, November 1, 2012