Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 222

Disagreements persist in Council of Europe's reporting on minority rights in Latvia

As anticipated (see EDM, October 24), Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly rapporteur Gyorgy Frunda’s alignment with Russian policy on Latvia has backfired. On November 23 in Paris, CEPA’s Monitoring Committee overruled Frunda’s recommendations regarding “national minority rights” in that country and discontinued the monitoring procedure on Latvia, of which Frunda was in charge. Instead, Frunda’s Committee will merely give Latvia a “homework” paper at its next meeting.

The majority-vote decision is highly unusual in that the committee almost always accepts rapporteurs’ recommendations. It is unprecedented in that the Committee overruled its own chairman, the post Frunda holds. He is one of the leaders of the Hungarian minority’s party in Romania, and sweepingly endorsed the “minority rights” agenda of Moscow and Russian organizations in Latvia despite the obvious differences between the situation in Latvia and that in Frunda’s native Transylvania.

In the Committee debate leading to the vote, the Russian delegation and Frunda called for continuation of the monitoring procedure in Latvia and compliance with the demands that Frunda presented during his inspection visit there last month. He asked Latvia to: 1) drop both reservations it had attached (as many countries did) when ratifying the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in May of this year; 2) waive completely or partially the basic criteria for naturalization of Soviet-era immigrants (although the criteria are easily fulfilled and demonstrably more liberal than is the case in many European countries); and 3) allow non-citizens (i.e., those who chose to not seek citizenship) to vote in local elections.

If granted, item 1 would have resulted in official use of the Russian language, alongside Latvian, in local administrations and street signs; and items 2 and 3, in severely distorting Latvia’s political and electoral systems. On the whole, the three demands would have damaged perhaps irreparably Latvia’s social integration policies that promote a Latvian civic nation; instead, Frunda’s demands pushed for a bi-national society, in line with Russia’s policy toward Latvia and the program of Russian organizations in the country.

Latvia had graduated from the Council of Europe’s monitoring in 2001 to a procedure called “post-monitoring dialogue,” involving biannual inspections to certify compliance with CE standards. The Monitoring Committee’s Chair until recently, French Socialist Josette Durrieu, recommended that the post-monitoring dialogue be discontinued when Latvia ratifies the Framework Convention and demonstrates a commitment to accelerate the naturalization of non-citizens under Latvia’s existing law on citizenship.

Latvia met those conditions to international satisfaction except that of Russia and, now, Frunda. The European Union repeatedly said that Latvia fully complies with the EU’s Copenhagen criteria, including those on ethnic minority rights. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, on an assessment visit in June, welcomed Latvia’s ratification of the Framework Convention and significant progress on naturalization under the law (which were also Durrieu’s points of concentration).

Russia, however, not only refused to acknowledge those facts and accept an end to the post-monitoring dialogue, but also urged the CEPA repeatedly to reinstate the direct monitoring of Latvia. For his part, Frunda practically tried to turn the post-monitoring dialogue into de facto full monitoring by escalating the demands and calling for an open-ended procedure to check compliance with those new demands. In fact, his arbitrary requirements were the familiar ones that Russia had long raised. Under such circumstances, continuation of the post-monitoring dialogue would have enabled Moscow to use this procedure and its administrator for accusing Latvia of human-rights abuses in international institutions.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian Duma’s International Relations Committee, along with Frunda opposed the discontinuation of the monitoring procedure at the Paris meeting. Kosachev accused the EU member countries of “covering for one of their own” (Latvia) in voting for an end to the monitoring. Still not reconciled to the Monitoring Committee’s decision, Kosachev announced that he has complained to CEPA President Rene van der Linden and that he would call for its reversal at the December 15 committee meeting.

Meanwhile, in the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers recent meeting, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko urged the CE to “persuade Latvia and Estonia to stop discriminatory practices,” accused the CE of “timidity” in that regard, and urged the Committee of Ministers to “deal in earnest” with those two countries (Itar-Tass, November 22). Russia will rotate into the Committee of Ministers’ chair next year.

(BNS, November 23-26; Diena, November 23, 24; Interfax, Chas, November 24; Integration Monitor, November 25; see EDM, June 6, October 24)