Addressing a conference on problems of social and ethnic integration in Latvia, President Guntis Ulmanis advanced the concept of “inclusive society” as a more worthy goal than that of “integration.” The latter is often held to imply assimilation — the dilution and ultimate loss of identity of the ethnic elements that comprise society. An inclusive society, according to Ulmanis and other speakers at the conference, aims — on the contrary — to preserve those identities on the basis of certain shared values.
The president came out in favor of granting Latvian citizenship to Russian/”Russian-speaking” residents on the basis of clearly defined criteria, preeminently some knowledge of the Latvian language. He ruled out any acceptance of “official bilingualism” or “two state languages” — Latvian and Russian — in Latvia. Also noting that the citizenship issue should not be confused with nor made on the basis of human rights, President Ulmanis observed that Latvia’s human rights record is sound in the eyes of various international organizations.
With regard to those “shared values” which underlie a consolidated civil society, the prominent sociologist Nils Muiznieks focused on acceptance of the Latvian state language and of democratic ideas. Other speakers stressed the importance of a common concept of the teaching of Latvia’s history, which Russian schools in Latvia tend to interpret in their own way. The Latvian government and parliament are currently in the process of amending the laws on citizenship and language with a view to simplifying the naturalization procedures. (BNS, May 4 and 5)
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