[lg policy] Citizenship and Language Policy in Latvia

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Jan 14 16:18:36 UTC 2015

 Citizenship and Language Policy in Latvia

  14.01.2015. 16:52

In accordance with the doctrine of state succession in national and
international law, the Republic of Latvia retained the legal personality of
the state that, *de facto*, lost its independence in 1940 as a result of
occupation by the USSR, followed by Nazi Germany, and then again by the
USSR in 1945. The Baltic States were the only three members of the League
of Nations that did not regain independence immediately after the Second
World War.

The occupation of Latvia in contravention of international law, and the
persistence of *de iure* independence of the Republic of Latvia throughout
the Soviet occupation was recognized by our Western partners, and was
accepted by other states, international organizations and tribunals, among
them the European Court of Human Rights.

On 4 May 1990, the Republic of Latvia declared the restoration of its
independence with all legal consequences - restoring the body of law
(including the Constitution, Civil Code, Property Law, the Law on
Citizenship, etc.) and democratic institutions.

On 17 September 1991, the Baltic States became members of the United
Nations. And the USSR ceased to exist in December 1991. The Baltic States
are not successor states of the USSR.

An integral part of restoration of independence of the Republic of Latvia
was the restoration of the status and rights of those persons who were
recognized as Latvia’s citizens under the 1919 Law on Citizenship, as well
as their descendants.

At the same time, Latvian authorities recognised that a group of persons,
who had immigrated during the period of Soviet occupation and who lost
their USSR citizenship after the dissolution of the Soviet Union but who
had never been citizens of the Republic of Latvia or their descendants,
were permanently residing in Latvia.

Since these individuals were not eligible for automatic acquisition of
Latvia's citizenship, a special temporary status was established for former
USSR citizens: the status of “former citizens of the USSR without the
citizenship of the Republic of Latvia or any other country” (*hereinafter*

Non-citizens of Latvia are not stateless persons. The protection provided
to non-citizens in Latvia extends beyond that which is required by the 1954
Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Non-citizens enjoy equal protection under the law both in Latvia and while
living or travelling abroad, and are the only group of persons, in addition
to citizens, who are granted permanent residence in Latvia *ex lege*. They
can have permanent residence in a foreign country while retaining all
rights and privileges, *inter alia*, to travel freely and to return back to
Latvia at any time. Non-citizens have the same social guarantees as Latvian
citizens including, for example, with regard to pensions and unemployment
benefits. As to political rights - the only significant difference between
Latvian citizens and non-citizens is the right to vote and to work in the
civil service or occupy posts directly related to national security.

Non-citizens are able to become citizens of Latvia through a simple
naturalization procedure, and currently more than 142,000 persons have been
granted citizenship of the Republic of Latvia in this manner. Latvia's
authorities stress that the status of non-citizens is considered temporary
in nature.


The percentage of non-citizens has dropped to 12.7% (276 797) in July 2014
compared to 29% (approximately 730 000) in 1995, when the naturalization
process began. 83.7% of Latvia's residents are now citizens. As of 1
December 2014, 142 380persons have been granted Latvian citizenship through
the naturalization procedure.

More than 99% of the children born in Latvia in 2014 are Latvian citizens.

Latvia continues to encourage non-citizens to apply for citizenship both
through passage of legislation which facilitates naturalization and also by
engaging in public information campaigns.

Since their introduction, the Latvian language and history exams have been
simplified. The naturalization fee has been reduced for low-income,
unemployed, retired persons, and abolished for politically - repressed and
disabled persons, orphans and persons from social care institutions.

*Amendments to the Citizenship Law **-9 May
2013                                *

On 9 May 2013, after more than two years of meticulous work the Saeima
(Parliament) adopted Amendments to the Citizenship Law (*hereinafter* –
Amendments). The Amendments were endorsed by the President of Latvia on 23
May 2013 and came into effect on 1 October 2013.

The overall aim of the Amendments is twofold: to adjust the Citizenship Law
taking into account developments since 1998, and to further simplify
citizenship acquisition and the naturalization process.

Regarding the first aim, increased mobility of Latvia's population after
joining the EU and, consequently, the need to sustain ties with citizens
all over the world determined the need to extend significantly the scope
for dual citizenship.

Regarding the second aim, several measures have been implemented.

In accordance with the Amendments, Latvian citizenship is granted
automatically to children of stateless persons and non-citizens: one
parent’s consent is sufficient to register a newborn child whose parents
are stateless or non-citizens as a citizen of Latvia at the time of the
birth registration at the Civil Registry Office. The Amendments also
eliminate a previous requirement for the parents to make a pledge of
loyalty when registering citizenship of the child of a stateless person or
a non-citizen.

In June 2014, approximately *eight months since the amendments to the
Citizenship Law have come into force, a positive trend can be clearly
observed - *the number of newborns (whose parents are both non-citizens)
that are registered as Latvia’s citizens has risen from 52% to 88%.

According to the Amendments, a child under the age of 15 that has not been
registered as a citizen of Latvia at the time of the registration of their
birth can be registered as a citizen with an application submitted by one
of the parents. Between 15-18 years of age, a child can themselves apply to
be registered as a citizen.

The Amendments also provide that pupils who have acquired more than half of
the basic educational program in the Latvian language are exempt from all
naturalization examinations and are registered as citizens upon submitting
a naturalization application in accordance with the standard procedures.

The Amendments also simplify the requirements regarding permanent residence
for the naturalization applicants, removing the requirement for
uninterrupted residence in Latvia. A specific paragraph of the Amendments
deals with the Latvian language test and exemptions therefrom. Namely, the
requirements of the Latvian language naturalisation test have been
standardised and are in line with the requirements of the centralised
language tests in educational institutions, be it Latvian or national
minority educational institutions. As a result of the Amendments, former
military personnel of USSR (Russia) who opted to remain living in Latvia
after the breakup of the Soviet Union now have the possibility to acquire
Latvian citizenship by completing the naturalization procedure.

Since restoration of independence in 1991, Latvia has engaged in a
challenging long-term effort to promote societal integration. We believe
that the Amendments to the Citizenship Law attest to yet another expression
of Latvia’s will and interest to further consolidate and integrate its

*Language Policy in Latvia*

The Latvian Constitution and laws guarantee and protect the rights of
persons belonging to national minorities so that they can preserve and
develop their language, and their ethnic and cultural identity.

State Language Law is aimed at preservation, protection and development of
the Latvian language, but at the same time provides for the integration of
national minorities in the society of Latvia by observing their rights to
use their native language or any other language.

Latvia continues to develop and finance its liberal education model – the
state finances national minority education programmes in seven languages:
Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Estonian, Lithuanian.
Currently (academic year 2014/2015), state finances 109 schools in one of
the afore-mentioned languages and 65 schools that have both Latvian and
minority language programmes. Secondary schools are entitled to determine
which subjects are taught in Latvian, but the total should be 60% of all
subjects. Primary schools have the option of choosing from five national
minority education models, one of which allows schools to devise their own
unique educational

On 18 February 2012, a referendum was held in Latvia where a large majority
of voters rejected constitutional amendments that would make Russian the
second state language.

The referendum prompted a high turnout: 71.1% of Latvia's eligible voters
participated in the referendum. Results were clear: only 17 % of eligible
voters voted in favor of adopting Russian as the second state language. No
substantive complaints about the conduct of referendum were received.

Concerning Russia's claim that part of the population (non-citizens) was
not allowed to vote in referendum - the Latvian Government's position is
that the right to vote is an integral part of citizenship. Non-citizens are
ensured easy access to naturalization and citizenship.

The referendum reaffirmed that sensitive issues can be addressed through
democratic means, and that work will continue towards developing an open
and consolidated society on the basis of European democratic values and
Latvian as the only state language.


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