The European Union and Democratization

By Paul J. Kubicek | Go to book overview

2

The European Union, democratization, and minorities in Latvia

Nils Muiznieks and Ilze Brands Kehris

Latvia has made undeniable progress in consolidating democracy since the restoration of independence in 1991, moving successfully toward integration into both the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at an unexpectedly fast pace. Since 1997 the EU has repeatedly noted that Latvia has fulfilled the political criteria for membership. A fundamental reason for successful democratization has been the high domestic motivation to conform to democratic standards and the wish to regain what is seen as Latvia's rightful place among the Western democracies. In general, this process has been characterized more by eagerness to make a rapid transition to a stable liberal democracy, rather than by any reluctance to democratize. However, Latvian politicians have encountered the most difficulty in amending laws and practice in the realm of minority policy, and it is with this perspective that Latvia could be termed an issue-specific reluctant democratizer.

More than fifty years of Soviet occupation, policies of linguistic Russification, and a precarious demographic situation (in 1989 ethnic Latvians represented only 52 percent of the population and were a minority in seven of the eight largest cities) generated a broad consensus on the necessity of reasserting national identity. The rights and perceptions of Russians and other minorities were not high on the agenda and liberalization of minority policy, particularly in the realms of citizenship and language policy, took place slowly. It is in the area of minority policy that the direct influence of the EU and other international organizations has been particularly evident.

The role of the EU in promoting the gradual adoption of legislation and policy consistent with European values and norms cannot be seen in isolation from that of other international organizations, namely the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe/Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE/OSCE) and the Council of Europe (CE). Other organizations, such as the United Nations, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and NATO, have undoubtedly played a significant role as well. However, the focus here will be the influence of the European Union and its primary partners, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, on Latvian minority policy. Undoubtedly, coordination between these three organizations led to a

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