Elections in Latvia: Status Quo for Minorities Remains?
Bogushevitch, Tatyana, Dimitrovs, Aleksejs, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE
This article comments on the results of the recent parliamentary elections in Latvia and related implications for ethnic minorities. The authors examine in detail the pre-election programs, follow the developments before and after the elections, and come to the conclusion that the existing situation in the field of ethnic policy will remain in place for some time.
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Parliamentary elections took place in Latvia on 2 October 2010. Due to economic crisis and harsh austerity measures including severe public spending cuts, ethnic policy issues have not been very high on the agenda in the pre-election and postelection period, unlike in previous years. Nevertheless, in the country where more than 40% of the population are persons belonging to minorities1, minority issues are inevitably a part of the national debate.
After the elections, five alliances are represented in the Saeima (Parliament): centre-right 'Unity' (33 seats out of 100), social democratic 'Concord Centre' (29 seats), centre-right Union of Greens and Farmers (22 seats), right-wing nationalistic 'All for Latvia' - 'For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK' (8 seats) and centrist 'For a Good Latvia' (8 seats). Out of the 100 members 15 (13 ethnic Russians, 1 Karelian and 1 German) indicated that they belonged to minorities. Nine members did not indicate their ethnic origin.2
This article consists of three parts. In Part I we demonstrate the ethnic policy approaches of different political parties as formulated in the pre-election programs. In Part II we provide information on several issues mentioned in the pre-election discussions. In Part III we inform about the post-election developments and reflect on further perspectives.
In this part we will review the programs of the political parties which participated in the parliamentary election. For the parties which failed to get representation in the Saeima (Parliament), we will only consider their short pre-election programs submitted to the Central Election Commission3. For the parties which have secured seats in the parliament, we will look both at their short as well as the long, detailed versions of the programs, published on their websites and disseminated during the election campaigns.
Let us start the review with the programs of the parties which did not gain representation in the Parliament. Among these parties, the party 'PCTVL - For Human Rights in a United Latvia' (PCTVL - Par cilveka tiesibam vienota Latvija', 1.43% of the votes; hereinafter - PCTVL) has the strongest and most articulated position on ethnic minority issues. It claims 'zero option' citizenship for all noncitizens, advocating 'the citizenship without exams and oaths'4. The party sees this as 'the first step towards united Latvia'. It also points out that the right to vote in the municipal elections should be granted to all permanent residents of Latvia. The party also commits itself to stopping discrimination, ensuring equal rights for all the residents to work in the public administration, 'making civil servants speak in the language of the taxpayer5', granting official status to the Russian language in the cities and provinces where the number of Russian-speakers exceeds 20%, as well as 'broadening the possibilities of the higher education export in the Russian and English languages'. It also stands for the state support to the Latgalian6 language.
The other parties, which failed to gain representation in the parliament, are less outspoken on the topic. The party 'Made in Latvia' ('Razots Latvija', 0.97% of votes) confines itself to the statement that 'the inhabitants of Latvia should feel comfortable in their own land. The inhabitants of Latvia as well as its guests should respect the country. Incitement to hatred is not permissible. The economy doesn't need integration - in a developed country (society) integration happens automatically'. …