Russian Foreign Minister Draws OSCE's Attention To Problems Of Russian-Speaking People In Latvia And Estonia

An address by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to countries participating in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been distributed in Moscow as an official OSCE document. The address focused on the work of OSCE missions in Latvia and Estonia, which are intended to help solve citizenship, language and migration problems for ethnic minorities in the two countries. An objective analysis of the real situation in Latvia and Estonia shows that the mandates of the OSCE missions have not yet been carried out, the address said. There remain many outstanding citizenship problems there. In Latvia, for example, where there are still more than 550,000 non-citizens, only about 8,000 people were naturalised over the first nine months of 2001. In Estonia, in 2000 only 3,500 out of 220,000 stateless persons received Estonian citizenship. The Russian foreign minister's address pointed out that Latvian authorities continue denying many people the right to citizenship for purely political reasons. Work to simplify naturalisation procedures, especially for elderly people, has not been completed in both countries, which runs counter to European standards. The address drew special attention of the OSCE missions to Latvian and Estonian language laws. In particular, Moscow is seriously concerned over Riga's and Tallinn's policy of liquidating secondary education in the Russian language, which is a violation of the European framework convention on the protection of ethnic minorities and which may exacerbate ethnic conflicts. Moscow is also worried over the OSCE's failure to make an adequate assessment of Latvia's and Estonia's attempts to justify Nazi collaborators, including those who served in SS divisions. Another source of Moscow's serious concern is the situation involving the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the observance of believers' rights in Estonia. The foreign minister urged the OSCE mission in Latvia to step up its efforts within the framework of the trilateral mixed commission on military pensioners. In its assessments of the situation in the two countries Moscow relies, among others, on the opinion of major public organisations campaigning for equal rights for ethnic minorities - the Latvian Human Rights Committee, the Russian Community of Latvia, the Russian Society in Latvia, the Russian Community of Estonia, and the Estonian Human Rights Information Centre. The address said that Russian-speaking people in these countries, as well as democratically-minded ethnic Latvians and Estonians, do not share the optimism expressed by official Riga and Tallinn of late about "progress made in the naturalisation of citizens and the society's integration." In this connection, Moscow is interested in preserving close international monitoring by the OSCE missions and regards them as a necessary element of common efforts by the member states of the OSCE to help Latvia and Estonia bring their policies towards ethnic minorities into line with international and European standards. The Russian foreign minister expressed hope for understanding by the OSCE member states of Russia's position on this issue.