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RIGA, June 4 (Itar-Tass) — There are problems in Latvia with the situation of local non-citizens, predominantly Russian speakers. Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Thorbjoern Jagland, on a visit here, expressed this view at the meeting with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics on Monday.
Jagland expressed concern in connection with the existence of the institution of non-citizens in Latvia and their rights. The Latvian foreign minister, in his turn, assured the secretary-general of the Council of Europe that the process of naturalization in Latvia is organized quite well [getting citizenship after passing an examination in the official Latvian language and the Latvian history] and it is for every non-citizen to decide whether he or she wishes to become citizen of the country.
Jagland took up the problem of non-citizens in Latvia also with Latvian President Andris Berzins, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Speaker of the Saeima (parliament) Solvita Aboltina. According to the presidential press service, Berzins told the secretary-general of the Council of Europe that the index of naturalization decreased significantly over the past seven years, while the number of non-citizens also decreased and now stands at 14.1 percent of the country’s population. Many non-citizens do not want Latvian citizenship so as to be able to travel visa-free to Russia and CIS countries or else chose the Russian citizenship to begin receiving pensions earlier.
The sides also discussed March 16, the day of unofficial commemoration of Waffen SS legionnaires, and the Victory Day on May 9. According to Berzins, various radical groups use these two “sensitive dates” in their political interests. Reconciliation must be reached on this matter, which, in Berzins’ opinion, started during his meeting with veterans from both sides. “Now that the dialogue with war veterans started, I am sure the positive results will be achieved sooner or later,” the president said.
Latvia has a population of over two million, out of which some 320,000 people, predominantly Russian speakers, have no Latvian citizenship. From the time of Latvia’s secession from the USSR they were stripped of most political rights, including the right to vote in the municipal and parliamentary elections and in the elections to the European Parliament. Aside from political rights, non-citizens are deprived also of a number of social and economic rights. There are all-in-all 79 differences between citizens and non-citizens rights in Latvia, including 47 bans on professions. Latvian parliament more than once rejected attempts of the Russian-speaking opposition to change this state of things.