Latvian Noncitizens' Congress Welcomes Commissioner's Concerns About Political Rights of European Residents

Jan 30, 2014, 11:57 ET from Latvian Non-Citizens Congress

RIGA, Latvia, January 30, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --

Referring to the statement by Commissioner Viviane Reding on 29th January 2014 about the disenfranchisement in voting rights of EU citizens living abroad, the Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress welcomes the Commissioner's concerns on political rights of Europeans. Mrs. Reding draws attention to the 'legal limbo' that some citizens find themselves in after leaving their home country for another EU Member State. After leaving, they lose the right to vote in their home country but do not acquire the same right in the new country. The right to vote is a basic fundamental right and the most powerful tool of expression of a citizen - and should therefore be granted to everyone.

Latvian non-citizens are entirely disenfranchised from all political rights by being a special category of Latvian nationals living, working and paying taxes in Latvia for generations but without any citizenship. Due to the fact that non-citizens are ethnic minorities, the situation was a prominent cause of concern for the European Commission during the enlargement negotiations in 1995-2004. However, after joining the European Union, the Latvian government significantly diminished its efforts for complying with the Copenhagen criteria with regards to political rights of ethnic minorities.

"This year is the 10th anniversary of the EU Eastern enlargement, and Latvia is not the only country that still has not achieved human rights standards agreed by accession ten years ago. Unfortunately we have to agree with CoE Commissioner for Human rights, Mr. Nils Muižnieks, that human rights in the European Union remain more often an issue 'for export' than for domestic consumption." - said Elizabete Krivcova, head of Latvian Non-citizens' Congress - "During European elections Latvian non-citizens will launch a campaign encouraging Latvian citizens to vote: enjoy their fundamental democratic right when so many Latvians nationals live without any voting rights".

Note to Editor

During the lifetime of the USSR, the Soviet authorities settled a large number of Russians and other non-Latvians in the country to fill vacancies in factories and on construction projects. Many of the descendants of these workers remain in Latvia today.

In the years immediately preceding the collapse of the USSR, the Russophone minority in Latvia constituted a much larger percentage of the population than any comparable linguistic minority in any European country. When Latvia re-gained its independence in 1991, only 52% of its population was ethnic Latvian. 37.2% of the population were ethnic Russians, with substantial Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Jewish and Roma communities also found in the country.

With Latvia's Declaration of independence in May of 1990, the 1919 citizenship law was officially reinstated - leaving the ethnically non- Latvian half of the population effectively stateless.  

Latvian citizenship was only provided to pre-war citizens (pre-1940) and their descendants - a situation that still leaves today 300,000 people unable to vote.

In order to draw attention to the plight of "non-citizens" a group of activists from a broad spectrum of Latvia's ethnic minorities established the Latvian Non-Citizens' Congress in 2012. In June 2013 the Congress held parallel elections for a Parliament of Non-Represented.

While recognising that the body has no formal power to decide Latvian government policy, the aim of the Congress is to provide a representative body that will become an effective channel for civil participation of "non-citizens" and ethnic Latvians concerned with ensuring a vibrant and unified political debate in the country. Our activities are strongly based on the Latvian and International law and are in line with recommendations of many human rights bodies as the United Nations, Council of Europe, OESD and European Union.

SOURCE Latvian Non-Citizens Congress