Ombudsman introduce international partners with situation of national minorities education in Latvia
In Riga, on 29 April 2014
Dear, excellences, cooperation partners!
In the time when a number of alarming events are taking place in the international environment that lead to infringement of human rights and pose threat to the security of community and peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect in uniform society, certain organizations are also pursuing their activities in Latvia seeking to interpret such events in political light and to split the society. The sensitive issues here include the education of national minorities. Being the Ombudsman of the Republic of Latvia, I feel responsible for explaining the situation to our cooperation partners.
The Satversme (Constitution) of the Republic of Latvia prescribes certain significant national commitments that should be kept in mind when speaking of the education of national minorities in Latvia:
- Persons belonging to ethnic minorities have the right to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity (Section 114 of the Satversme).
- Everyone has the right to education. The State shall ensure that everyone may acquire primary and secondary education without charge. Primary education shall be compulsory (Section 112 of the Satversme).
- Latvia is an independent democratic republic (Section 1 of the Satversme).
The number of schools established by municipalities and funded from the national budget that implement educational programs for national minorities in Russian, Polish, Belorussian, Estonian, Lithuanian and other minority languages exceeds 100. Latvia is among the countries where primaryas well as secondary education is funded from the national budget also in case of educational programs for national minorities, which means that children belonging to national minorities learn certain part of syllabic disciplines in their native language.
No legal act, either national or international, prescribes that education in case of national minorities should be provided solely in the native language of the respective minority, even though certain NGOs present allegations to the contrary. Latvia as a state not only enables national minorities to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity in compliance with the Satversme but even provides the opportunity for national minorities to learn part of syllabic disciplines in their native language.
The Education Law applicable in Latvia stipulates that education in state and municipal educational institutions is only available in the official language, while education programs for national minorities at the state and municipal schools also include the content required for mastering of the respective ethnic culture and for integration of the national minorities in Latvia.
Education in a democratic, multi-cultural state has to be a unifying, rather than segregating factor. Therefore, state and municipal educational establishments offering education in different languages have launched gradual transfer of educational programs to the official language, starting from 1999, while keeping in mind the need to preserve the culture and language of national minorities (60% of education content is provided in the official language, while 40% of syllabic disciplines are taught in the respective minority language). The State had committed, pursuant to the Education Law, to launch education programs for national minorities at schools funded state and municipal budget in the official language from Grade 10, starting from 1 September 2004, with the exception of disciplines covering the culture, language and religion of the respective national minority.
The Ombudsman’s Office performed a huge study in late 2013 to explore the issue of education of national minorities. The study included analysis of the international and national legal acts binding upon Latvia, on-site inspection of the implementation of education at schools, opinion pooling of school principals, teachers, school children and parents, and summary of the international practice. Having studied the situation, the Ombudsman concluded that legal regulation in Latvia was virtually irreproachable, and the shortcomings were inherent in the practice.
Ms. Ina Druviete, the Minister of Education, has also confirmed that the Government of Latvia has no intention to close the national minority schools. The Government intends to improve the practice of minority (bilingual) education. It means that nobody is going to close schools funded from the state and municipal budget that provide education program for national minorities.
Therefore, the activities pursued by certain organizations, including the instigation of national minority groups to protest against the allegedly intended closing of national minority schools, should be treated as attempts to create artificial national tension and to split the society. I also believe that the forthcoming elections of the European Parliament, and especially the elections of the Saeima (Parliament), play an important role here; I would therefore highly recommend assessment of such activities in the relevant interconnection.
Juris Jansons, the Ombudsman