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Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia : problems of integration at the threshold of the European Union

Russisch sprechende Minderheiten in Estland und Lettland : Integrationsprobleme auf der Schwelle zur Europäischen Union
[working paper]

Elsuwege, Peter van

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Corporate Editor European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI)
Abstract 'The restoration of the Baltic states' independence, back in 1991, brought about a number of political and legal challenges. The presence of large non-titular communities in Estonia and Latvia has proven to be the most pressing of these. Notwithstanding the fact that the European Commission already in 1997 concluded that 'on the whole the rights of the Russian-speaking minorities are observed and safeguarded', the legal status of these living relics of the Soviet period remains controversial. A resolution of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, adopted on 13 June 2002, criticised the protection of national minorities in Estonia. In the lead-up to the December 2003 parliamentary elections, the Russian Duma adopted a resolution 'on gross violations of human and minority rights in the Republic of Latvia'. Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the Parliamentarian Committee on International Relations, announced that Russia should consider the weapon of economic sanctions to put pressure on the Baltic state, which he described as 'a land of hooligans' where 'Nazis have come to power'. Whereas these statements have to be situated within the context of the ongoing election campaign, the remarks of Alvaro Gil-Robles, European Council Commissioner for Human Rights, are to be taken more serious. During his visit to Riga in October 2003, the High Commissioner criticized the lack of citizenship for more than twenty per cent of Latvia's population and recommended the granting of voting rights to non-citizens in municipal elections. On the other hand, Günter Verheugen, EU Commissioner responsible for enlargement, declared that Latvia fulfils all the criteria in the field of societal integration and has complied with all international requirements regarding its ethnic minorities. The striking differences between the statements of the Council of Europe and European Union representatives contribute to the existing ambiguity surrounding the legal status of Estonia's and Latvia's Russian-speaking and often stateless minorities. This issue is of particular importance in the light of these countries' accession to the EU on 1 May 2004. The question remains whether this new situation will bring changes to the legal status of the Russian-speaking population in general and the noncitizens in particular. This paper tries to trace the origins of the existing problems, taking into account the Baltic states' specific historical and constitutional framework. In addition, it tries to evaluate the relevant EU legislation in order to define the rights of non-citizens in an enlarged EU.' (excerpt)
Keywords Baltic States; Estonia; ethnic group; European integration; Latvia; human rights; minority; minority rights; social integration; suffrage; joining the European Union; minority policy; legal status; USSR successor state; post-socialist country; EU expansion
Classification Migration, Sociology of Migration; European Politics; Social Problems
Method descriptive study
Document language English
Publication Year 2004
City Flensburg
Page/Pages 58 p.
Series ECMI Working Paper, 20
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications