It has been twenty years since the USSR collapsed and its former citizens in the Baltic countries were given the status of n0n-citizens. To many, they are stateless, but by definition in Latvian law they are not. However, their rights and situation have been subject of controversy between Russia and Latvia, especially since the Baltic country joined the EU in 2004.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who addressed to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, has claimed that non-citizens’ situation in Latvia and Estonia is “shameful”.
Mr. Lavrov said:
The task of ensuring the human rights of national minorities demands greater attention, especially in the context of such shameful phenomenon as the chronic problem of statelessness in Latvia and Estonia. It is necessary to achieve full implementation of the relevant recommendations of the Council of Europe, OSCE and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
In Latvia some 350,000 people (about 15% of its population) are non-citizens and hold an “alien passport”. The vast majority of these are ethnic Russians (therefore Russian speakers). In Estonia the situation is different, for only 100,000 (10%) are non-citizens.
Both Latvian and Estonian Foreign Ministers have responded to Lavrov’s criticism. They stressed the importance of their programs and reminded him of the “domestic” character of the matter.
Latvian Foreign Minister Girts Kristovskis said:
Latvian legislation and the existing regulation on the matters of national minorities fully comply with the standards of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and UN, and is a subject that belongs to Latvia’s domestic affairs. Every non-citizen in Latvia is offered an opportunity to naturalise. However, to do that or not is a choice left up to each individual
Latvia and Estonia used to have close ties with Russia since they broke free in 1991. Ever since, Moscow has spotlighted the minority issue frequently. Both Baltic countries have encouraged their respective non-citizens to naturalise through different tests such as language and history.