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Russian ethnics discriminated in Baltic EU states

With the world´s attention currently fixed on events in Ukraine, a relatively little-known issue is starting to rapidly rise up the EU´s political agenda.

By: EBR - Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014

The issue of statelessness for the "non-citizens" was not properly dealt with in the Accession Agreements. Mr. Henderson stressed that "the EU was created to maintain long-term peace, for economic reasons." It was time now to acknowledge the existence of 15% disenfranchised residents in a member country, and to correct the wrong that had existed for decades.
The issue of statelessness for the "non-citizens" was not properly dealt with in the Accession Agreements. Mr. Henderson stressed that "the EU was created to maintain long-term peace, for economic reasons." It was time now to acknowledge the existence of 15% disenfranchised residents in a member country, and to correct the wrong that had existed for decades.

by Martin Banks
 
At these tumultuous times in the world, when countries are fighting for democracy,it is easy to forget that most Europeans enjoy the right to voice their opinion.
 
Still, the turnout for the last European elections was hardly 50%. Despite the widespread perception of voting rights being a given, as a trait of a democracy, some 300,000 Europeans having resided in Latvia for generations, are denied their political rights because of their ethnicity.
 
These non-citizens represent 15% of the Latvian population and are represented by the Latvian Non-Citizens Congress, a Latvian NGO founded in 2012.
 
Citizenship is a key issue in each of the Baltic states, which each have citizens of a Russian ethnic background, but far more so in Latvia than Estonia and Lithuania. The reason is that after gaining independence in 1991, Latvia restored pre-1940 citizenship laws which include the necessity to undergo strict "nationality test". In contrast, for example, Lithuania granted citizenship to all its citizens at the time of independence without requiring them to learn Lithuanian. 
 
The Latvian Non-Citizens Congress (LNCC), together with the support of the International Foundation for Better Governance (IFBG), a Brussels-based NGO, has now formally kicked off their pan-European support campaign for the European elections taking place in May 2014.
 
It comes at a key period in Latvian history - in January the country joined the eurozone and it will assume the presidency of the EU for the first time in the first half of next year.
 
Launched at the Brussels Press Club, panelists encouraged European voters to exercise their human right to vote, in contrast to the 300,000 non-citizens thriving to be heard but denied an electoral voice in their country as well as the European Union.
 
Several Latvian MEPs have already spoken out in support of the campaign and Elizabete Krivcova, co-founder of the Latvian Non-Citizens Congress opened the debate by introducing the situation in Latvia, a country also celebrating its 10th anniversary in the EU in May.
 
She stressed that "democracy and human rights are independent from history and people now cannot be blamed for a historical event."
 
Doug Henderson was UK Minister for Europe when Latvia and 9 other States were in negotiation for joining the European Union. Speaking at the event, he acknowledged that European officials were aware of the issue of mass statelessness in Latvia and Estonia, however because of internal pressures from EU Member States, concessions were made and 10 countries joined the EU simultaneously.
 
The issue of statelessness for the "non-citizens" was not properly dealt with in the Accession Agreements. Mr. Henderson stressed that "the EU was created to maintain long-term peace, for economic reasons." It was time now to acknowledge the existence of 15% disenfranchised residents in a member country, and to correct the wrong that had existed for decades.
 
James Wilson, founder of the International Foundation for Better Governance, raised the importance European institutions enjoy in maintaining Human Rights: "People need to believe their vote is going to count and matter."
 
He stressed that "even if there were many successes, there is still a room for improvement in regards to human rights within the EU."
 
Eva Majewski, chairwoman of the European Democrat Students at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung stated the importance "to stimulate young voters to use their fundamental right of voting as the young population is the one able to drive changes."
 
Mrs Majewski - a non-citizen herself at a very young age - spoke specifically of the need to make young people understand the importance of using their vote in May. She was outraged to find out that so many Europeans were silenced politically: "If someone wants to contribute and voice their opinion, they should have the right to do so, especially when working and paying taxes in Europe."
 
Alexander Gaponenko, co-founder of the LNCC and Director of the Institute for European Research outlined how he lost his citizenship and subsequently his job as Vice-Mayor of Riga. As a very respected economic expert with over 25 years of experience at that time, he even lost his teaching position at the University due to employment restrictions imposed to non-citizens.
 
Elizabeta Krivcova is now a naturalized citizen of Latvia and is running for a European MEP seat herself in May in order to bring the issue to the European institutions. She reminded the audience that "a vote is a privilege, it's not automatically given to everyone. I hope we can make Europe more democratic."
 
The campaign will now hold similar events aimed at national government institutions and interest civil society in Riga, Strasbourg, Paris, Berlin, London and The Hague. For more information on the campaign and all upcoming events, please visit http://www.noncitizens.eu or http://www.better-governance.org  and http://www.noncitizens.eu

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