The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
There seems little doubt that Latvia is pursuing a nationalities policy which, if adopted anywhere else, would be the object of universal condemnation. There is effectively no criticism at all of this full-frontal assault on the established rights of a sizeable and historic population. Instead, Latvia continues to receive support for its policies. Estonia is in a similar position. There, a similar version of the same law is being introduced, albeit with a longer transitional period. BHHRG interviewed a former director of the Russian Cultural Centre in Tallinn, Arkady Prisjazny. Married to an Estonian, Prisjazny said that there was simply no dialogue between the Estonians and the Russians in Estonia. He quoted examples of aggressive anti-Russian sentiment being expressed by government officials, such as when on 29th January 2002 the new head of the secret police said that the country’s primary goal was to get rid of the “Russian spectre”.
The determination to cling to the fiction of “occupation” has led to permanent friction with the Russian minority ever since 1991. This friction has got worse over time, even though Latvia has been incorporated into the main Western institutions. This is in spite of the size of the non-Latvian population in Latvia, a fact with which any wise government would surely try to find a civilised accommodation. According to the census carried out in 2000, there were 2,375,339 people in Latvia: 57.6% of them are ethnic Latvians; 29.6% ethnic Russians; 4.1% Belarussians; 2.7% Ukrainians; 2.5% Poles; 1.4% Lithuanians; 0.4% Jews. This means that at least 36.4% of the population is Russophone: someone who is, to all intents and purposes, Russian can be categorised as “Ukrainian” if his family came from there, or as a “Jew”, rather as a purely Anglophone Briton can be “Welsh”, “Scottish” or “Irish” The true percentage of Russophones may well be higher than this census: because hundreds of thousands of Russians in Latvia are stateless (see below) they cannot emigrate as easily as Latvians.
Although their rights are under attack, Latvia's Russian minority is ignored by the international community. During the whole period of so-called democratic “transition” in Eastern Europe, minority rights have been a growth industry for international human rights activists. They have received special attention in the Balkans, where national minorities have been at the heart of international interference in the region since the treaty of Versailles. In Macedonia, in Romania and in Serbia the issue of minority rights - especially the right to education in the minority mother tongue - has frequently been at the forefront of political debate. So great is the importance attached to them, indeed, that in the case of Serbia, the changing of the school history curriculum in Kosovo in 1989 to include more Serbian history, and less of the history of neighbouring Albania, was seriously advanced as one of the casus belli for the Albanian uprising ten years later. In Macedonia, from 2000, the failure of the Macedonian state to recognise the freelance Albanian-language University of Tetovo was also used as an excuse to start an armed rebellion – a rebellion which was tolerated and perhaps even encouraged by the international community.