The rights of ethnic minorities are recognised on a cultural policy level (see chapter 2.2.); other cultural minority groups based on common interests such as gender or sexual orientation are not on the agenda of cultural policy.
Native inhabitants of Latvia are Latvians. Only one ethnic minority is recognised as an autochthonous minority: the Livonians or Livs that were the indigenous inhabitants of Livonia, a large part of what is today north-western Latvia and south-western Estonia. Only a small group of them have declared officially they are Livonians: there were 8 Livonians living in Latvia in 2019 (Inhabitants Register of Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 2019). The other minorities living in Latvia have general cultural rights (freedom of artistic expression) and the rights of ethnic minorities (“to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity”) recognised by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia (1922, c. 8).
However, the ethnic representation is not homogeneous. Latvians constitute less than 2/3 of the inhabitants. According to data of year 2018, 25% of the population of Latvia are Russians, but the Russian speaking population is approximately 1/3 of total population in Latvia, because a majority of Belarusians and Ukrainians also have Russian as their mother tongue. Since 2000, the proportion of the population speaking in Russian has decreased – by about 4,4%, while at the same time by about 4,5% the proportion of Latvians increased (Central Statistical Bureau, 2019).
In 2013, the Advisory Board for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals was established at the Ministry of Culture, in order to promote discussion and cooperation between the institutions in the field of integration of third-country nationals. The Advisory Board also facilitates the participation and involvement of non-governmental organisations by representing them in developing the state policy in the field of integration of society. In Latvia, the number of third-country nationals is not large (approximately 3.7% of the population in 2017). According to data of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, in 2017, the largest third-country nationals’ communities are Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Uzbekistan and Chinese.
The vision of a national culture policy aims at active participation and inclusion in cultural activities of the most part of the society. Concerning ethnic minorities, Latvia has chosen the ‘social cohesion approach’ – a strategy aimed at integrating immigrants and having them learn the language and traditions of the host country. Since 2011, the Ministry of Culture is responsible for integration (in 2009-2010 it was the Ministry of Justice).
The Guidelines for Social Integration Policy have been in the development phase for several years and experienced many alterations and editions. Finally, the Ministry of Culture elaborated a new proposal and, after public debates in 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers has endorsed the National Identity, Civil Society and Community Integration Guidelines 2012-2018. The Guidelines have been criticised because of their excessive focus on Latvians and identity issues. Guidelines include also some of the national Roma integration policy measures.
The main cultural policy instruments concerning the rights of ethnic minorities are legal and financial instruments.
The main laws providing civic and cultural rights to national minorities are: the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia (1922) and the Law on Free Development and Rights of Cultural Autonomy of National and Ethnic Groups (1991), which aim to ensure the rights in accordance with the international norms for cultural autonomy and cultural self-governance of national and ethnic minority groups.
In 2005, Latvia adopted a Law to ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, and in 2007 a Law to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions.
The main financial instrument is direct subsidies to cultural and other institutions of ethnic minorities.
The Ministry of Culture regularly supports the Association of National Culture Societies of I. Kozakēviča, which unites more than 20 organisations of ethnic minorities, called national culture associations or unions. These subsidies are mainly intended to maintain the ethnic identity of diverse nationalities, and for the most part to preserve traditional culture (folk groups, dance, festivities etc.).
As to public institutions, public support is allocated to the mainstream cultural organisations of the ethnic minorities, such as theatres producing and presenting performances in the Russian language. The Ministry of Culture supports the Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian theatre, and the Russian language productions at the Daugavpils City Theatre and the Latvian Puppet Theatre. For the most part, cultural diversity is supported by the allocation of public support to the organisations of ethnic minorities. There are no programmes or financial support schemes that would encourage other cultural institutions to carry out audience development activities or cultural programmes to address cultural diversity and achieve more diverse audiences. The staff of Latvian cultural institutions tends not to be culturally diverse.
Some mainstream organisations pursue cultural diversity at least in the language sphere, offering educational programmes. All minority groups and organisations are eligible to apply for grants to the State Cultural Capital Foundation and the Latvian Society Integration Foundation.
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