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2 Apr, 2008 01:07

Latvian ‘aliens’ demand right to vote

The European Parliament is to consider a petition signed by 16,000 legal aliens from Latvia, demanding the right to vote. They are mostly Russian speaking, left stranded by the collapse of the Soviet Union in a sometimes hostile country.

After gaining independence in 1991, Latvia passed a series of laws to promote its language and imposing strict requirements for naturalisation and citizenship.

Despite 18 years of independence, most of Latvia’s Russians – about 30 per cent of the country’s population – still have alien passports.

They pay the same taxes, follow the same laws but do not enjoy the same rights as other Latvians.

Non-citizen Russian nationals may view their alien status in different ways but they all lack one basic rights: they cannot vote in elections.

“Why should I prove to anybody that I speak Latvian, that I respect my neighbours and friends, who also speak Latvian?!” says Timofey Platonov, a Russian national with Latvian citizenship from Riga.

Analysts say this is about a principle and a political paradox. The Latvian government, it seems, works hard to make sure Russian nationals cannot vote.

Recently, a petition has taken to the European Parliament with 16,000 signatures demanding the right for non-citizens to vote in local elections.

“There’s an interesting paradox. If an EU citizen emigrates to Latvia without any naturalisation or going through those procedures, all they have to do to vote in local elections is live here for three months,” says Konstantin Matveev, a Latvian alien passport holder.

Many officials say the naturalisation laws have nothing to do with where you come from. They say it’s more to do with revenge, for what Latvia calls its occupation by the Soviet Union from 1940-1991.

But Latvian MP Yuris Dobelis says it’s about history and explains why EU citizens are favoured when it comes to immigration.

“The countries of the EU have not occupied Lativa and some of the EU citizens who come here can speak Latvian after one year here and those Russians cannot after generations here,” Dobelis said.