Vladimir Buzaev, a member of the Riga city council, on the appeals submitted to the ECHR concerning Russian schools

© Sputnik / Доминик Вомер

Vladimir Buzaev is a human rights defender and a member of the Riga city council representing Latvian Russian Union. He has been involved into submitting multiple complaints to the European Court on Human Rights with regard to the issue of transforming the education in national minorities schools from the minority languages to Latvian.

The case was communiated to the Latvian state by the Court. On September 1 the Latvian Human Rights Committee sent it’s observations to the response Latvian Government had provided the Court with.

Vladimir Buzaev told, ”Having received the response from the Government of Latvia to the Court questions, the Court turned us with the request to state our views on the way how the Government had stated the facts. The Court informed us that they were eager to get our observations on that in a separate document. They also warned that if our paper was not complete, they would base their decision on the opinion of the Government”.

© Sputnik / Sergey Melkonov. Vladimir Buzaev

Vladimir Buzaev explains the difference between individual applications to the ECHR and the appeal submitted in the case of education in minority languages in Latvia, ”The mechanism of the ECHR is adapted for individual complaints. A person is born, they grow up, then their rights are violated which leads to their patient appealing against all these violations in courts. A person takes it to the court of highest level and after that they get the right to take their case to the ECHR. But in a situation when the rights of more than a hundred thousand people are violated simaltaneously, it is necessary to deviate a bit from the standart procedure”.

Vladimir Buzaev explained that usually it is the Court staff who state the facts having studied the complaint. However, in this particular case the Court decided to make eight complaints admissable out of the ten which had been submitted. The selection was also conditioned, as Vladimir Buzaev explains, by the need to cover all levels of education as well as types of schools, both public and private. The ECHR did not dare to make the statement of facts by themselves asking the Government to do it.

Vladimir Buzaev told that the Court requested also their observations on the way the Government intends to implement the European Convention in this case. Vladimir Buzaev stressed that ”Latvia does not have any intention to implement the Convention in the case of the Russian language schools. The Government regards complaint as inadmissible”. Vladimir Buzaev tells, ”The description of the local schools in Russian made by the Government is very short. They claim that it is the ”occupation” which changed the demographic situation in the country, conditioned the creation of the ”segregated school system and caused the russification of even Latvian schools”.

Vladimir Buzaev states that the thesis of the segregated system of education is absolutely ungrounded bcause ”both now and in the Soviet period it was possible to send a child to either the Latvian either the Russian school by the free choice of parents. The thesis of the “segregated system” was also used as a basis by the Venice Commission, which consistently applied it in their conclusions that were disappointing for us”.

Vladimir Buzaev gives another example of how facts can be manipulated. He tells, ”The Venice Commission noted that the Russian-language people make 37% of the population of Latvia while it is only 28% of pupils who attend national minorities schools. They took this data for the proof that the segragated system exists and it is the parents who are trying to go away from it. However, the fact is that the birth rate among Russian-speaking Latvians is lower then among Latvian-speakers, and the national minorities school age pupils make just 28% out of all schoolchildren”.

Vladimir Buzaev tells that it is also the statistical data which was used to substantiate another argument by the Government on the reasons why the reform as such was needed. ”They claim that pupils have poor command of the state language which obstructs their career growth and the process of integration, – a human rights defender tells. – Both the Government and the Venice Commission refer to the results of the Latvian language exams as a ground for such a conclusion”. Vladimir Buzaev states the view that it is not justifiable as ”it is the Government themselve who created such results of the exam by having introduced drastic changes few years before that”.

Vladimir Buzaev emphacises that ”the fact itself of introducing the unified exam in the Latvian language is comparable to the swimming competition between elephants and dolphins and the conclusion that dolphins swim better. Two unequal groups are deliberately placed in the same conditions”.

Answering the question about the principle of the applicants’ observations, Vladimir Buzaev told, ”After debating for a long time, we decided to consequently set out the history of the Latvian education system for national minorities. We based it on the applications that we had submitted before. Instead of exam results we provided the result of the last representative survey from 2014 which evidences that 80% of graduates of Russian schools know the Latvian language perfectly well, therefore they simply do not need to give up education in their native language. The remaining 20% know the language at the level that allows them to communicate freely, but is not enough to receive further education”.

Vladimir Buzaev points out that the Governent was selective in their observations
while enlisting different conventions related to the education. ”They preferred to not even mention the key UNESCO convention on banning discrimination in education as of 1960. In their description of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities nothing was said about its article 4 on the prohibition of discrimination based on belonging to national minorities, and most importantly, the government did not refer to its article 15 on the right of national minorities to participate in taking decisions concerning their life.