The Status of Minority Rights in the Baltics

Regarding the opinion-page article ``The Soviet Union's `Small' Dictators,'' May 3: The government of the Republic of Latvia would welcome the author's suggestion that the United States take a closer look at human and ethnic rights in the Soviet Union and the Baltic states. Such an investigation would repudiate the author's broad and unsubstantiated charges of human rights violations by governments in the Baltics. The Latvian government has done or proposed nothing that would limit ``the rights to housing and food'' of Russians living in Latvia. To the contrary, on March 19 the Latvian legislature passed a law that not only guarantees equal employment, educational, and cultural rights for all nationalities, but further states, ``Any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or national hatred is punishable in accordance with existing law.'' Of the number of laws concerning citizenship being discussed in Latvia, none are more restrictive than US citizenship law.

The US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a congressional delegation to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in February. After meeting with non-Baltic residents of these countries, commission chairman Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland said, ``The problem in the Baltic states was primarily political, not ethnic, in nature.''

Ojars Kalnins, Washington, Legation of Latvia

The author of this article seems to rely exclusively on the hardliner-controlled official Soviet media for information on conditions in the USSR. Contrary to what the author implies, the citizenship law proposed in the Latvian legislature would consider as citizens all persons who were citizens of independent Latvia in 1940, immediately before its annexation by the Soviet Union, as well as their descendants. This would include about 300,000 ethnic Russians.

Austars R. Schnore, Scotia, N.Y.

Burgeoning alien populations have placed enormous strains on the Baltics. They were intended to. The minorities that the author refers to have been injected as part of a Soviet policy of drowning indigenous populations. Unless these countries can get control of their political destinies - and their borders - they will die, literally. Baltic citizens have shown remarkable restraint; if they occasionally stumble, they do so out of ignorance or poor judgment in trying to balance conflicting interests. They are not persecuting and killing Russians and other minorities. Stating otherwise merely parrots the ``Soviet line'' that seeks to perpetuate a corrupt and absurd empire built on conquest and brute force.

During months in Lithuania as an adviser on constitutional reform to the democratically elected government of Lithuania, I did not learn of any Lithuanian who harassed, persecuted, or killed a member of a minority nationality.

On the contrary, during the tense days of the attempted Soviet coup in January, unarmed Lithuanians, Russians, and others stood shoulder to shoulder singing to the Soviet soldiers who shot and clubbed them: ``We will meet you in paradise, and you will be our friends.''

The disciplined, peaceful, civilized way in which President Landsbergis and the people of Lithuania have sought independence and democratic reform deserves all the world's support.

Lowry Wyman, Cambridge, Mass., Russian Research Center, Harvard University

In February the International Conference on the Protection of National Minorities and Human Rights in Europe rated the Baltic laws on human and nationality rights as more progressive than present international regulations require. To imply that the Baltics' human rights record is as bad as the Soviets' is a false accusation. Needham Smith, London, Ky.

The government of Latvia has taken numerous concrete steps not to disenfranchise the non-Latvians in the country. Laws guaranteeing the right of minorities to receive an education in their native language have been adopted. Proclamations stating the government's intention to guarantee the integrity of minority residents' right to undisturbed lives have been written. Let us not forget that in March majorities in all of the nation's voting districts, including the heavily Russian ones, approved a referendum on independence. There is no basis for the idea that Latvia is suffering a Latvian-Russian conflict.

Karlis L. Streips, Rockville, Md., American Latvian Association

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