BRUSSELS, March 4, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
At tumultuous times in the world, when countries are fighting for democracy, Europeans enjoy the right to voice their opinion. Still, the turnout for the last European elections was hardly 50%. Despite the widespread perception of voting rights being a given, as a trait of a democracy, 300 000 Europeans having resided in Latvia for generations, are denied their political rights because of their ethnicity. These non-citizens represent 15% of the Latvian population and are represented by the Latvian Non-Citizens Congress, a Latvian NGO founded in 2012.
The Latvian Non-Citizens Congress (LNCC), together with the support of the International Foundation for Better Governance (IFBG), a Brussels-based NGO, launched their pan-European support campaign for the European elections taking place in May 2014.
At the Brussels Press Club, panelists encouraged European voters to exercise their human right to vote, in contrast to the 300 000 non-citizens thriving to be heard but denied an electoral voice in their country as well as the European Union.
Elizabete Krivcova, co-founder of the Latvian Non-Citizens Congress opened the debate by introducing the situation in Latvia, a country celebrating its 10th anniversary in the EU this year. She stressed that "democracy and human rights are independent from history and people now cannot be blamed for a historical event."
Doug Henderson was UK Minister for Europe when Latvia and 9 other States were in negotiation for joining the European Union. Speaking at the event, he acknowledged that European officials were aware of the issue of mass statelessness in Latvia and Estonia, however because of internal pressures from EU Member States, concessions were made and 10 countries joined the EU simultaneously. The issue of statelessness for the "non-citizens" was not properly dealt with in the Accession Agreements. Mr. Henderson stressed that "the EU was created to maintain long-term peace, for economic reasons." It was time now to acknowledge the existence of 15% disenfranchised residents in a member country, and to correct the wrong that had existed for decades.
James Wilson, founder of the International Foundation for Better Governance, raised the importance European institutions enjoy in maintaining Human Rights: "People need to believe their vote is going to count and matter." Mr. Wilson stressed that "even if there were many successes, there is still a room for improvement in regards to Human Rights within the EU."
Eva Majewski, Chairwoman of the European Democrat Students at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung stated the importance "to stimulate young voters to use their fundamental right of voting as the young population is the one able to drive changes." Mrs. Majewski - a non-citizen herself at a very young age - spoke specifically of the need to make young people understand the importance of using their vote in May. She was outraged to find out that so many Europeans were silenced politically: "If someone wants to contribute and voice their opinion, they should have the right to do so, especially when working and paying taxes in Europe."
Alexander Gaponenko, co-founder of the LNCC and Director of the Institute for European Research outlined how he lost his citizenship and subsequently his job as Vice-Mayor of Riga. As a very respected economic expert with over 25 years of experience at that time, he even lost his teaching position at the University due to employment restrictions imposed to non-citizens.
Elizabeta Krivcova is now a naturalized citizen of Latvia and is running for a European seat herself in order to bring the issue to the European institutions. She reminded the audience that "a vote is a privilege, it's not automatically given to everyone. I hope we can make Europe more democratic."
The campaign will now hold similar events aimed at national government institutions and interest civil society in Riga, Strasbourg, Paris, Berlin, London and The Hague. For more information on the campaign and all upcoming events, please visit http://www.noncitizens.eu and http://www.better-governance.org.
SOURCE Latvian Non-Citizens Congress