Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

An independent Baltic state between the two World Wars, Latvia
was annexed by the Soviet' Union in 1940 as a constituent
republic of the U.S.S.R. The United States does not recognize
the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R.
Like the other Baltic states, Latvia is subjected to the same
centralized rule, the same Constitution and judicial system,
the same restrictions on civil and political liberties, and
the same police controls as the republics in the Soviet
Union. Moreover, Soviet policy toward the Latvian nation
arouses grave concern because the process of Russif ication
threatens its survival as a distinct ethnic group. The influx
of Slavic settlers has reduced the proportion of Latvians in
Latvia to only 53 percent of the total population.
Like the other Baltic states, Latvia is regarded as
economically better off than most areas of the Soviet Union.
This is beginning to change, however, as central authorities
divert scarce resources to less developed areas.
Human rights violations continued in 1985. Expressions of
national consciousness were harshly repressed. The state of
religious liberty continued to deteriorate as the Soviet
authorities harassed the clergy and lay leaders of several
faiths. Latvians active in human rights issues continued to
face persecution and arrest.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
Several Latvian activists have died in Soviet custody in the
last several years, although no such deaths were reported in
1985. However, official responsibility for the deaths of
persons involved in human rights activities is difficult to
establish. Soviet persecution of Latvian activists, however,
may lead to their deaths.
b. Disappearance
There are no known instances of permanent or prolonged
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment
Throughout the Soviet system, cruel and inhuman treatment of
political prisoners occurs during both interrogation and
confinement to labor camp, prison, or psychiatric hospital.
Physical and psychological abuse of prisoners is common, as is
detention under extremely unhealthy or otherwise onerous
conditions .
* Given Soviet control over all aspects of life in Latvia, the
systemic human rights abuses described in the report on the
U.S.S.R. apply also to Latvia. This report discusses only
instances of repression specific to Latvia.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Soviet legal provisions are written and interpreted so broadly
that Latvians may be arrested and convicted for exercising
basic human rights.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
As in the Soviet Union, Communist Party control of society is
exercised in political cases to negate constitutional
guarantees of the objectivity and independence of the judicial
process. The self-determined compelling needs of the State
override the rights of a defendant.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Through the use of informers, mail censorship, electronic
monitoring of telephones, and other devices, government
authorities have the ability to interfere in every aspect of
personal life. Constitutional guarantees to the contrary,
Soviet investigative agencies do not abstain from forced entry
and illegal searches. Contacts between Latvians and foreign
visitors are strongly discouraged, and those who indulge in
such contacts are subject to official harassment.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for most internationally accepted
political liberties as long as their exercise accords with the
strengthening and security of the "socialist" system. In
practice, the authorities do not tolerate freedom of speech
and press or any dissident behavior. Riga dissident and
Russian Orthodox activist Mikhail Bombin was under
investigation at year's end facing possible charges of
anti-Soviet slander for his unofficial activities in support
of peace and detente.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The right of association is provided for in the Constitution,
but the authorities strictly control all associations and
organizations. Latvians peacefully celebrating Latvian
Independence Day are subject to arrest, and foreigners
visiting their Latvian relatives are frequently interrogated
and harassed.
Soviet labor law and practice are enforced in Latvia.
Although the Constitution guarantees all Soviet citizens the
right to form trade unions, any efforts by workers to exercise
this right independently of state-sponsored and controlled
unions have been brutally repressed. Given Soviet concern
that the ideas of the Polish Solidarity trade union movement
might spread, this has been especially true in the Baltic
c. Freedom of Religion
Despite constitutional guarantees, religious activity is the
subject of systematic official harassment. Jewish cultural
activist Vladimir Frenkel of Riga was sentenced to 18 months
in labor camp in June 1985 for writing articles for the Jewish
cultural "samizdat" (self-published) journal Khaim, as well as
for publishing a number of articles on Russian Orthodoxy in
the West .
Members of the Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Adventist churches
also appear to have encountered more difficulties with the
authorities than the larger Lutheran Church, perhaps because
of their outspokenness.
In September 1984, Zofiya Belyarchuk and a colleague named
Sanderos were arrested for attempting to form a Franciscan
church group.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Soviet authorities do not respect the right of emigration.
The granting of permission to emigrate from Latvia is
arbitrary and subject to increasing restrictions. The
authorities harass Latvians whose desire to emigrate is known
and cause their living conditions to deteriorate in order to
discourage emigration applications. Two Latvian families are
currently on the U.S. Government Representation List of
Divided Families who have been refused Soviet permission to
join their relatives in the United States. Ninety more
families are on the U.S. Representation List of Soviet Jews
denied permission to emigrate to Israel. A number have been
trying to obtain permission for more than 10 years.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Non-Communist Latvians have almost no opportunity to
participate meaningfully in the political process. Communist
Party and governmental authorities in Latvia are severely
limited in their ability to advance national interests, if
they should choose to do so. Latvians have the lowest
proportion of Communist Party membership of the three Baltic
states and are outnumbered in the local party hierarchy. As
in other areas under Soviet control, political activity
outside the Communist Party is not tolerated.
Expressions of Latvian nationalism continued in 1985. On two
occasions these led to clashes between Latvian and Russian
youths in Riga. The first clash reportedly occurred on
Victory Day, May 9; the second, several days later on Latvian
Independence Day. The Independence Day disturbances
apparently took place against the backdrop of a demonstration
demanding an end to Soviet occupation. Around 300 young
Latvians were temporarily detained, with injuries and even
some fatalities reported.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Soviet Government rejects any foreign criticism of its
human rights record, maintaining that all internationally
recognized human rights are fully protected. Its attitude
toward investigation of the human rights situation in Latvia
is uncompromisingly negative.
Since its annexation, Latvia, with its population of about 2.5
million, has become an industrial workshop and trading center
for the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities have emphasized
investment in heavy industry, and industrial output has
increased substantially since World War II.
The process of industrialization was accompanied by a large
influx of Slavic workers from elsewhere in the Soviet Union
because of Latvia's small labor force auid low birth rate. At
the same time, Latvian agriculture has been neglected, and
this has caused periodic shortages of food, particularly meat
and dairy products, in a country that exported such products
during independence.
Latvia's economic performance during the first 6 months of
1985 was roughly on a par with the Soviet average. Growth in
industrial production was 3 percent compared with the Soviet
average of 3 . 1 percent, and labor productivity rose by 3 . 2
percent, well above the Soviet average of 2.6 percent.
By most measures of economic well-being, Latvia has for
decades been regarded as better off than most areas in the
Soviet Union. To some extent, this former prosperity is now
working against it, as centrally controlled funds are diverted
to less developed areas in the Soviet Union. The
deterioration of housing is readily observable, and the same
phenomenon is said to extend throughout the economic and
social infrastructure, including roads, schools, institutes,
hospitals, and even factories.
The large proportion (about 47 percent) of non-Latvians in the
population, along with cultural censorship and mandatory
ideology, has placed the Latviein language and culture in
jeopardy. Lacking an internal rallying point, such as the
Roman Catholic Church provides for Lithuanians, or a nearby
external point of cultural affinity, as Finland is for
Estonians, Latvians face poor prospects in their efforts to
preserve and refresh their cultural traditions.