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No improvement in treatment of Russians in Baltics - official

No progress has been made in improving the rights of ethnic Russians living in Latvia and Estonia, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

MOSCOW, March 9 (RIA Novosti) - No progress has been made in improving the rights of ethnic Russians living in Latvia and Estonia, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

Alexander Chepurin, head of the ministry's Department for Russian Compatriots Overseas, said: "This is not merely an ethnic minority, but a very substantial portion of the population, who have actively contributed and continue to contribute in creating the national wealth of these states, and which should by rights be an integral part."

Latvia and Estonia have an "urgent problem of mass statelessness for 600,000 of our compatriots, permanent residents, who have the humiliating status of non-citizens," he said.

"There is clear discrimination at elections for political motives. Discrimination against non-citizens is also widely practiced in the social and economic sphere. Several dozen restrictions are imposed on them as to profession and purchase of real estate."

"Russians are discriminated against as a language minority - by law, they are deprived of the right to receive official information from state authorities in their own language. Compulsory knowledge of the national language is legally enforced not only by the state, but by the private sector, which amounts to a prohibition to jobs. The system of schooling for children of ethnic minority families is being dismantled, and Russian schools are being closed."

"While legal investigations are being carried out against aged veterans of the Great Patriotic War [the Eastern Front of WWII] in Latvia and Estonia, while residence permits are being denied to Russian military pensioners in Estonia, and current intergovernmental agreements are being violated, the cynical lionization of former Hitler supporters is going on in these countries."

Estonia has held parades involving former Nazi Waffen-SS officers, while the Latvian Cabinet has approved tax law amendments granting bigger tax breaks to surviving members of the Forest Brothers guerilla movement, which collaborated with the Nazi regime during World War II.

Russia "basis its relations with other states on their readiness to take into account Russia's interests, including fulfilling the rights and legal interest of our compatriots," Chepurin said.

Russia's demands to these countries "do not go beyond the recommendations of authoritative international organizations to provide ethnic minorities with basic political and socio-economic rights."

Rolf Ekeus, the OSCE Higher Commissar on National Minorities, called on Latvia in June to provide equal rights both to minorities who have been living in the country for a long time, and for those that have arrived within the last decade.

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