Integration secretariat disappears as 2008 ends

Latvia’s integration secretariat, the work of which included support for diaspora communities, disappeared with the close of 2008 as part of the government’s reorganization in the face of emergency budget-slashing. Its functions now will be handled by the Ministry for Children and Family Affairs, which now will be known as the Ministry for Children, Family and Social Integration Affairs.

The secretariat was known by the acronym ĪUMSILS, short for Īpašu uzdevumu ministra sabiedrības integrācijas lietās sekretariāts. Its budget included grants for the developement and maintenance of diaspora organizations.

Oskars Kastēns, the at times controversial special assignments minister for social integration affairs, will return to the Saeima where he represents the First Party of Latvia (Latvijas Pirmā partija). ĪUMSILS staff has been laid off or transferred to the Ministry for Children, Family and Social Integration Affairs. ĪUMSILS Director Juris Asars declined a position in the ministry as assistant state secretary, according to Cabinet of Ministers documents.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved amended regulations Dec. 16 that lay out new duties for the Ministry for Children, Family and Social Integration Affairs, but those do not explicitly mention work with the Latvian diaspora.

A new Department of Social Integration will be formed in the ministry, according to a Dec. 30 e-mail to diaspora organizations sent by Dana Heiberga, who headed the ĪUMSILS section for support of Latvians abroad. Heiberga, however, is not continuing her work in the ministry.

At the core of ĪUMSILS’ work with the diaspora was a five-year plan, beginning in 2004, to offer financial support for ethnic organizations. In 2007, for example, ĪUMSILS granted more than LVL 127,000 for 61 different projects proposed by nongovernmental organizations in 16 countries.

The secretariat was created in 2002. The first special assignments minister for social integration affairs was Nils Muižnieks, a Latvian born in the United States. Others who have held the post are Aivars Aksenoks, Ainars Latkovskis and Karina Pētersone.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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