Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Fifth Column

Latvian Russian nationals publicly displaying the flag of Russian federation

The prospects of pro-Russian party taking part in Latvian government seems more likely every day. This may be the first time in Latvian history when a party that has signed an agreement with Vladimir Putin party “United Russia” will achieve chance to dominate Latvian politics. This article will discuss how is this possible and who is behind it. The information is taken not from some nationalist writing, but from an academic collection of essays by Latvian, Georgian, Lithuanian, Estonian and Ukrainian researchers named “The Humanitarian Dimension” of Russian Foreign Policy Towards Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the Baltic States.” published in Riga 2010.

The seed of Russian-Latvian question lies within different interpretations of the events of 1940, by Russian and Latvian governments. Russia interprets the occupation and annexation of Latvia as ‘legal’ incorporation that took place according to international laws at that time and it this event was recognized by the principality of inviolability of frontiers in the Helsinki final act. By that Russia considers that three Baltic States gained independence from the Soviet Union as new states. Because of that Latvia has the obligation to grant nationality to all citizens of former Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Failure to do so is seen from Russia as an obstacle to positive bilateral relations. The Latvian stance is stated by Latvian Constitutional Cort in the 2007, that states Soviet Union had committed an act of aggression against Latvia, by occupation and annexation, therefore ignoring international laws and fundamental rules of domestic law of Latvia. Since more than 50 nations of the world did not recognize Latvia as de iure part of the Soviet Union, Latvia as a juridical entity continued to exist and Latvian state that declared the restoration of independence is the same state that was proclaimed on  November 18 1918.

By this at least the first instance, the residents of Soviet Latvia would not be entitled because there was no legal nexus between the Soviet Union and Latvia. The citizenship law taken effect in 1994, granted citizenship to all residents and their descendants that lived in Latvia before 1940. Those who fell out of this category were mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union that settled in Latvia after the end of World war II. During the 50 years of Soviet occupation about 700 000 immigrants from the Soviet Union entered Latvia. By international law, these people are seen as the colonists who settle at territory taken by force.

However, Russia does not recognize this and for years has made statements on international level about the problematic humanitarian situation in Latvia. Russia’s demands are to give citizen rights to all people  of Latvia and give more rights to Russian nationals in Latvia. This is a part of unofficial Karaganov doctrine that allows Russia to use Russian speaking minorities in foreign countries for Russian geopolitical interests. This practice includes constant pressure on Latvia on diplomatic, international and economical level. Also this includes constant work with Russian speaking minority on political, informative and cultural level, by making Russian minority feel part of Russia, not Latvia.

The situation with Russian speaking non-citizens is improving over the years. To gain Latvian citizenship people must pass state language and history test. By 2010 16% of the population are still without citizenship. In recent years the rate of naturalization has decreased.  It can be explained by lack of interest for gaining citizenship, for they do not see any benefits from it. Others however do not naturalize for the principle that they deserve nationality by nature. In recent years the other tide has turned as a sizable number of non-citizens are acquiring the citizenship of the Russian Federation. The real number is kept secret by the Russian Embassy in Latvia, independent calculations state that they are at lest 21 646 Russian nationals living in Latvia.

The strategy for Russia is to support local Russian non governmental organizations seen as ‘compatriots’. There are 250 such organizations in Latvia. They are cultural, educational, human rights groups and war veteran organizations. An important role is played by the organization Russkij Mir (Russian World) that is designed as coordinator between various Russian NGO’s around the world and plays a major role in organizing Russian activists within Latvia. They support local “anti-fascist” groups  that are often against civil order in Latvia and causes disturbances in important historical dates. Also they give support and recommendations to Russian parties within Latvia.

The strategy of Karaganov doctrine is based on the idea of “soft power”. It’s a conception of gaining victories not by arms, but culture, sports and investments. Russian artists, singers are constant guests in Latvia. Russian cultural festivities. Every August in the city of Jurmala an “international” singer competition “Novaja Volna” (The New Wave) takes place. Despite of being labeled as international it mostly hosts participants from the former Soviet Union and only few every year from other countries. Also this is a gathering spot for “elite” of Russian musical stage and it’s being aired live on Russian TV. Some foreign singers sometimes have trouble knowing if they have arrived in Latvia, rather than Russia.

The presence of Russian language and culture in Latvian TV is constant. The Russian movie industry imports Russian blockbusters,  TV soaps and shows to Latvian TV space. Many commercial Latvian TV stations are filled with Russian made TV shows and movies. The cable and satellite TV services are mostly orienteering on Russian language as, most foreign TV programs such as Euronews, Discovery, TV 1000 are dubbed in Russian.

Also a Russian TV has an important role in Latvian TV space. Russian TV stations such as NTV, RTV, PRK are rebroadcast from Russia. The news, selected programs, TV shows and movies are aimed for Russian speaking minorities. It’s no secret that sizable auditory of Latvians is also watching these programs every day.

Sports also play a key role in Russian soft power politics. A prime example is Continental Hockey League (KHL). Its an ambitious project by Russian Hockey officials to make the international hockey league that would counter National Hockey League. So far it only consists teams from the former Soviet Union (this year a team from Slovakia also entered the league). A hockey club especially for this event was formed in Riga. Its name is Riga Dinamo. In Soviet times there was club with the same name that took part in main Soviet hockey league. So far by two last seasons the club has fared well and has attracted a  sizable fan base. Surely the club brings benefits to Latvian hockey and national hockey team. However it’s also been a constant demonstration of Russian superiority in sports.

A constant debate between Russia and Latvia is history. Russia is unsatisfied with Latvian interpretation of history. Because of this Russian official historians and filmmakers make constant attempts on discrediting Latvian history. One of the main attack point is the problem of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. The commemoration day of the legion takes place in March 16. Russia uses this to propagandize the “awakening of Nazism in Latvia”. March 16 is not an official date in Latvia but its celebrated by National minded parties and people. Russia has released movies about Latvian legions filled with falsifications and lies. Books with a distorted view about Latvian history is freely distributed in Latvia. Latvian historians had made counter attempts on Russian actions, by publishing their view of history. A highly successful project was the documentary “Soviet Story” that unmasked Soviet regime. In Russia however this movie was met with hostility and a Latvian view of history in Russia is largely restricted.

Using these all actions the Russian Federation has made a fifth column – a group of Russia’s patriots living in Latvia. They can be distinguished by the use of Russian symbols on cars, clothing with Russian symbols and hostile look on Latvia and Latvians. They disrespect Latvian language, a movement for making Russian as official state language is getting stronger. Their hostile nature is clearly visible in internet commentaries and blogs. So far ethnic riots has not happened in Latvia, although Russian provocateurs played a major  role in Old Riga riots in 2009.

A sign of Russian protest- a flag of Russia in the car

Not all Russian speaking minority and voters of Russian parties stick to this category. The upper intellectual minority and young people with good Latvian education are less affected by pro-Russian propaganda. Russian pupils who learn at  Latvian schools have better chances in integration than those who live mostly in Russian communities. However most Russian speakers are voting ethnically, even if the Harmony Center had 40 Latvian ethnic candidates only 5 made it to parliament shows deep a division within Russian voters.

It’s not right to entirely blame Latvia for failure of integration. Latvia has closely or even too closely followed the directions made by EU and Human Rights institutions. Easing the naturalization restrictions was one of the main demand by the EU and NATO in order to join them. Latvians overall are more tolerant than their Estonian and Lithuanian neighbors. In fact the lack of tough actions by Latvians shows that Russian cry for their discrimination is a false one. By this influence by Russian Federation has surely played a notable effect on failure of integration. The dissatisfaction of Russian nationals in Latvia is based on the loss of their elite status gained during the soviet occupation.  Therefore pro-Russian party Harmony Center program is rather based on revenge than harmony. Allowing too much power to force that supports disloyalty to state of Latvia can bring danger to the very existence of  peaceful Latvian state.

Selected Sources:

Pelnēns, Gatis (Ed.) (2010). The “Humanitarian dimension” of Russian foreign policy toward Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltic States.Riga : Centre for East European Policy Studies.

Влияние иностранных государств на процесс этнической интеграции общества в Латвии (2007)Рига : Sabiedrības Integrācijas fonds, 2007


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