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Russians in Latvia

Russian Old believers church in Jekabpils. Old believers were one the first Russians in Latvia.

Russians is the largest national minority in Latvia. For centuries their numbers and influence have grown. They have been the main political elite for 50 years and still affect the political events in Latvia. In 2012 a referendum too place to make Russian language as the second official language. Majority of the people voted against, however about 25% voted in favour. That is a clear sign that some Russians are willing for ethnic confrontation and show their dissatisfaction with the Latvian state. Why this has happened and what is the history of Russians in Latvia – it will be shown in this article.

Russian factor has played its role in Latvia since the Middle Ages. The Russian Duchies – Pskov, Polock and Novgorod showed great interest for Latvian territory, because of valuable trade route across river Daugava. It was the route to Europe for Russians. First Russian inhabitants were merchants that came in 10. century From 14 to 17 century it was the small size of Russian emigrating peasants, sectarians and insurgents that escaped from Russian rule. The next most important wave was the Old believers of the Orthodox Church in 17 century. They were the ones who opposed the church reform by patriarch Nicholas and were subdued to repressions.

Already in 13 century Russian tradesmen owned many estates in Riga and had their own quarter within the walls of Old Riga. In 17 century Russian and Polish immigrants and refuges founded the city of Jekabpils (Jakobstadt). By the law of Duchy of Courland and Semigallia this town was only allowed for Russians, Lithuanians and Poles. An Orthodox monastery was built there. The old believers lived in Latgalia in their own villages by their own traditions. The Russian language as well as German had great effect on the Latvian language.

In 1710 for the first time a part of Latvia was added to Russian Empire. Before that Russians were immigrants that lived under German, Polish and Swedish rule. Latvian territory was completely annexed by Russia in 1795. In next decades Russian population rose to second place bellow Latvians. In 18 century 15% Russians lived in Riga.  In 1820 there were already 25,9% of them in Riga. 44,5% of Riga inhabitants were Germans and only 15,4% Latvians.  In 1897 first main census was carried in Russia. By that census there 151, 2 thousand Russian living in the territory of Latvia. Mainly they lived in Latgalia and the largest cities in Latvia. The rise of Russian numbers can be explained by industrialization that sent many economical immigrants from Russia. Also Russian army had garrisons in Latvia.

Russians until the middle of 19 century was not the main elite nation in Latvia. The Czarist government still relayed on Baltic German elite that took the local governmental posts and set out the legislation. But the Russian Czars Catherina II (1762-1769) and Alexander II (1855-1881), made reforms that allowed Russians participate more in local political life. Russians elected their deputies in Riga Municipality.

The Czar Alexander III (1881-1894) started the Russification policies in all empire. The Russian language became main legal language in municipal affairs, education system. Russian language became official language in schools. An assault on Latvian language began as it was strictly regulated in schools. In Latgalia the Latin print was banned for many years.

 The revolution of 1905-1907 brought equal rights for Old believers and allowed the organization Russian political movements that local Russians joined. There were Conservative “17. October Union”, liberal Constitutional democratic (cadet) party and National liberal party. The cadets stepped against local Russian privileges and demanded equal rights for all nationalities in Russia. Liberals disliked repressions against Latvian revolutionaries and condemned Russifaction policies against Latvian language. However the conservatives vowed nationalist supremacist slogans for greater rights for Russians.

The main Russian newspaper “Segodņa” between 1920 to 1940. It was one of the most modern newspapers in those times.

After the collapse of Russian Empire in 1917, a first national Russian citizen national democratic union (NDS) was founded. The union demanded Russian representation in local governments and rights to use their language. After proclamation of Latvia, NDS moved to adjust Russians with the new country. In five Latvian parliaments Russians elected their own representatives. However, the Russians were politically divided by many parties that combated with each other. In 1935 there were 10,5% Russians in Latvia however only 2-6% only voted for Russian parties. Many supported Latvian Socialdemocratic Workers Party. Such political apathy can be explained by large illiteracy and poverty within Russian workers and peasants. The Russian intellectual circles were mainly concerned with politics, but they were detached from Russian low level citizens. The Russian political circles were divided between liberals and nationalists. The liberals owned the main Russian language newspaper “Segodna” (Today) and nationalists spoke out using newspaper “Slovo!” (The Word). There were notable circle of ex White Guard and Monarchist movement in Latvia. They were pursued by Latvian political police and condemned by Soviet Union.

 The Latvian education and citizenship law was more liberal than today. Nearly all Russians were citizens and the Latvian state allowed education autonomy for minorities. Russian schools operated all over Latvia. The Latvian law allowed getting education in Russian, German and Jewish language.  However after the coup by Karlis Ulmanis, restrictions were made against school autonomy to ensure Latvian language education in schools.

The liberal integration policy in Latvia in 1920-1940, can be explained by different ethnic and demographic situation in those times. Latvians were in sizable majority the 77% of the population. There were no large Latvian emigration and birth rate was positive. Therefore Latvian politicians did not feel any danger to Latvian nation as the minorities were below 10%. However, Latvian government did not allow minorities to form a cultural autonomy that meant self-governing and greater rights for native language. A much was done to institutionalize Latvian language as the main language in the country. Because the ethnic and demographic situation was completely different the integration policies in those times cannot be realized in the present day Latvia because the situation is much more different.

  The occupation of Latvia in 1940 destroyed the local Russian national life. The majority of Russian political elite was strictly against the Soviet Union. However the lover class workers and peasants were more optimistic about the new Soviet power. It was Russians that were major participants in Railroad station square riots on 17 June when Soviet tanks rolled in Riga, not Jews as often cited. Russians were the main participants in Soviet greeting demonstrations. However, those who opposed the occupation became victims of the Soviet repressions. As the occupation regime established Russian governmental and army workers moved to Latvia.

The Nazi Germany invasion in 1941 brought hopes for some Russians that Nazis will restore national Russian state. A 7 Russian police battalions was made from Latvian Russians, Russians also took part in Latvian Waffen SS legion. However, the most part of Russians hoped for return of the Soviet rule. Today Russians still have problem to look on the events on 1940-1941 by objective point of view. Many consider that Latvia was not occupied and the events in 1940-1941 were positive and Latvia joined Soviet Union willingly.

By 1940 there 207000 Russians in Latvia. In 1989 there were now 90500 Russians in Latvia. The Russian population had rose up to 34% of the all population. This sharp increase was not natural but mechanic achieved by state supported mass immigration. The reasons for this were political and economical. The policy of Soviet Union was to change the ethnic structure in non-Russian republics by moving people around the whole country. Soviets deported large masses of Latvians to Siberia and forced many to emigrate to west. In return Soviets boosted up the industrialization in Latvia. The large factories required large workforce that local Latvian population could not gather, so large masses came from all Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union. Immigrants received apartments without waiting in line and jobs, while Latvians had to wait in lines to acquire apartment and job in the factory.

The large residential blocks were the symbols of the Soviet immigration policy

Russian immigrants mainly lived in cities. In Riga they became the majority as well in other towns. Only the country side stayed Latvian. Russian language became official and was used in legal papers and education. Although Latvian language was not generally suppressed the climate made by the authorities allowed Russians not to learn and speak Latvian. However, also Latvians themselves did not put enough pressure on Russians to learn Latvian, like it was done in Estonia. Russian language also served as a tool Russianize Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, Poles and other minorities. The members of these nationalities forgot their native tongue and became part of Russian society.

 During the movement for regaining Latvian independence Russians split in two sides. Ones supported the independence as the chance for democracy, others fanatically supported Soviet Union. According to poll in 1989 49% non Latvians supported Latvian independence. That however showed that there were plenty enough of non-Russians who did not support. And the enemies like the Interfront movement were more visible than democratic Russian movements.

After the independence the main question was the new citizenship law. 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 former Soviet Union that settled in Latvia after the end of World War II. 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.

This made large dissatisfaction by Russians and other Russian speakers who did not gain citizenship. Despite the liberalization of the naturalization process and larger Russian involvement in politics the alienation of Russians from Latvia was clearly visible. However, this was not just the Latvian fault. The Russian Federation policy was to support Russian minority in foreign countries and to use foreign Russians as a geopolitical instrument. By doing so Russia has managed to associate local Russians with Moscow. Russians mainly watch the Russian TV, read only Russian newspapers in live in Russian cultural space separated from Latvian society. Because of this the integration has failed and Latvian politicians have failed to attract the Russian support. All main Russian local political parties and movements are supported and presumably funded by the Kremlin.

 According to census made in 2011 there are 556, 422 Russians in Latvia the 26,9 of the population. The decrease can be explained by the emigration to Russia or to West. Further decrease was found in 2011 census- 557119 people. However, since most Ukrainians, Belarusians, Caucasians and Jews speak in Russian the usage of the Russian language is far greater.   There still 290, 660 non citizens in Latvia, however the large numbers to them have gained the Russian citizenship instead. That is also part of Moscow political agenda.

The main reason of the ethnic tension and the referendum is the failed integration policy and some part of Russian dissatisfaction of the Latvian state. It’s a lie that the ethnic tension is incited only by politicians and there were no real problems. The material for ethnic confrontation was available since the regain of the independence.  The failed Latvian integration policy incited the Latvian nationalists and Russian nationalists on both sides. It’s a myth that petition for Latvian language in schools was the prime cause for the Russian language referendum, it was only pretext because similar scheme are in action in Ukraine, North Osetia and Belorussia. The movement for referendum would happen even if the wining party Harmony Center would enter government. It was the social and national tension that was present in all time that boosted up the support for the referendum. Also the emergency elections and government making process lighted up the fire.

Ethnic tensions between Russians and Latvians will be visible, as long as they will be boosted by the Kremlin and mistakes of the local politicians. Complete integration into Latvian society is impossible as the integration is an act of personal will, not forced action. Among Latvian Russians, there are many intellectuals, artists and economists that benefit the Latvian society. The goal of the Latvian politicians is to weaken the use of Russia “soft power” and clamp down national radical sentiments to calm both Latvians and Russians. Education and effective social policies are what’s needed to make a nationally progressive society.

Selected Sources

Volkovs, Vladislavs (1996) Krievi Latvijā. Riga : Latvijas ZA Filoz. un sociol. inst.

Фейгмане, Татьяна (2000) Русские в довоенной Латвии : на пути к интеграции. Riga: Sia. Jumi.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.


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Latvia 2011 The Year of troubles

The year 2011 will certainly go down in history as one of the most intense years in history. The Japanese Disaster, Arab Spring, US debt crisis and Euro zone problems. But, also in Latvia the year 2011 was time of important decisions, political and national collisions and even newer economic problems. This post is about the main events in Latvia in 2011.

1. The Decree Nr.2

Since 2008, Latvia have been deeply affected by economic crisis. In late 2008, state on the brink of bankruptcy. A deal with International Monetary Fund was signed. Since then all previous governments have done a large effort to consolidate the state budget. The consolidation means drastic cuts in all state sectors, high taxes and lot of unpopular decisions.  And that surely means a large public dissatisfaction with the government and the Saeima (Parliament). Calls for dismissal of the parliament has been popular since 2006. The 9. Saeima was met with protest because of the so-called Positivism campaign that allowed the wining Peoples Party to fund the election campaign by surpassing the official election funding limits. In result the prime minister Aigars Kalvītis kept its seat for another 4 years. But, his second term was unsuccessful and sparked calls for dismissal of Saeima. The acting president Valdis Zatlers who only had such rights hesitated to take this step. In 2009. he was actually threatening to do that, but again hesitated.

But in May 28, he suddenly lost any hesitation and issued Decree Nr. 2. The Latvian constitution allows the President to call referendum to dismiss the parliament. If the people vote yes the parliament is dissolved if no – president must step down. But why Valdis Zatlers choose to dissolve parliament only nine months old when he was asked to do this many times earlier.

The official reason was the vote in the parliament that prohibited the state anti-corruption service to make search in deputies Ainārs Šlesers home. Šlesers is well-known political player and oligarch and he was accused for corruption schemes. However, since he was an elected deputy, he had to be handed over by deputy vote. And his party voted no along with quarter of deputies abstaining. So his handover failed.  The ballot was hidden. Those who were abstaining were members of Green Farmers Union and the Harmony Center. By this the parliament got involved in conflict with the juridical power. Valdis Zatlers saw this as a important breach by the parliament and called to dismiss it.

But that was just the official reason. First, Valdis Zatlers was on the finish of his presidential therm and seek re-election. But, he must be elected by the parliament. And he got pretty unclear promises from elected parties. And then alternative candidate appeared. His name was Andris Bērziņš and he was elected deputy of Green Farmers Union fraction. In past he was director of Unibank or Seb Bank and he a shadowy figure that appeared from nowhere. Before 28, May Valdis Zatlers was more and more aware that he may not be elected. So he may decided to dismiss the parliament to punish it for not supporting him and form his own party to continue his political career.

Another reason may have been his sympathy for the Russian party Harmony Center. There are speculations that before his decision he had conversation with the Saeima speaker Solvita Aboltiņa and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis  where he demanded to form new government with Harmony Center that was in opposition at that time.

The very first result of his decision was that he was punished by dismissed parliament. He was not elected and instead with 50 votes for and 48 against Andris Bērziņš was elected. He is the oldest president in Latvian history with 67 years. Numerous controversies were associated with him. First that he was a henchman of the oligarch Aivars Lembergs, second that he hacked money from EU Development funds and the last that he may have more children that he claims. When he left the parliament house as newly elected president he was met by angry crowd that supported Zatlers. Zatlers suddenly became so popular, because he fulfilled the Latvian people’s dream to punish the parliament they elected themselves. In his first months as president Andris Berzins has shown itself as conservative and neutral president. He said no to many presidential privileges, like private residence, escort with sirens and even presidential salary. The last should not be problem since he is the wealthiest senior citizen in Latvia.

 The election campaign

The referendum to dissolve the parliament was met with great support and 94% of voters voted for. So again in few months a new election campaign was issued. A reminder that the last parliament begun work only in November 2010. The main question was the next move by Valdis Zatlers. The ruling party Unity asked him to join them. But, instead Zatlers formed new party called Zatlers Reform Party. He wanted to make new wining party from scratch and get as many people as possible. The initial outcome was dubious,  all popular members of Latvian intellectual elite declined to join his party. So his party was formed from amateurs and ex members from other parties.

The main slogan of the election campaign was to finally crush the so-called oligarch parties. The three main known oligarchs Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēle and Aivars Lembergs were the main targets. In one way Zatlers really succeeded to crush them. Andris Šķēle  dissolved his Peoples Party that had to pay million lats to state for breaking election funding limits. The same happened with Ainārs Šlesers, who took part in elections, but failed to surpass 5% barrier. He also put the end to his Latvian First Party/Latvian Way, that he had just renamed as Šlesers Reform Party to tackle Zatlers. In meanwhile Aivars Lembergs Green Farmers Union made it to new Saeima but with only 13 seats and remain in opposition.

Two main gainers from Zatlers Decree Nr. 2 were two opposite parties that each gained more prominence in the new elections. The pro-Russian party union The Harmony Center nearly won the elections of the 1o. Saeima, but failed to enter the parliament. By the years the Harmony Center has been the main supporter of Latvian Russian speaking population. However, also it has tried to gather enough Latvian support. Latvians who support Harmony Center are mostly nostalgic about Soviet times and has deep connection with Russian culture. Others, are moved by the social democratic ideology of the party. The Harmony Center was ready to win the emergency elections and finally to enter the government.

The opposite force against leftist Russian force financed by Moscow was the National Alliance, a force formed from two conservative parties For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and All for Latvia!. The main ideology of this party was to defend Latvian rights in Latvia and preserve the Latvian language.  In November 2010, they were excluded from the government now because of the growing support for nationalist ideas they also hoped to enter the government.

The election outcome and troubled government formation

The emergency elections took place in 16. September. As many expected or feared the Harmony Center won by 26%. Zatlers Reform Party came second, Unity third and National Union fourth. The Green Farmers were the last to score above 5% barrier.

By the tradition the wining party should form the new government coalition. But the scored majority of the Harmony Center was not so great to make free moves so they had to relay on support from Latvian parties. And the movement to keep Harmony Center into opposition was stronger than ever. The leader of Harmony Center Nils Ušakovs made many concessions, first he recognized the occupation of Latvia at NATO meeting before the election night. The party that for years was denying that Latvia was occupied in 1940, by Soviet Union no came out with slogan: “There was an occupation, but there are no occupants!”, and asked to include this phrase in new governmental declaration. This phrase actually means that thousands of Soviet immigrants and occupation force members who still live in Latvia are not accountable for the actions of the Soviet Union and are legalized to live her further without worry. Such position made a lot of opposition against Harmony Center to taken in government.

 However, Valdis Zatlers threw a rock in to the pound, when he issued that Harmony Center must be taken in government. He made this decision in middle of the night, and angered people even more when he said this decision can only be changed with use of tanks. The analogy with 17, June 1940, when Soviet tanks rolled into Riga was bad for Zatlers and suddenly the peoples hero who dismissed the parliament became the national traitor in the eyes of many.

Two other contestants for the government the Unity and National Alliance allied against Zatlers, and forced him to make government without Harmony Center. In the end Valdis Dombrovskis kept his prime minister seat and the Latvian right-wing government was formed. Zatlers however got double shot in the feet in the very first day of the parliament session. He was again turned down by the parliament when his bid to take parliament speaker seat failed. Solvita Āboltiņa kept her parliament speaker seat. If that was not enough, six deputies from Zatlers party fraction left his party putting the coalition to a danger. Zatlers was speaking about traitors and worms, but Dombrovskis arranged deal with the six independent deputies to support the government.

The start of the national confrontation

The decision not to take Harmony Center into government started a large stir within the Russian population. The leader of the party Jānis Urbanovičs again threatened to use a “non – parliamentary activities” to enter the government. Russians hold a 28% of the population along with other minorities that mostly speak Russian. Why the Harmony Center was not taken into government? The very first answer that the Harmony Center have large disagreements with many Latvian parties and their ideology is against the interests of the Latvian state. They were against many economical policies, they wanted to cancel the deal with International Monetary Fund and wanted more cooperation with Russia. In national issues they wanted more rights for Russian language and they always questioned the historical issues of Latvia. If that was not enough they have signed a cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin party United Russia and China Communist Party. Many sources state that the party is financed by the Kremlin.

 These events made Russian national radicals to organize a referendum for Russian language as the second official language.  The leader of this movement is the member of Russian neobolshevik  party Vladimir Linderman who was in past accused of terrorist activities and was deported from Russia. The idea of the referendum first came out in spring, when Linderman issued the petition for the referendum as the answer to National Alliance  petition signing to give lessons only in Latvian in schools. The National Alliance was intending to put the end to state funded Russian schools that still work in Latvia. That could be good move to end self-imposed school segregation in Latvia. While many Russians came to study in Latvian schools, many stays in Russian school and most probably finish them with bad Latvian language skills.  The petition failed as they failed to gather the required number of sing- ins for the referendum. Latvian population did not saw the issue important enough.

However, the Russian initiative was more successful since the question of Russian language as the official language was important for many nationalistic minded Russians. People who support this motion, are nostalgic for Soviet times, when Russian language was the main language and many were free from using Latvian. Many of them see Russia as their homeland. Others simply vote to protest against the existing state order that associate with Latvians and Europe. In so the referendum will take place in 18, February 2012. The prognosis of the outcome shows that the  motion will fail. To make such important change in the  constitution more than 60% of voters must vote yes. And this more than Harmony Center gathered in the elections. Russian speakers cannot gather more votes than the actually live in Latvia. And not all Russian speakers will vote for the motion. Meanwhile Latvian parties have asked all Latvians to take part in the referendum and vote no, to show Latvian unity.

The referendum issue sparks interesting question of what will be the future of the Harmony Center? At first Harmony Center was against the referendum, but actually it was secretly supporting it from the start. Then after staying in opposition the major of Riga and the leader of the party Nils Ušakovs singed for the referendum. To explained that he voted because of his conscience, but he was still in favor of one state language. Then other members of the Harmony Center also took part. In seems that Harmony Center took part in risky game to keep their voter sympathy. To enter the government they gave a lot of their demands and even recognized the occupation, but still remained in opposition. To rehabilitate themselves to Russian voters they again turned to national moves. Also it was important for Ušakovs to keep enough support to win in Riga Municipal elections, because the municipality has financial problems and their allies from Šlesers party have failed. But, by this move the Harmony Center has alienated the Latvian voters and made even better arguments for Latvian parties not include the Harmony Center into government.

Many liberals blame Latvian parties and Latvian nationalists for this situation. They say if the Harmony Center would be given a chance to take part into the parliament no referendum would not took place. Others blame National Alliance for their proposed referendum that provoked Russian radicals. But, in reality that is not the case. The petition would have happened even if Harmony Center would be in the government. That also would give good boost to gather necessary sing-ins. Also similar schemes happened in Ukraine and South Ossetia  where there no Latvian nationalists. The Linderman’s referendum is part of global politics of the Russian Federation to stir up Russians in the neighboring countries in the wake of the presidential elections.

More financial and economic troubles

At the end of the year the IMF mission in Latvia was finished. Latvia no more had to take more loans from IMF and organize the budget according to IMF demands. But, before it Latvia faced crisis in Air line and Bank sector. Latvian national Air Line Air Baltic nearly crushed, if had not be saved by the government and bank Latvijas Krājbanka went bankrupt because of forgery made by its owners.

Air Baltic was suffering from spending deficit already in 2011. At that time it was led by German businessman Bertold Flik  who got himself involved in corruption and conflicts with the government. After Minister of the economy Artis Kampars warned about possible bankruptcy of the airline, Fliks in fear from the anti-corruption service moved to Germany. Then later the government removed Fliks from office. After bank crush in Lithuania, whole Air Baltic was nationalized because Lithuanian Snoras bank had large share of Air Baltic stock actions.

Next big hit was in November, when the Lithuanian government nationalized the Snoras bank owned by Russian banker Vladimir Antonov. He and his associates was accused of looting the bank resources. The Snoras bank was in control of Latvian based Latvijas Krājbanka. Few days after the events in Lithuania the Latvian Financial Capital Trade commission came to conclusion that also  about 100 millions of Lats had been looted from Latvijas Krājbanka also. So also the Latvijas Krājbanka went bankrupt. Many thousand people had problems with their bank accounts and pensions. In rural areas where there was only one Latvijas Krājbanka ATM problems were severe.

In December, a rumors on social circles, Twitter, Draugiem Lv, spread out that also Swedish Swedbank has problems. That lead to bank customer panic and in one night more than 20 million of Lats were taken out by panicked customers. Soon it was clear that the rumors were spread out in purpose. No actual Swedbank problems were known and this was an intended scheme to make loss for Swedbank and Latvian economy. The Latvian security police has stated that the perpetrators may come from foreign country.

These were the main political and economical events in Latvia in 2011. It was the time of new political crisis, ethnic division and financial problems.  The next year will no be no less intense. As the astrologers say the 2011 and 2012 is the time of increased solar activity so its time of worldwide changes. Plus 2012. will be the year of the dragoon. Last time when I wrote report about Latvia in 2010, I expressed hope that this year would be much peaceful and wiser than the last. It however turned that the year 2011 was the year of troubles for whole the world. Next year will be the year of changes and I wish the Latvian people to be strong enough to survive these changes.

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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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