“Latvia’s Tensions With Russians at Home Persist in Shadow of Ukraine Conflict”
The New York Times, August 24, 2014, p.A10
“History has bequeathed this Baltic port capital [Riga, Latvia] much beauty, captured in elegant Art Nouveau buildings or the Gothic church steeples that stud the windswept skyline. But it has also left a nasty ethnic rift that has persisted despite Latvia’s absorption into NATO, the European Union and the euro currency, and which has now deepened with the crisis in Ukraine. In this nation of two million, about one-third of the residents speak only or primarily Russian. Many — but not all — are people whose families arrived during the decades of Soviet rule here. Ever since Latvia declared independence in 1991, many of these Russian speakers have been in limbo, as noncitizens squeezed out of political life, largely unable to vote, hold office or even serve in the fire brigade. Those who refuse to acquire proficient skill speaking Latvian do not get citizenship. In the coming October elections, unless the government decides to issue special voting cards, about 283,000 will, once again, not cast ballots. … Latvian politicians who defend the status quo portray it as the natural outcome of the Soviet period, when the ethnic Latvian population here dwindled dangerously close to 50 percent after deportations of Latvians to Siberia before and after Nazi occupation, and an influx arrived from other parts of the Soviet Union. In 1991, citizenship was automatically granted to those who had held citizenship before 1940 — the start of Soviet occupation — and their descendants, including many who fled abroad in the chaos during and after World War II. … That is beside the point for ethnic Russians living in Latvia like Lyudmila, 56, a flower seller and mother of six who declined to give her last name. ‘I was born here, but I’m not a citizen. I studied Russian, and you have to go and get that naturalization. I am not going to beg,’ she said. ‘I do feel at home here, but there is some kind of process of differentiation, and it is offensive.'”
Quickie Analysis: A nice portrait of the ethnic dynamics of Latvia.