Links

Commission for Racial Equality

Publisher of Catalyst Magazine, the CRE works to create a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued.

openDemocracy

Independent political discussion and debate based on exchange and participation.

Prospect Magazine

A political magazine, Prospect also includes features on arts and culture, science, economics, history, social affairs and philosophy.

Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust promotes a successful multi-ethnic Britain.

Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations is a race relations thinktank.

EUMC

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social policy research and development.

For more links, see our new links page.

Search Catalyst

Search For:


Promote Catalyst

If you are able to promote Catalyst in your workplace, university etc, please download our poster, a pdf which can be printed at A4 or A3 size.

Small print

Contributor and illustrator information

Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

rss logo | What is RSS?

This page was last updated on 10/04/2007 11:47:35

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo

 

Baltic breeze
05 April 2007

Tram in Riga

Julius Honnor goes to the highly charged launch of a short Russian film about the ethnic divide in Latvia

The wind blowing through the launch of Elena Michajlowska’s short film was more a gale than a breeze, with tensions high and little sense of a middle ground between seemingly implacable ethnic groups.

Many families have been in the country for generations call it home, and have nowhere to ‘return to’ in Russia

An ex-Soviet state on the shores of the Baltic, Latvia has a population of 2.3 million, of whom around 60 per cent are ethnic Latvians and about 30 per cent are Russian speakers. Many of the Russians came (or were sent) to live there when it was a part of the Soviet Union. Many families have been in the country for generations (some for as much as 300 years), call it home, and have nowhere to ‘return to’ in Russia.

Many ethnic Russians, regardless of how long they’ve lived in Latvia, do not have citizenship – they have no vote and are given only ‘alien of Latvia’ passports, coloured purple in order to tell them apart from Latvians. They are seen by many Latvians as still being occupiers: ‘You are not citizens of the second sort, you are nobody,’ says Visvaldis Lacis, Latvian MP.

Ruled over the centuries by Swedes, Germans, Poles and Russians, Latvia has spent very little of its history as an independent country. Which may in part explain an enthusiasm to exert what seems, to British eyes, a narrow form of national identity.

At Pushkin House in Bloomsbury, people gathered for the launch of Michajlowska’s film and for a debate between some of its protagonists. Two are drawn from the extremes of the debate, with one centrist representative: Liene Apine (Latvian National Front), Raimond Krumgold (Latvian National Bolshevik), and Svetlana Savitskaya (Party of Unity) are Latvia’s young politicians, but the problems they are occupied with are age-old.

Much history in Latvia seems to still be very raw. A large part of the film focuses on an annual commemoration, in which Latvian veterans of the Waffen SS march through the streets of Riga. They are held up as heroes by many Latvians because they fought alongside the Germans in the Second World War against their Russian neighbours. At the same time, however, there is strong opposition to the glorification of Nazism. Many of these divisions are along ethnic lines, and when the two sides clash in a central square, each calls the other ‘fascists’, and aggressive insults fly. The veterans sing about a ‘deadly battle against the red plague’.

Latvia is a place where the only rights are for Latvians

Liene Apine says that ‘there is no place for [ethnic Russians] in Latvia. Latvia is a place where the only rights are for Latvians.’ This way of thinking, which seems fairly common in Latvia, leaves little room for manoeuvre for ethnic Russians in the country. Apine goes as far as to call for forced repatriation of Russian speakers, but Raimond Krumgold says that this would be the equivalent to forcing all English-speaking people out of Wales.

The debate continues along these lines – Svetlana Savitskaya calls for compromise, but there is none of the talk of integration or multiculturalism that tends to dominate other, similar debates in Britain. Her solution to the problems raised in the film about the veterans’ commemoration is that ‘we should not celebrate dates that split the nation in two halves’. At best there is talk of tolerance, but what comes across is a lack of understanding and acceptance, and little sense of any kind of shared notion of culture or identity.

The Latvian debate may have a long time still to run.

Julius Honnor is web editor for Catalyst.

Baltic Breeze will be available to rent from www.conferfilmz.com at the end of the summer. The trailer can be seen or downloaded at the same website.

5 Comments
Authors dont know anything about Latvia except Soviet (or now Russian imperialistic) propoganda.

Look at least here:
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9645274

"This was not about ethnicity: Russians who lived in Estonia before the occupation (then around 10% of the population) and their descendants regained citizenship automatically.?

That about 300 years or "Many ethnic Russians, regardless of how long they’ve lived in Latvia, do not have citizenship"
-
everbody whose descendants had citizenship (in 1940), regained it automatically. In reality those who dont have citizenship usually have lived around 30years. And they remember very well from where they came to Latvia and how. In addition Russia has taken over obligations of Soviet Union and anybody who had soviet citizenship can get Russia citizenship just by applying. And many russians in latvia has russian citizenship.

And finally it is quite honest if russian person doesnot know latvian lives here 30 years takes russian citizenship instead of latvian.


baltcs
25 August 2007


Glad to hear that this issue is being given attention. It is a real issue, affecting real people.

A large majority of ethnic Russians are not in Latvia by choice, but were sent to work there during the Soviet era and remained after the collapse of the USSR. It is a real shame that Latvian nationalism seems to be blinding the reality that the majority of these elderly ethnic Russian are document-less (i.e. with no passport and therefore have no freedom of movement). How can the Latvian government expect elderly ethnic Russian to learn an entirely new language and destroy anything relating to their identity? It suggests to me a serious lack of tolerance...

Antoine
18 April 2007


Thanks for your answer!
Ofcourse latvians are not united in many questions and our curent culture is one of them. A lot of latvians have very good friends among russians and other nationalities as well. All we need is some unity and perhups a stronger point of view of the government and different organizations. And ofcourse - understanding. i hope that this film will shed some positive light on this issue.

Kristine
11 April 2007


Thank you for your comment Kristine. There are many aspects of the Latvian debate that I did not cover here - it's an immensely complex subject. The influences of recent and not-so-recent histories make it hard to sum up in a short article, which was in any case supposed to be primarily about a short film rather than the wider problems of the country.

I take your point about respecting the culture of the country you live in. But it seems that the crux of the issue is defining what this culture is. And therein lies a difficult debate.

The film (Baltic Breeze) does not try to come to any conclusions about these issues, but it is an interesting look at the backdrop and at some of the exponents of the debate.

Julius Honnor
10 April 2007


Patriotic point of view:
It is sad that in this article some other facts were omitted. For example, about Russian students protesting against the implementation of 'the general subjects taught in the Latvian language' in Russian schools. If there IS a respect for the country you live in, then the most obvious way how to prove it, is to KNOW the language AND the culture. Unfortunately that was the thing they were protesting against, so draw your own conclusions.
Secondly, the only obstacle for having a "normal" passport in blue colour and citizenship of Latvia is the naturalization process or in other words - exam in the Latvian language. I just don't see any diffuculty in passing it successfully after living here for a long time "some for as much as 300 years"...

Kristine
06 April 2007


Leave a Comment
Name (required)
Email Address (never displayed)
Please type the following numbers for securityCaptcha Test Image
Enter a message

Please keep comments as succinct as possible. There is a technical limit of 5,000 characters (around 750 words) but keeping responses considerably shorter than this is generally a good idea.

We reserve the right to edit comments for both length and content.

Links

Counterfilmz: Read about Baltic Breeze or watch or download the trailer


International: all Catalyst content relating to international issues.


Commission for Racial Equality

Publisher of Catalyst Magazine, the CRE works to create a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued.

openDemocracy

Independent political discussion and debate based on exchange and participation.

Prospect Magazine

A political magazine, Prospect also includes features on arts and culture, science, economics, history, social affairs and philosophy.

Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust promotes a successful multi-ethnic Britain.

Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations is a race relations thinktank.

EUMC

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social policy research and development.

For more links, see our new links page.

Search Catalyst

Search For:


Promote Catalyst

If you are able to promote Catalyst in your workplace, university etc, please download our poster, a pdf which can be printed at A4 or A3 size.

Small print

Contributor and illustrator information

Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

rss logo | What is RSS?

This page was last updated on 10/04/2007 11:47:35

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo