Thursday, September 26, 2013

Attributing the blame

It is the Latvian citizenship policy that is most commonly blamed for the ethnic-related problems in the country. This may be done explicitly or implicitly. Pabriks (1999) seems to be the most direct and the most critical in this respect:
the ethno-political strategy (…) officially affirmed the division of Latvia’s population into two groups (p. 155)
the law institutionalized long lasting differences in the legal status of different population groups in Latvia without providing them with a real possibility of joining the citizenry even if they should become integrated in the membership association (p. 160)
the ethnic policy has failed to provide the stability required for state security reasons (p. 161)
the authorities have failed to make any progress in creating a nation with common territory, a common public culture, and a unified legal code of common rights and duties (p. 163)
Latvian post-independence legislation has not tried to accept the post-war immigrants and their descendants as equal members of the Latvian community (…) The Latvian authorities granted the post-war immigrants the right to remain in Latvia, but they denied them the right to join Latvian society, and thus created a group of vulnerable subjects unable to articulate and defend their interests in the political process (164).
What is interesting from the point of view of textual analysis is the consistent, almost absolute use of active constructions (underlined fragments). Such abstract entities as legislation, law, strategy and policy are given the capability of taking action, becoming actors. This is not done in order to obscure the responsibility of actual actors standing behind those strategies and policies, as they are mentioned repeatedly in Pabriks’ contribution as well (the (Latvian) authorities). Rather, the active voice is meant to indicate that the situation described is a result of a conscious choice, an affirmative action; this, in turn, implies that other choices or actions were also possible and that not choosing them was a deliberate and informed decision.
The following fragment, by contrast, contains a passive construction (underlined):
many Soviet-era immigrants and their descendants were left outside the Latvian citizenry for the next five to ten years without any possibility of joining the legal community (p. 144)
Using the passive voice in relation to immigrants and their descendants presents them not as actors, but rather objects of action. All these examples considered in conjunction suggest attributing responsibility to Latvian authorities and positioning immigrants as victims of their semi-democratic procedures conceptualized as a form of oppression (Pabriks’ (1999) own formulations, p. 164).
The attribution of blame can also be less direct. For example, Paul Kolstoe’s statement that “animosity and mutual distrust between the Russians and the titular nations in Latvia and Estonia (…) reached appalling levels”, quoted in point 3) above, immediately follows the claim that the “issue of political right has been extremely controversial (…). Post-war immigrants, mostly Russians and other russophones, have had to earn their citizenship which other permanent residents have been granted automatically”[1]. Such a placement of the two statements implies a cause-and-effect relationship between them without making it explicit. What is more, the second sentence misleadingly indicates that the Latvian citizenship law was based on the principle of ethnic affiliation (underlined fragment). The following fragment by Galbreath (2005) seems to convey a similar meaning in a much more balanced manner:
the Latvian citizenry was defined by the criteria of ‘who was here first?’, rather than either a civic or ethnic definition. The result however, combined with nation-building policies, resembled an ethnic definition. (p. 174)
Yet another approach is offered by Jubulis (2001), who, interestingly enough, manages to describe the division of Latvian society mentioned by Pabriks without actually referring to its ethnic nature:
Although Latvia’s citizenship policy created a new means of categorizing the population (Latvian citizens, non-citizens, and Russian citizens), this outcome reflected existing divisions in society (those loyal to Latvia, those unsure of their political identity, and those hostile to the idea of an independent Latvia) (p. 154).
Thus, what “resembles an ethnic definition” for Galbreath “reflects the existing divisions” in terms of loyalty to the Latvian state for Jubulis. This allows him to define Latvian “political nation” as
a community of citizens, irrespective of ethnicity. Those who were excluded came as immigrants during the Soviet era and did not share the common historical experiences and memories of those who were citizens of the Republic of Latvia (p. 137).
In this fragment, Jubulis refers to the commonly agreed-upon criteria of national identity (e.g. a myth of common ancestry, shared historical memories, differentiating elements of common culture, solidarity[2]). It seems to suggest that non-citizens were excluded not on ethnic grounds, but because they were somehow “defective”, unfit to carry out citizens’ roles.
What is important, the metaphor of being “defective, unfit, faulty, lacking” is quite frequent in the examined publications. Some of them construct only one of the two sides as defective – e.g. minorities in the case of Jubulis (2001) or Latvia/Latvians in the case of Pabriks (1999), as the following examples seem to suggest:
Latvians lack the political culture that is meant to support the integration and naturalization of foreigners (p. 166)
liberal democracy and laws adopted in accordance with this world view are far from deeply rooted in Latvia (p. 167)
In this respect, a somewhat contradictory picture is drawn by Agarin (2010). Latvia’s “small nation complex” (p. 102) on the one hand (which could be interpreted as a defect on Latvia’s side) is coupled with dominance of the titular group and its aspiration to be the true master in the country (which could indicate lacking something by the “Russian side”) on the other:
The dominance of the titular, state-bearing ethnic groups in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia over the increasingly fragmented non-titular communities allowed minorities few other options besides adaptation to the new situation (p. 99)
Many scholars[3] point out that the titular nationals had aspired to become “the true masters of their own country”, nothing more, nothing less[4]. (p. 107-108)
Note how the fragment in bold makes minorities appear reduced to a reactionary function, rather than being a fully-fledged, self-determined actor, similarly to Pabriks’ (1999) active-voice formulas analyzed above.
The next quote seems to be Agarin’s (2010) solution to the apparent contradiction suggested above:
The discussions around the implementation of the Citizenship Law clearly indicate that “affirmative action of Latvians to compensate them for the discrimination they have experienced in their own country” was the rhetorical lead behind major decisions and the resistance of Latvian political elites to ease the requirements for citizenship. (p. 102)
What this quote seems to imply is that the Latvian state acts “out of revenge”, punishing its Russian minority for what has been done to Latvians during Soviet times. This suggests that Latvia’s behaviour is unfair and unjust, as the Russian minority cannot be made responsible for the actions of the Soviet authorities. At the same time the fragment heralds another issue that shall be analyzed in the next section – that of the reasons behind Latvian citizenship policies.
First, however, let us devote some attention to the structure of the fragment. The claim here is embedded in a quote, i.e. it is positioned as something someone else said. This is a common discursive strategy of presenting potentially controversial claims, examined further in the paper. More significantly, the formulation discussions (…) clearly indicate leads to believe that the claim is an end result of a debate, thus arrived at after listening to all participants, taking all voices into account, working out some kind of compromise. But a look at the source reference provided by Agarin makes it clear that the quote is just one voice, coming from one side of the discussion[5]. Such a misleading formulation may be an honest mistake or a deliberate misrepresentation of reality.

*part of the project “Discourse-historical analysis of the press discourse on ethnic conflict in Latvia” carried out at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany, in January-February 2013. For full bibliography, see here.

[1] Kolstoe 1995: 106.
[2] Smith 1991.
[3] Here Agarin quotes 3 sources: Smith 1996, Pettai and Hallik 2002; Smooha and Järve 2005: 71-72. Agarin 2010: 129, note 24.
[4] Exactly the same utterance is also quoted in Mole 2012: “The strong, symbiotic relationship between people and territory was evident from the opening words of the Latvian congress in Riga: ‘We want to be masters in our own land. We want to draft our own laws. We do not want to ask for what is rightfully ours. It is our country’.” (p. 86) Mole calls this argument ‘historical continuity’ in the framework of anti-Soviet discourse, which corresponds to Galbreath’s (2005) formulation ‘who was here first?’ cited above.
[5] Georgs Andrejevs, in February 1993 Latvia’s Foreign Minister on Citizenship Issue. Cited after Antane and Tsilevich, 1999, p. 105. Agarin 2010: 128, note 3.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Twenty years of research on the Latvian nation-(re)building project: an attempt at comparative discourse analysis

In this and a few following posts, I will show some examples of applying a comparative perspective to discourse analysis in a case study of textbooks on the Latvian nation building (or, as some authors prefer, re-building). The study was conducted during my scholarship at the Herder Institute in January-February 2013. I analyzed the following books:

Ābols, G. 2003. The contribution of history to Latvian identity. Rīga: Nacionālais apgāds

Agarin, T. 2010. A cat’s lick: democratisation and minority communities in the post-Soviet Baltic. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi

Apine, I., V. Volkovs. 2007. Latvijas krievu identitāte: vēsturisks un socioloģisks apcerējums. Rīga: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts

Commercio, M.E. 2010. Russian Minority Politics in Post-Soviet Latvia and Kyrgyzstan. The Transformative Power of Informal Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Dribins, L. (ed.) 2007. Pretestība sabiedrības integrācijai: cēloņi un sekas. Rīga: Latvijas universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts

Galbreath, D.J. 2005. Nation-building and minority politics in post-socialist states. Interests, influences and identities in Estonia and Latvia. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag

Jubulis, M.A. 2001. Nationalism and democratic transition: the politics of citizenship and language in post-Soviet Latvia. Lanham, New York, Oxford: University Press of America

Kolstoe, P. 1995. Russians in the former Soviet republics. London: Hurst & Company

Lindqvist, B. 2003. "An arena for contested identities. National identity and ethnic diversity at Latvian schools". In: Lindqvist, M. (ed.) Re-inventing the nation. Multidisciplinary perspectives on the construction of Latvian national identity. 293.-350.

Mole, R.C. 2012. The Baltic States from the Soviet Union to the European Union. Identity, discourse and power in the post-communist transition of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. London: Routledge

Pabriks, A. 1999. From nationalism to ethnic policy: the Latvian nation in the present and in the past. Berlin: BIAB

Silova, I. 2006. From sites of occupation to symbols of multiculturalism. Reconceptualizing minority education in post-Soviet Latvia. Greenwich: Information Age Publishing

Stukuls Eglitis, D. 2002. Imagining the Nation. History, modernity, and revolution in Latvia. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press

Tabuns, A. (ed.) 2001. National, state and regime identity in Latvia. Rīga: Baltic Study Centre

In the Foreword to Timofey Agarin’s book on democratization and minority communities in the Baltic States published in 2010, David J. Galbreath wrote: “Several years ago, a Russian said to me (…), ‘is there anything more to say about Russians in the Baltic States?’” (Galbreath’s own, truly significant contribution – Nation-building and minority politics in post-socialist states: interests, influences and identities in Estonia and Latvia – came to light five years earlier, in 2005). Indeed, over the last two decades the field of humanities has been virtually saturated with publications concerning the more or less broadly defined issue of “Russians” or “Russian-speakers”, “national” or “ethnic” minorities in Latvia and other post-Soviet countries. The titles of most of these publications carry buzzwords which reflect the development of social, cultural and political studies and their points of interest: from transition, transformation, path to democracy and nation-building in the 1990s (for example, Lieven 1993, Dreifelds 1996, Pabriks 1999), through the focus on construction, negotiation and maintenance of identities at the outset of the 2000s (e.g. Tabuns (ed.) 2001, Ābols 2003, Lindqvist (ed.) 2003), to the international relations in the context of Latvia’s accession to the European Union (for instance, Berg (ed.) 2009, Muižnieks 2011) and the “trendy” catchwords of discourse and power in the most recent contributions (e.g. Golubeva & Gould (eds.) 2010, Mole 2012). An example of how titles of publications reflect the current developments and changes of trends in the humanities is provided by the two books written by Apine and Volkovs (in Latvian). In contrast to their 1998 contribution on the “ethnic history” of Slavs in Latvia (Slāvi Latvijā: etniskās vēstures apcerējums), their book on Latvian Russians which came out in 2007, and which they claim to be a continuation of the former one, has the word “identity” in its title (Latvijas krievu identitāte: vēsturisks un socioloģisks apcerējums).
Of course, the title does not always reveal exactly what a book is about. Titles may even be misleading. For example, the book Contribution of History to Latvian Identity by G. Ābols (2003) is not a study on the historical construction of Latvian identity (i.e., how it has been shaped by historical events and circumstances), but rather an account of those turning points in history that may have affected the contemporary Latvian identity. It is then, basically, simply a history book – despite the author’s statement that it is not “a manual of history”[1]. True, the book does focus on cultural rather than political history, and contains a lot of anecdotes which make it feel more like a history of people, their traditions, customs and everyday lives, than a history of political leaders, facts and dates. However, most references to facts that could be relevant for the issue of identity construction (for example, “the tradition of eating meals in the presence of the deceased by the family members” – i.e., the so-called cemetery festival[2] – being associated with the ancient Baltic relationship to the dead) are not marked as such and need to be recognized by the reader him/herself.
Most of the books examined contain a part devoted to Latvia’s history; these parts differ both in length (which determines how detailed the account may be) and the temporal perspective – i.e., which event in the history of the present Latvian territory marks the point of departure for the description. In terms of both, the broadest viewpoint has been adopted by Landqvist and his colleagues (2003) – the entire volume is organized according to the chronological principle, reaching back to the 12th century. In most cases, the historical part only relates to problems and issues that are in the focus of a publication; for example, Silova (2006) describes education policies of pre-war Latvia (1918-1939), Latvia as a part of the Soviet Union (1940-1985) and during the perestroika period (1986-1991), while Apine & Volkovs (2007) focus on the history of the presence of ethnic Russians on the territory. It seems that  publications which discuss Latvia’s politics and policies tend not to include a historical part (e.g. Agarin 2010) or include a very short one (e.g. Galbreath 2005), while the publications which discuss the formation or construction of identities (in a broad understanding of the term) tend to have one, even if starting only around the 18th century, with the birth of some kind of sense of belonging to a Latvian nation (e.g. Jubulis 2001, Tabuns (ed.) 2001).

Voice from the inside or voice from the outside?
In order to see whether the perspectives adopted by authors of the selected publications follow their ethnic affiliations, short reference to their self-declared national identities should be made. As a side note, it may be interesting to see which authors find it important to include such information in their contributions.
Most authors (Commercio, Galbreath, Jubulis, Mole, Silova) choose not to disclose information of their own ethnicity in the foreword or introduction to their publication, even if some of them tend to assume quite a personal tone. In the narrative on the origin of the text, however, they usually mention the academic institutions they have come from or belong to, and the institutions that have supported their research in Latvia, suggesting that they represent “a voice from the outside” (Galbreath and Mole – from the UK, Commercio, Jubulis and Silova – from the USA). This solution has been chosen partly also by Daina Stukuls-Eglitis; she does not mention her Latvian roots in any way, but lets the reader deduct them from the very Latvian-sounding names of her relatives (mother Silvia Kalniņš Stukuls, father Edward Stukuls, grandmother Nellija Kalniņš, in-laws in Riga Mirdza and Laimonis Eglītis, children Niklāvs and Anna). In a similar vein, yet to a lesser extent, Laitin reveals that his grandmother – Jewish and born not far away from Kiev – “aspired to become Russian”, thus adding dimensionality to his American identity.
Authors of the volume edited by Tabuns (Tabuns, Broks, Tabuna, Tisenkopfs) do not refer to their national identities either; in the part entitled “Acknowledgements”, however, they mention the Latvian institutions that they have cooperated with, suggesting that they provide “a voice from the inside”. Agarin is the only author who mentions his nationality directly; he identifies himself as a Russian whose parents were “Soviet labour migrants”[3] – but not to the Baltic republics, which he got to know only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, he provides “a Russian voice from the outside”. While Apine, Volkovs and the authors of contributions to the volume edited by Dribins (or, in other words, authors of the two books in Latvian used in this study) do not provide information on their nationality, we may assume they represent “a voice from inside” – be it a Latvian or non-Latvian voice. 

*part of the project “Discourse-historical analysis of the press discourse on ethnic conflict in Latvia” carried out at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany, in January-February 2013. For full bibliography, see here.

[1] Ābols 2003: 7.
[2] Kapu svētki, Ābols 2003: 43.
[3] Agarin 2010: vii.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reasons of ethnic conflict in Latvia

Reasons for ethnic conflict in Latvia, found in the literature:
- “manipulative activities” by political actors (Šņitņikovs 2007: 11);
- heritage from the Soviet times (two separate societies),
- pressure on satisfying interests of a Latvian state,
- unsuccessful implementation of policies and influence of the media (Apine 2007: 24);
- conservative ethno-policy, lack of use of Russian intellectual potential (Apine 2007: 38-39);
- low assessment of Latvian citizenship (Vēbers 2007: 131);
- atmosphere of hate and hopelessness,
- extensive social stratification,
- separation from the state, lack of understanding of social and political processes,
- radical nationalism,
- increasing extremism,
- political manipulation and provocation (Vēbers 2007: 127-128).

Theories listed by Kolstoe (1995: 135-138):
  1. The simplistic explanation is that ethnic groups inevitably clash whenever they are not prevented from doing so by ulterior forces (for instance, by a totalitarian regime). (…) At the same time, there is also considerable evidence pointing in the opposite direction. Many Balts claim that cordial cross-cultural relations at the neighbourhood level continued to exist in both Latvia and Estonia, despite the ever greater tension on the political level. Obviously, many politicians in the Baltics, as well as in other parts of the former Soviet Union, have managed to secure their political future by playing on the ethnic issue. (…)
  2. The extremely rapid demographic changes in Latvia and Estonia have clearly contributed to the hardening of ethnic fronts by causing a situation in which two population groups have been living side by side with minimal contact and understanding. (…) The official position in both countries, however, has invariably been that this problem will be overcome by integrating most of the migrants into Estonian and Latvian society and not by expelling them. However, it is not always easy to see how the means employed by the Baltic state authorities will lead to that aim.
  3. The fact that Estonia and Latvia were independent states between the World Wars has enabled the question of granting or refusing franchise to postwar immigrants to be presented as a legal-historical issue rather than an ethnic one. (…) The fact that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states in 1940 was (with a few exceptions) unrecognised by the international community strongly reinforces the legal argument. As a rule, the citizenship issue has been treated in the Estonian and Latvian legislatures as a strictly constitutional matter in which references to the ethnic dimension are scrupulously avoided. (…)
  4. The unsavoury activities of the interfronts, the Communist parties and their satellite organizations during the Baltic struggle for independence created much bad blood between the ethnic groups. Many Balts find it hard to accept that people who have tried to deny basic rights to others should now be entitled to such rights themselves. Still, under international law, they are so entitled.
  5. The crucial drift of some centrist Baltic politicians towards more nationalistic positions after independence may be explained in three ways: as a reaction against provocations from the Russian community; as a Machiavellian ploy (conciliatory statements never having been seriously meant); or as a strategy to hold on to the political initiative when the electorate was abandoning them in favour of the national radicals. For lack of evidence in support of the two first theories, the third seems more plausible.
  6. (…) high language barrier between the different ethnic groups fosters both mistrust and increased polarization. Only a fraction of the articles written in Estonian and Latvian on the ethnic question are translated into Russian, and vice versa. Very often journalists try to boost the sales of their papers by translating the most inflammatory material, while calls for moderation are deemed too ‘boring’ to be printed.
  7. The involvement of the Russian state in Baltic affairs since independence has not been conducive to inter-ethnic harmony. (…) the linkage of troop withdrawal to human rights observance was not exactly what the Baltic Russians wanted.
  8. A leading Latvian intellectual has pointed to the pernicious and lasting influence of Bolshevik political culture on Baltic politics in order to explain the ethnic deadlock. This culture, often summarized in Lenin’s expression ‘Who [crushes] whom?’, thrives on confrontation rather than compromise. The point is well taken, and indicates that the problems currently faced in the Baltics may be the result more of those historical traditions and cultural traits which the indigenous and the Slavic population have in common than of those traits which separate them.

*part of the project “Discourse-historical analysis of the press discourse on ethnic conflict in Latvia” carried out at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany, in January-February 2013. For full bibliography, see here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ethnic policy of the USSR

Polian (2004) makes a distinction between repressive migrations (deportations) and non-repressive migrations; granted, he considers them all as “forced migrations”. His classification of these movements is adopted below:

A.            Repressive migrations (deportations):
I. on social grounds: decossackization, dekulakization, expulsion of nobility
II. on ethnic grounds: “political preparation of the theatre of war”, total deportations of “punished peoples”, compensatory deportations, imposed “pale of settlement”
III. on confessional grounds – entire confessions/clerics from various confessions
IV. on political grounds – members of banned organizations and parties, people’s enemies’ family members, socially unsafe elements, treaty repatriates, foreign nationals
V. prisoners of war – POWs, civilian internees
VI. prisoners – political (prisoners of conscience), criminals
B.            Non-repressive (“voluntary-compulsory”) migrations:
VII. planned resettlements and resettlements “on call”, e.g. as an effect of military, industrial, power production-related and other types of construction work; demobilized army service members
VIII.  evacuees (re-evacuees), refugees, volunteer repatriates – displaced by war, as a result of genocide, ethnic or confessional conflicts, natural disasters and environmental catastrophes
Figure 1. Classification of forced migrations (after Polian 2004: 44-45)

It seems to be of importance that while the deportations of Latvians to other republics clearly belong to the categories A. IV. and A. VI., also – A. III. and A. V., the immigration of Russians and other Slavs to the Latvian SSR belongs to the category B. VII. Even if both movements were in fact forced, the psychological effects on the Latvians that stayed in Latvia are not difficult to surmise. Both the departure of their loved ones and the arrival of foreigners – as if in order to “take their place” – must have caused opposition and aversion.
When analysing Russian migration to non-Russian republics, Kolstoe (1994) summarizes three possible causes for this movement mentioned in the literature. What is interesting, the cases of the Baltic states, including Latvia, seem to provide counter-arguments for all three hypotheses:
1)         the socio-economic hypothesis (e.g. Lewis, Rowland & Clem 1976) ascribes migration to the universal processes of modernization. Russians were moving to undeveloped regions in order to urbanize and modernize them. This argument cannot apply to Latvia and Estonia, which, upon entering the USSR, were more modernized than many other Soviet republics. It may be claimed, however, that the two states, while possessing highly trained and well-educated staff, did not have sufficient numbers of manual labour force. For this reason, Russians moving there were usually poorly educated, which in turn reduced their capability of learning the local languages and interest in the local cultures;
2)           the ethno-political hypothesis (e.g. Titma & Tuma 1992) implies the existence of either a deliberate plan to eradicate ethnic identities of all Soviet citizens in order to create a denationalized Soviet everyman, or a covert but tenacious russification strategy. The fact that Russians arriving in Latvia and Estonia formed rather isolated communities counters the former; the experience of Lithuania, where the Communist Party consisted mostly of ethnic Lithuanians (e.g. in Latvia it consisted of only 29.2% ethnic Latvians[1]) and where “local authorities managed to impose a considerable limit on immigration”[2] counters the latter;
3)           the security hypothesis: large numbers of Russians and other Slavs were sent to those republics in which the titular nation was considered unreliable by the Kremlin. This argument seems to apply to Latvia and Estonia, but fails to explain why a considerably smaller number of Russians was sent to Ukraine and Lithuania, where the resistance towards Sovietisation was just as high[3].
In relation to the second hypothesis it may be noted that, as Kolstoe suggests, Lenin truly believed in the idea of a denationalized Soviet man, in the eradication of any national consciousness, Russian included[4]. What is more, he understood that it was impossible to build Soviet power in the provinces on the support of local Russians only, so the development of local languages and education of local Russians were encouraged by Moscow. But by the time the Baltic states entered the USSR, it was led by Stalin, who supported Russian as a lingua franca and the Russian nation’s role of the ‘big brother’.
There are more differences between Latvia (and Lithuania and Estonia) and other non-Russian republics. It has been mentioned that the peak of Russian immigration to the Baltics – and to other republics, in fact – occurred at the end of the 1940s. In most republics, Russian immigration no longer played a significant role in the 1960s and 1970s. But the Baltics continued to experience it: 708,000 persons arrived after 1959[5]. What is more, while Latvians and Estonians – and Russians in other republics – noted a negative birth rate, the positive birth rate of Baltic Russians was caused by the fact that the Russians migrating there were much younger and many of them reached the reproductive age at that time[6]. They also seemed to have better conditions for starting a family. While 79% of families whose members had all immigrated to Latvia from other republics – and 68% of those who had lived in Latvia for less than five years – already lived in individual flats, only 57% of Latvian families and single Latvians lived in individual flats[7].
After the Union collapsed, while for example in Central Asia state authorities have made strenuous attempts to persuade the Russians to stay, Latvian and Estonian authorities were anxious to have them evicted[8].
*part of the project “Discourse-historical analysis of the press discourse on ethnic conflict in Latvia” carried out at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany, in January-February 2013. For full bibliography, see here.

[1] Ābols 2003: 245.
[2] Kolstoe 1995: 60.
[3] Kolstoe 1995: 53.
[4] Kolstoe 1995: 73.
[5] Bleiere et al. 2006: 418.
[6] Kolstoe 1995: 63-66.
[7] Bleiere et al. 2006: 421.
[8] Kolstoe 1995: 69.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ethnic situation in Latvia after 1991

Latvia has always claimed its accession to the Soviet Union as illegal. Thus, after regaining independence in 1991, it announced itself to be the successor of the first Republic of Latvia proclaimed in 1918. All the three Baltic countries did not proclaim their independence as new states, but resurrected and reconfirmed their former statehood[1]. This took place in accordance with the fact that the incorporation of Baltic States by the USSR was generally not recognized internationally.
Latvia consequently restored its pre-war Constitution, but at the same time opted for a new Citizenship Law. There was an intensive debate on the issue, concluded with the decision to introduce quite an exclusive policy, according to which automatic citizenship was granted to all those who had had the Latvian citizenship before the Soviet occupation in June 1940 and their descendants. At least 27% of the Latvian population were disenfranchised[2]. This led many authors to claim that instead of a democracy, Latvia was becoming an ethnocracy[3]. The policy was not, however, based on the ethnic affiliation but rather blood descent, and it was a legal consequence of restoring the pre-war statehood and its citizenry. In fact, some 30,000 to 40,000 ethnic Latvians who were not citizens did not obtain citizenship, while a total of 278,087 ethnic Russians, or 38.5% of all Russians in Latvia, were granted automatic citizenship[4].
The argument of renewing pre-war policies loses its validity if we take into account that in August 1919, Latvian citizenship was granted to all persons living permanently on Latvian territory before World War I[5] (inclusive citizenship policy). During the first Republic of Latvia, however, the conditions in terms of minority populations were very different. The minorities were not only smaller in number, but also much better integrated and loyal to the new state. Even though the territory of the present-day Republic of Latvia had always been inhabited by various ethnic groups – not only Latvians, but also a Finno-Ugric people – the Livs, Germans (starting in the 13th century), Jews and Poles (16th century), Belarusians and Russian old-believers (17th century) and orthodox Russians (18th century), the first Republic of Latvia, proclaimed on November 18, 1918, was clearly a nation-based state with Latvians constituting absolute majority (72.76%) and a Russian minority amounting to less than 10% of the population[6].
During – and as a result of – World War II, dramatic ethnographic changes took place. On June 16, 1940, the USSR issued an ultimatum to Latvia demanding entry of army units and removal of the authoritarian government. The ultimatum was accepted on the same day, starting the period of the first Soviet occupation of Latvia. But the “exodus of the Baltic Germans” had begun even earlier, in 1939. By spring 1940, “about 51,000 Germans left Latvia, mostly in German ships”; ca. 10,000 Germans remained. The second wave of German emigration took place in the first months of 1940, “and only about 1,500 Baltic Germans remained in Latvia”[7].
On July 21, the “People’s Parliament” elected in mock elections featuring a single list of candidates was established, and its first act was to adopt an illegal declaration of accepting annexation and incorporation by the USSR[8]. A common feature of this “annexation and incorporation” of various nation states by the USSR in 1940-1941 was the operation of mass deportations. In June 1941, such an operation was launched in Western Ukraine, Moldavia, Estonia, Latvia (15,000 deportees), Lithuania and Western Belarus. The deportations were aimed at “anti-Soviet, criminal and socially dangerous elements (…), members of various nationalistic parties, police members, gendarmes, land proprietors, industrialists, high officials, officers and criminals involved in anti-Soviet activities and employed by foreign intelligence services for spying”[9].
16,940 males and 25,193 females were deported in another action of March 25-29, 1949[10].
With most Germans and many Latvians gone – and with the Jewish and Roma populations eradicated almost completely – the Russian migration into Latvia (as into all other annexed countries) began, “and soon attained considerable proportions. About 400,000 Russians and 100,000 other immigrants arrived in Latvia between 1945 and 1959. The peak period is believed to be 1947-9”[11].
World War II had a catastrophic effect on the ethnography of Latvia. The repatriation of Germans and exterminations of Jews eradicated the two ethnic groups that had played an important role in Latvia’s economy and culture before the war. Due to war casualties, repressions and migrations, the number of ethnic Latvians could have dropped by 267,000 persons[12]; but the absolute population of Latvia increased due to the above-mentioned Russian immigration. It must also be highlighted that World War II, due to the massive loss of Latvian men at reproductive age, not only resulted in immediate decrease in the number of ethnic Latvians, but also affected their natural growth in following decades.
The following table summarizes the changes in population of various ethnic groups in Latvia between 1920 and 2000:

Table 1


Worth noting are especially the following changes:
- drastic decrease of the number of Latvians between 1943 and 1959, due to war casualties,deportations and Russian immigration;
-  drastic increase of the number of Russians between 1943 and 1959;
- the decrease in Belarusian population between 1920 and 1935 (many Belarusians stated Russian or Polish identity in the 1935 census[13]), and the increase between 1959 and 1970 due to immigration;
- drastic decrease of the number of Jews and Germans after 1943; let us be reminded that Jewish and German historical minorities were well integrated, well educated and played an important role in building the first Latvian state.

Jubulis[14] summarizes the population changes in Latvia and Riga between 1935 and 1989 in absolute numbers:
         1935-1989:                            LATVIA         RĪGA
         Latvians                                  -79,278        +89,203
         Russians                                  +737,249    +402,209
         Belarusians                            +92,899      +42,858
         Ukrainians                             +90,257       +38,955
         Jews                                         -70,473        -24,860
         Germans                                 -58,333        -37,469
         total (includes ‘others’)        +761,194    +525,392

The next table shows the change in proportion of ethnic Latvians in the biggest Latvian cities; the last column presents the proportion of Russian speakers in the respective cities after 1989:

Table 2

after: Etnosituācija Latvijā 1992: 4
after: Jubulis 2001: 159

Russian speakers in 1989
no data
no data

Sovietisation and Russification affected especially the ethnic minorities: in 1989 only 22.5% Jews, 27.1% Poles, 32.2% Belarusians, 34% Germans, 45.9% Ukrainians, 50.3% Estonians and 63.9% Lithuanians living in Latvia knew their nation’s mother tongue, and only 22.8% Poles, 27% Jews, 28.7% Estonians and 40.3% Lithuanians could communicate also in Latvian[15]. The fact that most non-Russian ethnic minorities in the Latvian SSR assumed a de-nationalized Soviet identity with Russian as a lingua franca has led to the creation of a two-community society in the newly restored Latvia.

A huge Russian (or Russian-speaking) minority today is not a problem limited to Latvia or even the Baltic states. 21 million Russians were residing in the fourteen non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union in the 1970s (at the end of the 20th century the Russian Diaspora in post-Soviet countries amounted to 25 million people[16]). Russian immigration embraced all republics to varying degrees, which has led the successor state of the Soviet Union – the Russian Federation – to assume the role of an “external homeland” and protector of Russians (understood as citizens of Russia, ethnic Russians, or even simply Russian-speakers) in the “near abroad” – non-Russian post-Soviet states – perceived as one of the most important directions in Russian foreign politics.
The developments outlined above have resulted in the creation of a triadic relationship between the national (ethnic[17]) minority, the (nationalizing) state in which it lives, and the external homeland[18]. There are many factors that affect this relationship, which as it is appears complicated enough. First, all three stakeholders experienced a major change of status in the 1990s, resulting in a crisis of identity: the nationalizing state of Latvia and Latvians are in the process of “healing” their national identity[19], the external homeland of Russia is reconstructing its own identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the minority of ethnic Russians and ca. 100 other post-Soviet nationalities[20] – among which a true, de-nationalized Soviet citizen (“Homo Sovieticus”) may undoubtedly still be found – is trapped in the middle, not yet Latvian, but not really Russian either[21]. Second, the Latvian state positions itself as a protector of Latvian national values, incl. the Latvian language, which may be seen as taking precedence over the rights of minorities. Third, the external homeland claims the right to protect its Diaspora (however broadly defined) and, by extension, to interfere in internal matters of the new state. But actually it is not so much interested in bringing its “compatriots” back home or having them fully integrated in the new country, as both outcomes would make its “right” to interfere lose ground. In such a context, the minority group may act in choosing between available strategies – exit, voice, loyalty (according to Jubulis 2001) or informal networks, exit, voice (according to Commercio 2010). As a matter of fact, the Russian-speaking group in Latvia appears rather passive, which may be considered a legacy of Communist (lack of) political culture reinforced by the undertakings of both the nationalizing state and the external homeland. The dominant discourse of the former may have been internalized by representatives of the minorities by now, making them believe that their identities are ‘problematic’ and that it is fair they have fewer rights[22]. The discourse of the latter, as well as of local leaders positioning themselves as defenders of non-citizens’ rights, may have resulted in an average non-citizen waiting for laws to change rather than taking an individual effort of applying for citizenship or learning Latvian[23].

*part of the project “Discourse-historical analysis of the press discourse on ethnic conflict in Latvia” carried out at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany, in January-February 2013. For full bibliography, see here.

[1] Kolstoe 1995: 111.
[2] Kuklys 2008: 52.
[3] “Ethnocentric nation-building” (Kolstoe 2000: 116); “ethnic democracy with an exclusion policy” (Linz & Stephan 1996: 429ff). See also e.g. Smith, Aasland & Mole 1996, Pabriks 1999.
[4] Jubulis 2001: 25.
[5] Dribins 2001: 311.
[6] Dribins (ed.) 1996: 6, 12. As a side note, it may be mentioned that in 1992, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Catherine Lalumière, argued that Latvia’s position (i.e., the exclusive citizenship law) “was understandable since the Russian minority did not fit the ‘traditional’ concept of a national minority”, as it was above 10% (Galbreath 2005: 277).
[7] Bleiere et al. 2006: 218.
[8] Blūzma, Jundzis, Riekstiņš et al. 2009.
[9] Polian 2004: 120.
[10] Ābols 2003: 232-233.
[11] Kolstoe 1995: 47.
[12] Bleiere et al. 2006: 418.
[13] Dribins 2001: 308.
[14] Jubulis 2001: 47-48.
[15] Dribins 2001: 318.
[16] Jubulis 2001.
[17] As M. Lindqvist claims, “national identity is transformed, semantically, into an ethnic identity when the bearer moves from a dominant position to that of a minority, that is, from his or her “own” land to a “foreign” one” (2003: 8).
[18] Galbreath 2005: 29.
[19] Silova 2006: 86.
[20] Commercio 2010: 30.
[21] Cf. B. Lindqvist 2003: 333.
[22] Cf. Gelber 2002: 84 – theory originally developed with regard to racist hate speech-acts, and Gould 2010: “minorities (…) internalise the stereotypes and prejudices employed in connection with their own groups; they also internalise an image of themselves as problematic; that is to say, as foreign or as the cause of social problems and a threat to social cohesion” (p. 17).
[23] Apine & Volkovs 2007: 90.