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.

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