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.

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