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Stateless in Latvia

Mark Mardell | 01:00 UK time, Thursday, 4 October 2007

Father Ivan Zhilko slowly and lovingly lights the candles in front of the 17th Century icons. We are in the church of St Nicholas of the Resurrection and the Birth of the Virgin Mary, in Pushkin Street. But we are not in a Russian town, we are in Daugavpils, in the south-east of Latvia.

zhilko_203152.jpgAfter Riga, it's the biggest city in the country and the vast majority of its population are Russian-speakers of Russian origin. Many of them feel they're victimised, denied citizenship by a state punishing them for the sins of the past.

Citizenship tests to shut out the linguistically challenged and insufficiently culturally aware are all the rage all over Europe, including Britain, but they are perhaps more controversial here than anywhere else. Here the aliens are their former conquerors, liberators, partners.

Father Ivan and most of his congregation don't have to worry. They are Old Believers, a group of Christians who broke away from the Russian Orthodox church after the tsar backed changes to rituals some 300 years ago. They fled to Latvia then, and so have been here ages. When Latvia became independent in 1991, citizenship was automatically granted to anyone whose family arrived here before 1940. People who arrived from Russia after that are regarded as part of an illegal occupation, and their loyalty to the new state is questioned. Many Russian-speakers have gone, but about 20% of the population are still non-citizens who can't vote.

This earnest, bearded young priest tells me: "The majority of Old Believers are citizens, but of course there are non-citizens as well, because during the Soviet era people came here from all over the USSR. When that monster was destroyed, those people stayed here. And the laws of the state prevented them automatically becoming citizens. Most of them are older people and it's difficult for them to take exams. They've demonstrated their loyalty by staying here for the last 15 years: anyone who wants to go back to the old homeland has already done so."

cottage203.jpgHe adds that there is no racial tension and no-one cares what language you speak at home. But some politicians try to stir things up. "They try to divide society but thank God they haven't succeeded and God willing they won't," he says.

From what I can see through the rain, Daugavpils is a rather drab town with fair share of grim concrete flats and half-dug-up tramlines. But the upper room where the Russian Association meets is bright, laid out for a welcome cup of tea, the walls lined with exuberant amateur art.

On a mantelpiece, a Russian flag stands incongruously alongside a model of a blue plastic pig. Grigori Gontmakher took the citizenship test last year, when he was 69. He was born in St Petersburg and came to Latvia after serving in the Soviet army in the late 1980s. His sister was living here and said there were good jobs.

gontmakher_203.jpgHe says he was active in the movement for independence and feels insulted by the way he's been treated. He was a press officer for the local council and some people thought it was wrong that he wasn't a citizen, so he decided to take the test. He says the test is easier for people over 65, otherwise he wouldn't have passed.

"I found it very difficult because although I understood some Latvian I don't speak it day to day. The first thing you have to do is learn the national anthem by heart. Not only to learn it, but to write it down word for word. Then you have to read a text in Latvian and answer questions about it.

"Then you have to take a test about the constitution and Latvian history. We had to answer questions about the birth of the nation, Latvia's national heroes, the wars the country was involved in, what happened during World War II, after the war, and the period of independence."

Without knowing exactly which answers get a tick and which get a cross, it's hard to be sure - but this certainly could be a test of ideological purity, or at least of whether someone subscribes to a certain view of history.

There are those who want a simple history test for British immigrants as well, and it would be interesting to know if they would require answers that were not only factually correct but also demonstrated a certain attitude. Would it be good enough to know that Wellington fought at Waterloo, or would one have to be convinced that Napoleon was in the wrong?

Yevgeni Drobot would be excluded from Latvian political life even if he took and passed the test. That's because he was a member of Latvia's Soviet-era parliament, and so can't stand for the new, post-independence parliament. Instead he's an assistant to an MEP. He's also a non-citizen. He too was born in St Petersburg but arrived in Latvia in 1947, a babe in arms. He says the state is trying to give the Russian population here a guilt complex about the aftermath of World War II, in which Latvians fought on both sides.

He says he got his passport when he was 16 from the Soviet state, but in 1991 he was stripped of his rights. "The political elite still want to get their own back on us," he says.

man203.jpgAnother non-citizen, Vladimir Abrazovich, chips in: "It's not just me, there were 600,000 of us. The political elite are scared of giving us the right to vote because they are scared of losing power."

Yevgeni agrees. "The problem is not with everyday social life. The problem is that they are trying to drive us away form political activity. It's discrimination," he says.

But perhaps what officials are worried about is revealed by his answer, when I ask if he feels he is being blamed for the evils of the Soviet Union.

"I don't believe that after the war this country was damaged. A lot was developed here. So you can't talk about the Soviet Union damaging Latvia, most of the people here don't think that way. Quite the reverse, there was a lot of development and in fact production has dropped from the levels of the 80s."

His is an unfashionable view and one that ignores occupation and oppression. But is an understandable anxiety about language being used as an excuse to exclude those with such awkward views from politics?

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 02:02 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Jukka Rohila wrote:

Excuse me, but language is not used here as an excuse to discriminate. In all societies sharing a language that the society uses is prerequisite to participating in it.

It should also be mentioned that in very many European countries, having at least satisfactory skills of the official language is obligatory to get a citizenship. In example here in Finland where we have two official languages Finnish and Swedish, it's mandatory to know at least on of them.

It can be discussed are the citizen test in Baltic states to hard or not. However the tests are there, the states provide educational courses that prepare for the tests, so for an motivated man, there should be no difficulty for getting a citizenship.

PS. On a note we should also remember that in Soviet Union Baltic nations russificated and if the USSR would have continued another 50 or 100 years, the nations and languages could have died. In this background it's easy to understand that Baltic politics try to preserve their culture and encourage in the use of their language.

PS2. In Finland our Swedish speaking minority are not Swedish, they don't have a Swedish identity. They are Swedish speaking Finnish. This is how it should be in Baltics too, ie. Russian speaking Latvians than just Russians. Identity and shared culture is everything.

  • 2.
  • At 03:07 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Marco Borg wrote:

The question is "For how long will Russia aquiesce to the Estonians and Latvians ill-treatment of what the two statelets call "foreign" Russians (although in reality they originated in various areas of the Soviet Union)

  • 3.
  • At 06:32 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Amit wrote:

I have been to Latvia 6 times in the last year and a half. I love it there. Mainly I stay in Riga, Jurmala, and the northern half. I do find it unfair that the ethnic Russian population get refused a passport if they have been been resident before 1940, and don't do the language test. Everywhere I have been in Latvia, everybody is speaking Russian, and as a direct result, I have picked up the language with ease. Only in the airport, I was subjected to hostile and threatening words by the passport control officer for speaking Russian, in an attempt to conversate with him, as he could not speak English.
Many people there believe that Latvia was occupied by the Soviet army, but many also believe that they were liberated by the Soviets, and were occupied by the Nazi's. As there is such a wide view within the many people I have spoken to, there should not be just one logic used. There are many more ethnic Russians in Latvia than the censuses suggest, due to the exclusion of citizens without passports, referred as 'aliens' or 'nepilsona' in Latvian. I do agree with naturalisation but the situation in Latvia is more than that, and I believe it is bordering a human rights violation.

  • 4.
  • At 06:47 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Reinis wrote:

There is a thin line between awkward views and Soviet-like propaganda endorsed by money from Russia. Abrazovich says: "..there were 600,000 of us..". True, WERE. But the numbers are constantly decreasing.
In Latvia, citizenship is necessary if you want to vote and gives advantages for travelling abroad. So it is obvious that many, especially in less prosperous rural regions feel no real need in citizenship. Perhaps this is one of the most important reasons for not applying to citizenship in Latvia.
Also, non-citizens of Latvia have milder requirements for getting a visa to Russia. Since many have kept family ties there, non-citizenship even holds an advantage.

  • 5.
  • At 07:56 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Philip Birzulis wrote:

What an utterly one-sided report. You ignore the thousands of Russians who have citizenship and feel right at home in Latvia - not even to mention Latvians who make up 60% of the population - or don't they count? Instead you give an unquestioning airing to a handful of bitter old men who think the Soviet Union was paradise on earth. Well, maybe for them it was - since they were the elite in a very nasty totalitarian state. The fact is, the vast majority of people of Latvia today get on harmonoisuly and citizenship is open to anyone who makes the effort to learn a bit of the language and culture of the majority of the people. Not a great deal to ask considering the massive discrimination in favour of Russians against Latvians and other smaller nationalities under the Soviets.
As for the statement: "you can't talk about the Soviet Union damaging Latvia, most of the people here don't think that way", I severely doubt that "most people" here would agree with such a dishonest statement - if decades of deportations, executions, pollution and repression of the local culture isn't "damaging", then language has lost all meaning.
Philip Birzulis, Riga, Latvia.

  • 6.
  • At 08:07 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Giacomo Dorigo wrote:

I think that if Latvia has given russophones the right to vote too easily they had risked of becoming an other Ukraine...

  • 7.
  • At 08:25 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Hanno Jaan Niidas wrote:

I`m estonian so I share the latvian view of this delicate issue although the "problem" is less pronounced in my country.

I believe the challenge for both sides is to overcome the legacy of history. It is reasonable for russian-speakers to suggest that the Red Army liberated the Baltic countries from the German occupation but then they should have left, even if these countries remained as client states for Moscow. The character and complexion of the issues we talk about today would be completely different if this had happened - if only because the Baltic countries would not have experienced significant in-migration of slavic peoples.

For our part the peoples of the Baltic countries must recognise that these migrants and their decendants do not share collectively in the guilt of Soviet régime. The majority among them were pawns just as "we" were - not in control of events but responding to challenges and opportunities that arose.

I believe the Baltic countries should consider carefully the example of the UK and Israel. Soviet Jews at one point suggested that russian should be an official state language of Israel. They were rebuffed, and quite correctly in my opinion because I cannot imagine Israel as a russian-speaking state.

The world does not urgently need a bilingual Latvia. The survival of the russian language and culture is first and foremost the responsibility of the Russian government.

In the UK and many other countries (Sweden, Canada, the US) diaspora populations were allowed to retain their cultural identities and transmit their language, history and values to following generations - sometimes with official support, but always without interference. This is something that "we" should also offer those who have settled in the Baltic countries after WWII.

  • 8.
  • At 08:38 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • John Turner wrote:

In Australia we have just introduced the citizenship test. As a new Australian in 1992 I didnt have to sit the test but I would have gladly to gain the right to vote. Residents should realise it is a priviledge not a right and if you dont want all the priviledges that come with citizenship then you can still remain a resident. If they dont like the Governments stand on it, gain citizenship and vote against them.

  • 9.
  • At 08:49 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

Most of russophones have arrived in Latvia after WWII and until late 80s. More than 20 years have passed, but they still haven't learned Latvian language. It's logical that Latvians blame colonists/occupants arrogant attidutde.

To prepare for the citizenship test in Latvian history one has to buy a 20 page brochure wiht test questions and correct answers...

  • 10.
  • At 10:04 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Rohan wrote:

I think Latvian politicians have foreseen the scenario of Ukraine happening in Latvia.The Russians in Latvia just dont realize or refuse to accept the fact that they are better off in Latvia.The Russian politicians want to use them to destabilize young democracies like Latvia and to make her like some satellite banana republics with a puppet regimes run by Kremlin.
Wake up Russians, the evil empire of Soviet Union is never gonna come back!

I've lived in Daugavpils, the city described here, since 1992 -- my mother grew up here, and I repatriated to Latvia once the occupation ended in 1991.

Where's another side to the views presented here? What other facets might there be?

The article doesn't mention that a majority of ethnic Russians in Daugavpils are citizens by descent, for example (they didn't have to pass any tests at all). That there are almost as many Poles in Daugavpils as there are Latvians. That the Polish schools were closed soon after Stalin's tanks rolled in, resulting in the Russification of many. That the Jews, who were long a purality, were exterminated. That even Daugavpils voted for independence in the 1991 plebiscite -- among those voting for freedom, Poles and Old Believers mostly joined the Latvians.

On the ground, who exactly is being discriminated against? Back when Latvia regained its freedom, only about one in five non-Latvians could speak Latvian. Now maybe half can speak some Latvian, but the figures among ethnic Russians are worst exactly here, in Daugavpils. Latvians were a minority in nine of the ten largest towns.

What that means in daily life is that I am forced to speak Russian whenever I interact with a shopkeeper, for the most part. It means that children from the countryside, which is rather more Latvian than the city, can barely understand what is going on at a medical clinic. It means that my mother-in-law, who did eight years of hard labour in Siberia because she looked for her deported foster father, has to switch to Russian at the pharmacy.

Much of the phrasing in this article is twisted, to put it mildly. "He says he got his passport when he was 16 from the Soviet state, but in 1991 he was stripped of his rights." Excuse me, but the Soviet state ceased to exist. Citizenship in the Republic of Latvia is not based upon ethnicity -- it's based upon citizenship, jus sanguinis. Those who are asked to naturalize never held citizenship. They were never stripped of their rights in the Republic -- because they never had any. They've been cordially invited to join the body politic. Very many have done so.

"That's because he was a member of Latvia's Soviet-era parliament, and so can't stand for the new, post-independence parliament." But that is an outright lie, Mr Mardell, sorry -- and a mind-bogglingly crazy one at that. Shouldn't you check your "facts"?

  • 12.
  • At 10:18 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • mike wrote:

When my parents arrived in the UK in 1948, my mother was an Italian citizen and my father was declared "stateless". As he was a political exile from communist-ruled Poland, he did not apply for UK citizenship as he felt it would be a betrayal of his reason for choosing exile. He used a "Nansen passport/travel document" for foreign travel but never visited his home country. He payed his UK taxes, Health insurance etc but did not have the right to vote which was OK. My mother remained an Italian citizen till her death, with the same obligations and rights as my father. Both are buried in London. My sister and I are British citizens by birth, education and upbringing.Unlike our parents we do have the right to vote.

Ex-Soviet (mainly Russian) citizens living in Latvia should try to learn the language of the country they live in and adapt to life in an independent country, no longer a Russian imperial colony. Their children should pass through the same processes as we did in the UK. If they do not like life in Latvia with its benefits,responsibilities and rights,then they should go back to the country of their birth (as many already have).

  • 13.
  • At 10:19 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

I have no objection to a citizenship test that requires complete knowledge of culture, history and language, provided it is also required of everyone equally and a tougher version is required as an entrance exam for politicians and lawyers.

However, as such a test will take a good fifty or sixty years to study for, and another fifty or sixty to take the test itself, one can reasonably conclude that anyone living long enough to complete the exam will have forgotten why they were taking it in the first place.

Anything less than a comprehensive exam will be cherry-picked, inaccurate and/or distorted in so many ways that it is a complete waste of time and biased against those who actually know the subject, defeating the entire purpose.

  • 14.
  • At 10:22 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

In general I really don't see how anyone can expect to set up shop in another country without having some knowledge of the history and norms of that country.
I think if you're going to try and call a place home you are bound to make an attempt to have as much of an appreciation of your host home as possible.
Of course this requirement would vary according to the wider context (refugees for eg).

  • 15.
  • At 10:24 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

Would you care to replace the word "Latvia" with "Flanders" ?

  • 16.
  • At 10:25 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Sean wrote:

Latvians aren't required to take a test to prove they know anything about their country or language before they're allowed to vote. If you take two people who have both lived in the country their entire lives, and deny rights to one based on their ethnic origin, what is that other than racism? Is it acceptable for white Africans to be excluded from the franchise on the basis that their ancestors came as colonialists and occupiers?

  • 17.
  • At 10:44 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

Whilst not wanting to belittle the problems there, it is also worthwhile remembering that throughout the EU there are many many people are paying taxes without representation.

Like many I work & live in a country other than that of my Nationality, and although I pay my taxes I cannot vote in the national elections (although strangely I can vote in the UK where I don't pay any tax or even have a home anymore)

  • 18.
  • At 10:57 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Ronald Grünebaum wrote:

Well, the Soviets sent "disloyal" ethnic groups to the GULAG and exterminated them.

Learning the anthem by heart and uttering a few words in Latvian should not be too difficult and it certainly is less life-threatening than the methods used by the former masters.

In any case, and Brits should take notice as their Government wants to opt out of the EU fundamental rights charta, those Russians in Latvia are protected by EU law. Of course, complaints must not be filed in Russian....

  • 19.
  • At 11:02 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • John, Edinburgh wrote:

Ever had a look at the Home Office Citizenship Test book?

Pages and pages of information that the vast majority of the UK population would be unable to answer, and uninterested too.

Commendable general knowledge as it may be, there's little that adds to the experience of living and working in the UK either.

  • 20.
  • At 11:08 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • John wrote:

I have been to Latvia numerous times since 1999. The position of the Latvian state seems to be that ethnic Slavs are bascially alien, despite the country being part of the Russian empire for hundreds of years before the Communists turned up. The impact of the citizenship law is to deny basic rights to large numbers of people (probably more than the 20% the government admit to). Denial of Latvian citizenship also denies EU citizenship , so such people are not proctected by EU law. Not only can they not vote, they cannot work in the public sector, stand for election nor can they collect a pension.

Ironically, the law does not penalise non-Slavs who cooperated with the Soviet regime - their ethnicity protects them. How could an EU member state have such laws?

The net effect is that people of Russian origin, whether citizens or not, roundly hate the authorities. Many refuse to speak Latvian (I hear less and less Latvian ever time I go to Riga). The language law has guaranteed the death of the Latvian language.

I'm not too happy about a country being being allowed into NATO where former members of the SS can collect their pensions whilst members of the Red Army that fought them cannot.

  • 21.
  • At 11:22 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Spinoneone wrote:

The Russians should feel lucky that they were not summarily chucked out in 1991. That is what the Balts, Poles, Russians, Czechs, and others did to the Germans, including Germans who had lived in those countries for centuries.

Most countries give some sort of test to immigrants before granting the newbies citizenship. The U.S., for example, is busily rewriting its test to require some knowledge of U.S. history and political affairs of the aspiring citizen.

  • 22.
  • At 11:26 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Catalin wrote:

We all know all the Easter European countries still have to suffer from the monstruosities of communism. Many say that a lot was achieved (modernisation, urbanism, indutrialisation, etc.)... but that is plain wrong, it would have been achieved anyway, without the need for communism, opression and evil russian influence. The russophones living in the new E.U. contries should understand that this is how history turned up and that the former opressed nations now have to enjoy their right to determine themselves. They should learn lativian, lithuanian, romanian, ukrainian, etc, as they are not living in the U.S.S.R. anymore, they have to deal with it! I live in Romania and I speack English, study in German and want to get away form here as soon as possible, go out there in the West and live among civilised people, and I'm not complaining! If they like it in Latvia, then they should learn latvian and move on. On the other side, the test should not be so difficult and the requirements not so hard... after all, the russophones don't have that much of a guilt, nor do the russians themselves.. it was all up to the 'Elite'.

  • 23.
  • At 11:50 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Isidro Ramos wrote:

As far as I know, the Ukranian case is different: most Russians didn't come to Ukraine, Ukraine came to them when Nikita Khruschev expanded its borders!

Regarding cultural & language tests in order to obtain citizenship, I'm of two minds. They can be a good way to help integration, specially if free classes for inmigrants are included in the package; but those tests can too easily be used as a covert way to deny citizenship to them.

  • 24.
  • At 11:57 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • hmm wrote:

The article is very one-sided, you forgot to mention that the majority who passed the exam found it to be easy.
"Here the aliens are their former conquerors, liberators, partners." Liberators? so Russia (SU) liberated eastern europe? WOW.

  • 25.
  • At 11:57 AM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

I would not compare ethnic Russians who emigrated to Latvia when it was part of the USSR with legal immigrants to this country. The ethnic Russians were not invited by a democratic government, and were part of the occupation of Latvia by the USSR. Legal immigrants to this country were enabled to immigrate here by our democratic and legal government. There is a big difference

  • 26.
  • At 12:06 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • R Keyes wrote:

The problem i that even what people are told is history, is not. There are so many lies and omissions. So, basically what one is learning is the popular myth. I suppose its appropriate - you have to believe that what they've told you is real history, and be able to recount it.

  • 27.
  • At 12:07 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • John Brown wrote:

Isn't true that most Russians can't speak a word of Latvian, even though they have lived here for 50 years or more. They seem to have a rather post-colonial attitude to Latvia. No wonder Latvians are worried about handing out the right to vote to all and sundry

  • 28.
  • At 12:14 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • James Eldridge wrote:

I am an English man living in Latvija for almost 2 years. I have learned basic latvian out of politeness and as a need for my work. It happens from time to time that i am confronted with a problem using Latvian language in Riga, not all people living here speak latvian. It is strange how many older people who have lived here all there lifes, speak worse Latvian than I do. I think to live and opperate in this land you should atleast speak basic language. My language skills have a long way to go yet. If someone asked me the history of Latvija in detail i would probably have trouble, so i think the citizenship test goes a bit far, but native language skills are a must. Two cultures, two languages, two versions of history, in one land this is allways going to cause tensions.

  • 29.
  • At 12:20 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Alastair Miller wrote:

The entire Baltic area has a special problem due to its recent history. As far as I am concerned if you want to be considered as Russian and/or use the russian language on a daily basis then GO AND LIVE IN RUSSIA, what is the problem with that. If you want to become resident in a new country then LEARN the language, something about the country and TRY TO FIT IN with your new country's traditions and people. I am sick and tired of hearing Russians bleating about unfair treatment in the Baltics, its not unfair, its called independance, not the soviet union anymore, deal with it.

  • 30.
  • At 12:27 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • toby stewart wrote:

This article is intellectually dishonest to compare the citizenship test in Latvia with other EU states.

Firstly, nowhere in the EU allows citizenship tests to be applied to deny people who were born in a country the right to a passport or vote.

This is more than a test for immigrants, much more. It is an attempt to ethically cleanse the new latvia, so that those in power can say who can and cannot vote, travel and live like normal human beings.

If this happened in England, there would be bloodshed in the streets, and rightly so.

  • 31.
  • At 12:36 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Szymon wrote:

Why are so many countries stuck to one language? In Luxembourg, for instance, 3 languages are used and have equal standing. Speaking Luxembourgish is required when working for the public sector but otherwise it is not a must.

I think Latvia could be perfectly bi-lingual. If Russian speakers are encouraged to learn Latvian, Latvian-speakers should also study Russian. It's a win-win situation.

  • 32.
  • At 12:37 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Andrejs Visockis wrote:

In the 1930s the Baltic countries had a higher standard of living and was more industrialised than Finland. The Soviet industrialisation meant building concrete factories and similar which, naturally, went bakrupt in the capitalist society of today's Latvia. The problem with automatically granting citizenship to all those who came to work at these factories (replacing the many thousands who either fled to the West or were sent to labour camps in Siberia) is that they have the potential of voting Latvia right back into Russia. And do you honestly believe that people who śubscribe to the view that Britain is "an evil state" or have no command of English should have the right to become British citizens?

  • 33.
  • At 12:50 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Ugis wrote:

Latvia doesn’t have a problem with Russian-speakers, but it does have a problem with Soviets. And Soviets can be either Latvian-, Russian- or Lithanian-speaking. It is a kind of people that would readily vote against whatever economic freedom and civility was recovered over the past sixteen years.

As to the language, it’s all in the numbers: Latvia is the only place on earth where Latvian can survive, but for some time to come it will need legislative protection because the proportion of Latvian-speakers has been so eroded during the Soviet occupation.

A suggestion that one just cannot learn enough Latvian to be able to function in everyday situations is simply obscene, but, obviously, some people still dare to say so after they have spent decades in Latvia.

  • 34.
  • At 01:10 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Jel wrote:

A country's history is almost universally the current government's propaganda, and rarely concurs with the versions espoused by its neighbours and antagonists. A government will therefore favour such knowledge, promoting norms whch will maintain it in power. To call this a knowledge of history is wrong, however, as it lacks the objectivity a true historian should bring to the subject.

  • 35.
  • At 01:28 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

And if not they are risking of becoming a Moldova?
If a political risk and basic human rights are not in sync, which one would you choose?

  • 36.
  • At 01:28 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Vivian wrote:

As usual, another completely unbalanced article from Marc. Where are the views of the Latvians? Why have they not been asked to comment on the situation? Besides, the facts are wrong: non-citizens can vote in local elections. The last statement about how Latvia has not been damaged after the war - give me break!! You can say the same about Germany in between two world wars - the economy was growing.
I am actually very disappointed to read articles as unprofessional as this on a BBC website

  • 37.
  • At 01:36 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Chris McGeachin wrote:

It seems perfectly reasonable to me. If the number of Russian colonists had remained small such measures wouldn't be required. However with such a large number of the colonists remaining it is essential for the political and cultural stability of the Latvian State that such laws exist. All the Latvians are asking is that the former colonists firmly establish where their loyalties lie. I've lived in Moscow and have considerable experience of the Russian psyche and completely understand the concerns of the Latvian people over the attitudes of the Russian colonists.

  • 38.
  • At 01:36 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Pedro wrote:

I think denying Russian speakers the right to vote is not, in essence, different than Southafrica's Apartheid. Anyone living in Latvia should be allowed to express their views in a democratic way. Not doing so would just be another Soviet style dictatorship where only one opinion is accepted.

The Spanish transition to democracy could be a good example for former Soviet Republics. It luckily went well (not without big problems) but one of the key points was the legalisation of the communist and nationalistic parties despite of all the anger that caused in the army and part of the population. Of course, we cannot compare one situation with the other; historical circumstances are different but it could inspire brave decissions in politicians elsewhere.

  • 39.
  • At 01:54 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Ivars Krastins wrote:

I was working for a French company in the 90s, and one evening my French boss - after having had one too many - asked me : "Why do you Latvian Russians insist on speaking Latvian? Why do Estonian Russians insist on speaking Estonian? You are all Russians and it would make life so much easier for everybody if you stopped pretending and all started speaking Russian." After reading the report I understand that his ideas are quite popular with the BBC Europe editor as well. Have You ever contemplated trying to learn a thing or two about our history? By the way, try advocating Iraqi citizenship for the US soldiers there - the logic is the same.

  • 40.
  • At 02:01 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Richard Tourer wrote:

I have lived in Latvia for the last 5 years and known it for the last eight. It is not true to say that there is "no racial tension". There is bitterness on both sides: on the Latvian side, for the things that happened to them before 1991; on the Russian side, for the things that have happened to them since 1991. The figure of 20% for non-citizens is way too low; even the Latvian government's figure is higher than that, and they calculate it in a highly selective way in order to present it in as good a light as possible. The true figure is nearer 30%.

  • 41.
  • At 02:08 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Anita Berzina wrote:

Dear Mark,

Is the BBC paying you to be an objective journalist/editor, or someone out to cause a stir and agitate part of your audience in order to create a more controversial blog? Or are you just so left wing, you are blind to the facts?

As you yourself admit, you are covering "a huge patch so don't expect this blog to be comprehensive". Yes, perhaps too big a patch if you don't even have time to look at the other side of the story. All your quotes and interviews in your blog "Stateless in Latvia" are from those folk of Russian origin. But what about those of Latvian origin? Or of mixed origin? Or what about the Latvian government many of your interviewees are complaining about? Don't they have a right to put forward their point of view?

Personally, I am deeply offended by the narrowness of your blog. I've lived in Latvia for 6 years and I know several people who have taken the citizenship test of Latvia and said it was very easy. I haven't heard that the test tries to inject suspect ideological brainwashing towards those who sit it (as if one test could). I also know Latvian culture and language is definitely a tiny one, nearly endangered, especially compared to the Russian. I also have met many people like one fellow who has said things like (and I quote), "Yes you should learn Russian, it is a valuable language. So is English. But Latvian? Don't bother, it's not important." People like this often don't go back to their ancestral homeland Russia because life is a lot more economically comfortable for them in Latvia. Not to mention, they have much more freedom to criticise the state. And unfortunately, most of these people only bother to read/listen to the news direct from Russia next door, which is not known for its objectivity.

Please don't paint Latvia as some fascist land (as Russia does whenever it has the chance) because it's too easy and insults your intelligence as a journalist. History is told by the victors, and remember that Russia (and the allies) won WWII and Latvia is still waiting for an apology for the atrocities the Soviet Union committed here during and since then (and as for development outweighing what has been stolen from here? Don't make me laugh!). Of course this is why many older Latvians have an unfairly negative attitude towards Russians, however I think they have a right to be suspicious after the treatment they received from the Soviet Union, which collapsed such a relatively short time ago!

Yours sincerely,
Anita Berzina

  • 42.
  • At 02:08 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • mel wrote:

Mark, and do take a look at the "exam" in Latvia and Estonia. They are bloody easy. In Estonia the passage rate is over 95%. It's the fear-mongering that causes these people to say these things. And so many people are given exemptions on the exams too.

Sure, it's a step, but becoming a citizen of any country is a privledge. If Latvia and others do not enforce a rigid system of citizenship and produce a loyal population, you will end up with chaos. A previous commentator suggested Ukraine. But there are closer comparison when we look closer to home.

What Latvia has done is the same that Quebec has done for residency requirements. Like Quebec [but with different conquerors], Latvia was conquered many times by Germany, Russia. Latvia [like Poland and the Baltic Countries] have had their languages, history, and culture suppressed by the conquerors and their puppets. In fact, Latvia is recovering its culture and dignity. If the Russians especially those who want to speak Russian want their culture, they should go back to Russia.

  • 44.
  • At 02:10 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • P.Dough wrote:

These tests are all the rage again everywhere and they more than just insulting making people jump through hoops. Having to write down a national anthem word for word or annunciate an ideology or view of history (particularly the case in countries who fought on both sides in World War II - a big reason why so many bypass the continent for Britain by the way), it ends up an exercise in forcing foreigners to cheer current leaders as responsible for everything that is right with a country while booing dissenters as responsible for everything that is wrong with it, all for the privilige of being stigmatized as an alien.

  • 45.
  • At 02:12 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Einar Asteor wrote:

Soviet-migrants have problems to pass the language test after more than 50 years spent in the country... it seems at least bizarre.

  • 46.
  • At 02:17 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • A.Friedman wrote:

A comparison: When Indonesia gained independence from the Netherlands, should they have given Indonesian citizenship to the numerous Dutch residing there? No of course not, the Dutch were the colonizers. Same thing in Latvia: Soviet Russia occupied Latvia, killed and deported a huge number of Latvians and tried to "russifie" the country. I have heard the excuse made by Russians about the "development during the soviet era", what a load of nonsense, one can only imagine what kind of development Latvia would have had if she was a free market democratic country during that era. Not to mention the huge quantities of raw materials and produce that were shipped out from the Baltic countries to mother russia. I think Balts are already extremely lenient with their former colonizers/occupators.

  • 47.
  • At 02:19 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

I was interested to learn that people applying for Latvian citizenship are expected to learn and memorize all the words to the national anthem.

Contrast that with Belgium - where the man who is claiming the right to become Prime Minister and lead the next government - Yves Leterme of the "Christian-Democrat & Flemish" Party (CD&V) - does not know the difference between the Belgian national anthem (la Brabanconne) and the French one (la Marseillaise)!

Can you imagine the uproar if David Cameron did not know the words to "God Save The Queen"? It was bad enough when the then Welsh Secretary John Redwood mimed his way through the Welsh anthem (now considered a classic TV moment).

  • 48.
  • At 02:45 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • JohaM wrote:

In every European country nationalists are trying to stir up tension between different population groups. Scary.

  • 49.
  • At 02:51 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • nononsense wrote:

17/11/2006 PACE:
"PACE Standing Committee calls for better treatment of non-citizens in Latvia"

"PACE Standing Committee meeting today in San Marino, called for non-citizens in Latvia to be granted at least the same rights as other EU nationals living in the country. In a resolution, the parliamentarians called for automatic naturalisation of non-citizens who are elderly or born in the country, as well as those who have made “a worthwhile contribution to the establishment of the newly independent Latvian state”. More flexible naturalisation procedures should be considered, and those applying should not be asked to express convictions that are “contrary to their reading of the history of their cultural community or nation”.
Minorities should also be able to use their language in relations with administrative authorities "in areas where they live in substantial numbers" while all permanent residents should be able to vote in at least local elections, in line with Assembly recommendations."

  • 50.
  • At 03:08 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

This is half a blog Mark. The people's comments are interesting and worth reporting, but you only give one side of the story.

You don't give, or find out, accurate statistics for citizenship etc.

Where is the Latvian government's view on the citizenship tests? How many people ahave taken the tests over the years. What are the views of ethnic Latvians?

Also, there are other ineteresting topics in that part of the world. What is the effect of EU membership on the economy in part of the EU's poorest regions? Are EU funds {sorry out taxes} being spent well, or are local officials and bent farmers suddenly building garages for their new Land Rovers as in Ireland 20 years ago?

What about agriculture (your favourite, though you covered that well in Romania), or tourism (ecotourism in that nice wooden cottage in the picture, milk your own cows and pick you own spuds. Very green)?

What about the effect of emigration to the west? What is the effect on the local economy, on sociey (empty schools, parentless children with expensive toys sent from parents abroad, a lack of thrusting young business people.)

  • 51.
  • At 03:11 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • mikelis wrote:

non-citizens do indeed make up 20% of the population, and as non-citizens they are not legally classified as stateless, which together with foreigners number about 41,000 in Latvia according to the naturalization board of Latvia, link is :

the citizenship exams are indeed easy in Latvia, and its a small sacrifice to make to become a citizen. Children born since 1991 also have the right to automatic citizenship in the country. Considering the history where due to the Soviet and Nazi occupations the country lost around 550,000 people, and saw a demographic drop from 77% Latvian before the war, to 52% in 1989 its probably unsurprising that laws like this were put in place. They've since been liberalized, and the population of Latvians has risen to about 60% now.

There is tension here, but its dropped dramatically since EU accession.

the citizenship law does not specify ethnicity, and comments to the contary here on the comments section are plainly wrong. The comment about Latvians needing to learn Russian made me laugh, what language do you think was mandated throughout the Soviet Union? Latvians speak Russian, and many russophones have added Latvian as well, and they'll likely continue to do so.

  • 52.
  • At 03:18 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Eugene wrote:

About Ukranian scenario: this country has mixed population for hundreds of years, and millions of people there speak Russian and feel some loyalty to Russia. And now what? Does it mean that they should go away, or forget their language and change their religion, to secure vote results convenient for EU? Usually it is called ethnic cleansing... When rights are not dependent from language or nationality, there is less ground for anger and foregn (Russian or EU, doesn't matter) interference. It can help to convince Russian speakers that EU is no evil, to mutual benefit

  • 53.
  • At 03:34 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • mikelis wrote:

one more comment, this part of the story is not wholly accurate:
``Yevgeni Drobot would be excluded from Latvian political life even if he took and passed the test. That's because he was a member of Latvia's Soviet-era parliament, and so can't stand for the new, post-independence parliament. Instead he's an assistant to an MEP. He's also a non-citizen. ''

being a member of the soviet-latvian parliament has nothing to do with being a member today, the question is the date. Did they remain in the Soviet party after people started getting killed in a bloody crackdowns in vilnius and riga.

this case has been adjudicated to the highest European institutions, and Tatjana Zdanoka, a member of the European Parliament, lost a case on this matter in the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. links to judgement can be found at this wikipedia entry:

The citizenship laws of Latvia and Estonia have been througly examined by EU bodies, and they will continue to do so. Statments that the EU is ignoring human rights violations in Latvia have no evidence to back them up.

  • 54.
  • At 03:37 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • GEORGE wrote:

Dear Mark,

I know this problem quite well, because I have strong contacts to the Baltics and Russia as well. Here we experienced a rather immature nationalism which aims at the extinction of everything non-latvian/-estonian/lithuanian! Given the fact that those former provinces of the Russian and Soviet Empire contain such a high proportion of Russians the independence of those countries should have been organized in a different manner. In the estionian town of Narva You´ll wfind over 90% Russian, whereas only 30% have obtained the citizenship so far. Those countries wanted to keep the borders arranged by the Soviets but when it comes to the people living there it seems to be different! I suggest that there are basically two solutions to that problem:
1)the Kosovo Solution: Given the fact that the former Serbian Province of Kosovo is about to declare indepence with the blessings of the West it should be examined if this priciple of ethic division applies to the baltics as well. Then predominantly Russian regions should have the right to break away as well. The those Baltic States will hve fewer Russians and a higher proportion of natives while the Russian can retain the way of life being a part of Russia! Everything else will be a kind of ethnic cleansing with pseudo legal blessings of the West
2) the Swiss solution: The languages of the minorities are to repsected and not to be considered a problem to obtain full political and social rights. The countries should be divied into seperate national entities and the governments should be organized in that manner too. Even in Bosnia it seems to work out more or less.
Everything else is in my opinion hypocritical and inconsequent.
Unfortunately I will be suprised if my post will be shown for I do not share the official opinion of backing the western line, but such is the freedom of speech nowadays in our free world: You are free to say that we are right!

On history I would have to say that the Latvian government is mostly in the right in terms representing its illegal incorporation into the USSR.

This is not new or revised history, this *is* history. I have in my hands the Baltic States Investigation from the United States Congress in 1953.

It contains, among the many gory photos of tortured and murdered Latvian civic leaders, wire cables from the Estonian foreign ministry to the Estonian consular general in New York in July 1940 telling them that "rumors of joining Russia are without foundation." Estonia "joined" the USSR on August 6.

It also contains some lovely statements from Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov who said the following on Oct 31, 1939:

"The special character of these mutual assistance pacts in no way implies any interference of the Soviet Union in the affairs of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania, as some foreign newspapers are trying to make out.

On the contrary, all these pacts of mutual assistance strictly stipulate the inviolability of the sovereignty of the signatory states and the principle of non-interference in each other's affairs."

You can stop laughing now.

Latvia had to naturalize people in 1992. It couldn't grant a general amnesty to thousands of people on its territory because there were also thousands of people outside its territory -- in Sweden, Germany, the UK, the US, and Australia -- who as citizens of the Republic of Latvia that was illegally incorporated into the USSR in 1940 had a *greater* right to Latvian citizenship than people born in St. Petersburg who moved to Riga in the 1980s. They didn't leave of their own accord. They fled as refugees from a regime that was likely to *kill* them and indeed did kill many of their relatives.

The only solution to this situation is naturalization. You can argue about how it proceeds, but if you didn't have Latvian citizenship by blood or by 1940, then you've got to take some kind of test, fill out some kind of paperwork -- naturalize.

  • 56.
  • At 03:42 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • armands wrote:

so, for all those complaining about the complexity of Latvian hymn, here it is, just 8 lines:

Dievs, svētī Latviju,
Mūs' dārgo tēviju,
Svētī jel Latviju,
Ak, svētī jel to!
Kur latvju meitas zied,
Kur latvju dēli dzied,
Laid mums tur laimē diet,
Mūs' Latvijā

The same goes for all remaining citizenship test.

Sometimes I wonder, how people, who do not have the slightest idea about the country, have their verdict always ready.

  • 57.
  • At 03:51 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Mait wrote:

I don't really see where the problem lies. I don't believe there's a country in Europe that hands out citizenships on 'seniority' - live there long enough, and you're in.

Latvia and Estonia use 'jus sanguinis' principle for their citizenships. If your parent(s) were citizens, then you are one as well. If not, you're an immigrant, and the road to citizenship leads through naturalization, i.e. exams.

To the 'born here, lived here, give citizenship' crowd - if you didn't learn enough local languague during your decades of living amidst another nation, well, it bloody well doesn't count as a factor in support of your requests, now does it?

Just drop the post-colonialist sovok attitude. Give the exams and get the citizenship. It's easy. And your children will thank you - 'jus sanguinis', remember?

  • 58.
  • At 04:03 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • David wrote:

One should look back through Soviet history and closely examine how many of the Soviet Union's leaders were ethnic Russians. Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili A.K.A Stalin. That does not sound very Russian to me. How about you start blaming Georgia for giving life to its most famous evil son who personally respobsible for your countries "occupation."

There's a lot here now that the moderator woke up, so I'll take only a couple aspects:

"Latvians aren't required to take a test to prove they know anything about their country or language before they're allowed to vote."

Neither are Russians, Jews, Udmurts, or Chechens. Latvians who don't hold citizenship by descent _are_ required to take the tests unless they went through the Latvian-language education system -- if they are to _naturalize_. The law has nothing to do with ethnicity.

Having -- or even getting -- citizenship has nothing to do with ethnicity or even language. There are a couple of thousand ethnic Latvians who lack it. Most Russians in Daugavpils speak no Latvian, but most hold citizenship.

Naturalization is a different matter. It's a form of adoption, basically.

In Latvia, most political discourse is in Latvian. Stands to reason, no? Why must one adopt people who've lived here all their lives but can't utter a word of the national language? What does "naturalization" mean? I know someone who studied for two weeks and got her passport.

I live around the corner from the Polish School. It's flourishing, as is the Polish cultural center next door. Those institutions were plowed under by the Soviets (to John and his theory about the Slavic -- I'm afraid Poles are Slavs, but are quite happy...). Between them is what was the first Belarusian school in Latvia. What was Pushkin Street called before this reporter got here? Does the Padre even know?

Latvia offers state-funded education in eight minority languages. How many tongues does England offer?

I agree with Mr Birzulis -- what an utterly one-sided report.

What about tackling basic issues. Like the fact that even now, Russian is spoken by more people in Latvia than Latvian is -- as a first or second language. Why is that? Well, because almost all Latvians speak Russian. But why is that?

Fine, let's jettison history and deal only with the present and glorious future -- even so, don't Latvians have the right to speak their language in Latvia? I'll distance myself from those who think of this as a reversal -- it's not; nobody is destroying Russian or taking their mother tongue away... what Latvia asks is that Russians stop behaving as conquerors, and that's pretty simple. Learning a language doesn't mean forgetting your native one. After all -- Latvians survived, no?

What Father Ivan says is particularly galling because this Republic has always been a gracious host to his sect -- Latvia was the centre for Old Believers before the Soviet invasion, for example, and Daugavpils has more of their congregations than any city in the world. But I don't think Father Ivan is at fault here -- I think the BBC reporter is, by fishing for the sentences he chose and knowing nothing of what he is talking about.

  • 60.
  • At 04:55 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

Would it be economically, demographically, etc, practical to set a quota of 50,000, or 100,000, or whatever, per year and start deporting non-citizens? Give these people a few years to apply for and get the citizenship test, and at the end of the period put them on buses, and drive them to the Russian border.

It should make the Russians happy in many ways... in Russia they can speak Russian, can learn the Russian version of history about the heroic Red Army, won't have to pass citizenship tests, and so on.

Where in the world, people who in effect are illegal immigrants (only worse because they are also invaders) have the right to stay in a country? refuse to learn the language?

Though I suspect it is not practical to deport all the Russians... but perhaps just some of them? Plus in the end, no more Russians, and no more complaints.

  • 61.
  • At 04:57 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

I have no objection to a citizenship test that requires complete knowledge of culture, history and language, provided it is also required of everyone equally and a tougher version is required as an entrance exam for politicians and lawyers.

However, as such a test will take a good fifty or sixty years to study for, and another fifty or sixty to take the test itself, one can reasonably conclude that anyone living long enough to complete the exam will have forgotten why they were taking it in the first place.

Anything less than a comprehensive exam will be cherry-picked, inaccurate and/or distorted in so many ways that it is a complete waste of time and biased against those who actually know the subject, defeating the entire purpose.

To Richard Tourer -- there just aren't different ways to calculate this. The figure is actually less than 20% -- 18,5% last I looked. Please let us know how you could possibly arrive at another figure. Everybody here counts -- as permanent residents, citizens, aliens, apatrides, or whatever. It's not such a disorganized place.

  • 63.
  • At 05:26 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Mark Nelson wrote:

Absolutely the worst report you have done. Ridiculously one sided (or are you trying for a position on Gazprom as Schroeder's PR person?)

I know you won't publish this, but I do hope you see it to realize that this kind of blogging looses you a lot of respect.


  • 64.
  • At 05:37 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • alex wrote:

It's mildly disturbing to read some of the comments here justifying the total disenfranchisement of a significant part of the population. The comments like "if you live here, learn the language" are such 19th century attitudes, and especially in a region where recent history is so fraught with complications. With hysterical Latvians screaming about Soviet occupiers, perhaps it's fair to mention a less stellar period in Latvian history, that of eager collaboration with Nazi Germany, the expulsions and exterminations of Jewish and other non-Latvian populations, which lead, in the end, to Soviet intervention as part of their drive to defeat Nazi Germany. The Baltic republics have never been forced to deal with their own Nazi past. Perhaps they ought to be compelled to.

  • 65.
  • At 06:53 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

Crikey! What a hornets' nest you've stirred up, Mark (Again!). This is Wallonia/Flanders with knobs on: References to communist, fascists, nazi murderers, and bigotry of all shades and colours. It's truly a good thing that the UK has limited its relationship with the likes of these troublesome lands to economic free-trading and that we have no intention whatsoever of 'ever closer union' with this bothersome bunch of countries..... I mean, we don't, right?

  • 66.
  • At 07:03 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Danes K. wrote:

Russia should just invade Baltic states and teach them about democracy, just like US is doing in Iraq. Then all these problems will go away.

  • 67.
  • At 07:17 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

I may have missed it in the list of posts, but nobody seems to have nentioned that the three Baltic countries had their independence from Russia recognzed in 1919 by the Versailles treaty only to lose it in 1939 after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which allowed the USSR to annex them, then being invaded by the Nazis in 1941, reconquered by the USSR in 1945 and declaring themselves independent again in 1991

  • 68.
  • At 07:39 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Reinis wrote:

It is somehow funny to read such comments as John's and nononsense's. It seems that they are so well educated in Kremlin's rhetorics that they must know it by heart. Noncitizens cannot collect pensions? Nonsense. Noncitizens cannot work in public sector? Nonsense. OK, maybe they are not allowed to work in secret service (I have heard something about that), but come on, there is a logic in it. Russians are denied of citizenship because of their nationality? Nonsense.
The topic of Nazi SS 'freedom fighters' is so worn-out that it makes me laugh through tears. The forementioned Waffen SS groups were regular soldiers, forced to join the Nazi army with the alternative of receiving death penalty.
As of the John's (Ivan's?) argument that there are much more non-citizens than officially stated - come on, there are ~2.3 million inhabitants in Latvia, in the territory of 65 thousands square kilometers. Where do these people hide? Latvia is not India or Russia, my dear.

  • 69.
  • At 08:14 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Mario Brother wrote:

An answer to those who like Alex think that "The Baltic republics have never been forced to deal with their own Nazi past".

After the WWII 120,000 Latvian inhabitants were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration and death camps. They were accused of collaboration with the Nazi regime. That roughly makes at least 10% of the total population that remained after the War. Most of them had nothing in common with the Nazi regime.

By the way, talking about the history. Would someone cover the true story of Red Army soldiers (or the "Soviet heroes") raping Russian and Polish women liberated from Nazi concentration camps?


The USSR occupied Latvia in June 1940. The Germans did not arrive in Latvia until July 1941. So I am not sure how the USSR could have occupied them as part of any intervention to stop the Holocaust on Latvian territory, seeing that Latvia had Soviet military basis stationed on its territory, as per a mutual assistance treaty, from 1939 through 1941.

In other words, you are wrong.


  • 71.
  • At 08:49 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Sergio wrote:

The problem with latvian naturalisation exam that it's not fair. It requires not so much knowledge but the "right attitude". This explains rejection of this so-called "naturalisation" by ethnic russians.

Small baltic countries (including latvia) were part of the Russian empire for centuries and not just from 1940. In fact, latvians played key role in some of the events of Russian history. Latvian divisions of so called Red riflemans/marksmans helped Lenin to overturn Tsarist government in 1917-18. Descendents of these fighters are denieded citizenship by current latvian government despite having latvian ethnicity.

It is also a bit simplistic to view all ethnic latvians as homogenous group. People in significant area of the latvia called Latgalia speak language which is quite distant from official latvian. These people as well as ethnic russians are denieded the right to use officially and develop their language.

Latvian government failed to integrate significant proportion of their population into the mainstream culture because of their inadequate laws infringing human rights. Latvia remains very ethnically divided country. It's a shame that current facist latvian regime was given some sort of credibility when allowed into the EU.

  • 72.
  • At 08:59 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • bobby ef wrote:

I am astounded that the author would even pay passing lip service to the Soviet Union having "liberated" Latvia. "Stalin the liberator" - now there's a concept!
PS Did it ever cross the author's mind to interview a single Latvian? Does the BBC really not have any standards of journalism?!

  • 73.
  • At 09:05 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Sergey_LV wrote:

Being ½ latvian and ½ russian, having been raised and having lived, studied and worked among both latvians and russians (also other ethnicities for that matter) in Latvia for more than 23 years I have come to conclusion that the main reason for the argument over citizenship is the fact, that both sides of this debate have totally different view on the history of Latvia in 20th century and the legal status of Latvian State as a result of that. I would argue that this also the main reason behind the few other sticking points between latvians and many of ethnic russians living in Latvia.
Latvians, most of the people from ethnic minorities (other than Russians) who have lived in Latvia for centuries (Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, Estonians and Germans) and even substantial minority of ethnic Russians and russian speaking Belorussians and Ukrainians who either had ancesstors among people living in Latvia before WWII or are educated enough to have read not only Soviet history books, consider modern day Latvia to be legal continuation of the state which was founded in 1918 and occupied by Soviet Union in 1940. On the other hand most of the ethinc Russians, especially those who moved into Latvia during Soviet times, don’t share that view and consider Latvia to be the new state which was founded on the ruins of the Soviet Union in 1991. Historically the fact of the Soviet occupation has been well founded not only by the firsthand accounts of people who lived at that time, but also by the most of the international historians and experts of the international law. This view is also further validated by judgements of ECJ which have acknowledged that the Soviet entery into Latvia in 1940 was illegal annexation and occupation, and by the fact that majority of the international community at that time didn’t recognize the Soviet power in Latvia (and Baltics) and continiued to consider Latvia as independent entity of international law.
Therefore based on the consitutional theory of the conitunation of Latvian sate after Latvia regained its’ de facto independence in 1991 all the persons who were citizens of Latvia in 1940 or whose ancestors were citizens of Latvia at that time were legally given back the citizinship of Latvia which they couldn’t use during the Soviet ocupation. Therefore citizinship was given to all the persons who could prove their connection to preocupation state regardless of their nationality. Nearly all the Latvians could do that and were given citizinship, as did most of the other ethnic minorities and substantial number of Russians. Naturally the Russians, who didn’t receive the citizinshep, were enraged by this, especially since they considered this to be the newly founded state and that created a lot of bad feelings towards the Latvian state. While this desicion at that time (in 1991 – 1992) may have been legally sound, I still feel that Latvian state could have handled this sensetive matter a little bit better. Futher complicating the matters was the Citizinship Law which at that time restricted the naturalization. It was however liberalized as result of referendum in 1998 and since then the state has played more active role in trying to help the remaining Russians without Latvian citizenship to obtain it. Nevertheless, despite having some symphaty with my russian brothers and sisters on this issue, I think that much of the blame regarding this matter lays squarly on those Russians who have not bothered learn Latvian and who really are living in other historical and political reality hoping against hope that either they will be authomatically given the citizenship or that Soviet times (or Russian times) will some day return alltogether. The fact that 2/5 of russians still don’t have citizenship diminshes the political power of russian minority and doesn’t allow to politically influence other issues important to russian community. Thus those Russians, who refuse to naturalize are actually doing a great disservice to the majority Russians living here. Still many russians, who didn’t authomatically received the citizenship, have obtained it and have really moved on, at least on this matter.
P.S. Sarauj Latvija! Latvia's women basketball team has beaten France in 1/4 of European Championship and will be playing in Semifinal. Great day for both latvians and russians living in Latvia!

"The Baltic republics have never been forced to deal with their own Nazi past. Perhaps they ought to be compelled to."

What Nazi past? We were occupied in 1940 as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939. Invaded and annexed by the USSR, which in this period was best friends with Hitler, eagerly supplying Germany with raw materials, invading Poland and the Baltics and staging joint parades with the Nazis.

  • 75.
  • At 09:43 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Jaan Sotter wrote:

In the Soviet Union the ethnic russians had many privileges, including the right to live in newer and better houses for a very small rent. Local ethnic groups were mostly denied to improve their living conditions even if they had money to do it. Most soviet people lived in state-owned flats, so did the russian colonists in Baltic countries. In 1991 when these small states became independent again they made a generous gesture to the former privileged colonists - as a sign of forgiving they were made of tenants to real-estate property owners. Almost gratis. But not a single "thank you!"

  • 76.
  • At 09:58 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Martha Hubbard wrote:

I read this blog regularly because I find the comments useful and thought provoking BUT this was disgraceful. I have lived in Estonia 10 years and will soon take the exam for citizenship. Estonian is not an easy language to learn but if this addled old pensioner can learn it I think that people who have lived here all their lives can do so. The real issue here is not about learning a foreign language, it is the resentment of - some - of the conquerors at not longer being on top. It is also mostly here in Estonia, the gripe of older people who remember when they could command the local Estonians like serfs. Many, many younger Russian speaking Estonians have had no difficulty learning the language and are happy to be part of a growing
Estonia. In my vocational school students study Estonian, Finnish, English Russian, German and even Swedish. This is a phony issue kept alive by a Russia which doesn't want to face the fact that she lost and ill-judged articles like this by Mr Mardell. As I said, it's a phony issue. It will go away when the last of the conquering incomers dies of old age and are buried at the expense of the Estonian State.

It would be amusing to see so many barking up the wrong trees, except that they take themselves so seriously. Jesus, the total disenfranchisement of a significant part of the population! Did it ever occur to this person that a significant part of the population opposed our very existence? Let's see. So, say, if Nazi Germany had taken over Britain and most people in London could not speak English, you'd argue for the status of German?

What some people seem to miss is that everything is fine -- not a single person has died by inter-communal violence, because there just isn't any. That's more than one can say of many a "Western" land, whether in Ulster or the Basque Country.

How do you figure? And when you figure it out, come back and explain exactly what happened between the wars, in the Sudetenland or in Danzig, in lots if places. Is that what you would like to see? Do Russian vandals in Tallinn give you a hard-on or something?

If so, I think you are missing the point -- this article is about Daugavpils. I live here. Russians and Russophones are all around me. They're fine. And what is happening in Russia? How many languages died today?

I think this article is disgusting, and some of the commentary is frightening. The Old Believers fled Russia. They found a home here. One can say the same for many people for whenever this Republic has existed, 1920-1934 and again 1991+. Latvia took in Jews fleeing Poland in 1939. Did Sweden?

The 1919 law guaranteeing education in minority languages was one of the first of its kind. Please explain to me why the 19-yo bartender at Vēsma refuses to understand the word for "beer."

Rancid Soviet history or strivings for the peace of Uncle Joe just won't do it.

Britain helped the Baltics. We'll never forget that. We're free again. Is it really so difficult for some to understand what that means? Is it some Freudian regret that the USSR disappeared, or what?

The lingua franca in Daugavpils is Russian. And so? All that means is that we didn't do to the Russians what they did to us, basically, if you have a perverse need to condense a complex problem to a sick meme. Great success!

Why avoid the point that a small part of the population, an almost entirely Russian part, looks elsewhere? I've been rereading Shirer -- when the Nazis were hanging people in the Sudetenland, he asked how many Sudeten Germans the Czechs hanged, if any.

The Russian language and culture in Latvia flourish. The Padre could have told this reporter that his churches have never done better -- they look really nice. The one that was built by the Latvian dictator in 1935 was redone by the latest oligarch not long ago. Look back a little longer -- those churches weren't even allowed to look like churches in the Russian Empire. That Empire was run by the Orthodox. As it is again?

Enough. I hate the type of disinformation this BBC journo offers. As others have pointed out, this reporter spoke only to Russians. Worse, I think he goaded some into saying what they didn't mean to say, and then clipped what they said. Bad journalism, in essence, period.

  • 78.
  • At 10:16 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Jack wrote:

How about this one: make a requirement that all immigrants to Ireland pass a test of Irish language. So much for those who wonder how can someone live in a country for decades and not know the language.

The division is clear. Latvians like to complain of their subjugated status, ignore Nazi links, but don't have a problem claiming ownership of Russian heritage there. Russians feel as if nothing changed since USSR, and wonder why would they be required to adapt. It is a complex problem that requires a wise solution.

My impression is that Latvia may benefit as a bridge towards Russia, but they chose to play the part of an angry brat (Finland also has historic reasons to be angry at Russia, but they know better).

  • 79.
  • At 10:35 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • Estland wrote:

The article makes it sound as if it were some kind of problem. The citizenship issue. If to consider this a problem, then from a different angle.

The right thing to do in the early days of independence would have been exchange of population. Similar idea - perhaps wrongly implemented - was the exchange during separation of India in 1947. Another case accompanied territorial exchanges between Greece and Turkey in 1920s. Also quite massive was withdrawal of Germans from Czechoslovakia, remodelled Poland, Königsberg region (and what else) after the war or from the Baltic states already in 1940. There are other examples as well.

Hovewer, the Baltic states of 1991 had this little problem of not having own army, but instead having lots of Russian army units and trainloads of distribution-ready Kalashnikovs inside their territories, which lasted until 1993/94. One can remember that at the same time the Russian army was bombarding its own parliament, btw. Perhaps this partly explains why no proper population exchange took place. Even though they may have been sort of very well persuaded to be extra soft (thus escaping the fate of less wise Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, which coutries didn't make it), and as a consequence foreign people were allowed to "stay", nevertheless providing real accomodation was impossible for them (oversimplifying quite a bit: they were hated by the locals). And it wasn't right thing for Russia to press (and what Russia does right?) for. Because they still had to leave and they did. I say "staying" because the foreigners haven't been allowed to stay, but "stay". "Staying" is what citizenshipless persons do. It is probably quite a bit more complex and perhaps not as negative and as I put it here, but one could claim it was not politically possible in Latvia and Estonia to accomodate all those people. We really have no means to compare (we have lots of examples above even though they are kinda "bad") how would others react, say how would United Kingdom of Food Shortages behave after suddenly discovering 30-40% of population not who it was supposed to be. We have pretty nasty looking tensions in countries with 10% of immigrants. Who weren't occupying particular country.

But back to the point those who "stayed" haven't been automatically given passports of the re-born states. This is what happened. And they won't be given automatic citizenship. And perhaps there's a thing or two else they won't automatically have. But Russia's presidential ukaz of 2005 as well as Constitutional Court ruling calls them Russians - compatriots and citizens - who they are and fhom the Motherland needs.

By the way, in the story this former USSR (or whatever) parliament deputy, banned from Latvian parliament forgot to mention that the same issue has been to ECHR, the ruling came out quite satisfactory in Latvia's favor (see case Zhdanoka vs Latvia). I think one solid sounding British lawer represented Zhdanoka, professor of law of somewhere (though Brits are quite good at for example EU anti-trust law).
Given that I'd say some of our British friends may benefit from human rights lessons from Latvia (15 surveillance cameras per capita? Mama). Of course, this was just a trial, no offence :)
But the story is not yet as simple as it is told, there were/are others things in play, but enough of cinicism for one day.

  • 80.
  • At 12:17 AM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Mora Aal wrote:

Being an Estonian and having some skills in English, Finnish, German, and Russian, I wonder how some people managed to remain monolingual despite living in multicultural societies for decades. Well, the representatives of big nations may have a chauvinistic attitude toward small nations. That might explain why many Russians refuse to speak Latvian or Estonian in these tiny states. Their usual excuse is that the learning of minor languages is a waste of time (at least my Russian neighbours seem to think so). The same way of thinking characterises other powerful nations too, and it has had catastrophic consequences for huge number of native languages. It is fact that most of the Latvians and Estonians can speak Russian but many Russians (in these countries) do not bother to learn the second language (or they prefer English). Sun would be much brighter for me if my Russian neighbours would say ‘tere’ (‘Hi’ in Estonian) when we see next time.

PS. The abuse of ‘fascism’ in several comments is sad and insulting. The three Baltic states ceased to exist as the result of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed by Russia (USSR) and Germany in 1939. In the same year, Russians occupied part of Poland, the Baltic states, and part of Finland (Carelia) Thus, the three Baltic states were occupied (Russians, Germans, Russians again) since the beginning of the WWII till 1991 and cannot be responsible for the war crimes of occupants. The russification of Latvia and Estonia began shortly after the end of the WWII; as the consequence, the number of native Estonians declined from ca 1.4 million in 1939 to ca 0.9 million in 1990s.

  • 81.
  • At 04:29 AM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Alexander Terekhov wrote:

I was born in Riga and then although my mother is Russian, she took the initiative and mastered the Latvian language. Latvians, in turn, respected this rarity. It is the Russians' fault for not learning Latvian. Any sensible person who understands whose land he is residing on should respect the indigenous population and acquaint him/herself with the local culture. Having said that, it is not the Russian population's fault for pulling Latvia back into the stone age over the 50 year Soviet period. It the Soviet government's fault.
Remember that under Czarist Russian Constitutional Monarchy, Latvians were allowed to open their own schools, celebrate Latvian holidays, and speak their own language. Economy was booming, and Latvia was the only region in the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire that had a Mercedez Benz factory (luxury reserved to only few regions in all of Europe). Economy was booming and Russia at that time was the only country that could afford golden currency in wide circulation - United States during this pre WWI period could only afford silver to circulate.
In the final analysis, any serious scholar who studied the region in light of politics/history/economics would agree that Latvians themselves are competent to decide their history and their republic's future path.

Migration in time of occupation is a problem that needs to be solved somehow. There are some international thoughts about it, for example by UN Comission on Human Rights report:

The human rights dimensions of population transfer, including the implantation of settlers
35. One of the principal devices used by an occupying Power to extend control over a territory is to implant its own, or other reliable population into the territory. Although they may serve a military objective and may even be armed by the occupying Power, settlers implanted in occupied territories are claimed by the occupying Power as its "civilian" citizens. Thus, the occupying Power eventually asserts that humanitarian concerns compel it to remain in the territory to extend its protection to the implanted population. This argument may be combined with other ideological claims concerning the occupier's "right" to possess the territory for putative security and humanitarian reasons, or even on the basis of rights, such as "historical rights", which have no legal basis. This policy is typically coupled with incremental and/or large-scale expulsions of the indigenous population. In such cases, the right of the indigenous population to return is usually denied, ostensibly for "security" reasons, despite the prior obligations of the occupying Power to respect the refugee's right of return.

36. In addition to the occupier's security claims, the implantation of settlers from the occupying Power's own population is sometimes used with a future, non-military strategy in mind. In the event that the status of a disputed territory is resolved by eventual referendum or plebescite, this putatively democratic procedure can be greatly influenced with the participation of the implanted population on an equal footing with the indigenous population. Even if this process results in the eventual separation of the occupied territory from the occupying Power, the settlers' participation may influence the terms and conditions of the future status of the territory in a manner that serves the former Occupant.

This is quite clear language, but does not solve the question, i.e., what to do with the implanted population after the occupation.

As this is a very complicated human rights question, in regards of both the indigenous and implanted people. One can easily think of a situation where there are more implanted people than indigenous. Where are the rights of the indigenous then if there is a full democracy? Where are the rights of the implanted - who have not themselves done any crime but their home country has - if they are denied citizenship and voting rights?

Due to this complexity, politicians and the intelligentsia usually try not address the problem at all - just wishing that the question goes away somehow.

This problem was heightened in the ethnic unrest in Estonia last spring.

With regards,

Iiro Jantunen
Helsinki, Finland

  • 83.
  • At 10:45 AM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • cyrill wrote:

Some bloggers (obviously holders of a EU passport) do their best to deny the fact that there are human rights problem in Latvia and Estonia, as well as Nazi attitude. Just few links for those who thinks this is not true:
1. Latvian political union "For Human Rights in a United Latvia".
2. PACE resolution on discrimination
3. UN Human Rights Watch resolution of 2004 on glorification of Waffen SS.
4. On non-cooperation in prosecution of Nazis and on pro-Nazi marches -
google Simon Wiesenthal centre with words 'Latvia' or 'Estonia'.
Or, better, just go to those countries and talk to people, non-cirizens, aliens, and see it all yourselves. It's ugly.

  • 84.
  • At 12:03 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Bertinos wrote:

@ Ben(#50)
Mr. Leterme was asked to sing the Belgian National Anthem in French, hence his confusion with the French National Anthem. I'm sure he knows (at least the first lines of) it in Dutch. All the rest is just politics. I wonder how many Walloon politicians are able to sing the Belgian National Anthem in Dutch (or in German for that matter)...

I would argue that the citizenship issue in Estonia is resolving itself.

In 1992, 32 percent of the population was stateless. In 2007, 8.5 percent of the population is stateless. The government has estimated that the number of stateless persons may reach zero in 8 years, but that's optimistic.

The Estonian state is working to end statelessness in Estonia. It's not a permanent condition brought about to preserve "ethnocracy".

As for ethnic unrest, yes those drunk Tallinn teenagers were really mad they moved the statue, so mad they smashed a lot of windows and burned a lot of kiosks, and most of all *looted a lot of liquor stores.*

But the thing is that most of them have citizenship. And most of them go to Russian language schools. And if they interact with any customer service person in Tallinn, at a store, in a hospital, at the bank, they can get service in Russian.

I live in Tartu, Estonia. Our city is 81 percent ethnic Estonian and 15 percent ethnic Russian. And yet:

* When I go into the department store there are advertisements in both languages.

* When I go to the home good store there are signs in both languages.

* When I fill out a form at a bank, there are advertisements in both languages AND forms in both languages.

* When I flip on Estonian Television at 6.45 pm, there's the news ... in Russian.

* When I go to the library to get my daughter some books, there is an immense Russian language session for children, far larger than actually corresponds to their number in this city.

* The keyboards at the library are bilingual.

* The magazine racks at every store carry Russian language newspapers and magazines.

* The city website is available in Estonian, Russian, Finnish, English, and German

* I have only seen a person unable to speak to a clerk at a store in Russian one (1) time, and that is because the teenage clerk did not speak Russian.

So the issue here would boil down to what exactly? Where is the gross human rights violation in my town?

Why do you even bother to make this stuff up?

Dear Cyrill, thank you for this reference (although somewhat erroneous) on Latvia's and Estonia's human rights issues. As background it should be mentioned that the same bodies periodically make similar reports on 46 countries of Europe. Opening some of these reports, for example written about UK provides, in some cases, more lenghty lists of alledged malpractices than those of Estonia. Opening same reports and documents, again, of the same bodies and with similar titles on Russia, however, provides considerable longer lists of issues. I am sure you also demand your (Russian) government to fullfill recommendations by those bodies with respect of human rights. Good luck!

  • 87.
  • At 03:01 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Rasma wrote:

It was interesting to read the comentaries on Mark Mandell's one-sided article about present day Latvia. To those who criticize Latvians about their so-called "Nazi past", may I suggest that they visit the Occupation Museum in Riga, Latvia, look at the historic documents and photographs and obtain accurate information about the true events in this Soviet and at one time Nazi occupied unfortunate Baltic State.

  • 88.
  • At 03:30 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • cyrill wrote:

First of all, the discussion is about Latvia's stateless. Therefore, finger-pointing to Russia is an invalid argument, although very popular.
All countries have problems, like UK or Russia, you mentioned. The difference is that the majority of the British and Russian public and even politicians, do not deny them, are sincerely concerned about them and do not tell 'democratic, human rights paradise' lies to the others. Because they know they are great, mature nations.
When Latvia discriminates defenceless Russian pensioners, does it make it mature or civilized?
Thank you for studying the links.

  • 89.
  • At 03:54 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • Ott wrote:

As a journalist myself, I am appalled at how many basic mistakes mr. Mardell has made with regards to objectivity, but it has been covered by others above. As for the ``difficulty'' of citizenship tests in Latvia and Estonia, at least since 2002 those passing the test in Estonia don't have to have any knowledge of the constitution (lets admit, most native Estonians do not, but this is another point, also already addressed above). You have to answer multiple-choice questions by looking up the answers from the constitution totaling 15 chapters, short by any standards, and they have even marked the numbers of the right chapters and paragraphs behind each question to make it easy enough. 92-93 percent of those taking the test have passed in last few years. Disenfranchisement? Don't think anything could be further from truth.

  • 90.
  • At 07:53 PM on 05 Oct 2007,
  • alex wrote:

Again I am aghast at the readiness of Latvians here to justify the mistreatment of these people simply because of their ethnic origin (as belonging to their former "colonial masters"). If it pains you to be painted as "fascist", perhaps ceasing with fascist policies is a good start. Why is it a surprise when you get called out for practicing apartheid?

And the defense that "it's even worse in Russia" is too pathetic to contemplate. You seriously want to use Russia as the benchmark for your human rights record? Come on. You've been allowed into the EU thanks to our desire to contain Russian influence. And you're making a mockery out of our decision to let you into the club of civilized nations. We should have brought in Croatia and Bosnia in instead.

  • 91.
  • At 02:55 AM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • bramovich wrote:

before the hristianity araved all this teritoru was populated by the people who call themself istoslaveni serbei wich mean the cousant who speak the same words.civil war betwen hristian and pagan destroid complete one whole cultyre and laiter mongoliano germanin,turkoindoasean imvasions helped that great civilisacion gone forever.

Alex wrote:

"You've been allowed into the EU thanks to our desire to contain Russian influence. And you're making a mockery out of our decision to let you into the club of civilized nations."

We were welcomed into the EU because we meet the criteria for entry; our laws are in line with the body of European law.

If there are problems -- and every country has some problems -- the EU has mechanisms through which they can be resolved, as do the CoE/PACE, the OSCE, etc.

"Why is it a surprise when you get called out for practicing apartheid?"

We don't practice apartheid, obviously; apartheid was designed to perpetuate segregation, whilst our laws and policies promote integration.


Apparently you haven't been to Latvia. As an American who has been to Latvia numerous times, and learned the language, I agree that there is a large problem going on. I have personally experienced the non-assimilating population of Russians, distrupting Latvian national holiday, refusing to speak the language and looking down in disgust, and insulting Latvians. They have suffered great losses under the Soviet occupation. They continue to be plagued by former KGB and Russian nationalists in their political system who constantly de-rail the aspirations of Latvians who want a better life and a better country. I aplaud them. One of the great problems is with the EU system that prevents removing the problem. Alex, if someone murdered two of your uncles, shot your grandmother with her baby (your mother) in her arms, took away everything that your granparents had, and continued to live next door to you, get drunk and disrupt all of the Lativan national holidays, how would you feel. These memories and facts in Latvia simply cannot be forgotten. Would you forget what "your neighbor" did to your family? I would hope not. By the way, my wife is Latvian, has learned 6 languages, and has her Ph.D. and this is similar to her family situation.

After the occupation started, and Latvia fell, its citizens became machine gun meat, forced labor, human targets. People died by the tens of thousands. The mass graves are there. Bullet pock marks still visible in castle walls give testimony of the assinations. Entire elementary school classes disappeared in the night, never to be seen again. Families vanished in the night. Their population was reduced by 20%. And you want to tell the Latvians that it was no big deal....just accept those ex KGB, non conforming russians who stir up trouble. Not to mention the russian mafia is very alive, very well, and very powerful. You could pay to have somebody disappear, seriously.

Today, Latvia is trying to recover its national heritage, and trying to survive as a country, under the immense weight of the EU colonization, which has decimated large parts of it's economy. It's a huge task, one that must be won. It is not as Ivan would like you to believe...simul usus et pecateur. The Latvians have a soverign right to their homeland. Let us all fight to preserve this, as we would want them to do for us in our homelands, wherever we might be.

So wake up Alex. Go, spend a couple months in Latvia and see for yourself. Learn the facts. Get a grip. Unless anyone has lived, or spent considerable time in a country like Lativa, or Bosnia, or Iraq for that matter, one doesn't really understand what people there really deal with. The majority, can read, study, collect briefs, reports and opinions on matters, but it is never a solution for being there. This article merely presents one side of the problem, a big problem...and there needs to be a way back to russia for those who resist.

Sola Fide, Lettland

  • 94.
  • At 11:22 AM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • mikelis wrote:

anyone who is comparing latvian policies to apartheid probably doesnt know anything about south africa. its a tired and bogus statement that does not hold up to scrutiny. the citizenship laws are not based on ethnicity. And there is no forced separation between any ethnic groups in Latvia. Alex's post was among the most pathetic so far, and they're have been many.

  • 95.
  • At 02:33 PM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • valters rudzitis wrote:

id like to clear couple of mis-concepts considering what happened during and after WW2:
1-MOST of russian speaking population in latvia thinks that soviet union liberated latvia and brought it freedom. only FEW of them understand pain of latvians due to SOVIET OCCUPATION and are open minded enough to stand up for what their nation [that would be soviet russia] did to baltic states!
2-MOST, as in WAST MAJORITY of LATVIANS think that soviet army did NOT liberalize latvian nation, what it did is it OCCUPIED latvia and needless to say - killed or deported to siberia quite alot of free thinking and intelligent people who had a free will, thus scaring the rest of population and giving hints on what might happen if someone will dare to stand against soviet occupational forces.

so next time someone of your smart a*ses say something so lame as "many in latvia think that ussr did not occupy and rape this country" THINK again ;)

  • 96.
  • At 03:28 PM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • Joe Hoffmann wrote:

I fully agree with Peteris Cedris. It is a shame that BBC is sponsoring such a biased pro-Russian article of Mr Mardell. It appears to me that in many ways BBC is not different from some state sponsored Russian or other media agencies.

  • 97.
  • At 05:09 PM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • alex wrote:

Many people still can't seem to grasp the difference between Russia and the Soviet Union. What possible interest could Stalin (a Georgian)have had in the Russification of Latvia. As usual the cold war mentality of many here blames the ethnic Russians instead the Soviet leaders of whom very little were Russian. Russian people suffered the most in the 20th century than any other nation, and Latvia just wants to make it worse.
Bringing Russians to Latvia was wrong, and the treatment of Latvians was wrong. But there should be no need for further persecution of Russians for the decisions of the communist few. Two wrongs don't make a right.
P.S. thank you mark for giving the other, and less popular side of the story.It was the right thing to do.

  • 98.
  • At 05:11 PM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • NS wrote:

Imagine a situation. You are under attack by a gang of knife-wielding bullies. After a bloody struggle, you slaughter the biggest one, then take his henchmen prisoner.

In this example, Hitlerian Germany is the big bully,
and a country like a Baltic state is unfortunately the henchman, willing or not - it does not really matter in a life or death situation. The problem with being on the wrong side of history is that complaints about things like the Molotov - Ribbentrop pact lose their meaning when you end up being somehow a helping hand to a Jew-burning maniac.

There is no excuse for it and any treatment of the said "henchman" is a humane one under the murderous curcumstances of WW2. What happened after WW2 is
a reaction of a person deciding what to do with the henchmen who a moment ago held a knife to your throat. At that, I think it was not so despicably difficult to understand.

2 things:
First, During German occupation, many Baltic people passionately bought into the myth of belonging to a superior race and gladly fought on the side that was winning at the time. I mean, why wouldn't they considering their hatred of the Russians? We can still see the echo of this attitude in those SS veteran marches.

Second, as is correctly pointed out, Baltic states find themselves in EU only due to the European drive to limit the Russian influence. Isn't it ironic that the very people they dislike are the major reason for their
appartenance to the geopolitical club they so admire?
Indeed, the same goes for all east European countries now included in the EU. A well-rounded observer would do well to sease any chest pounding versus Russia.

Eastern Europe suffered from and was betrayed by Russians, Germans, English and French. However,shockingly persistent racial myths and ignorance of history are still plain to see as the distribution of admiration and animosity mechanically follows the East versus West axis.

To summarize, I think being a Baltic country is a difficult thing because you often owe your position to extraneous forces. However, in view of the above, failure to fully accomodate non-Latvian Russian residents and treatmeant their culture with disdain are nothing but manifestations of misdirected pride, ignorance and searching for a scapegoat which is unfortunately to be expected in the process of rebuilding a wounded national self. My personal message to the Baltic countries would be: be patient, be compromising and do not attempt to whitewash the fact that for whatever reason, you happened to be that henchman when the history of the entire world was at crossroads. I suppose an apology would be too much to expect, but unlimited tolerance would indeed be nice.

thanks for reading

  • 99.
  • At 06:10 PM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • Valentina wrote:

I am one of the Latvian stateless “Alien’s” and I am glad that this issue was brought up on BBC news site. I do understand why so many Latvians are still angry at USSR (which doesn’t exist anymore) and Russians (Stalin was Georgian, why not at Georgians?). Country was divided during the WWII and subject of the political priorities and choices is very sensitive. However, it is not my fault that I am in Latvia; it is not my fault that my grandfather was in Nazis concentrate camp and was not fit enough to go back to Ukraine.
Latvia has not given me much after collapse of Soviet Union, except chance to go abroad and find better life. I got my degrees from universities in Britain and currently working in U.A.E. However, I am planning to move back to Riga, my hometown one day,
I have tried to pass the language test twice and, although it is not so difficult it is not that easy – I failed twice. Next year I will try again.
However, I feel that language and loyalty test is one of the ways to discriminate Russian-speaking population of Latvia.
This test is not helping Latvia to unite its people. Instead of fighting an imaginable Russian enemy, isn’t better to move together to the better future?

  • 100.
  • At 11:17 PM on 06 Oct 2007,
  • Ashok Bhagat wrote:

I do not profess to be an expert in Russian or Baltic history, however it seems to me that Estonia and Latvia and some other parts of Baltic were ruled by Sweden. Swedish lost them to Russians at the time of Peter the great. I cannot understand why many people are giving an impression that Baltic nations were always independent (I think they were between 1st and 2nd world war) countries. They have been a part of Russia for 300 or 400 years. I think we should at least read history correctly.

  • 101.
  • At 01:41 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Alexei Zakharov wrote:

The de-Russification of the Baltic states is an ongoing major violation of human rights.

In 1991, a quarter of Latvia's population woke up to find out that they are no longer eligible to vote, even though many of them were born in the country or moved in as children.
Their only fault was that their native language was no longer the state official language. Imagine that happening in Belgium or in Switzerland.

One often hears, of course, that the de-Russification was necessary in order to correct the historic injustice of Russian dominance in the Baltics. But do the ends always justify the means?

  • 102.
  • At 08:25 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Armands Gelins wrote:

Mr Mardell wrote just one side of the story - that’s is not explaining exact problem but putting so called minorities views on discution.I think there is enough examples in Europe where language is or could be a problem - UK (Scotland,NI,Wales),Belgium(Vallonia,Flandria),Serbia(Kosovo),Spain(Region of Catalunia,Land of Bask`s).I think that there might be some more - every one of them has their own traditions and even languages - as there was a comment about Latgale - it does sound a bit differently - but not so that ethnic Latvian couldn’t understand it.It`s something like English and Scotish.But the point is Every Single Independent Country Should Only Have One Official Language. In addition, that to my knowledge is one part of loyalty to country where you live even from birth. Shame if somebody don’t understand it.It`s not about abusing their identity it`s about adopting in culture where you live. John Smith wrote - there should be equal rights - but don’t forget that every one of Latvian Do Learn History in School for 9 to 12 school years at least twice a week same as Latvian language - what test should be there - are you saying that being English to get your passport at 16 you had to pass the test? There are Russian language schools in Latvia - now they have to learn every single subject in Latvian before was only Russian - that is one of in my opinion the most efficient way to help young potential citizens to pass the test easy. No one ever had prohibited to learn their own language and to keep up their culture. Talking about history - it is subject where we cannot do nothing about it happened and so we all will have to live with. However, it is true that Soviets overwrite history books in their favour - to get ideology on track. There are many coments that it is just disgusting - some people have their thoughts but have no clue what they are writing about - for example coment No 87!!!

  • 103.
  • At 10:50 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Bryan wrote:

Just curious... who here can shed some light on how easy it is for an ethnic Latvian citizen to gain full citizenship in Russia these days?

  • 104.
  • At 11:14 PM on 07 Oct 2007,
  • Prem Pillai wrote:

I wonder whether the "approved history" that must be regurgitated in citizenship tests mentions the important role Latvians played in Soviet history? From 1918 when the Constituent Assembly was dispersed by Latvian troops (as Trotsky said: "Ideology marched hand in hand with Lettish sharpshooters." to the death of the USSR when the leader of the August coup was Boris Pugo a Latvian.

  • 105.
  • At 12:53 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Piotr Tabaczewski wrote:

I object to use the word "liberators". It is true that Soviets expelled Germans but at the same time became oppressors. For this reasons they can not be called liberators. Would you call changing execution mode from electric chair to hanging a pardon?. The true intention of Stalin regime were revealed in Ribbentrop - Molotov pact. So please stop perpetuating this mental lapse that is an offense to intelligence.

  • 106.
  • At 09:42 AM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Alex Rozman wrote:

This is most certainly a breach of human rights in a EU member state and does not get nearly enough press coverage. It is pathetic that the EU deems itself worthy to dictate its view on human rights when its own members discriminate against people so.

  • 107.
  • At 12:38 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Andrejs in Riga wrote:

In your article Yevgeny states one of the often repeated untruths by those who think the USSR was a liberator "...I don't believe that after the war this country was damaged. A lot was developed here". Truth is the oposite - before World War II Latvia's living standards were ahead of Finland's. And since independence in 1990 Latvia's rate of economic growth has outpaced Finland, yet now Latvia is very far behind Finland in living standards. How come? Unfortunately these people base their information on former Soviet propaganda and are not interested in reading anything else.
Andrejs living in Riga since September 2006

  • 108.
  • At 03:08 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • mikelis wrote:

``First, During German occupation, many Baltic people passionately bought into the myth of belonging to a superior race and gladly fought on the side that was winning at the time.''

NS, you obviously dont know anything about Latvian history, the Germans were in the accendency here since the cursades in the 13th century, something that really only ended with the first world war. The Latvian national epic has the latvians fighting against the Germans. Please point out a credible source that says that Latvians believed they were a superior race equal to the Germans, its an idiotic statement. Latvian history has been filled with animosity against the germans.

Valentina your english is excellent, I'm sure it wouldnt take you long to pass the latvian language exam and become a citizen. I've had many friends do the same. Latvia is quite a bit different now than it was in the 1990s, I dont believe the citizenship issue or Russia is as important now as it was back then. Its more economy these days.


  • 109.
  • At 03:22 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

The solutions for this are complex. The question though, is simple. It reduces to, WHAT right and based on what exactly do the Russians have to stay in Latvia or anywhere else outside of Russia? Places they invaded and occupied? Russians were not invited. They were not migrants. They do not have any rights as invaders other than the rights Latvians grant them. If the Latvians so choosem, they have the right to kick them out.

I have read many of these dialogs and they always seem to travel in the same circles.

There are the war crimes of the NKVD in Latvia in 1940, before any Latvian joined any German army. Those are quite atrocious.

Then there are the calls back and forth of these inane 20th century historiography terms -- 'fascist' 'communist', 'nazi'. Who is a bigger what, et cetera?

I think the main problem that no one addresses in Latvia is the asymmetrical bilingualism. That is, Latvians are expected to know two languages to function in public, Russian speakers are only expected to know one.

In a state that is 60 percent Latvian, it's a bit of a no-brainer which language should predominate.
How that goal undoes 50 years of Russian in public life is the question at the center here.

Believe it or not, Latvians aren't born speaking Russian. They shouldn't have to in a Latvian state.

In every other multilingual state, the majority tongue dominates the public life. In Canada it is always English first, French second. Remember that.

So the question for you out there, is what can Latvia do better to make sure that all of its residents can better participate in a Latvian-language dominated public life?

  • 111.
  • At 09:59 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • mait wrote:

Whoever mentioned the old 'but Stalin wasn't russian!' yarn: I wasn't forced to learn georgian for 11 years in school. Trust me, though they often appear synonymous, Baltic peoples are quite capable of seeing the difference between 'russian' and 'soviet'.

And as we're on the topic of words, 'liberation' stems from the root 'liberty'. There was no liberty after Soviet invasion, hence talking about liberation is false. Same goes for russian words 'osvobozhdeniya' and 'svoboda'.

A good indicator about how 'good' it was for the Baltic nations under Soviet rule is this simple fact: there were less estonians living in Estonia in 1991 than in 1939, while russian population here increased by over five times. If we hadn't managed to break free, our nation and languague would be in steep decline as is the case with many smaller nations still trapped inside the behemoth. Dilute, marginalise, forget, repeat.

  • 112.
  • At 11:07 AM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • nononsense wrote:

17/11/2006 PACE:
"PACE Standing Committee calls for better treatment of non-citizens in Latvia"

"PACE Standing Committee meeting today in San Marino, called for non-citizens in Latvia to be granted at least the same rights as other EU nationals living in the country. In a resolution, the parliamentarians called for automatic naturalisation of non-citizens who are elderly or born in the country, as well as those who have made “a worthwhile contribution to the establishment of the newly independent Latvian state”. More flexible naturalisation procedures should be considered, and those applying should not be asked to express convictions that are “contrary to their reading of the history of their cultural community or nation”.
Minorities should also be able to use their language in relations with administrative authorities "in areas where they live in substantial numbers" while all permanent residents should be able to vote in at least local elections, in line with Assembly recommendations."

  • 113.
  • At 01:59 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • Ivan wrote:

Why bother doing anything about the language issue in Latvia at all? Let the "market economy" balance itself. If business chooses to use Russian language for communications - just let it be the one. If English turns out to be more popular - it would not come as a surprise as well. I don't think having more people speaking the common language is a bad thing. EU keeps talking about harmonization - well, common language sounds like a step in the right direction. Russian is a very common language of communications between citizens of different Baltic States any way. A lot of people without foreign language knowledge will use Russian to talk to their Baltic neighbours simply because this is the only common language spoken across 3 Baltic States. My wife is from Lithuania (another Baltic state) and I am from Russia. She speaks Russian but I don't speak Lithuanian. Would it be useful for me to learn Lithuanian? Yes, it would. Would it be more useful for me to learn let's say Mandarin(Chinese) language spoken by more then 1 billion people than to learn Lithuanian spoken by 3 million people? It probably would. How many people on the planet speak Latvian? Two millions?
Don't get me wrong - I do respect rights of the small nations to keep their culture. What I don't get is why does it have to affect non-Latvians living in the country? If local business decides that they need Latvian speaking people only - non-speakers will either have to lean the language to survive or abandon the country. Isn't it a nice and simple solution without pushing and upsetting anyone? Expecting citizens to speak the official language of the country is reasonable. The problem is that Latvian non-citizens don’t have the same rights as citizens. If EU changes its law to give these people the same rights - they would really not need a Latvian citizenship and the issue will eventually dissolve.

  • 114.
  • At 03:55 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • Latvian-born Jew wrote:

The Latvians can talk plenty about the human rights violations that took place during the Soviet annexation. It is a stream that flows both ways.

After Latvia was annexed, the Forest Brothers, a pro-independence militia brutally attacked not only Soviet police and military targets, but also unarmed civilians. This militia included Nazi collaborators and targeted Jews as well. Today, Latvia honors them as independence fighters and gives them parades and pensions.

My family arrived in Latvia in 1949, holocaust survivors seeking a new life. Jobs and homes were cheap, as the Soviets were seeking to rebuild a war-torn country. With many Latvians killed, emigrated, or deported, new settlers were brought in to work the land and rebuild.

I was born in Latvia, but to the Latvians, I was an illegal settler. Even if I were a Latvian citizen, I'd be viewed differently because I was not ethnically Latvian. So in 1992, my family left Latvia and we did not look back.

As a Jew, I find it unfair at how the international community pressures the Jewish State to give rights to Palestinians born there, but does not apply the same pressure to Latvia and the Russians born there.

I find it unfair at how the world forced Israel to expel Jewish settlers from Gaza, but would not let Latvia expel its Russian "settlers."

Indeed, my people have always been subject to a double standard. In Latvia and Israel, I've seen it applied.

  • 115.
  • At 05:16 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • John Savard wrote:

Any independent nation has the right to decide if it wishes to admit immigrants or not. The Baltic states were illegally deprived of their independence by aggression, and so there are some people within them who were neither born there, nor admitted voluntarily as immigrants by an elected government representative of the peoples of those countries. The Sudeten Germans were deported after World War II, and that was seen as legitimate. On the other hand, the cases of Tamils in Sri Lanka or East Indians in Fiji illustrate why the peaceful assimilation of Russians in those countries would set a less problematic precedent.

  • 116.
  • At 05:30 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

If you want to see what happens when you do not have a citizenship test like Latvia...then you have just to look at the Republic of Moldova, a country that is held hostage to Russian interests by pro russian population (after 1940 emigrants), population that was granted citizenship with no discrimination...

  • 117.
  • At 06:24 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • Dainius wrote:

Most of the Russian people in Baltic states are because of Soviet occupation, russification. So many people from Baltic states where exiled to siberia and russians where sent in to establish in our countries. Second generation of Russians was born in Baltic states but of course most of them didnt even care to learn the language of the occupied country they lived in. But thank god this all has changed. Now though you weather learn the language which is they key to society, citizenship, education etc , or just leave, go back to motherland im sure they'll mewet you with open arms, but the fact is that most of them dont want to. Tell me a country which gives out citizenship to anyone who doesnt even speak the language?

  • 118.
  • At 10:14 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

"ex iniuria non oritur ius" or "no justice can be derived from injustice". this is a well known legal principle of all western societies (since roman law).

some russians living in latvia can not expect automatic "right" to citizenship simply because the illegal nature of their arrival. yes, i know, it wasn’t only their fault. as far as they were concerned, they simply moved from one part of the USSR to another. sometimes they were forced to go. but how can this ever justify ignorance towards a society one has been living with for more than 40 years?

Just one example. Learning a language is hard. It always is. It is even harder when one is 67 years old. But why didnt Grigori Gontmakher learn the language when he came to latvia during the 80’s? Too busy? Didn’t think it was important? Didn’t bother? He wasn’t the only one. Most of his compatriots who had moved before or after him, didn’t bother either. Why, I wonder?

The author is obviously misguided and subjective, or in the worst case, he does it on purpose. If the latter is true, then who’s intrests is he pursuing? Certainly not the latvians nor the russians living in latvia.

I’m guite glad, that this chap Yevgeni states his opinion (USSR was a God’s gift to eastern Europe). If so, then why oh why, Yevgeni, did the latvians, poles, slovaks and bulgarians have to tear down the iron curtain in the end of 1980’s?

PS. hypothetically, if the third reich had occupied UK during the II WW, and the US had finally managed to liberate it in 1990’s, should all the innocent germans who had settled to albion in between be granted automatic citisenship? Or would they have to prove that they speak english first? Or would they be simply kicked-out?

  • 119.
  • At 06:13 AM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • NS wrote:

in responce to 108:

Here are some facts:

The Latvian divisions, which had
sworn an oath to Hitler, had participated
in punitive actions, and in 1944 the
Latvian police battalions, the notorious
Arâjs-team and other units were incorporated
in it and murdered tens of thousands
of Jews, Russians and Belorussians.

Danish newspaper "Information" confirmed:
It is true, that Latvian men were forced to
join the Legion by the Nazi-German occupying
power. But it is also true, that Latvian members of
the SS-unit actively and enthusiastically took part in the extermination of Jews.

It is generally accepted that local Latvian collaborators, especially in the provincial areas and towns, played an important role in the Holocaust.

it is silly to deny the fact that while many Latvians bravely fought against the Nazis as partisans, very many agreed that Nasis were to be joined in a fight against a common enemy. some 146.000 were drafted in the Waffen SS unit as volonteers. If you are sure that in the depths of their souls they were unhappy about it, it is for you to prove, not for me to disprove.

I don't know about Latvian mythology concerning the Germans,but those Veterans could have marched
without proudly wearing german SS uniforms, could they? I suppose civilian clothing would be an understatement? A flower tucked into a suit not good anough for them, apparently?

We fought on the Nazi side, we helped exterminating the Jews, we gave an oath to Hitler, but wait, scrap that, we were invaded, we are the victims here, so... we go on marching wearing our oppressors' uniforms.
Talking about idiotic. The ideological undercurrent of the event was in plain sight, not just for me, but many a commentator around the world. Of course, intricacies of European politics prevented a solid condemnation of the event.

Pro Nazi sentiments was well documented in most Nazi-occupied countries. All over Europe, many prominent scholars, politicians and business people, not to mention contry side hill-billy nationalists, welcomed the idea of the "new world order" with all that it entails. Would it surprise you that certain US businessmen were Nazi sympathsers, too?

During the war, Latvia was invited to "join the Nordic Nations" to combat "Bolshevism and international jewery". When it comes to sincere sympathy to the Nazi cause at the time of war, because of idependance or any other reason, I'm not trying to single Latvia out, but I am not excluding it either. Nor should you.

  • 120.
  • At 07:06 AM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • Igor wrote:

"A good indicator about how 'good' it was for the Baltic nations under Soviet rule is this simple fact: there were less estonians living in Estonia in 1991 than in 1939, while russian population here increased by over five times. If we hadn't managed to break free, our nation and languague would be in steep decline as is the case with many smaller nations still trapped inside the behemoth. Dilute, marginalise, forget, repeat."

I honestly find it hard to believe that the number of estonians could have decreased in absolute terms between 1939 and 1991, the proportion of ethinic estonians certainly decreased, that I knew about, but this is the first time I've seen it mentioned that the numbers dropped.

As for the dilite, marginilise, forget, repeat cycle, isn't that exactly what the Estonian government is now trying to do to the ethnic Russians in Estonia, including those in the north east of the country, notably in Narva. My congrats, you people are proving to be apt apprentices of your former soviet masters.

  • 121.
  • At 04:04 AM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Marco Borg wrote:

The Baltic states were part of Russian territories (or Empire)way before the Soviet times. Whilst Russia is regaining its strength after the Yeltsin/non-Russian oligarchic era, nothing much can happen. But in, say six years time, one is not likely to see old crocs in Nazi uniforms, their grandchildren in the Police Corps would be probably thinking of emigrating to the States and the country bumpkin Customs Officers at the airport not knowing what had happened. This in spite of NATO and the EU.
But the Estonian nationality test should be used as a pan-European nationality testing procedure, with retrospective powers to prevent the Islamisation of Europe.

  • 122.
  • At 10:36 AM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

Marco, I suggest that if history is to be quoted to support an argument, it is best to read up on it beyond quoting a single snipet of out of context information. The fact that the Russians invaded the Latvians on more than one occasion, DOES NOT give the right to claim the territory.

The worry is that Russians without loyalty to a state are demanding rights from the very same state and the EU, while supporting the propaganda/viewpoints/interests of the Russian empire which has repeatedly invaded the very same state. In some ways this is funny and a parody... and yet it seems to occur in more than one place, not just in Latvia. My first guess is that the Russian state is using Russians in those places as political chess pieces, probably just pawns. Latvia is right to worry about the situation, just look at what is happening in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, among some... Though the Russians in those places should carefuly think where their loyalties lie... because in case of a conflict/dispute they will be the ones who will suffer first.

  • 123.
  • At 11:08 AM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • mait wrote:

Igor, here are the numbers, feel free to do the math yourself. 1939: population of Estonia ~1.126m, estonians 88%. 1991: population 1.565m, estonians 61%. The rise in total population was due to the colonization by russophone immigrants.

You confuse the 'dilute, etc' cycle with integration. We don't forcefully colonize non-estonian areas and use resulting estonian majorities there to guarantee the dominance of our languague and slow death of local ones.

One of the causes leading to the resurgence of Estonian independence movement in late 80s was a plan of Soviet government to open large areas of Estonia for mining phosphates. This would have been a serious blow to our groundwater reserves. Independent Estonia has spent billions cleaning up the environment after the Soviet army and the now-derelict factories USSR so graciously 'donated' us. The mines would have caused irrepairable damage.

Even more cause for concern was, though, the part of plan that dealt with importing many tens of thousands russophone 'experts' with families to work in said mines and supporting industry. Few more decades, and we'd have been a minority on our own land as has happened with karelians, komi, mari, mordvins, khanty, mansi, vepsians, etc.

  • 124.
  • At 02:56 PM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Ligita Krumkalns wrote:

Because of Russia's attitude towards Latvia's independence, the heavy investment in all spheres of Latavia's economic life, real estate holdings, etc. - giving non-citizens voting rights would be equal to committing suicide-by-vote. The ghosts of repression, torture, deportations, invasion of private lives for political correctnes etc. are still present. Want to or not - the adamant USSR supporters and those that refuse to learn the language - represent part of a hideous past. After German occupation (my age 8), I still remember the pictures in local newspaper of people tortured to death and discovered in prison graves - to see if my father's face would be among them. It is difficult to forget OR to forgive.
(50 years later we discovered he had been deported to Seberia and shot)
This is the other side of the story.

There's not one crime against humanity that the USSR wasn't guilty of in Latvia before the German invasion.

Rape and mutilation of women? Did it.

Deportation of children to work in concentration camps on starvation rations? Infamous for it.

Execution without trial? Did it.

Extermination of invalids? Shipped to Siberia. Dumped in the Arctic Sea.

The only country one can use to compare with the crimes against humanity of the Soviets is Nazi Germany, and even they killed less people!

The leaders of all countries in east Europe rightly condemn both fascist and red regimes. Western Europe should as well, Stalin boy Putin be damned.

  • 126.
  • At 08:12 PM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • mikelis wrote:

NS wrote:
``some 146.000 were drafted in the Waffen SS unit as volonteers. ''

sorry but your sentence doesnt make sense, were the soldiers volunteers or were they drafted? Fact is many were conscripted, facing punishment of death if they didnt show up, which is why the allied powers said that the legion was not a criminal organization. You're right in mentioning the Araja Kommando as a group that killed jews, they killed more than 30,000, and it was a group made up of Latvians. And they did join the Legion after it was formed, but they numbered at most 1,500 people, which is about 1% of the legion as you named.

To say that the legion was willingly preforming Nazi killing of Jews is wrong, the legion was formed in 1943, after the holocaust was tragically carried out in Latvia, leaving some 90,000 Jews murdered.

I've seen these marches you're talking about, last year's had a few old men, who were probably deported to Siberia after the war, and some young guys, walking under heavy police protection while they lay a few flowers at the freedom monument while a crowd jeers from the sidelines. Hardly anyone participates in this, and there are easily more police than participants. I didnt see any german uniforms, maybe you have photos of previous events were they did wear them?

there is plenty of extensive research on the holocaust in latvia and the legion, I think you can start with the US holocaust museum, rather than a danish newspaper called ``information.''

  • 127.
  • At 12:43 PM on 16 Oct 2007,
  • Anita wrote:

I've read this whole blog (being a Latvian (LV) citizen, I find it very interesting to see how the world views us). Thanks to Mark for providing a platform to discuss Latvia's problems post occupation, which too often get overlooked in the media. My summarised reaction is:

1. We need more talented people living in Latvia and contributing towards making this a fair and great country to live in.

2. Thanks to everyone voicing their opinions (whether ridiculous, angry, biased or intelligent) - it gives everyone more of an idea about the problems of living in an independent Latvia with such a complex history of occupation.

3. To cyrill (83) & NS (98) (119), Armands (87) and especially the bitter "Latvian Born Jew" (114) - is this blog about LV being the evil fascists of history? Or about citizenship of ethnic Russians? Please save your comments painting Latvians as fascists for a more appropriate blogging platform and stop pushing your agenda onto this one to confuse the issue even more than it already is!

4. To cyrill (83) & Valentina (99) Who cares if Stalin was Georgian or Russian? He was still a violent paranoid madman in the Soviet system using it to wield his evil ways. And with so many of his population letting him get away with his tyranny.

5. Too many pro-Russian voices compared to too little pro Estonian/Latvian voices is exhausting!

6. Alex (97) and Valentina (99): two wrongs don't make a right. Yes you are correct. But three wrongs also do not make a right. You say forget history and not distinguish the Soviets from today's Russian govt. But today's Russian govt. is the inheritor of what the Soviets stole from LV. To not learn from history (and pretend it's consequences do not effect the present) is a great mistake, and not to apologise for your past crimes is also a mistake because it will NOT GO AWAY by itself. But the current Russian govt. seems too arrogant to do this. This same situation is also going on in Australia with the aborigines and the current govt.

7. To Prem (104) Interesting to find out more about this, and perhaps a fair enough criticism.

8. Alexei (101) on "waking up one day without citizenship" - nowadays they can get citizenship if they simply respect where they are now living and take the easy citizenship test.

9. To nononsense (112). Let's see the outcome of PACE's recommendations, led by a president who some have accused of bias for having many Russian business interests...

10. To Ivan (113) Life is not all about economics and business, but also about respect and living in harmony with your neighbours

11. To John (115) I don't know about Sri Lanka, but in Fiji many ethnic Fijians complain that the peacefully assimilated East Indians take too much advantage of their positions of power and use it for their financial gain. Is this true? Who knows?

12. LV is still suffering from Russian occupation - it just recently officially lost land called Abrene to Russia, because it is still trying to deal with Russia by not antagonising its pretty vicious current power.

13. I wish more people with Russian heritage living in Latvia and Estonia were like Alexander Terekhov (81) - educated and fair.

Russia is like an octopus - black ink to complicate and hide facts in a situation, with many long legs and suckers to lustily grab things close by, and then a sharp beak to greedily gobble them all up. And also very smart.

Latvians/Estonians are like cockroaches - little, scurrying around, clawing to survive - and they still just can't be killed!

And both are really really different. But each still has a right to be! (-:

  • 128.
  • At 04:18 PM on 06 Nov 2007,
  • Albena Glazman wrote:

Let me add to this discussion.
I was born and raised in Latvia. My parents, however, were newcomers. Well, not exactly.
My grandma, who was a religious Jew, married a man from Byelorussia and moved there after the wedding. However, all her immediate family stayed in Latvia.
During the war she and her 2 daughters survived ghetto, came back to Latvia, just to find out that all relatives were killed ( as a matter of fact, many native Latvians were enthusiastically helping Germans to kill Jews…-no matter what you're going to say, Anita: the country did not behave the way Holland or Denmark who actively protested against the Holocaust).
The only surviving relative was my mother’s cousin who was drafted by the Soviet army in 1940 (right after the occupation) and was able to come home alive from the battle field.
Our families always stayed very close together. My second uncle kids were just like brothers and sisters to me since we had very few relatives in the world.
My second uncle spoke Latvian with no accent since he graduated from Latvian Hebrew gymnasium. My mother and aunt, however, never learned the language. They were placed among people who migrated from different parts of the USSR and Latvian was not spoken among them. They went to college to Russian speaking groups and worked in Russian schools as teachers. There was never a real push or necessity to learn the language. Was it their fault? I believe, not. The USSR oppression is one thing; however, the people live under conditions presented to them by the circumstances of their lives.
In 1992 when Latvia became independent, my mother was 60 years old. She tried very hard to adapt and learn the language; however, she did not succeed.
Of course, all my second cousins automatically became citizens. However, everybody in my family was denied the same right.

I live in USA right now. So, I am trying to be impartial. However, I thing that the monstrous history of Europe where people were moved by wars, prosecutions, revolutions should lead to the conclusion that the formation of the population in any given country should be left alone and the formation of ethnics groups should be granted with the equal rights.
Why Switzerland can have multiple government languages? A lot of people ended up in Latvia not because they were occupants. So, if you want to work and participate actively in the life of the country you should definitely learn the language. Otherwise, please be left alone and not be discriminated due to the past of your family and history as a whole.

  • 129.
  • At 03:04 AM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Thomas from Canada wrote:

I am not sure where exactly I can wade in on this subject, All I know that it exites me. My connection with Latvia is through my former girlfriend. She even thought me few Latvian words and songs. Gosh those Baltics love to sing.
But here is the scoop. And I speak as an ethnic minority from former Czechoslovakia. My parents are Hungarian. There was a period where the 600 000 Hungarians in Slovakia could not register their childrens names in Hungarian and many other burn your rear end issues. That is over now. EU took care of it.
The limmiting aspect of democracy is the need for homogenity in order to cast a solid unified program into the future of a nation. If there is another ethnic group with a conflicting aspiration the nation state is hindered in its intended aspiration. Sad thing is though that this aspiration mey just be a simple desire for vendetta, or put it mindly revision of history. Hence the Fascists get pensions but the Soviets do not. Monuments are removed. Signs are replaced. Uniforms changed and on and on.
There are no easy answers. All sides tend to their own truths. But perhaps the beauty of our existence on this Planet of ours rests in the simple fact of cultural conflict. That is how we get to know each other. We do not pick where we are born. It just happens and then the currents of history and situations that force us into expedient solutions at the time will dictate our future.
My girlfriend visited Latvia in 1987. It made her very unhappy, since she did not speak a word of Russian and that most places in Latvia she could not communicate. She has a Russian name with an s on the end of it. Worst was the hospital emmergency room. (ethnic comunities in North America tend to freeze in time) This is where all the problems of current Europe are launched from - ethnic groupings dreaming of former countries that they no longer know. This is where Yugoslavia begun to fall apart. This is where Sri Lank's Tamils get their support from.
I can understand the Latvians trying to save their culture. But I also understand the Russians. After all, Latvia was in Russian hands from 1721 partially and 1795 completely. That is well before California became USA. Spanish is freely spoken in California.
Most of the Latvians in Toronto I know have Russian names, they do not speak Russian, they are Lutherans and they support Latvian independence. Boggles the mind.
Latvia was independent only some 20 years before USSR took control just again. Russians have never left Latvia. 28.8% of population is Russian (Wikipedia). It is their home. Yes they should learn Latvian but they must be recognized as Latvian citizens. If EU allows this Latvian iregularity we must question EU's commitement to human rights and and most certainly pooh poo her concerns over say Chechnia (in Russian hands since 18th Cetury). On the positive note, I think with time the anger over past wrongs will recede and Russians in Latvia will be able to breathe easy again. And no, they do not have to leave Latvia. They are citizens of Latvia like it or not.

  • 130.
  • At 07:27 AM on 07 Nov 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

I predict that "the language" issue will become academic once everybody west of Urals speaks English, and everybody east of Urals speaks Chinese.

  • 131.
  • At 08:28 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Brad Freeman wrote:

Latvians conveniently forget that this is 21st century and these are actual human beings. This is a typical case of morally corrupt nationalist fanatics posing as intellectuals toying with lives of innocent humans beings.

In civilized countries, foreigners get citizenship after 5 years of residence, let alone 65. Serbia was bombed for three months for what Latvians are essentially doing to the Russians, which is practically expelling them and their families after 65 years of life there.

It is a criminal, inexcusable act of ethnic cleansing and no amount of justification with past communism, nazism or any other -ism will excuse the fact that they are expelling unarmed innocent human beings who lived there for decades.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should be all over Latvia like white on rice until every single person born and living in Latvia is granted full citizenship.

  • 132.
  • At 12:59 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Philip Birzulis wrote:

#128, Albena, anyone who learns a bit of Latvian can become a citizen and can live their life without being disturbed by anyone - as you suggest should be the case. End of story - so where exactly do you see the problem? As for your views on the Holocaust in Latvia, Mikelis a bit further up has summed up the fact that a tiny minority of Latvians were involved in killing Jews. The Holocaust was a tragedy, but this mantra "all Latvians are Jew killers" is pure Soviet propaganda.
#131, your comment about pseudo intellectuals toying with human lives could even more aptly be applied to the Russian press and politicians who continually incite ethnic hatred. And they often forget the fact that Latvians are human beings too.

  • 133.
  • At 10:54 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Mario brother wrote:

Dear Brad Freeman, could you, please, forgive my ignorance and enlighten me - what exactly the wicked Latvians are doing to the Russians?

Are they killing ethnic Russians like Serbs killed Croats? I haven't heard of it. Have they invaded a part of Russia? Nope. Well, then perhaps they do not apply benefits from the social security system to Russians. Neither. Have they at least banned the Russian language from mass medias? Again, no.

As far as I know, Latvia (like most of the European countries) asks for anyone, who applies for the citizenship, to have 5 years of legal residence and to pass an exam of the language and the history. The success rate is ~90%.

Is this "ethnic cleansing" you are talking about?

  • 134.
  • At 05:14 AM on 17 Nov 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"Serbia was bombed for three months for what Latvians are essentially doing to the Russians" [#131]

If you had bothered to Google "Vukovar Massacre" or "Srebrenica Genocide" you wouldn't have made such a preposterous allegation.

BTW. According to several reports Russia has helped to hide Serbian leaders responsible for those massacres, particularly Radovan Karadic.

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