Anti-Semitism in Latvia: The Current Situation
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||1 November 1997|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Anti-Semitism in Latvia: The Current Situation, 1 November 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a80f10.html [accessed 12 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
There are divergent opinions on the current extent of anti-Semitism in the Baltic states. Some sources, including local Jewish community leaders in those countries, claim that the situation is very good for Jews and that anti-Semitism is not a major problem (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994; Melchior 20 June 1994; Spectre 15 June 1994). B'nai B'rith's Associate Director for International, Governmental and Israel Affairs, George Spectre, does not think that anti-Semitism is a serious problem in the Baltics (Spectre15 June 1994), however, a report from B'nai B'rith Canada claims that there are "various disturbing trends" in the Baltic countries including the emergence of ultra-nationalist groups blaming Jews for the Soviet occupation, the rehabilitation of persons who may have been Nazi war criminals, as well as the re-emergence of some Nazi-era organizations (B'naith B'rith Canada 19 Jan. 1994, 9). The same report states that "These are ominous developments which bear monitoring for their negative impact on minority group rights" (ibid.).
One sore spot in relations between Jews and the titular [ The expressions "titular nationalities" and "titular language" are used to describe those nationalities within the republics of the former Soviet Union whose nationality and language reflect the name of the state.] nationalities of the Baltics is in the attitude of these states towards the role of the Germans in World War II, particularly in the fight against the Soviet Union. B'nai B'rith notes that: "there is concern about the tendency to glorify the World War II period of 'independence,' and to whitewash or at least play down the extent of complicity in Nazi war crimes" (B'nai B'rith Nov. 1993, 5). Latvian government spokespersons reportedly explained the popular feeling to be more anti-Soviet than pro-German or Nazi (ibid.). According to Nate Geller, Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), related issues of concern to the Jews are a perceived lack of sensitivity towards the Holocaust on the part of the titular nationalities, and for the titular nationalities, "a tendency to exaggerate and collectivize the responsibility of the Jews for communism in the Baltics while at the same time discounting the responsiblity of some Baltic nationals in [bringing communism to the region], as well as a failure [of Baltic nationals] to recognize a shared suffering-i.e., all nationalities were sent into exile in Siberia-Jews, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians" (13 Sept. 1994; ibid. 16 June 1994). Most of the Jews currently living in the Baltics settled there after World War II (Jerusalem Report 9 Sept. 1993, 36).
Another issue which is very important to the situation in the Baltics for Jews is the relationship between the titular nationalities and Russians and/or Russian-speakers. Many Baltic Jews are Russian-speakers and have at times been caught in conflicts between Russian-speakers and the speakers of the titular languages (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 10, 12, 15). Rabbi Bent Melchior, the chief rabbi of Denmark, president of B'nai B'rith on the European continent and an active participant involved in revitalizing Jewish life in the Baltic states, believes that Jews may face discrimination for being Russian-speakers rather than because they are Jews (ibid.). George Spectre states that Jews sometimes are caught in the middle between extremist Russians and extremist indigenous groups in what is more political manoeuvring than anti-Semitism (Spectre 15 June 1994).
This report will not deal with problems which may face Jews as Russian-speakers, but will focus on the question of the extent of anti-Semitism in Latvia today [ Several sources have reported on concerns for Russian-speakers regarding Latvian policies on citizenship and language issues. Information on these concerns, which is important to understanding the overall situation of Jews in Latvia, is available in Latvia: Selected Readings on Citizenship and Minority Issues (the index of which is appended to this paper). This document is available in the Regional Documentation Centres. The Information Package on the Former Soviet Republics: Selected Legislation and Information on Questions Pertaining to Citizenship and Minorities and the REFINFO database, both available in the Regional Documentation Centres, should also be consulted.]. This report updates information provided in the July 1992 DIRB Question and Answer Series paper CIS, Baltics and Georgia: Situation of the Jews, however, in recognition of the importance of an historical context to understanding the current situation of Jews, an historical chronology, Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union: 1727-1 January 1992 (November 1994), has been published by the DIRB and is available at Regional Documentation Centres.
2. DEMOGRAPHIC, CULTURAL AND LEGAL CONTEXT
Most of Latvia's pre-World War II Jewish community was killed during the war (CSCE Sept. 1993, 13). [ At the time of Soviet annexation of the Baltics, there were almost 93,000 Jews in Latvia (Schneider 1993, 182). Almost 12,000 of these Jews were deported to Russia between 1940-1941, and of those remaining, only about 500 survived the war (ibid., 183).] The current Jewish community has grown during the period of rule by Moscow (ibid.). There are varying estimates of the current size of the country's Jewish community. The US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) September 1993 report on Latvia states that according to Grigory Kroupnikov, co-chairman of the Riga Jewish community, there are 15,000-17,000 Jews in Latvia (CSCE Sept. 1993, 13). More recently, Kroupnikov stated that while there were some 16,600 Jews registered in Latvia last autumn, the actual figure is probably closer to 21,000-22,000 (20 June 1994). Other sources claim that there are currently more than 14,000 Jews in Latvia (Diyena 26 Jan. 1994; Geige 5 July 1994; RFE/RL 17 Dec. 1993, 49). However, a UPI report claims that the Jewish community in Riga is estimated at 25,000 (UPI 14 June 1994). Almost all of Latvia's Jews live in Riga (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994; Antisemitism World Report 1994, 140).
According to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), the Latvian Jewish community is among the best organized of the Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union and has strong ties with Israel (NSCJ May 1994). Ilmar Geige, Director of the Department of Nationality Affairs within the Latvian Ministry of Justice agrees that the Jewish community in Latvia is very strong and has many of its own institutions (5 July 1994). Some such institutions in Riga include a state-financed school, a kindergarten, Jewish hospital, Yiddish theatre and a Holocaust Survivor Union (CSCE Sept. 1993, 13).
Country Reports 1993 indicates that the local Jewish community claims "the government has been generally supportive of efforts to rejuvenate the Jewish community" (Country Reports 1993 1994, 951). According to another source, Latvia's Law on the Free Development of Nationalities and Ethnic Groups and the Law on the Right to Cultural Autonomy have provided the Jewish community with the freedom to develop (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 12).
The Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture (a US-based cultural organization which gives grants for research on Jewish themes in many countries) is reported to have said that the Jewish community in Riga "has become a model of flourishing Jewish life in Eastern Europe" (Sacramento Bee 13 Feb. 1993). In June 1994, the Memorial Foundation held a meeting in Riga marking the first time the organization has met in a former Soviet state (UPI 14 June 1994). The Executive Vice President of the organization, Jerry Hochbaum, stated that Riga was selected as the site for the meeting "as a model of how a Jewish community can re-establish itself ..." (ibid.).
Citizenship has been a controversial issue for minorities in Latvia, including Jews. On 15 October 1991, the government passed a resolution "on the Restoration of the Rights of Citizens of the Republic of Latvia and Main Conditions for Naturalization" which restored Latvian citizenship to those who were Latvian citizens prior to Soviet annexation and restored the pre-war nationality law (UNHCR July 1993). According to some sources, government figures indicate that about 6630 or 45 per cent of Latvia's Jews are Latvian citizens (Diyena 26 Jan. 1994; Geige 5 July 1994; RFE/RL 17 Dec. 1993, 49). [ Kroupnikov explains the large percentage of Jews holding Latvian citizenship despite the fact that only about 500 Latvian Jews survived World War II by the fact that a number of Jews fled Latvia to Russia ahead of the Nazi invasion, and then returned after the war. They and their descendants are automatically considered to be Latvian citizens (20 June 1994). ] The resolution also outlined the principles which new citizenship legislation should follow (UNHCR July 1993).
A draft citizenship law was passed by the parliament on 21 June 1994 (BBC 24 June 1994), but President Ulmanis rejected it and sent it back to the parliament for revision (Embassy of Latvia 29 June 1994). The draft provided for annual quotas for naturalization (The Warsaw Voice 31 July 1994), a provision that raised the concerns of the CSCE and the Council of Europe that the law would not conform to European standards (The New York Times 24 July 1994). Parliament passed the revised draft on 22 July 1994 and the president signed it into law on 11 August 1994 (Labrit 11 Aug. 1994). Detailed information on the new law is available in Information Package on the Former Soviet Republics: Selected Legislation and Information on Questions Pertaining to Citizenship and Minorities, available in the Regional Documentation Centres.
Jewish community leaders reportedly claim that anti-Semitism in Latvia is not currently a major problem (Country Reports 1993 1994, 951). Nevertheless, Nate Geller cautions that while there have been positive trends in the Baltics, there have also been sporadic incidents of street anti-Semitism and political anti-Semitism, and therefore claims of anti-Semitism should not be discounted because they could be legitimate (Geller 13 Sept. 1994; ibid. 16 June 1994).
3.1 In the Press
Kroupnikov says that anti-Semitic statements appear in the press from time to time (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994). Geige claims that when the press does write on anti-Semitism, it often reports facts incorrectly or only provides superficial coverage of the issue (Geige 5 July 1994). The last instance of a case of anti-Semitism in the press recalled by Kroupnikov was when the Latvian government newspaper Latvijas Vestnesis (Latvian Herald) published an article on 27 November 1993 entitled "Does the Jewish Problem Exist in Latvia?" in which the author claims that the Latvian Jews themselves were responsible for their fate during World War II because of their lack of patriotism towards Latvia in the 1920s and 1930s and their welcoming of the Soviet invasion in 1940 (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994; Israeli Consulate Bulletin 10 Jan. 1994, 22). The article further warned that "a renewal of that phenomenon" could occur if the Jews continued to be disloyal to Latvia by, for example, slandering the country for alleged anti-Semitism (ibid.). The Israeli ambassador to Latvia protested the article and the Latvian minister of information issued a public apology for it in the name of the Latvian government and the editorial board of the newspaper (ibid.; Antisemitism World Report 1994, 141-2). According to Kroupnikov the person responsible for the article was dismissed (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994).
In another case, the Latvian Ministry of Education published a high school history textbook written by Latvian historian and Nazi sympathizer Adolf Schild (see section 3.2 Incidents and Official Responses) (Israeli Consulate Bulletin Feb. 1994, 16). The Israeli Russian-language newspaper Vesti published a sentence from the text which reportedly states: "No less than 1,500 persons [chelovek] were taken away from Latvia (according to certain data, it is necessary to add about 5,000 deported Jews)" (ibid.). Kroupnikov explains the significance of this statement as being found in the distinction between persons and Jews. However, he claims that this is done to show that not only Latvians but also Jews were deported (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994).
3.2 Incidents and Official Responses
The CSCE, in its report on Latvia states: "It would appear that to the extent that organized anti-Semitism exists in Latvia-as it does in practically every other country-it is a fringe phenomenon" (CSCE Sept. 1993, 14). Another source claims that while incidents do occur, there is no systemic anti-Semitism among the population (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 12). Kroupnikov notes that while anti-Semitic organizations do not exist, any organization may include some people with anti-Semitic tendencies (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994). Geige states that he is unaware of any anti-Semitic organizations operating in Latvia or of any major incidents having occurred recently. He also believes that grassroots anti-Semitism is not a big problem (Geige 5 July 1994).
In June 1993 a widely publicized incident occurred when, during a visit to a Holocaust monument in Bikarnieky Forest, delegates from a conference of former Latvian Jews found the words "Latvia Free of Jews" painted on the monument (Israeli Consulate Bulletin 5 Aug. 1993, 11; BBC 17 June 1993; Antisemitism World Report 1994, 141). There was widespread protest over the incident and the Latvian president apologized to the Jewish people and condemned the act as "an attempt to discredit Latvia in the eyes of the world" (ibid.). Afterwards, several Latvian political figures joined in the condemnation of the act (Israeli Consulate Bulletin 5 Aug. 1993, 11) and the head of the Latvian parliament, Anatolijs Gorbunovs, claimed that the law enforcement agencies would find the culprits and bring them to justice (BBC 17 June 1993).
A controversy erupted in January 1994 when President Ulmanis donated some copies of the textbook written by Adolf Schild to a Latvian school. Kroupnikov claims that the problem was not the book itself but the author's past (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994). In the aftermath of the event, Ulmanis stated that neither he nor his staff were anti-Semitic and he promised the Israeli ambassador to Latvia that he would write an article on his stance on anti-Semitism (Forward 25 Feb. 1994, 1, 3). He also declared that anti-Semitism in any form in Latvia is intolerable (NCSJ May 1994). The incident was exacerbated when Ulmanis' press secretary Anta Busa, when questioned about the event, reportedly stated: "It would be better if those Jews would leave us alone. Enough trembling and kneeling in front of them. It has to be stopped at once" (Forward 25 Feb. 1994, 1, 3). Busa was forced to resign her position after making the statements (ibid.; BBC 2 Mar. 1994).
Ulmanis initiated a meeting with Kroupnikov on 22 February 1994 in which he reportedly told the Jewish community leader that there is no anti-Semitism in either the Latvian state or Latvian society and that if there are any incidents they can be blamed on ignorance and ill-manners (BBC 2 Mar. 1994).
One report states that the "authorities try to offer adequate protection for Jews" (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 12), but it does not provide further information. Geige states that if an incident does occur and a person feels they have been harassed or if they have been attacked or had their property vandalized, they could report it to the police. If they are unsatisfied with the police response they can report it to the ministry of justice (Geige 5 July 1994). However Kroupnikov thinks that if an incident of vandalism occurred, the victim might not report it to the authorities because it is well known that the police are very busy with "more serious problems," so the victim might not think that any investigation would be carried out in depth (Kroupnikov 20 June 1994).
Further information on "grassroots" anti-Semitism and police response is currently unavailable to the DIRB.
4. FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS
A 1992 Life Magazine article that reported a re-emergence of Nazi-type units in Latvia which was frightening Jews into leaving the country has been discounted by the local Jewish community (CSCE Sept. 1993, 14). Kroupnikov, in June 1993, is reported to have told staff of the CSCE that "there is a lamentable tendency in Latvia to glorify everything connected to the Nazi army (presumably because it fought against the Soviet Union)" (ibid.). The CSCE states in its report on Latvia that when asked what problems are facing the Jewish community in Latvia today, Kroupnikov did not mention a Nazi or pro-Nazi movement nor intimidation or threats to Jews (ibid.). He did state that the Latvian government could improve upon educating people about the Holocaust, but he also argued that state sanctioned anti-Semitism is non-existent in Latvia (ibid.). Kroupnikov restated this view in a June 1994 interview with DIRB (20 June 1994).
The Latvian government's Declaration Concerning the Condemnation of Genocide and Anti-Semitism in Latvia contains official admission of the involvement of Latvians in the killing of Jews in Latvia during World War II (The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 22 Feb. 1994, 12). The government has set aside 4 July as the official day of remembrance of the genocide of Latvia's Jews during the war (ibid., 13).
Selected Readings on Citizenship
and Minority Issues
RFE/RL Daily Reports. 19 September 1994. "CSCE and UN Officials on Human Rights in the Baltic States
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 15 September 1994. "CSCE High Commissioner Expresses Concern Over Latvian Language Law"
The Phoenix Gazette. 9 September 1994. "Latvian Citizenship Rules Leave Russians in Limbo"
Reuters. 30 August 1994. "Latvian Citizenship Law Bewilders, Angers Russians"
The Washington Times. 23 August 1994. "Latvian Citizenship" FBIS-SOV-94-162. 22 August 1994. "Text of Citizenship Law," pp. 69-74
RFE/RL Research Report. 19 August 1994. "Russians in the 'Near Abroad'," (excerpt) pp. 33-38, 42-44
Monitor. 22 July 1994. "Russian Migration Continues," p. 19
RFE/RL Research Report. 15 July 1994. "Conflict or Compromise in the Baltic States?" pp. 26-35
RFE/RL Research Report. 15 July 1994. "Local Elections in Latvia: The Opposition Wins," pp. 1-5
FBIS-SOV-94-119. 21 June 1994. "Russian Troops Observe Withdrawal Schedule," pp. 72-73
FBIS-USR-94-045. 28 April 1994. "Statistics on Migration for 1993," p. 61
FBIS-SOV-94-079. 25 April 1994. "Changes to Law on Foreigners Adopted," p. 100
RFE/RL Research Report. 22 April 1994. "The Baltic States," pp. 5-8
FBIS-SOV-94-075. 19 April 1994. "Government Amendments to Immigration Laws Reported," p. 74
FBIS-USR-94-016. 22 February 1994. "Statistics on Citizens, Foreigners in Latvia," pp. 51-54
FBIS-SOV-94-003. 5 January 1994. "Ministry Says New Passports Held by 50 Percent," pp. 71-72
U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE) Human Rights and Democratization in Latvia. September 1993
Finnish Helsinki Commission. Human Rights in the Baltic States. 1993, pp. 43-85
International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 5, No. 3, 1993, "Citizenship, Statelessness and Human Rights: Recent Developments in the Baltic States," pp. 392-423
Antisemitism World Report 1994. 1994. London, U.K.: Institute of Jewish Affairs.
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 24 June 1994. "Russian Foreign Ministry Statement Criticizes Latvian Citizenship Law." (NEXIS)
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 2 March 1994. "President Assures Jewish Community of No Antisemitism; Press Secretary Resigns. (NEXIS)
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. 17 June 1993. ""Latvia: Jewish Holocaust Monuments Desecrated." (NEXIS)
B'nai B'rith, Washington. November 1993. George L. Spectre. "Successor States of the Former Soviet Union: Status Report and Analysis." Prepared for the 1993 Plenary Meeting of the International Council of B'nai B'rith, 30 November-2 December 1993, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
B'nai B'rith Canada, Ottawa. 19 January 1994. "Submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Preparation for the 50th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights."
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), Washington. September 1993. Human Rights and Democratization in Latvia. Washington: US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. 1994. United States Department of State. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
Diyena [Riga, in Russian]. 26 January 1994. Elmar Vebers and Viyesturs Pauls Karnups. "Statistics on Citizenship, Foreigners in Latvia." (FBIS-USR-94-016 22 Feb. 1994, pp. 51-54)
Embassy of Latvia, Washington. 29 June 1994. Telephone interview with counsellor.
Forward [New York]. 25 February 1994. "In Latvia, a Storm Erupts Over 'Those Jews'."
Geige, Ilmar. Director of the Department of Nationality Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Riga. 5 July 1994. Telephone interview.
Geller, Nate. Director of Community Services and Cultural Affairs, National Conference on Soviet Jewry, New York. 13 September 1994. Telephone interview.
Geller, Nate. 16 June 1994. Telephone interview.
Israeli Consulate Bulletin [New York]. February 1994. "Latvian School Textbook Authored by Nazi Collaborator."
Israeli Consulate Bulletin [New York]. 10 January 1994. "Latvian Newspaper Editor Blames Jews for Latvian Hostility."
Israeli Consulate Bulletin [New York]. 5 August 1993. "Latvia."
Jerusalem Report. 9 September 1993. Alexander Lesser. "And Still They Come."
Kroupnikov, Grigory. Co-chairman of the Riga Jewish Community. 20 June 1994. Telephone interview.
Labrit [Riga, in Latvian]. 11 August 1994. "Text of Citizenship Law." (FBIS-SOV-94-162 22 Aug. 1994, pp. 69-74)
Melchior, Bent. Chief Rabbi of Denmark and President of B'nai B'rith on the European Continent. 20 June 1994. Telephone interview.
National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ). May 1994. Vol. 1, No. 3. Spring 1994 Country Reports: Inside the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union. New York: NCSJ.
The Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs . 22 February 1994. "Position of the Jewish Community in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." Translation by Public Works and Government Services Canada.
The New York Times. 24 July 1994. Final Edition. Steven Erlanger. "Latvia Amends Harsh Citizenship Law that Angered Russia." (NEXIS)
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Research Institute. 17 December 1993. RFE/RL Research Report [Munich]. Vol. 2, No. 50. Dzintra Bungs. "Recent Demographic Changes in Latvia."
Sacramento Bee. 13 February 1993. Metro Final. "A Jewish Community Thrives." (NEXIS)
Schneider, Gertrude. 1993. "The Two Ghettos in Riga, Latvia. 1941-1943," The Holocaust in the Soviet Union. Edited by Lucjan Dobroszycki and Jeffrey S. Gurock. Amonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Spectre, George. Associate Director for International Governmental and Israeli Affairs, B'nai B'rith Washington. 15 June 1994. Telephone interview.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). July 1993. Nationality Laws in Former USSR Republics. Geneva: UNHCR.
United Press International (UPI). 14 June 1994. BC Cycle. John Karlen. "Jewish Group Picks Latvia for Meeting." (NEXIS)
The Warsaw Voice. 31 July 1994. Josh Karlen. "Latvia: Citizenship Law Eases Way for Russians." (NEXIS)