Latvia Facts
Area:    64,589 sq. km.
Capital:    Riga
Total Population:    2,385,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is little risk of ethnic Russian rebellion in the near future in Latvia. Although the group has exhibited substantial and persistent levels of protest in past, levels seem to be declining. Ethnic Russians. Furthermore, the group is not highly concentrated and does not face government repression. Although Russia has actively negotiated on behalf of Russian minorities in the past, such activity seems to have ceased at present.

There are important signs of hope for improvements in the group's status. These include positive developments in both the Latvian government and economy as well as in the group's attitudes and strategies. As far as the government policies are concerned, while the Latvian government continues to promote a pro-Latvian stance, there have been changes made in the controversial citizenship law which have appeased both the Russian government and the rest of Europe. The resulting increase in Russian suffrage and political representation presents a positive sign, lowering the likelihood of strife in the future. In addition, Latvia's economic transition continues to proceed relatively smoothly, alleviating some of the economic burden carried by the Russian minority. While the group continues to be disadvantaged compared to the Latvian population, Russians are still better off where they are than are their counterparts in most of the struggling post-Soviet economies.

Over the past decade, the Russian minority leadership in Latvia has been reluctant to use any strategy other than negotiation and public protest. With more access to the political process afforded to the Russian minority, conventional political parties will most likely continue to be the main vehicle for achieving group goals. In addition, the Russian leadership (and Russian population itself) does not seem to be homogeneous enough to create strong political organizations. While part of the Russian population appears to be content with attempting to assimilate into the Baltic society, another part has instead relied on Russia and various European organizations to lobby on their behalf. The lack of cohesive organization and resources makes the possibility of organized ethnic strife unlikely.

While the likelihood of rebellion is small, the likelihood of protest by the group remains significant. Significant political, economic, and cultural restrictions still exist, which place the Russian minority in a disadvantaged position. Due to the restrictive citizenship law, the political realm remains out of reach for many Russians. In the economic realm, the citizenship law restricts Russians from owning land and language restrictions place significant employment barriers to those Russians who are not proficient in Latvian.

Analytic Summary

The history and current issues faced by the Russian minority in Latvia closely resemble the minority's situation in Estonia. Although not regionally concentrated (REGIONAL = 0, GROUPCON = 0), Latvian Russians reside primarily in large urban areas. They constitute the largest ethnic group in four of the country's seven largest cities and in the remaining three are almost equal in size to the Latvian community. Although the group is distinct in terms of culture, language, and religion (ETHNOG = 1; LANG = 1; RELIGS1 = 3; ETHDIFXX = 3), the problem with the Russian minority in Latvia is a relatively new one, dating back to the early 1990s when, after 50 years of Russian domination, Estonia declared its sovereignty and became independent. Ever since, the Russian minority is a key issue in consolidation of Latvian nationality.

The first major influx of ethnic Russians into Latvia took place under the Soviet policy of population intermixing (TRADITN = 5). While travel outside of the Soviet Union was restricted, the people of the USSR were free to relocate within the country. Due to its relative economic prosperity, Latvia (together with the other Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania) was a popular destination for people from the rest of the Soviet Union. The ethnic composition of Latvia's previously small and homogeneous population was drastically altered as a result. Of all the Baltic states (in fact of all former Soviet Republics except for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), Latvia has seen the most extreme demographic change for the titular population. Russians were the group that immigrated in the greatest numbers to the region. Under the Soviet rule, the Russian minorities were not under any real or perceived threat (ATRISK2 = 0). They were allowed to speak Russian to conduct official business and their children could attend Russian-speaking schools. In addition, the Soviet military was dominated by Russians, and due to the geographic position of the Baltic states, there was always a large military presence in the area. Despite their migration into the Baltics, the Russian population did not assimilate into the local society. The situation for the Russian minority changed dramatically after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent declaration of Latvia's independence in 1991. With the adoption of the new Latvian constitution, many Russians who lived their entire lives in Latvia had overnight become outsiders (ATRISK1 = 1).

The group's current disadvantages are directly linked to the post-independence legislation adopted by the Latvian government. Specifically, three issues stand out that strain the relationship between Latvia and its Russian minority. The first concerns the 1994 Citizenship Law which included quotas on the naturalization of minorities. The law barred non-citizens from political office, as well as from voting in general and local elections (POLDIS99-03 = 1). The law also imposed economic hardships on the minority, banning them from purchasing property and having social guarantees equal to those of citizens (ECDIS03 = 3). Drawing on this law the Latvian Citizenship and Immigration Department announced that effective from July 1998, non-citizens of Latvia who leave the country on foreign passports of the former USSR would be unable to use them to return in Latvia. Another issue was the Language Law, which as of June 1999, endorsed the Latvian language as a sole language of instruction.

According to the same law, Latvian is considered to be the state language in which all official communication has to take place. Latvian electoral law further stipulates that only citizens who have a command of the state language at the highest level may be registered as candidates for the Saeima and for municipalities. The third issue was the prosecution and subsequent imprisonment of former Red Army soldiers charged with genocide against the Latvian people. This recent campaign in Latvia was bound to Latvia's annexation to the Soviet Union by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the conduct of the Russian military personnel before and during WWII, as well as to issues of historical justice at large.

Consequently, elimination of the discriminating citizenship and language requirements has been at the core of Russian minority's demands since the early 1990s. These grievances have been articulated by a number of conventional political parties and organizations, including The Russian Party, For Equal Rights, For Human Rights in United Latvia, the Russian Cultural Societies Association of Latvia, and Russian Community, among others. So far, the primary forms of group resistance have been symbolic protest and a few political rallies (PROT99 = 3; PROT00 = 2; PROT01 = 3, PROT02 = 1, PROT03 = 3). There has been no evidence of rebellion (REBEL99-03 = 0).

Similar to other Baltic states, Russians in Latvia have received outside ideological and humanitarian assistance from the Russian Federation. Various international non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, including the UN, the OSCE, the EU, the CE, etc., have also repeatedly expressed their public concern regarding the treatment of the Russian minority.


Lexis-Nexis news reports 1990-2003


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