According to a census in 2015, over a quarter of Latvia’s citizens are ethnic Russian. At 25.8%, they number around 512,400, the second highest ethnic group (with ethnic Latvians being number one at over 1.2 million). There are less Russians today in Latvia than there were nearly 30 years ago. In 1989, nearing the end of the Soviet Union, Russians number nearly a million. In 2000, that number dropped to 700,000.
Why has been such a drastic drop, losing nearly half a million people in only thirty years? Justified or not, Latvia has had a very tenuous alliance with Russia. The Russian Empire had conquered the region for nearly two centuries, bringing anti-nationalistic laws and enforcing Russian culture. Then, just as Latvia declared independence, the Soviet Union absorbed the country and did not let go until the USSR fell in 1991.
So, there’s an anti-Russian mentality at the forefront of Latvia’s identity.
The Russian newspaper Pravda, which was created during the Soviet Union as a tool of propaganda, recently conducted an interview with Illation Girs, whom Pravda describes as “a Latvian human rights activist.”
In it, Girs touches upon several topics, such as how the United States is the “master of life” in Latvia and how the European Union refuses to look at Russian minorities. Importantly, he mentions how Latvian laws are discriminating against the Russian population:
“The Russian community in Latvia is still looking at Russia with love and hope, even though the Latvian authorities continue to eliminate Russian education and turn the Latvian Russians into “European Russians” – the people, who trash Russia saying that the West is paradise and Russia is hell.”
“Ultranationalists aim to completely eliminate education in the Russian language by 2018. To date, the language proportion in the country is 60×40, in which 60 percent stands for education in Latvian, and 40 – for education in Russian. More moderate nationalists say that one should wait as this is a process that takes time.”
Click above for more of the interview.
Again, justified or not, Latvian laws are fighting back, perhaps in retaliation and a tit-for-tat mindset, against Russian ethnicities. Girs states that the European Union, of which Latvia is a member, will never criticize these laws, just “as the EU does not criticize its members – they are ready to criticize the world around them.”
Whether or not this is true, or if “pro-Latvian” automatically equals “anti-Russian” is a valid interpretation, I cannot know. I do not live there. However, I do know that the history of Latvia cannot be told without the atrocities and oppression done to the Baltic nation under both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union for centuries on end.