From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 4 NO. 2
The Problems of Former USSR: Citizens in Russian-Latvian Relations
Contemporary situation and implications for the future
The alien problem still has to be managed. This issue creates a political demand for the Latvian political parties (ethnically non-Russian parties). The problems of the Russian-speaking population are manifest in the rhetoric of the Harmony Center (the party where ethnic Latvians and Russianspeakers work together), the second party by the number of votes in parliament. The integrated group of the Latvia's First party and the Latvian Way also poses a concern, and Demokrāti.lv (not in parliament) even stands for the automatic citizenship for aliens.
Take into account the fact that the Harmony Center emerged after the split of FHRUL in 2003 and instead of being a partner to FHRUL it turned out to be a rival.17 It is obvious that Latvian parties are more attractive to the electorate, thus explaining the failure of the FHRUL during the last elections. At the same time the interest of Latvian political forces in these problems cannot make everybody happy.
In February 2009 the European Parliament made a formal inquiry to the Latvian government about the situation with aliens and recommended that they give them a right to participate in local elections.18 In October 2010 the former president of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga said "non-citizens will be given this right as all conditions in Europe induce to do this."19
Latvia is a sovereign state and nobody can impose a viewpoint about what policy she should implement. The aim of the author is not to blame Latvia for its actions but to attract attention to the existing problems. The process of naturalization has been carried out. The number of aliens has been reduced by only 38 percent since the beginning of naturalization process.20 What is the problem? It's probably the unwillingness of the aliens to become citizens. The aliens problem might stem from the question of the identification of the Latvian society.
Latvians have the bare majority in their own country, particularly in cites. 42 percent of the Riga population is ethnic Latvian, while 40 percent are ethnic Russians.21 It seems that the Russian proposal to give Latvian citizenship to people born after 1991 will solve the problem in one generation. The priority of the Latvian laws and the Latvian language must be complied with, but the respect for the people and ethnic minorities should be proved. "How could aliens be motivated to pay taxes?" — wonders Peteris Krigers, the president of the Latvian organization of free trade unions. "Nobody knows how their collected taxes return to them. It probably entails the flourishing of shadow economy."22
Moreover, Latvia has the Constitution of the interwar period when Latvia was independent. And during that period Latvia had the most liberal laws regarding ethnic minorities. There were schools for the seven largest minorities and so-called ethnic clubs. Minorities were given the real support by the state. Of course, during the Soviet period, the situation with ethnic schools was rather difficult, but Latvia could resort to pre-war period instead of miring itself down.23 Why not?
Attempts by the Latvian authorities to integrate people into the Latvian language and vice versa have not been very successful. Their policy also fosters protest. As Mara Lazda from The Eugene Lang College, N.Y. writes "these tensions should not be underestimated. Everyday experience as well as scholarly studies testify to the continued existence of a parallel ‘two-community' society — one Latvian-language, one Russian-language."24
Although excluded from the public sector, aliens take part in economic structures quite successfully. And because Russian-speaking young people are also very competitive, they start playing an important role in the national economy.25 Also, Latvia endures a massive emigration. Macroeconomist Edward Hugh cites the research of Eliana Marino, which found that from 2004 to 2005 Latvia was abandoned by 40,000 people, 87 percent more than what is registered in official sources.26
There is a real outflow of the population caused by the economic problems of the country. In accordance with Eurostat statistics, the total population of Latvia decreased from 2,650,000 to 2,250,000 from 1990 to 2010.27 If this is the case, will it be profitable for Latvia to have other troubles with its people? According to a postulate by a prominent political scientist Ian Lustick, in divided societies stability can be achieved by introduction of partial control: majority ethnic group subordinates politics and economics is divided between the majority group and the minorities. This begs the question: would this consociation model be applicable to Latvia?28
The Latvian government is rather passive in solving the non-citizens problem. This is because there are difficulties with the construction of the national identity in Latvia, thanks to two forms of consciousness of its people: national and post-Soviet. Latvian authorities also do not want to create unnecessary rivalry in politics to maintain political balance in society. It is possible to conclude that the elites' orientations can only be changed by dialogue inside the country and with the aid of international organizations.
Anton Steen, a professor from University of Oslo Anton Steen proposes that further integration of Latvia into the E.U. and NATO will allow Latvia to learn policies through international networks and will push liberalization of the legislation.29 At the same time, the alien problem does not cause radical disturbances. Alien philosophy, the system of partial control and other privileges of noncitizens (like free entrance both to the E.U. and to Russia) are the reasons for public peace. But the use of the Russian language is rather restricted, which causes the problem. I hope that the aforementioned issues will be solved. The alien problem can be adjusted by the implementation of Lavrov's proposals, and the problem with the use of the Russian language can be settled through soft policy. geared towards minorities in Latvia.
Konstantin Pakhorukov is a student at the Saint Petersburg State University School of International Relations, European Studies department. His research interests include international migrations, national identity building and decentralization of governance. Konstantin is a member and head of department on demographic issues of the School of International Relations Society of Young Researchers. He is an author of several articles published in Russian scientific journals on his research topics in years 2009, 2010. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The author is grateful to Assistant Professor of the School of International Relations (Saint-Petersburg) Dmitry Katsy and students Daria Plotnikova, Lisa Kalupar, Oliver Siebe for critique on the earlier text of this article.
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