The Problems of Former USSR: Citizens in Russian-Latvian Relations

By Konstantin Pakhorukov
Cornell International Affairs Review
2011, Vol. 4 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

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 Demokrā (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.

Former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

Former President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

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:


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.


  1. Latvia was a province of the Russian Empire. Then between 1920-1940 it was independent. Latvia became the part of the USSR in 1940, but in 1941 it was incorporated into the Reich Commissariat of the Eastern Land, in 1944 the troops of the Red Army liberated Latvia and from 1944 to 1991 there was the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.
  2. Zakon Latviskoi Respubliki o grazhdanstve 1994. Statya 11. (Law of the Republic of Latvia on the citizenship) (1994). Art. 11. – URL://
  3. (Distribution of the Latvian population by nationality 2010)
  4. Buzaev V. Negrazhdane v Latvii (Buzaev V. Non-citizens in Latvia). Riga, 2007. P. 88
  5. Statistics of the Latvian population 2007. // Buzaev V. Negrazhdane v Latvii (Buzaev V. Non-citizens in Latvia). Riga, 2007. P. 6
  6. Grozījumi Izglītības likumā. (Amendments to the Law on Education). 13.02.04.– URL://
  7. Commentary of official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs A. Nesterenko in respect to toughening of the language policy in Latvia. URL://
  8. Ne vladeuschie latyshskim deputaty parlamenta Latvii spyat na zasedanyah (MPs who do not speak latvian, sleep during meetings). 11.11.10. – URL://
  9. Interview with A. Veshnyakov, Russian ambassador in Latvia. 21.07.08. – URL://
  10. Their petitions aren not vacuous. For example the most recent concerns the reservation made by Latvia when ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe in 2005. The article 10 of the convention proclaims that ethnic minorities living together can ask for the use of their language in relations with administrative institutions, and the authorities should ensure it. Latvia added that this article is applicable to the extent which does not contradict the Constitution and the law on the official language. And this law sanctions only state (Latvian) language in the work of the Latvian authorities. FIHRUL official site. – URL://
  11. Schmid C. Ethnicity and language tensions in Latvia // Language Policy. 2006. Vol. 7, Issue 1. P. 7-8
  12. Lanko D. Sootechstveniki kak nazionalniy mif (Lanko D. Compatriots as a national myth). // Neva 2009. №8.
  13. Recommendation 1625 of PACE (2003). Policies for the integration of immigrants in the Council of E.U.rope member states
  14. Lanko D. SSSR posle raspada. Strany Baltii. / Grazhdane i negrazhdane. (Lanko D. The USSR after disintegration. The Baltic states / Citizens and non-citizens). // Delo. 2006. January 23. Since 2007 Latvian army has become a professional army
  15. Sapognikova G. Polmilliona negrov po-prezhnemygivut v SSSR. ( Sapognikova G. Halfmillion aliens still live in the USSR) // Komsomolskaya pravda. 2006. May 12
  16. Gushin V. Latvia: interesno li politicheskim partiam russkoyazychnoe naselenie? (Gushin V. Are Latvian parties interested in the Russian-speaking population?). – URL://
  17. Radionov V. Evroparlament zastupilsy za negrazhdan (Radionov V. E.U.European parliament took the part of the noncitizens). // Chas. 2009. April, 3. We can also refer to the recommendations of the EP (2004), the UN (1999,2003), the Council of E.U.Europe (1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007), the OSCE (2002, 2004, 2007).
  18. Radionov V. Ex-president Latvii: negrazhdane polutchat pravo uchastvovat v vyborah (Radionov V. The former president of Latvia: non-citizens will be given right to vote). 06.10.10 – URL://
  19. Buzaev V. Negrazhdane v Latvii (Buzaev V. Non-citizens in Latvia). Riga, 2007. P. 40; Gragdanstvo v Latvii. (Citizenship in Latvia). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia.- URL://
  20. Iedzivotaju skaits pašvaldibas pec nacionala sastava. (Ethnic structure of population in cities and towns). 2010. Riga. For the problem of the Latvian identification look Stuttaford A. A question of identity // National Review. 1994. June 13. – it is still urgent.
  21. Negrazhdan Latvii ulichili v negelanii platit’ nalogi. (Non-citizens of Latvia are found to be reluctant to pay taxes). 05.11.10. – URL://
  22. Mezs I.,. Bunks E., Rasa K. The Ethno-Demographic Status of the Baltic States // GeoJournal. 1994. Vol. 33, Issue 1. P. 21-22, 24
  23. Lazda M. Reconsidering Nationalism: The Baltic Case of Latvia in 1989. // International Journal of politics, culture and society. 2009. Vol. 22, Issue 4. P. 534
  24. A deep analysis is given in the article by Commercio Michele E. Systems of Partial Control: Ethnic Dynamics in Post-Soviet Estonia and Latvia // Studies in comparative international development. 2007. Vol. 43, Issue 1. P. 81-100
  25. Hugh E.. Latvia: The Demographic Price Of Procrastination. 28.07.10 – URL://
  26. Total population. Latvia. – URL://
  27. Commercio Michele E. Systems of Partial Control: Ethnic Dynamics in Post-Soviet Estonia and Latvia // Studies in comparative international development. 2007. Vol. 43, Issue 1. P. 81
  28. Steen, Anton. Accessioning Liberal Compliance? Baltic Elites and Ethnic Politics under New International Conditions // International Journal on Minority and Group Rights. 2006. Vol. 13. Issue 2/3. P. 207

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