Ethnic policy in Latvia on downward trend

  • 2001-07-12
  • Anna Pridanova
RIGA - The year 2000 was unsuccessful in terms of ethnic policy in Latvia, according to six Latvian social scientists who on July 3 released a report on the topic.

They deem the state language policy unsuccessful because it does not create the necessary background to strengthen the status of the state language in society.

Instead of a coordinated integration policy last year, Latvia faced public rallies that split society, according to the research, which was edited by the philosopher Elmars Vebers.

The researchers suggest that the Latvian Parliament ratify the Council of Europe framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities and formulate provisions emphasizing circumstances specific to Latvia.

They also suggest increasing the funding allocated to the promotion and preservation of minority culture, language and traditions.

What is characteristic to the Latvian situation, the research finds, is that only Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian organizations are active in the ethnopolitical sphere. These public organizations generally tend to concentrate on the development of their culture and education in the native tongue.

The people who work in the field of ethnic policy are not always educated in the respective field, which produces a certain amateurism even in state institutions.

Two of Latvia's ruling coalition parties, the People's Party and Latvia's Way, have not yet declared their ethnic political stance. The nationalist Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Social Democrats and leftist National Harmony Party are the only parties to have issued a firm stance on ethnic issues, the study points out.

Only one government, led by former Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs in 1993 and 1994, included a position on ethnic policy in its platform, according to researcher Leo Dribins of the University of Latvia's Philosophy and Social Sciences Institute.

Also, the information space in Latvia is still divided in two value systems – Latvian and Russian – though there are many native Russian speakers who are an active audience for the Latvian media. Considering this, the researchers advise that the Latvian media should do better to address non-native Latvian speakers.

The politicized ethnic-integration climate results from a still unfinished legislative process and a misunderstanding of ethnic relations.

"This lack of understanding often is compensated by stereotypes dominating in society. One of the most fatal is the stereotype about the Latvian nation and Latvian language being in danger. The ethno-psychological stereotypes are supplemented by the exaggerated understanding of ethnic identity," reads the report.

The research was sponsored by the Soros Foundation-Latvia. The total 2000 budget for the project approved within the Ethnic Harmony and Integration program was $148,669.

Latvian society is made up of more than 130 ethnic groups, with 99 percent of the population being represented by only 10 major ethnic groups – Latvian, Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Roma, German and Estonian.