Thursday, November 9, 2017

83 Percent of Latvia’s Ethnic Minorities Now Feel Close Ties to that Country, New Survey Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 9 – 83 percent of Latvia’s ethnic minorities, the largest group of whom are ethnic Russians, feel close or very close attachment to that country, an increase from 67 percent just two years ago, according to the second biannual report on such attitudes prepared by the Latvian Ministry of Culture.

            Inta Mierin, a sociologist who heads Center for Research on Diasporas and Migration at the University of Latvia, says part of this increase reflects the fact that such attitudes are situational: this year, compared to two years ago, Latvia’s ethnic minorities were less focused on political issues (

            But part of it reflects improvements in the economic situation. Indeed, she continues, “attitudes toward the state to a large degree depends on economics.” As long as the standard of living improves and economic opportunities increase, Mierin says, Latvia’s ethnic minorities are increasingly likely to feel close attachment to their country of residence.

            To be sure, she says, “ethnic Latvians are more likely to feel attachment to Latvia than are national minorities,” but the difference between the two amounts to “all of a few percentage points and already is not as dramatic as was the case earlier.” When one speaks about national pride, the differences are more pronounced.

            It is also the case, Mierin says, that “national minorities are more critically inclined toward the political and economic situation” than are ethnic Latvians. But she adds that she “very much wants to note that a critical attitude toward the authorities hardly is an indication of disloyalty to the country.” 

            There are many reasons for Latvians and ethnic minorities to be critical of their country and its government, she continues; but there are also things to be pleased about and feel close to – and the differences between the two groups as far as the relationship of criticism and loyalty are concerned are rapidly being attenuated.

            While the authorities have not done all they might to develop a dialogue with minorities, Mierin says, “ever more national minorities consider that they have the opportunity to develop their language and culture. If in 2015, approximately a quarter thought so, now it is already a third.” Things aren’t perfect but “we are going in a positive direction.”

            The sociologist also says that “integration is always a mutual process. Therefore, it is important not only to achieve the inclusion of national minorities but also that the titular nationality from its side will show a welcoming attitude.”  That is not always the case, but again things are getting better.

            Ethnic issues aren’t going to go away, even though “Latvia is becoming ever more Latvian.” Now, approximately 37 percent of the country’s population consists of national minorities. And that means “we must learn to live together.” Real progress is being made especially among younger people.

            “We already now see that youngsters from the national minorities know Latvian very well in contrast unfortunately to the older generation where the situation is significantly worse.”  Still more important, on many issues, “young members of the national minorities” are quite similar to young Latvians.

            That pattern has some interesting features. While non-Latvians are more critical of NATO than are Latvians, they are more enthusiastic about Europe and “feel more closely their ties with Europe.” Such a combination of views augurs well for the future of the integration of the minorities into Latvian society, the sociologist concludes.

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