07 March 2006

This is a response to comments at Nouvelleurope.

In response to Cynic's numbered points:

1. I find this passage of yours somewhat convoluted, sorry; perhaps it is best if I start over and recapitulate my views on these processes anew. I agree with Dominique Arel in Gagnon and Tully's _Multinational Democracies_ (Cambridge, 2001) -- with his observation that multinational states can be politically stable "but not because of the deceptively appealing concept of the civic state, which glosses over the important issues." These states can be stable when they "reverse assimilatory trends," which "can be obtained through 'politically incorrect' means, such as closing all Castilian-language schools in Barcelona and eliminating freedom of choice in the language of instruction for immigrant parents in Montreal." Assimilatory trends in Latvia have now been reversed, and this was done by politically incorrect means. Many if not most Russians/Russophones want what Latvians would call a "two-community state," in effect the preservation of a divided society, and this is utterly unacceptable to the majority. Latvian is the sole state language and will remain so in the foreseeable future. The preservation of the Russian language and culture is mostly up to the Russians themselves -- nothing stands in their way, and they are in fact in a better position to prevent or retard assimilation than most minorities in most countries.

2. There are detailed statistics on inter-ethnic marriage -- in 2003, for example, 19,5% of Latvian women and 20,3% of Latvian men married outside their ethnic group. I have not seen any believable statistics on how many of these couples choose to send their offspring to Latvian-language schools, but I do believe those who suggest that a vast majority now does so. Some couples in which both partners are Russophones also choose Latvian-language schools, because Latvian is again becoming the "language of prestige."

3. Non-citizens include people who arrived over a considerable period of time and their descendants, not only recent arrivals, and I personally know numerous people who speak other languages at home (Tatar, Romany, etc.). But I will grant you the point that the vast majority of non-citizens have Russian as their native or preferred tongue. Language is obviously not the only component in their identity, as you indicate with regard to your uncle, and I brought up the survey regarding the occupation to illustrate that -- ca. 14% of the Russians, but ca. 31% of the other non-Latvians, characterized 1940 as an invasion (compared to ca. 70% of the ethnic Latvians).

4. Fine, if your definition is of a native speaker -- let's agree to use the term that way. This fourth point, though, is where I think you are being disingenuous -- there _are_ detailed studies of language knowledge and use, like those of BSZI, and when you look at the _level_ of language proficiency (or the workplace, which is crucial), the picture is not nearly as rosy as you paint it; Latvian fluency in Russian is far higher than Russian fluency in Latvian. My personal perspective is obviously colored by my being a Lettophone who barely understands Russian and my living in Daugavpils, but a recent article about the language situation in _Latgales Laiks_ received considerable response, with the clear suggestion that the linguistic environment is still unpleasant for many Latvian speakers. I would even say that it has worsened here in recent years, and I have long been forced to use Russian every day -- sometimes because of "politics and psychology," but also because my interlocutors often know little or no Latvian, and that includes many young people who ought to know some. I realize that great progress has been made in the country as a whole, but it is impossible to disentangle "politics and psychology" from the subject -- people who do not use a language rarely learn it well, and it is precisely these politics that make the naturalization procedure necessary; I do not think that a person who does not know or refuses to use Latvian deserves to be naturalized.

5. Limiting "disenfranchisement" to the Supreme Soviet in this way would be a true statement. Okay, fine -- but still misleading in terms of the actual picture, in my opinion. The metaphor I would choose is that of a decent building to which hideous additions have been made. To focus upon disenfranchisement with regard to the Supreme Soviet would be like focusing on the interior decoration of the building when one knows very well that it is to be gutted and returned to an approximation of its former state, with allowances for the passage of time and modernity. My main point is that the Supreme Soviet had no right to extend citizenship; it was a representative body of Soviet citizens and not of Latvian citizens.

6. Acceptance of the fact of occupation is not legal hairsplitting -- it is the foundation upon which the restoration of independence rests, and part of the justification for the "political incorrectness" mentioned earlier. As to "please do not forget that in every precinct where anti-independence MPs won, were also people who voted for pro-independence candidates" -- the reverse is also true; in every precinct where the pro-independence MPs won, there were also people who voted against independence. Then there is the question of what sort of independence was meant -- see, for example, studies of how many Russians would have wanted to retain their Soviet citizenship at the time. Election promises are very often broken by politicians, but it is important to remember what the circumstances were -- Latvia was still a captive nation when those promises were made.

It is interesting to detail all of this, but the fact is that it's now mostly blood under the bridge -- with the exception of KGB agents, criminals, et al., it has been possible for the non-citizens to naturalize rather easily for some time now, and more than 100 000 persons have taken advantage of this -- so many that there are actually numerous calls from the right for freezing the process. Those who do not know Latvian have had fifteen years to learn it if they didn't bother to learn any during the occupation. Most of the groups still crying about the matter tie it into a package with other demands, like ending the education reform, granting the right to vote in local elections to non-citizens, and making Russian an official language. Stars of their show include politicians who invoke Macedonia, declare Latvia to be a concentration camp, or refer to independence as a total evil like unto Nazism.

"Horror stories," Cynic? In my view, we have seen tremendous achievements in the past fifteen years, EU and NATO accession the most important among them. I agree with the Foreign Minister when he notes that these durable accomplishments would probably not have been possible had citizenship been extended automatically to every resident upon the restoration of independence.

Vysu lobu,


Blogger philippe said...

I read your comments and I m very pleased that a University teacher reacted to something read on Nouvelleurope !
tx you very much
Philippe from NE

15 March, 2006 23:52  
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