Integration in Latvia: Exploring a Thematically-Interconnected Discourse in an Ethnically-Divided Society

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By: Colin Bushweller; University of Vermont

1. Introduction

“Our Latvia is not yet ready. We are still building it and on the way. Latvia should never be ready. We will work with our country to be as proud of our nation as our people.”

– Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Latvia’s Sixth President

From Russian imperialism to Soviet communism, Latvian society has been marked by a vacillating level of independence and autonomy—a constant building and rebuilding, that is—as the nation’s people have faced linguistic discrimination, cultural destruction, and profound acts of violence at the hands of authoritarian regimes. Families saw their loved ones stolen from them; friends found themselves coerced into having to turn on one another; and progressive, free thinkers were forcefully silenced and removed from society. Nonetheless, Latvia, as a nation, persevered. Through its perseverance, this country developed a strong sense of Latvian identity (Stuttaford, 2014).

Situated in contemporary times, Latvia is experiencing several internal struggles related to the reconstruction of its society after Soviet occupation, whose policies supported a single unit of Slavic culture, instated a status quo of Latvian inferiority, and consequently resulted in the entrance of large amounts of ethnic Russians. These policies called for the forced exit of a significant portion of ethnic Latvians, too, who were labeled enemies of the state and sent off to labor camps and uninhabitable regions of Russia (Strods & Kott, 2002). Once the USSR collapsed, however, many ethnic Russians remained in Latvia, choosing to stay for a variety of reasons. This, however, created a tense, strained social environment between the two ethnicities because ethnic Latvians viewed the remaining ethnic Russians as salient reminders of a troubling, dark past (Best, 2013). Twenty eight years after Latvia seceded from the USSR, ethnic Russians make up approximately one third of the country’s population, and they oftentimes find themselves isolated—both culturally and linguistically—from their ethnic Latvian counterparts (Cameron & Orenstein, 2012; Cheskin, 2013).

Exploring Latvia’s social, political, and linguistic environments, this article aims to examine the complex facets of integrative challenges within Latvian society between the two dominant ethnic communities. To accomplish this, I have conducted a discourse analysis of online Latvian news reporting between April 2017 and April 2019 to identify the leading controversial themes that have surfaced in Latvia. I will analyze the impacts of these themes, describing what each means for Latvia and its ethnic conflict.

My analysis will proceed as follows: In the next section, I will provide a recent historical contextualization to explain why and how the tense relations evolved between the two ethnicities, after which I will detail the methodology used for the study. The fourth section will present the study’s results, and the fifth section will examine the results and the themes’ positioning in Latvian society. The last section of this article will provide a final analysis of the integrative situation, discussing the possible path ahead.

2. Historical Context: A Precursor to Contemporary Ethnic Tensions

Latvian independence was proclaimed on November 18, 1918, after which Latvia began a transition from Eastern to Western society (Supreme, 1990; “History of Latvia,” 2014). The nation improved its infrastructure and created a highly developed economy through the exportation of agricultural goods to all of Europe, many places in the United States, and even the USSR. This period also included visible increases in the nation’s education levels, as it saw the construction of 373 new schools and the renovation of 587; the number of teachers and students grew, too. Latvia also possessed the highest amount of students enrolled in higher education in all of Europe toward the end of its independence in the mid-twentieth century. In fact, the economic and educational growth in Latvia increased so quickly during this era that by the mid-1930s, Latvia ranked 12th in Europe in Total Factor Productivity, which considered domestic productivity, education, research, and innovation (Vaidere, 2012). However, this changed in June of 1940, when the Red Army invaded Latvia, ending its period of prosperous independence and kickstarting the beginning to several decades marred by violence, discrimination, and suffering for ethnic Latvians (“History of Latvia”).

In the first year of Soviet occupation alone, approximately 35,000 Latvians, some of whom were children under the ages of ten, were deported to, and subsequently died in, labor camps or uninhabitable parts of Russia as part of Stalin’s mass deportation policies. These policies were created to prevent ethnic mobilization in Soviet republics and also to advance the USSR’s goal of establishing one element of Slavic culture. In general, men were sent to cruel labor camps knowns as “Gulags,” while women and children were ushered off to “administrative settlements” in areas with harsh climates, such as northern Russia, where they were labeled “enemies of the people” and given essentially no supplies. Similar deportations took place throughout the 1940s, such as in 1949, when the USSR deported 42,000 Latvians from Latvia. Over 11,000 of the 42,000 deported were children. All in all, at least 100,000 ethnic Latvians were deported as part of these initiatives (Soviet, 2004; Strods & Kott; “History of Latvia;” Stuttaford; Roeder, 1991). In essence, these policies are understood to have been a systematic, methodical process of national obliteration and cultural destruction.

These extensive deportations had a dramatic effect on the nation’s population, and the second layer of the deportation policies mandated the entrance of a sizable portion of ethnic Russians into Latvia, who were given high-level governmental and industrial positions. Latvian language was removed from society, and the Russian language was then forced upon ethnic Latvians, who were required to use it in all aspects of their daily life. Severe political repression also accompanied these radical changes, and any opposition was met with a swift, harsh response. As a result, the superiority of Slavic culture was then cemented in society. In just over 40 years, the proportion of ethnic Latvians in Latvia dropped from roughly three-fourths to little more than one-half, while ethnic Russians and other Slavic ethnicities made up the other half of this Baltic nation’s population (“History of Latvia;” Lakis, 1995).

Toward the end of the twentieth century, the situation reversed. Latvia claimed full independence in August of 1991 to begin a new era of autonomy after decades under an authoritarian regime. However, Latvia was left with a sizable ethnic Russian population, containing individuals who chose to stay for both personal and economic reasons. For many of these ethnic Russians, Latvia was all they knew—it was their home. In 1992, only 4 percent of Latvia’s ethnic Russians labeled “Russian” as their first identity, whereas 53 percent saw the republic in which they resided, Latvia, as their main identity (Linz & Stepan 1996). But for others, the draw to remain was more economic. Even though they did not share a common language, culture, or history with Latvia, they knew that its financial condition would be far better than whatever would come as a result of the dissolution of the USSR back in Russia (Rose, 1997).

This population posed a problem for the Latvian state, and their lingering presence only highlighted the dark past from which they wanted to escape. Robust anti-Russian sentiments had existed for decades, but now they were coming to the surface, as stigmas and stereotypes of ethnic Russians found their way into all layers of society. As a result, policies were passed at the start of the 90s that excluded ethnic Russians from citizenship, and effectively isolated them from Latvian society (Cameron & Ornstein; Cheskin & Kachuyevski, 2019).

Specifically, ethnic Russians who did not meet the criteria for Latvian citizenship were given “stateless” passports to signify that they had no state to which they were attached. That is, they are not citizens of Latvia or Russia. Though they are allowed to reside within Latvia, they are excluded from voting and a range of jobs, and the stigma attached to this label of statelessness has initiated a crisis of identity for many ethnic Russians, whose feelings of isolation are only exacerbated by the fact that they know they have no national identity to which they belong (Paparinskis, 2018; Cheskin; Birka, 2015). This alienation, in turn, created a set of integrational tensions between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians, since they began to operate and exist within different linguistic and cultural worlds, despite living in the same country. In addition to citizenship, other issues have surfaced between the two ethnicities, which have paved the way for further tensions to mature.

In the sections to come, the dominant themes surrounding these issues will be examined in relation to this historical context to analyze the regressive aspects of Latvia’s national integration.

3. Methodology

The objective of this study is to understand the controversial themes that permeate Latvian society—and what their presence highlights about where Latvia stands within its own borders, among its own people, and with its majority-minority relations. A qualitative methodology was used for this study, with a discourse analysis on Latvian online news reporting during a two-year timeframe from April 2017 to April 2019. This timeline was selected because of its position within the lead up and build down to 1) the October 2017 decision by the government to remove Russian language from the educational system and 2) the October 2018 parliamentary elections. The timeline also allows for a duration that is long enough to track the evolution, continuation, or devolution of certain trends. Quantitative polling data was gathered from publicly-available sources as well to provide a numerical layer to the analysis. Online news reporting was selected as the source of data for analysis in this study because the articles cover a wide array of representative topics within the nation’s society, are widely accessible, and offer a unique glimpse into the country’s social and political discourse through a distinctive perspective. Previous studies with discourse analyses related to Latvian society do exist (Krēķis, 2015; Capra, 2006; Golubeva & Gould, 2010). However, these studies either 1) focused on a specific media outlet with a smaller sample size; 2) used different sets of data, such as speeches delivered by Latvian political elites; or 3) drew from two specific Russian-language outlets for a half-year duration. That is, this study—with its discourse analysis of several online news outlets with a large sample size and a two-year timeframe—contributes new, original material to the field of Latvian-related research. 

For this study, articles were selected from a range of thirteen online news outlets—such as Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), Latvijas Avīze, LETA, DELFI, and more—to gain a variety of sources and reporting (see appendices). In total, 115 articles were selected from the outlets’ society, culture, and politics sections, in order to gather samples whose content was relevant to the study. To obtain samples that depict an accurate image of theme evolution throughout the two-year period, a minimum of four articles were selected for each month. In certain cases, more than four articles were selected for a specific month when reporting was especially high and there was a large amount of articles from which to take (e.g. May 2017, April 2018, February 2019, April 2019). However, no more than seven articles were assigned to one given month. The articles were individually reviewed as well to ensure that the issues discussed were relevant and topical to the study. This step was included to make sure that the reporting would be related specifically to Latvian society, rather than just general reporting on international events that did not affect Latvia. Most of the articles were published in Latvian, but there were also several originally published in Russian or English. The majority of the articles (47 percent) came from Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), because this outlet acts as a prolific source of media information for Latvia, publishing a magnitude of articles in English, Latvian, and Russian every day, from which many other outlets source information. Ten percent of the articles came from Delfi, eight percent from LETA, another eight percent from Latvijas Avīze, and then seven percent from Baltijas Bais. The rest of the articles were taken from less prolific outlets that do not publish relevant content as frequently, and therefore had fewer articles from which to select.

Once collected, the samples were coded in order to identify continuously-occurring themes that intersect with each other and address the study’s principal objective (Adu, 2012). Additionally, a coding method consistent throughout the study was established to create labels. For each article, careful attention was paid to both the title and the crux of the text itself, in order to discover, holistically, what the sample’s intended message was (Saldana, 2013). Each article was coded to at least one theme—of which there are five—and approximately 33 percent of the 115 articles were coded twice, because their thematic interconnection prevented them from having only one single theme attached. The samples were placed with articles that were thematically similar once identified, and then two sub themes were identified in a second layer of analysis to explore, on a more micro level, some of the leading subjects within the articles.

4. Results: Identified Themes from the Discourse Analysis

Table One: Overview of identified themes

Theme Sub Theme Percentage of Articles
1. Educational Reform a) The Role of Minority Language  Schools   b) Protests around the Policy 26%
2. Ethnically-Divided     Politics a) Harmony Centre   b) Russian Union of Latvia 24%
3. Language a) The Importance of Latvian   b) The Need to Preserve Russian 21%
4. Integrative Struggles of     Latvia’s Ethnic Russian     Community a) Media Consumption   b) Citizenship 20%
5. Tensions with Moscow a) Struggles with Cyber Attacks   b) Identity Strengthening for Russian     Compatriots Abroad 9%

Five dominant themes from the 115 samples were identified. These themes are meant to be forms of societal interpretation, by which specific, contemporary aspects of Latvian society can be understood. As the table indicates, all of the themes, in some way, intersect with each other, highlighting the interconnection that exists with salient issues in a majority-minority society.

The topic of educational reform was found the most, and it was identified in 26 percent of the 115 samples. Within educational reform, there were two sub themes that appeared throughout: the role of minority language schools (specifically, those for which the main instruction is Russian) and protests surrounding the educational reform policy. Ethnically-divided politics ranked as the second-most dominant theme among all articles, appearing in 24 percent of them. The two identified sub themes dealt with the controversial ethnic Russian political parties: Harmony Centre and the Russian Union of Latvia. The third theme, language, appeared  in 21 percent of the samples. Its sub themes were pinpointed to be a direct clash between the nation’s two spoken languages, with the first being the importance of Latvian and the second being the need to preserve Russian. The fourth theme for this study was integrative struggles of Latvia’s ethnic Russian community, which appeared in 20 percent of the samples; media consumption and citizenship were recognized to be its two sub themes. The fifth and final theme for this study was linked to tensions Latvia experiences with Moscow. This trend appeared in only nine percent of the 115 articles. The two sub themes are Latvia’s struggles with Russian cyber attacks and Moscow’s continuous support for a Russian identity among its compatriots abroad.

Figure One: Visualization of the Evolution of Societal Themes in Five-Month Cycles (April 2017 – April 2019)

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In terms of thematic evolution, educational reform had the largest fluctuation in appearance throughout the study. For example, in the first five-month cycle from April 2017 to August 2017, educational reform accounted for only ten percent of the coded articles, while the other four themes ranged from 15 to 28 percent each. However, in the second cycle—from September 2017 to January 2018—educational reform appeared in 39 percent of the coded articles, indicating a large jump from the cycle before. For the third cycle dating between February 2018 and August 2018, it appeared in 41 percent of the articles: the highest appearance not only for educational reform, but also for any other theme in the study. In the fourth cycle, however, it experienced a significant decrease in showing, surfacing only 18 percent of the time. This percentage remained roughly the same for the fifth and last cycle, in which it appeared 21 percent of the time.

Also interesting to note from the results is the continuation of appearance observed in the ethnically-divided politics theme. That is, on average, it surfaces 24 percent of the time in the samples throughout the duration of the project. In cycle one, this theme appeared anywhere from 19 to 25 percent of the time; it was not until the last cycle between December 2018 to April 2019 that it experienced a spike in appearance, reaching 34 percent. The theme of language experienced a similar structure, as well. However, language experienced one single decrease in appearance, rather than increase; aside from that, it remained relatively constant in its appearance, with an average of 21 percent.

The two remaining themes—integrative struggles of Latvia’s ethnic Russian community and tensions with Moscow—shared a similar structure. Their progression was marked by a minor decline, followed by a sharp decline, a sharp increase, and then another minor decline. Specifically, for the five cycles, the isolative struggles theme started at 21 percent, and then moved to 16 percent for the following two cycles, after which it increased to 27 percent. In the fifth cycle, however, it decreased six percentage points and ended at the same level at which it started: 21 percent. The smallest theme, tensions with Moscow, started at 14 percent, decreased to 10 percent, and then decreased significantly more for the third cycle, appearing only three percent of the time. In its fourth cycle, it jumped to 12 percent, but then moved back down for the fifth cycle to three percent.

6. A look into Latvian Society: What do these themes represent?

In this section, the results from the study will be analyzed to provide an overview of how the controversial themes play out in society. The study’s results will be looked at in greater depth—both quantitatively and qualitatively—and the discussion will encompass the greater meaning of the gathered samples.

6.1. Education Reform

The innate connection that education has to state legitimacy and sovereignty makes it so educational reform inherently represents national identity reform, too, whereby education is viewed as a means by which a nation can progress in its own, self-determined direction (Offe, 1976; Weiler, 1983; Khavenson & Carnoy, 2016). For former Soviet republics, educational reform is often situated within the debate of the language of instruction, with which Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia, and many other nations have struggled, owing to the many complexities it creates for majority-minority relations (Khavenson & Carnoy; Silova, 2002).  The intrinsic framework of education, furthermore, renders it a quintessential tool in constructing a collective identity for a nation’s titular population, under which a culture’s history, literature, and language can be reinforced. So when these themes are strengthened within the classroom, students have the chance to question and explore aspects of their country’s cultural identity from which they can draw greater feelings of national attachment. Education, then, provides a nation with a means by which citizen unification can occur, and thereby sentiments of belonging may be engendered within a population, as well (Birka, 2015).

 In the early 2000s, the Latvian parliament adopted an education program that mandated that for the nation’s minority language schools—which were created for students whose first language is not Latvian—60 percent of instruction would be taught in Latvian, and the remaining 40 percent will be taught in the minority language, such as Russian. Those subjects instructed in the minority language are usually those that possess difficult, complex vocabulary, such as literature, for which it is difficult to master when not studied in one’s native language. Though met with opposition and protests from the country’s ethnic Russian population, who saw the law as a state-mandated tool of coerced assimilation, this law was eventually passed and cemented within Latvia’s educational structure (Hogan-Brun, 2006).

Recently, however, this law has changed, as the Latvian government moves to strengthen its national identity within its education system. In October 2017, the Latvian Ministry of Education announced that the country will begin a linguistic transition in secondary education to move all instruction into Latvian by 2021. Supporters of the law believe higher levels education and better salaries in the workplace are generally more accessible if a graduate speaks Latvian fluently and that minority schools do not promote fluency. Moreover, Latvian, compared with Russian, has far fewer speakers, so many assert that the law is integral to the preservation of the language (Shadursky, 2017). Opposition groups, however, see it as yet another tool of forced assimilation at the hands of the Latvian government, whose intentions are to discriminate and marginalize.

As such, educational reform will likely always be a controversial topic in Latvia. As evidenced by the study, the topic of educational reform was rather dormant until the second cycle emerged (between September 2017 and January 2018), in which the reform was announced. The topic continued to appear quite a bit in the next two cycles, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all samples, but then it began to decrease again in the last two cycles. This reflects the likelihood that educational reform, as a contested topic, is one that fluctuates in its appearance and is likely to show up in times of direct change, but then decrease in times where the law is not directly altered. Therefore, it will always be an issue, yes, but it will rotate from one extreme to the other in its salience. 

Throughout the study, articles within educational reform were linked with a sub theme of protests around the law, in which reporting would discuss the ethnic Russian community’s mobilization to speak out against the Latvian government. One article from October 2017 discussed the community’s plans to demonstrate “against the violence in the education system, for the learning in the mother tongue, and for free choice of language proportions.” Other articles would detail the community’s demonstrations that aimed to “stop the Holocaust of Russian education in Latvia;” a few discussed the leaders and organizers of the protests, as well, such as Tatjana Ždanoka, who is the co-chairwoman for the controversial Russian Union of Latvia party; and then several articles discussed the sizes of the protests, reporting that some would eclipse 1,000 participants, such as the November 2017 and June 2018 demonstrations.

In addition, the role of minority schools, specifically as they relate to the ethnic Russian population, appeared often within articles detailing educational reform. The discussion of minority schools’ role in society often focused on the idea that, for the time being, they were necessary to allow for a natural progression of integration, rather than coerced assimilation. These articles did not necessarily criticize the premise of education in Latvian but instead claimed that any form of linguistic coercion is the not the correct method to improve integration; several articles honed in on the idea that, as a society, Latvia is not ready for Latvian-only education. In an article from October 2017, a director of one of Latvia’s many minority language schools, stated that:

I understand that we live in the Latvian state and the role of the Latvian language needs to be strengthened, but the question of education only in the state language—I think it should not be forced in any way. Maybe after ten years, yes, I understand. But at the moment, the educational process cannot only be in the state language.

Similar quotes appeared throughout the samples from this theme, highlighting that many supporters of these schools believe that minority education needs to be left alone for cohesive purposes, because a change to it is not the proper medium through which Latvian, as a language, can be strengthened. The underlying message within these statements (e.g. government-mandated integrative efforts) can be reinforced through data that shows that 37 percent of the inhabitants of Riga—more often, ethnic Russians and non-citizens—believe that integration efforts in Latvia do not require special management from the state or local government (Kantar LNS, 2017).

The appearance of these statements also falls in line with previous scholarly research surrounding the issue, which has shown that ethnic Russians prefer self-initiated integration over the state’s attempt at assimilation, marginalization, or separation (Pisarenko, 2006). And though over 90 percent of Russians in Latvia believe that everyone in Latvia should be able to speak Latvian, ethnic Russians nonetheless remain adamant in their stance that they should be able to continue their education in Russian (Zepa et al., 2008; Hogan-Brun).

Many articles also discussed state-run inspections of minority schools, which are conducted to ensure that they comply with the government’s language law. Special attention in these inspections is paid to the Latvian language proficiency of the teachers, as discussed in an article from March 2019, which reported that approximately 10 percent of Latvian minority school teachers have insufficient knowledge of Latvian.

Other articles took a more direct, polarized stance on the issue, citing that, without minority schools, Latvian society will suffer severely. An article from May 2018 reported that the Russian Union of Latvia political party published the following statement:

The ill-considered and unprepared transition of all minority schools into the Latvian language will lead to our children not being able to master the curriculum in a language other than their own. So there will be tears, negative emotions, psychological ones, but also in some cases direct harm to the health of the child. Many children will not be able to learn satisfactorily, will not receive certificates for successful graduation. This creates the risk of forming groups of young people who will not find themselves in society and will take revenge on this. The marginalization process, on the other hand, will lead to an increase in the number of unemployed and a rapid increase in crime.

As demonstrated by this excerpt, quick, hyperbolic conclusions are drawn by the Russian Union of Latvia, which take aim at the law’s possible effect on Latvian society after minority schools no longer exist. This political party has also attempted to have a referendum on the subject of minority schools, but the proposal was rejected by Latvia’s Central Election Commission (CEC).

Since news broke of this transition in October of 2017, the policy has advanced significantly, and in March of 2018 it was signed into law by the Latvian parliament, solidifying the transition to Latvian-only education by 2021. The president of Latvia, Raimonds Vējonis, officially announced the amendments to the education law in April of 2018, causing protests and demonstrations in the days that ensued from Latvia’s ethnic Russian community. The official signing of the law also drew criticism from the Kremlin, whose officials labeled this law as yet another example of the government in Latvia abusing the human rights of the ethnic Russian population. The Kremlin is known to criticize and respond, oftentimes harshly, to former republics when Russian language rights are removed from societal institutions and laws, such as when Moscow used the Ukrainian government’s 2014 decision to repeal a 2012 law recognizing Russian as an official regional language as a pretext for the annexation of Crimea (Podolian, 2015). The probability of an annexation or military response from Russia is unlikely for Latvia because of its integration in Western society through the EU and NATO, but it is likely that, as a result of this law, tensions between the two nations and the country’s two ethnicities will continue to grow more salient in the years to come.

6.2. Ethnically-Divided Politics

Both in Western and Eastern societies, political polarization has cemented itself in ways that reflects deeply rooted societal divides. Latvia is no exception to this trend. The nation’s political system has grown accustomed to ethnic divide, and, as a reflection of its majority-minority relations, there exists a noticeable split between Latvian and Russian political parties. Ethnic Latvians side with ethnic Latvian parties, which often promise to help establish a nation more rooted in its cultural identity, with statements such as a “Latvia for Latvians;” whereas ethnic Russians side with ethnic Russian parties, which strive to create a more ethnically-inclusive society that respects cultural and linguistic diversity. Despite often opposing ideologies, these parties share one trait: They capitalize on ethnic divides (Golubeva & Kazoka 2010; Kazoka 2010; Auers, 2013; Solska, 2011; Talal, 2016).

The results from the study indicate that, at a continuously steady rate, ethnically-divided politics is another trend likely to remain within Latvian society. Unlike educational reform, this issue remains constant in its appearance, and it will likely not fluctuate too heavily. In the fifth and final cycle, this theme saw an increase in appearance from the previous cycles, which could possibly be linked to the corruption scandal that resulted in the resignation of Riga’s mayor. Additionally, there is a link within many of the five themes that, in some way, relates back to political polarization or an ethnically-divided political system, so this theme’s development in Latvian society will often find its place in some form, as politicians continue to use majority-minority relations as tools for polarization. As a result, it is not a surprise that, in a 2017 study of social integration within the capital city of Riga, only 15 percent of respondents claimed that they had confidence in Latvia’s political parties, and then 28 percent claimed confidence in the country’s parliament (Kantar LNS).

Table Two: Breakdown of Latvia’s Leading Political Parties as of May 2019 (Source: Latvia’s Central Election Commission)

Party Political Stance Members of Parliament Members of European Parliament
1. Harmony Centre  (SDPS) Center-left (Russian minority politics) 23 0
2. Who Owns the     State? (KPV) Far-right (populism) 16 0
3. New Conservative        Party (JKP) Center-right (conservatism) 16 0
4. Development/For! (AP!) Center Politics 13 0
5. National Alliance (NA) Far-right (nationalism) 13 1
6. Union of Greens     and Farmers (ZZS) Center Politics (green politics) 11 1
7. Unity (V) Center-right 8 4
8. Latvian Russian Union (LKS) Far-left (Russian minority politics) 0 2

 Within the study, this theme was exemplified by articles that dealt with, among many things, politicians pitting themselves against each other along ethnic lines, such as several articles from mid-2017 reporting on a controversial statement by Edvins Šnores of the National Alliance, a Latvian party rooted in nationalism, in which he referred to ethnic Russians in Latvia as “lice.” Quoting a Latvian politician from the 1930s, Šnores wrote: “If you let Russian lice into a fur coat, it will be difficult to get them out.” In an article from June 2017, after labeling the quote “appropriate,” Šnores was asked whether or not such a statement could discourage non-ethnic Latvians from being loyal to the Latvian state, to which he said:

No, there are no grounds for such concerns. Those non-Latvians who are truly loyal to Latvia, respect our language and understand history, understand very well what is being said and know the context. There is no need for further explanation there.

Several other samples dealt with topics surrounding the ethno-nationalistic political framework in Latvia, as well, citing this as a factor that “pulls Latvia to the bottom.” Specific focus was placed on the political divide moving to the social sphere, too. Other samples toward the end of the study also dealt with the government’s recent decision in December 2018 to release previously former secret KGB files, which, in turn, exposed a number of individuals and showed society that they had collaborated with Latvia’s former oppressor, such as Ogre judge Ivars Bickovics, who is the Chief Justice of Latvia’s Supreme Court. Revelations like this complicate matters for Latvia’s political and governmental institutions, since former collaborators of the USSR are forbidden from having jobs in the public sector.

Shifting to a more micro analysis, the two identified sub themes dealt with two of Latvia’s ethnic Russian parties—Harmony Centre and the Russian Union of Latvia. The political ideology and agendas of these parties rest in their advocacy for the 1) recognition of Latvian citizenship for all individuals permanently residing in Latvia before 1991; 2) the preservation and incorporation of Russian into all spheres of society; and 3) the establishment of less strict language requirements in public service, and increased governmental support for Russian culture (Solska; “Main Page;” Nakai, 2014).

In 2005, Harmony was founded with the intention of bringing Latvia’s smaller Russian parties together to better represent the country’s ethnic Russian population. In the years that followed, the party steadily grew in popularity, and in the 2009 Riga City Council elections, a mayor from the ethnic Russian minority, Nils Ušakovs, was elected for the first time, commencing the party’s continual success over the next several years in the capital of Riga. In October 2018, Harmony received the highest percentage of seats in the Latvian parliament, though it continues to struggle with coalition formation, since other parties see it as only a reflection of pro-Russia propaganda. The party has a past political alliance with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, and the party’s leader, Nils Ušakovs, has failed to condemn Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has criticized EU sanctions against Russia (Birka; Stuttaford; “Ušakovs Aicina,” 2014).

The Russian Union of Latvia was founded in 1998 by aggregating, in a similar fashion, several smaller parties, which had support from primarily ethnic Russian voters. This party, however, is further to the left than Harmony, and it is often described as having socialist policies. It is also more extremist in its actions and statements when dealing with Russian-related issues, such as language, citizenship, and relations with Moscow. One of the party’s three leaders, Tatjana Ždanoka, carries a controversial image within Latvian politics. Not only did she openly support Russia’s annexation of Ukraine, but she is also a former member of the Communist Party of Latvia and opposed the country’s independence from the USSR in 1990-1991 (Wezel, 2016; “Main Page;” Lieven, 1994). In March 2019, Latvia’s State Security Service started a criminal procedure over her remarks made in a discussion organized at the European Parliament, during which she said Latvia’s ethnic Russians are persecuted “like Jews before World War Two” (“Security Service,” 2019).

Throughout the study, these two parties—and the controversial stances of their leaders—appeared often. In fact, within the ethnically-divided politics theme, 27 percent of the samples discussed Harmony, and then 30 percent of the samples discussed the Russian Union of Latvia. The articles, for the most part, reported on the political ideology of the two parties, almost always focusing on their Russian-related views, rather than their economic ones.

In an article from September 2018—titled “Asking the Parties: Do you support sanctions against Russia?”—a representative from Harmony responded with:

The question of the necessity of any sanctions must arise firstly from the political and economic

interests of the Latvian state and not from the interests of other countries in relations with Russia.

Latvia does not have to be a ‘first-mover’ in a negative attitude towards Russia, but it is necessary

to think about good, mutual respect, and pragmatic and constructive relations with our neighbor.

A representative of the Russian Union of Latvia echoed similar sentiments, stating that:

I do not believe in sanctions as a mechanism that could change something. Cuba was 50 years under US sanctions – also North Korea [and] Iran. But it didn’t change anything. I am opposed to sanctions against Russia because they are only damaging our relationship – both at EU level and in the form of bilateral relations between Latvia and Russia. After 15 years of sanctions, they were lifted by the EU against Belarus, and I am proud that I personally, as EP Vice-President for relations with Belarus, have negotiated with the EU Council so that they no longer exist. The same must be done with Russia.

These sentiments, however, were not the same for the ethnic Latvian parties; for them, sanctions were seen as a necessary tool to combat and punish Russian aggression in Ukraine.

         Interestingly, these two parties do not work together on many issues; they share a similar ideology but often find themselves using different political strategies. In recent years, Harmony has attempted to distance itself from the idea that it is only “pro-Russia,” as it attempts to gain more voters and convince Latvia that, above all, it is a party rooted in social democratic principles. This can be reflected in its decision to cut its alliance with Putin’s United Russia in the year leading up to the parliamentary elections (Latvia’s Saskaņa, 2017). The Russian Union of Latvia, however, proudly accepts its pro-Russia status and often organizes events that are rooted in controversy, such as a March 2018 demonstration. Organized by the party, the demonstration faced allegations from Latvia’s security police that there may have been “illegal actions” against the state during the protests. Articles within the study, furthermore, pointed specifically to this party as a polarizing force in Latvian society.

The cementation of political polarization in Latvia will likely deter individuals from generating interest in politics itself in the years to come, an effect that could severely damage the nation’s political system. In fact, polling data from March 2019 seems to indicate this, as interest in politics is at a historical low. Only 44 percent of respondents claim to “generally” follow policy developments, and only 16 percent “definitely” follow policy developments. The level of interest was even lower in younger groups between 18 and 24, with only 30 percent of respondents claiming to follow the nation’s political processes (“Poll,” 2019). Non-citizens in Latvia are also more likely to have no interest in politics at all, which is likely a reflection of their inability to participate in the country’s electoral process (Kantar LNS).

6.3. Language

Language is one of the most contentious topics in former Soviet republics. It represents more than just a tool of communication—it is the crux of national identity itself. Language is one of the most inherent qualities of an individual’s culture, and the manner in which that language is used—and encouraged—shapes one’s outlook on life, ability to engage in society, and sense of belonging (“Universal Declaration,” 1996; Podolian). In Latvia, the dominant way to proceed with a unitary state in 1991 was with Latvian as its sole, official language (Silova; Stuttaford). And this was exactly what Latvia did. Latvia began to formulate policies that established itself as a nation-state, constructing its future and its societal integration on the basis of the Latvian language (Muzergues, 2004; Šūpule, 2012).

         These policies largely included those passed throughout the 90s right after independence, such as the 1992 language law, which commenced the first potent shift in lessening the official status of Russian, especially within Latvia’s education system (Latvian State Language Law, Article 9, 1992). And it was then the 1999 language law that moved further toward a society rooted in Latvian only. Its main objectives were the integration of ethnic minorities, the preservation and development of Latvian, and the establishment of the right to use Latvian in all layers of society through the establishment of regulations and checks (conducted by the State Language Center) on state and municipal institutions, the judicial system, various organizations and companies, and also in the education system (Latvian State Language Law 1999). These policies, however, instituted a feeling of linguistic isolation for Latvia’s ethnic Russian population, who felt increasingly alienated as the policies grew more anti-Russian. And though their aim was integrative progression, the policies were conversely met with resistance and instead created integrative regression because they encouraged ethnic consolidation.

 Language remains a salient issue in Latvia, as evidenced by the controversial 2012 referendum in which Russian was voted down in becoming a second language. The turnout and the results reflected the ethnic divide; the overall turnout stood at approximately 71 percent of the nation’s population, with 25 percent voting in favor of Russian becoming a second language and 75 percent voting against it. Of those who participated, roughly 72 percent were ethnic Latvian, 20 percent were ethnic Russian, and eight percent were among other ethnicities (Šūpule; Nakai). The high turnout of the ethnic Latvian population reflects its ability to mobilize to oppose a policy that threatens its language, and also, by extension, its very identity.

Discourse around language in Latvia highlights that, as a divisive issue, it will always remain in the nation’s society. In the study, language, as a theme, surfaced in 21 percent of the 115 samples, and, despite a dip in cycle two to 13 percent, it appeared consistently throughout the rest of the study’s timeframe, ranging in appearance between 21 to 29 percent. Articles discussed, in general, the importance and drawbacks of language requirements; the merits of the use of the Russian language in professional settings; and the international reach of Latvian language and ways to maintain it for those who move abroad. A few of the samples also dealt with the Russian and Latvian languages pitted against each other, such as a January 2018 article, titled “Russian-speaking activists attempt to block new Latvian Language Friend mobile app at Google Play.”

Similar to political divisions, language finds itself as the cause for many other issues in Latvia. Its approximate one-fifth showing aligns with the idea that, as an issue, it will always be interconnected with other societal struggles; discussions of it single-handedly will appear as often as other controversial issues, but not necessarily more. That is, language is addressed in all five of the themes, but single discussions around the use of language itself do not appear as often, even though it plays such a big role in Latvian society.

This study’s results also suggest the existence of two primary narratives within Latvian society: 1) Russian needs to be preserved in Latvia and 2) Latvian needs to be strengthened. Articles containing the first sub theme cited the continual decline of Russian speakers in Latvia as a cause for concern, stating that, with a loss of speakers, comes a loss of culture. The second sub theme, however, contained reporting that reinforced concepts that Latvian, as a linguistic tool, is quintessential to strengthening the nation’s identity and its culture, and therefore more speakers equates to a stronger nation. Among the samples for the theme of language, the preservation of Russia appeared 25 percent of the time, while the need to strengthen Latvian surfaced in 41 percent of the articles. These themes oftentimes clashed directly with each other.

What is interesting to note, however, is the reality of language in Latvia. Ninety-one percent of ethnic minorities—and 98 percent of young ethnic minorities—speak at least basic Latvian, and then a majority, 76 percent, speak Latvian even more fluently. Furthermore, 98 percent of ethnic Latvians speak at least basic Russian (“Infographic,” 2015). And in the capital city, 97 percent believe that, if an individual lives in Latvia, then they must know the national language (Kantar LNS). Free Latvian language courses exist, as well, compliments of the Riga Municipality for those residents for whom it is not their mother tongue.

On the surface, language may be a divisive issue in social discourse, but linguistic communication itself is not necessarily as big a problem in everyday life. Instead, however, it is likely that the meaning of linguistic consolidation that garners such potent feelings of emotion because of its unique connection to someone’s identity. So even if knowing the two languages is not necessarily a problem, it is the symbolic messaging that is communicated when language is divided along such salient lines, which then furthers the tension within the country’s majority-minority relations. 

6.4 Integrative Struggles of Latvia’s Ethnic Russian Community

Socially, the ethnic Russian community in Latvia has experienced a myriad of integrative struggles, resulting from issues surrounding linguistic and cultural isolation. That is, their oftentimes uncertain societal position has spurred feelings of displacement for many, who, despite identifying Latvia as their home, do not see their ethnic Latvian neighbors as part of their community, and likewise many ethnic Latvians return this feeling (Birka; Cheskin). Geographically, this phenomenon plays out, too. As the main location where Riga’s ethnic Russian population resides, a short walk along Maskavas Forštate, or the “Moscow District,” shows that the district’s residents operate entirely within the confines of Maskavas Forštate itself: a location that many Latvians have tagged as dangerous, filled with crime, and, above all, “Russian” (Carrettiero, 2015). On the other end of Latvia, Daugavpils—the second-largest city in Latvia—exemplifies this, where, for the most part, all shops, restaurants, and daily conversations on the street are conducted in Russian because it is the first language for most of the city’s residents (Stuttaford). The predominantly Russian region in which Daugavpils is located is also the poorest in the entire country and suffers from the worst unemployment rates with a figure of over 15 percent unemployment, which is approximately two times the rate in all other regions of the country (“State Unemployment,” 2019; Stuttaford). Because of this, internal social and geographic borders have unofficially been established in Latvian society, paving the way for separated worlds of living that reinforce ethnic divides (Cheskin & Kachuyevski).

The struggles of integration appeared continuously in samples, as articles would document not only the personal problems that have emerged for the community, but also those on the national level, which pose serious threats to the Latvian state. That is, with a body of people who experience salient levels of isolation also comes a body of people who can be easily exploited, which the Russian Federation often attempts to do. On the communal level, the text shows that an us versus them attitude exists. And as this attitude grows, so do feelings of isolation; as feelings of isolation grow, so do the divides in society. It is an interconnected phenomenon, in which each factor leads to the exacerbation of another.

Interesting to note, too, is the effect that this reality has on the ethnic Russian community’s levels of happiness. Previous scholarly research from the early 2000s suggested that the self-esteem of the Latvian population was growing significantly in the years after independence, while the ethnic Russians of Latvia seemed to possess little optimism about their future (Protassova, 2002). A sample from this study from May 2017, titled “There are less happy people this year, but Latvians are happier than Russians in Latvia,” reported on data from a polling firm’s study, which concluded that, on average, ethnic Latvians are more happy than their ethnic Russian counterparts, reinforcing this continuation from the early 2000s.

From the study, articles detailing integrative struggles appeared in roughly one-fifth of the total samples; a small dip in appearance took place in cycles two and three, during which this theme surfaced only 16 percent of the time. This decrease is likely related to the bulk of reporting that was dedicated to addressing educational reform at the time.

Within the discourse of the samples themselves, the two identified sub themes were citizenship and media consumption. Citizenship laws were intentionally made restrictive in Latvia in the 1990s because of the nation’s desire to prevent Soviet-era Slavic communities from obtaining Latvian passports (Solska; Cameron & Ornstein; Cheskin & Kachuyevski). Specifically, citizenship was granted only to those who had it before the Soviet annexation (and could prove it with lineage), and also to their descendants. A majority of ethnic Russians in Latvia did not support the nation’s push to independence in the 1990s, too, which added another layer of suspicion for the Latvian state as to where their loyalties rested, thus reifying a desire to institute policies that pushed them away from national citizenship (Solska). And since citizenship acts as an important factor in identity formation, it is no surprise that it has been used as a tool to further the construction of Latvia’s nation-state building.

The policies of citizenship have eased slightly in the past years; however, Latvia has not followed in its neighbor’s path, Estonia, in granting automatic citizenship to children born to non-citizen parents. This has, in effect, allowed the controversy to mature. Official law still mandates that the child will receive the non-citizen status—just like its parents. This idea, and the meaning behind the label of a “non-citizen,” is seen in a November 2018 sample, in which reporting stated that:

In order to reduce the division of society, non-governmental organizations encourage the renaming of “minorities” to “the people of Latvia,” [….] Other proposals have also been developed, such as the abolition of the status of a non-citizen of Latvia, providing for the possibility for these persons to choose Latvian citizenship when providing justification. If such a proposal is not implemented, minority representatives in the working group have called for amendments to the Citizenship Law so that non-citizens of Latvia do not have to write an application for granting citizenship to their newborns.

Citizenship controversy, as a debate, reifies ethnic divide and failed integration between communities because of its unique relation to membership for those whom the law affects, and thereby gives way to the reinforcement of the us versus them mentality between the communities. This mentality subsequently created an environment in which integration is an obstacle, rather than a cohesive process aimed at dismantling cultural differences to establish a connected society. Steps are being taken, however, to integrate these populations in the Baltic region, as indicated from a March 2019 sample, titled “OSCE High Commissioner expresses support for Vejonis’ initiative to grant automatic Latvian citizenship to non-citizen children born in Latvia.” This article suggests that in the coming year this process could change, but it nonetheless must still make its way through the parliament, where the crux of identity politics is likely going to turn it into a controversial debate along ethnic lines (Semenov, 2017). As a result, policies such as these are coming too late, because the prejudices, beliefs, and fears that both communities have are, in many ways, ingrained in Latvian society.

The second sub theme, dealing with media literacy, contained articles that reported on the vulnerability the ethnic Russian community faces, because of their isolation from society and, by extension, information. Approximately 96 percent of those who use the Russian language at home also consume media in the Russian language, while only 51 percent of them use Latvian language media (Berzina et al. 2016). The consumption of such news increases the difficulty of integration, because several Russian-language outlets present contradictory realities of society, spawning a disparity in information between the ethnic groups (“Role of Russian Media”). The disparity in news, and consequently reality, comes from the type of information and articles that these outlets publish. Officials in the Baltic region claim the channels the Russian community watches and the articles they consume publish pro-Kremlin propaganda that increase sympathies for Moscow and simultaneously depict the Baltic region negatively (Keeley, 2018). Baltic officials have often accused Moscow of purposefully broadcasting this news abroad, suggesting that the outlets intend to incite anxieties within the ethnic Russian community, exploiting their communal struggles. These accusations do come with reason, however. For example, First Baltic Channel (PBK), one of Latvia’s most popular TV channels, provides local news, but the majority of its content originates from Russia; the outlet has also been accused before of having illicit connections to the Russian government (“Russia Secretly Finances;” Berzina, 2018). 

Nonetheless, the spread of issues around media consumption potentially depends on the age of an ethnic Russian, as demonstrated in a sample from April 2018, titled “Experts: The Russian-speaking audience is interested in and needs local media,” which discussed the older generation’s attachment to Russian media, while also highlighting the new trend of the younger generation’s shift toward Latvian internet portals and Latvian media outlets. As such, it is important for Latvian authorities to support these online portals and various local media programs for its younger audiences, so that a new layer of connection—one that looks to the future—can be established. However, it is nonetheless important to caution the extent of criticism also aimed at the Russian media programs, too, because, if seen too potent, then Latvian authorities could lose credibility among the country’s ethnic Russian community, who could interpret the criticism as biased. As a result, it is important to approach this issue with caution and balance, and to be sure that steps to improve it are done specifically with focus on those who are affected by it.

6.5 Tensions with Moscow

Years of complex, troubling history have established the current tensions that exist between Latvia and the Russian Federation. Current political and military events reify the reality of bidirectional tensions, too, as Russian aircraft drills taunt border demarcations and its military exercises aim to stoke anxieties, while Latvia continues to pivot further West, enlisting the help of its allies to temper the Russian aggression. Most recently, the Russia-Belarus Zapad 2017 military exercise —which included over 12,000 troops, around 70 planes and helicopters, 250 tanks, 200 artillery weapons, and 10 warships—represented this with a notional battle scene conducted along the Baltic States’ borders to demonstrate its combat readiness to NATO (Rekha, 2017).

Although on the international scene Russia-Latvia relations often garner the most attention, this study showed that, within the 115 samples from Latvian news portals, this is not necessarily the case. As a figure of controversy in Latvian society, this theme appeared in only nine percent of the samples from April 2017 to April 2019. Falling in line with the timeline for the lead-up and aftermath of Zapad 2017, it appeared predominantly in the first two cycles of the study. These results suggest that, in times of extreme Russian aggression, its appearance in the media will be higher, with reporting on the various struggles Latvia has with Moscow. In times without such potent and visible acts, however, then it is less likely to appear in the media in such high volumes. The results also indicate that there are two subfields to these tensions: struggles with cyber attacks and Russia’s attempt to strengthen a “Russian” identity to its compatriots abroad.

Cyber attacks in the Baltic region, however, are nothing new. Latvia’s neighbor, Estonia, experienced a large-scale, sophisticated Russian attack in 2007 as a result of its decision to relocate the Bronze Soldier statue of Tallinn, an elaborate Soviet-era grave marker, which Russia saw as a blatant cultural attack (Ottis, 2008). Lithuania has also experienced a bump in cyber attacks lately; in 2018, there was a 40 percent increase in the amount of cyber attacks that occurred, with most targeting public sector websites, such as embassies and national defense pages (“Lithuania Reports Rise,” 2019).

  Samples from the study reinforce this reality, too, as many discussed various waves of attacks that have occurred within Latvia’s cybersphere, for which Russia is the culprit. For example, Latvia endured a cyber attack on the day of its parliamentary elections in October 2018, during which a popular social network and internet portal, “,” was targeted. Upon opening the site, users were met with the colors of the Russian flag and a statement in Russian, claiming that “the Russian border never ends.” A 2017 report from Latvia’s Constitution Protection Bureau indicated that, in the past few years, cyber attacks against Latvian public institutions and organizations, such as those dealing with foreign policy and defense, have increased twofold, and it cited Russia as the main perpetrator (“Annual Public Report,” 2017).

These cyber attacks are sophisticated in nature, and they take into account personal factors of those targeted. A sample article from October 2018 reports on these tactics, stating:

In order to infect the system with a spyware program, the Russian military intelligence service extensively uses the so-called phishing method. Namely, the purpose of the attack is to send a fake e-mail message designed to encourage the recipient to open a letter, which in turn infects the user’s computer with a spy program. The content of the letter is often tailor-made, taking into account the interests of each specific target person and adapting to the current situation. For example, emails may contain information about a public event where the target person has recently participated. Likewise, a fake e-mail may be designed to give the recipient the impression that it has been sent by someone known to him or herself, may contain references to previous cooperation or meetings. Often a letter is sent from an address that contains the name of a familiar person, but the address domain is different. For example, if the correspondence usually takes place using the address:, the fake letter will be received from the address:

Tensions also arise between the two nations due to the Russian compatriot identity that Moscow actively aims to strengthen for all ethnic Russians abroad. This theme was identified through analyzing several articles that reported on Moscow wanting ethnic Russians to have poor Latvian language skills, but superior Russian language and cultural awareness skills, and then articles reporting that Russian propaganda claims the rights of its “compatriots” are being violated. These tactics of delegitimizing Latvia are intended to instate a superiority of Russian language and culture, and then establish a form of innate connection along the basis of ethnicity.

Previous scholarly research also indicates that, when it comes to strengthening Russian identity abroad, Moscow has developed comprehensive and official policy goals to accomplish this, for which cultural diplomacy is the main tool. Moscow has established a variety of outlets to promote this extraterritorial citizenship, such as the 2007 creation of the International Coordinating Council for Russian Compatriots Living Abroad. These cultural diplomatic policies, at times, can surface just as efforts to promote Russian language and literature. Other attempts at this identity formation, however, are less benign, such as when Moscow publicly asserts that it is the only nation willing to protect Russian culture and the inherent values that come with it. These types of actions provide the so-called compatriots a form of theoretical citizenship, offering them a political identity and a form of membership with Russia, even if only symbolic (Cheskin & Kachuyevski; Grigas, 2016). Containing postcolonial narratives, this cultural diplomacy also aims at increasing the nation’s soft power abroad (Gorham, 2011).

In enlisting policies such as these and also voicing support for what it labels “discrimination” of ethnic Russians in Latvia, Moscow is able to maintain ethnic ties and encourage the identification of Russia as the homeland. For those whom this policy reaches, it can serve as a means to achieve the sense of belonging and membership lacking in Latvia, where they do not feel attached to the nation’s ethnic community. That is, if not an official connection, an inner connection on the basis of ethnicity forms, whereby Russia strengthens its international reach and Latvia has its ethnic tensions increased (Birka; Grigas).

7. Conclusion

To improve such a society and to further its path toward cohesiveness is one that comes with many obstacles. Nonetheless, it is not impossible. Integration activities aimed at specific audiences ought to be further implemented, such as those starting from a young age. For example, hobby groups and cultural exchange programs for preschool and school-age children would be effective in binding the communities together at an early age to establish a base of interconnection, in order to prevent cultural barriers from forming in the first place. The education system, in this sense, could be used as a tool to progress cohesive integration, but through a framework not seen as coercive or restrictive, but rather voluntary and elective.

Free Latvian language courses ought to not just be continued, but encouraged, too, and given additional space to grow, so that participants can refresh their language skills constantly and grow more confident in the language; this way, they can feel more comfortable using it in all layers of the social sphere. Creative solutions yield impactful outcomes, so new methods to learning and teaching the language could generate more interest in not only the language, but also the culture itself once an individual has the linguistic agency to access and better understand it. In turn, this promotes mutual communication between the groups, and may also result in more social unification.

And though state and local governments ought to manage a certain level of control over integrative policies and methods, integration, as a phenomenon, is largely socially dependent, and therefore it is important to encourage the formation of an environment in which non-state actors, such as NGOs and cultural organizations, can play a large role in establishing integration projects that connect the two communities. These projects could work on media literacy, so that divisive issues projected by either polarized politicians or Russian media can be deciphered more effectively, in order to self-actualize about their hyperbolized and inaccurate content. When not seen as a state-mandated project, citizens could be more likely to opt into the program, when they understand it to be an individual choice, rather than one that is dictated.

Nevertheless, majority-minority relations in Latvia are likely to remain a salient issue in the years to come. The case of Latvia illustrates that discussions from educational reform to politics are divided along ethnic lines, further entrenching society with more contention. As such themes continue to grow, so will the integrative challenges. The results from the study reinforce this; they showed not only the five controversial topics that dominate Latvia’s contemporary society, but they also showcased their unique interconnectedness. That is, while each theme is individual in its own way and comes with its own set of problems, they all intersect with each other in some form, reifying the inherent, central struggle that exists at the core of integrative progression for a society whose majority and minority populations are often at odds with each other. Steps, such as those mentioned, can be taken to ameliorate the relations for the future, but their impacts will be long-term, not surfacing for many years to come. As such, only time will tell what will happen exactly with this conflict, but for the immediate time being, the tensions will remain as they are: contentious and strained.


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Percentage Breakdown of Online News Portals from which Articles Came:

  1. Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM): 47%
  2. Delfi: 10%
  3. LETA: 8%
  4. Latvijas Avīze: 8%
  5. Baltijas Bais: 7%
  6. Jauns: 4%
  7. Skaties: 4%
  8. D-Fakti: 3%
  9. Baltic Times Latvia: 3%
  10. Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze: 2%
  11. Providus: 2%
  12. Diena: 1%
  13. Focus: 1%

Online Articles Used for Discourse Analysis

  1. “Kremlin Promoting Media Illiteracy in Latvia.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 20 Apr. 2017,
  2. “Re: Baltica: ‘Baltnews’ in the Baltic States belongs to ‘Rossiya Segodnya.”  DELFI, 6 Apr. 2017,
  3. “Russian has lost its position in the world.” LETA, 19 Apr. 2017,
  4. “Border Watch: Russian subs in the area.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM) 17 Apr. 2017,
  5. “Mostly Russian-speaking Pededze chooses not to study at school in Russian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 9 May 2017,
  6. “Broadcasting: Riga councilors avoid commenting on many local criminal proceedings.” DELFI, 5 May 2017
  7. “There are less happy people this year, but Latvians are happier than Russians in Latvia.” Jauns, 5 May 2017,
  8. “Otto Ozols: The last Latvian Russian will be born in 2067.” DELFI, 5 May 2017,
  9. “Jānis Vādons: Latvian – Achilles Heel or Point of Power?” DELFI, 12 May 2017,
  10. “The Kremlin’s Pride – Indecent Latvians.” Latvijas Avīze, 8 May 2017,
  11. “In minority schools exams – only in Latvian.” Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, 8 June 2017,
  12. “Raivis Dzintars: Answer to Members of Unity about the statements of Edvins Šnores.” DELFI, 13 June 2017,
  13. “Vējonis: No matter what Ušakovs thinks, the Latvian language is and will remain the only state language.” SKATIES, 11 June 2017,
  14. “Šnore about ‘Russian lice’: it is enough to be hypocritical.” Latvijas Avīze, 2 June 2017, 
  15. “It is possible to improve Latvian language teaching in Latvian schools abroad.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 25 July 2017,
  16. “Expert in Ethics: People vote for those who are in poverty.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 18 July 2017,
  17. “The number of Russian citizens is growing, as the number of non-citizens of Russian nationality decreases.” Latvijas Avīze, 22 July 2017,
  18. “The interest in Latvian language in the world is growing – 43 participants from 19 countries at the UL summer school.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 25 July 2017,
  19. “National Language Center: Exports of education cannot be the basis for softening language requirements.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 29 Aug. 2017,
  20. “Exams – in Latvian only.” Latvijas Avīze, 8 Aug. 2017,
  21. “Expert: Voters around the world are becoming increasingly volatile.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 12 Aug. 2017,
  22. “Una Bergmane, “Riga Time”: The People Without Power.” DELFI, 1 Aug. 2017,
  23. “Šadurskis: The Latvian language examination is and will be in schools.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 14 Sept. 2017,
  24. “The NA will not sack the government on the basis of the ‘non-citizen children law,’ but will only insist on education in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 19 Sept. 2017,
  25. “Māris Zanders: Political absences – exaggerated and undervalued.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 13 Sept. 2017,
  26. “Aldis Adamovich: In Latvia you need to leave bilingual education.” D-Fakti, 20 Sept. 2017,
  27. “Vyacheslav Dombrovskis, ‘Certus’: The transition to education in the state language.” DELFI, 30 Oct. 2017,
  28. “Rēzekne Minority Schools: The Society is not ready to study in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 10 Oct. 2017,
  29. “A protest against a forced Latvian language school could bring together 150 participants.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 23 Oct. 2017,
  30. “KNAB after 15 years: Hlevickis «Jurmalaite» convicted of corruption.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 15 Oct. 2017,
  31. “National minority schools in Rezekne: Latvia is not prepared to have its children only learn in Latvian.” D-Fakti, 10 Oct. 2017,
  32. “More than 1,000 people protest against education in Latvian only.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 16 Nov. 2017,
  33. “Russian-speaking parents collect signatures on preservation of Russian language in education.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 4 Nov. 2017,
  34. “Šadurskis: The call for the autonomy of Russian schools is absolutely unconstitutional.” LETA, 17 Nov. 2017,
  35. “Sokolovs: Russian people do not learn the laziness and stupidity of the Latvian language.” LETA, 8 Nov. 2017,
  36. “Ushakov’s plans to provide extra hours in Russian schools in Russian is populism.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 1 Dec. 2017,
  37. “Expert: Politicians leave the party because they are particularly weak in Latvia.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 11 Dec. 2017,
  38. “Experts: Latvia’s politics now has its time.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 11 Dec. 2017,
  39. “Is it really the case that secondary school students in Estonia are studying only in the national language?” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 14 Dec. 2017,
  40. “Ekis: Russians lose their identity! I’m afraid of them…” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 7 Dec. 2017,
  41. “The government has agreed on a gradual transition to learning in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 23 Jan. 2018,
  42. “Among the non-supporters of Harmony’s Maghitska Law, Lembergs and Kalnozols.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 28 Jan. 2018,
  43. “Russian-speaking activists attempt to block new Latvian Language Friend mobile app on Google Play.” Baltic Times Latvia, 27 Jan. 2018,
  44. “Kremlin is interested in Latvia’s Russian-speaking youth to have poor Latvian language skills – Sadurskis.” Baltic Times Latvia, 23 Jan. 2018,
  45. “Ždanoka returns to Latvia to prevent school language reform.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 5 Feb. 2018,
  46. “Education reform continues – the Saeima conceptually supports the transition to learning only in Latvian.”  Skaties, 22 Feb. 2018,
  47. “The defenders of Russian schools are strongly opposed.” Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, 16 Feb. 2018,
  48. “Ždanoka: The European institutions failed to make important decisions for Latvia.” LETA, 5 Feb. 2018,
  49. “NA wants to discuss the idea of ​​preventing employers from requiring Russian language skills.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 9 Mar. 2018,
  50. “The CEC will not push for a referendum on the autonomy of minority schools.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 5 Mar. 2018,
  51. “The Saeima rejects the initiative to preserve bilingual education.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 1 Mar. 2018,
  52. “Mapping Report: Social Orientation in Latvia.” Providus, 5 Mar. 2018,
  53. “Mayor of Daugavpils still does not know Latvian at the required level.” D-Fakti, 6 Apr. 2018,
  54. “Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Russia has once again denied Latvia because of educational reform.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 12 Apr. 2018,
  55. “There are several hundred people in the current protest against the gradual transition to learning in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 4 Apr. 2018,
  56. “Experts: The Russian-speaking audience is interested in and needs local media.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 11 Apr. 2018,
  57. “The State Language Center goes to the minority schools with inspections.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 4 Apr. 2018,
  58. “Political analyst predicts the condition under which everyone will speak Latvian.” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 23 Apr. 2018,
  59. “DP: The Latvian Union of Russians is trying to polarize society.” LETA, 6 Apr. 2018,
  60. “Criminal proceedings for the Ždanoka party meeting against teaching in Latvian begin.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 4 May 2018,
  61. “At Sakstagala Elementary School, parents decide to study only in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 1 May 2018,
  62. “Ethnonationalism pulls Latvia to the bottom.” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 8 May 2018,
  63. “KNAB punished deputies of the regional duma of Daugavpils for booklets in Russian.” D-Fakti, 18 May 2018,
  64. “Latvian music quota plans to strengthen Latvian identity in radio stations.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 7 June 2018,
  65. “The Old Town protests against the transition to education in Latvian, few young people participate.” Latvijas Avīze, 2 June 2018,
  66. “Deny studying in Russian.” Latvijas Avīze, 21 June 2018,
  67. “Private universities and colleges will also prohibit studying in Russian.” DELFI, 13 June 2018,
  68. “The president announces amendments to the law that prevent study programs in Russian.” Latvijas Avīze, 4 July 2018,
  69. “The Constitutional Court initiates a case concerning the transition to studies only in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 27 July 2018,
  70. “Mamikins does not exclude the possibility of ‘Harmony’ and the Latvian Union of Russians working together in the next Saeima.” DELFI, 2 July 2018,
  71. “In Riga, Russian kindergarten groups become groups of Latvians.” Latvijas Avīze, 5 July 2018,
  72. “Teacher Ilona works at the school in Bashkiria – teaching Latvian and life at higher education.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 18 Aug. 2018,–stils/cilvekstasti/skolotajai-ilonai-darbs-baskirijas-skola-latviskuma-macisana-un-dzives-augstskola.a289119/
  73. “Only 20% of young people are interested in politics; will look for ways to promote interest.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 20 Aug. 2018,
  74. “Russia does not accept Russian Latvia. Will it get worse?” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 17 Aug. 2018,
  75. “The first issue of the 13th Saeima elections will be the Latvian Russian Union.” DELFI, 10 Aug. 2018,
  76. “Specialist advice on how to teach and maintain the Latvian language abroad.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 22 Sept. 2018,–stils/vecaki-un-berni/specialista-ieteikumi-ka-iemacit-un-uzturet-latviesu-valodu-arzemes.a293193/
  77. “Sedan Russian-speaking families often bring their children to the Latvian schools in their area.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 18 Sept. 2018,
  78. “Around 100 Russian Latvians will be asked to address the next Saeima.” Jauns, 12 Sept. 2018,
  79. “‘Hands off of Russian schools!’ Protest in Riga brings together at least 2,500 participants.” SKATIES, 15 Sept. 2018,
  80. “Asking the Parties: Do you support sanctions against Russia?” Latvijas Avīze, 25 Sept. 2018,
  81. “Jurašs: JKP will encourage the replacement of the KNAB chief..” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 29 Oct. 2018,
  82. “Russian TV is massaging protests, inviting Ždanoka and Jurkāna as experts.” Jauns, 27 Oct. 2018,
  83. “Troickis: The Baltic States were mistaken in handling the Russians arrogantly and lightly.” Diena, 21 Oct. 2018, 
  84. “SAB: Russian Special Service has attacked Latvian cyberspace in recent years.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 8 Oct. 2018,
  85. “On election day, is hacked with Russian symbols placed on the page.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 6 Oct. 2018,
  86. “The rector of the Riga Graduate School of Law will facilitate the requirements of the Latvian language.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 1 Nov. 2018,
  87. “Political scientist: Votes for the 13th Saeima Presidium show that ‘political positioning’ has taken place.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 7 Nov. 2018,
  88. “Naturalization for everyone: Who, after 20 years, is considered to be the ‘right Russian.’” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 4 Nov. 2018,–stils/vesture/naturalizacija-visiem-kuru-pec-20-gadiem-uzskatit-par-pareizo-krievu.a298454/
  89. “Professor: non-citizens of Latvia can become citizens of the European Union.” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 7 Nov. 2018,
  90. “The ban of the Russian language: students came to the main court of the country.” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 15 Nov. 2018,
  91. “Support to replace the term ‘national minorities’ for ‘Latvian citizens.’” Jauns, 23 Nov. 2018,
  92. “School as an Opportunity: How the Latvian language classes differ in Russian and Latvian schools.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 20 Dec. 2018,
  93. “Gobzems: Government building can only be torpedoed by the JKP.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 6 Dec. 2018,
  94. “Colleagues are interested in what to do to prove they have not cooperated with the KGB.” LETA, 27 Dec. 2018,
  95. “On Thursday, “Chek bag” documents will be published on the Internet.” Skaties, 19 Dec. 2018,
  96. “School as an option: Latvian should be taught as a game, not a coercion.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 5 Jan. 2019,
  97. “Karin Government Declaration: Elimination of OIK, Evaluation of Migration Policy and Preservation of Border Schools.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 21 Jan. 2019,
  98. “Who should and why should we know about the role of Latvian Russians in the fight for Latvia’s independence.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 29 Jan. 2019,–stils/vesture/kas-un-kapec-jazina-par-latvijas-krievu-lomu-cina-par-latvijas-neatkaribu.a307645/
  99. “Finding loved ones in “chek bags” creates a profound shock.” SKATIES, 10 Jan. 2019,
  100. “The Constitutional Court Case for Secondary Schools Only in Latvian: Experts do not see discrimination.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 26 Feb. 2019,
  101. “Russian scientist: The Russian language will be less and less in Latvia.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 25 Feb. 2019,
  102. “Russian language and literature will become non-binding subjects in Latvian schools.” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 22 Feb. 2019,
  103. “How to revive the Russian school in Latvia?” Baltijas Baiss (BB), 27 Feb. 2019,
  104. “The Russian Union in the European Parliament will try to prove that there are restrictions on political persecution and freedom of expression in the Baltic States.” Jauns, 20 Feb. 2019,
  105. “‘Ogre judge in Chek bags says he was not aware of being in the KGB card file.” LETA, 24 Feb. 2019,
  106. “Last year, the Language Center punished 143 minority school teachers.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 8 Mar. 2019,
  107. “Director: There are no methods for teaching minority pupils in Latvian.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 19 Mar. 2019,
  108. “Poll: Interest in politics is historically at the lowest level.” Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji (LSM), 21 Mar. 2019,
  109. “OSCE High Commissioner expresses support for Vejonis’ initiative to grant automatic Latvian citizenship to non-citizen children born in Latvia.” Baltic Times Latvia, 7 Mar. 2019,
  110. “Overview: How to unite Latvian society?” Providus, 16 Mar. 2019,
  111. “KNAB wants charges brought against MP Zakatistovs and businessman Tamuzs for large-scale fraud.” Baltic Times Latvia, 10 Apr. 2019,
  112. “’De facto:’ The resignation of Ushakov can aggravate the struggle for the Russian-speaking electorate.” Delfi, 7 Apr. 2019,
  113. “Chichvarkin: Non-citizenship in Latvia is right and it is necessary to introduce this in the Russian Federation.” Focus, 8 Apr. 2019,
  114. “The Russian Union of Latvia will continue to be led by its former leader Ždanoka.” LETA, 22 Apr. 2019,
  115. “The problem is a country: Russia’s propaganda channels are mostly depicted negatively by Latvia.” LETA, 24 Apr. 2019,

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