About Alien Latvians
When Latvia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, only ethnic Latvians were granted citizenship. Russians who lived in the area were only offered an `alien passport`. Today, I am travelling to the mainly Russian city of Daugavpils, in the east of Latvia, to find out about the relation between Latvians and Russians.
During the train ride from Riga to Daugavpils, I enter into a conversation with Guna (24, photo). She is Latvian citizen of Latvian origin. She tells me that Russian residents holding an alien passport are not allowed to vote and need visas to travel to European Union countries. Guna explains that Russians can apply for Latvian citizenship by taking a test in Latvian language and history. Children who have at least one Latvian parent can automatically obtain Latvian citizenship. Holding Latvian citizenship in combination with fluency in Russian is an important asset when looking for a job. Without either one, you will be likely to have access only to a limited number of jobs, like shop assistant or production employee.
`Russians who lived in Latvia were not automatically granted Latvian citizenship`
Inga (24, also Latvian) confirms that the main differences between the normal passport and the `alien` version reside in voting rights and travelling freedom. Most Russians without Latvian citizenship are older people, who have difficulties learning Latvian and sometimes even don`t see the use of it. Almost everybody in the region around Daugavpils speaks Russian, TV channels broadcast in Russian and there is a wide choice of Russian newspapers. Inga is happy to speak both Latvian and Russian without any accent, which she says most Russians are not capable of.
Education in Latvian
In recent years, the Latvian government has forced schools to provide at least the majority of education in Latvian. For young Russian Latvians, this is of great help if they want to become Latvians. The number of alien passports Arthurs (19, Latvian) thinks that all those who live in Latvia should be able to speak Latvian. Max (21) and Arthur (22) think it shouldn`t make such a difference. Max`s mother does not have Latvian citizenship, `but why would she learn Latvian, she has been speaking Russian all of her life and it`s very difficult for her to learn Latvian at her age`. Max likes to live in Latvia, speaks Latvian and would not want to live in Russia. He thinks Latvia is a better place to live than Russia, but does not agree to the strict rules imposed by the Latvian government.
Although young people tell me that there are few differences left between the Russians and the Latvians, the older generation is not so eager to interact. Helena (54), teacher of English, explains that the Russians were not given voting rights because the Latvian government feared that they would hand the country over to Russia by voting for the pro-Russian parties - similar to what happened in 1945. She remembers the days of the occupation very well and says that `one never knows what the Russians have on their agenda`. None of the young people fears a renewed occupation, but Helena is not so sure. Her former pupil Santa (18) adds that a few Russian newspapers in Latvia have a different news coverage than Latvian ones. Only people who read both are able to see what is happening in the country.
The Latvian-Russian `friendship` seems a thin one, mainly carried by the younger generation. They were born in an independent Latvian state, are progressively educated in Latvian and therefore should not have any problems acquiring Latvian citizenship should the like to. The older generations carry the burden of mistrust and revenge. Latvians for their sufferings under Soviet rule, Russians for the way they are now treated. As aliens in a country where they were in many cases born and raised.
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