Ilga Kreytuse, Doctor of History, Director of Institute of Eastern Europe of Latvian University.
The last ten years in Europe passed under the sign of rebuilding of statehood of those peoples that lost it as a result of the WW II, so drawing a line under the historic events half a century long. During these years Latvia, Belarus and Russia lived through different in their quality stages of relation - from the official re- cognition of independence in 1991 to the open threat of possible economic and political sanctions that were voiced by the Russian prime minister at the second meeting of the heads of state of the member countries of the Council of States of Baltic Sea: "...position of our compatriots in Latvia is a priority issue for Russia in the whole complex of Russian and Latvian bilateral relations. We will convince Latvian government to solve the issue of the status of Russians, the use of political as well as economic measures is possible..."
Now we have to admit with regret that the frequent change of governments in Russia as well as in Latvia, indecisiveness of politicians do not give the possibility for intergovernmental delegations to start to work seriously. Against this background, from our point of view, important place in the further development of interstate relations, integration of Latvia, Russia and Belarus into European structures is taken by meetings at non-governmental level of people who are interested in peaceful, conflict free solution of problems taking into consideration the interests of both parties. So we can evade the possible but absolutely unnecessary confrontation, which is based mainly on the lack of information. At this, it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that in the process of construction of relations especially concerning the human factor every mistake costs a lot (according to Talleyrand - a mistake is worse than a crime). One of the problems which in the world politics acquired the sharpest forms up to armed struggle - is the relations of different nationalities that live within one state. In the process of construction of relations between Latvia and Russia politicians also came across this issue that often has a speculative character. The interest of different political powers in deliberate aggravation of the situation is covered by the slogans stating the limitation of rights of Russian speaking people. Besides this term became politicised, which contradicts the differentiation of peoples that is the objective composite part of the process of revival of national independence. The time of the use of unified term "Soviet people" passed; the term "Russian speaking" does not differ from it in essence because here the criterion of know-ledge of the Russian language is used as the basis for putting people to this group. It is unlikely that we will find the precedent when a state made claims on another state based on the language principle (for example, "French speaking" or "German speaking"). More and more people living away from their ethnic country consider themselves as representatives of a particular nation. It cannot be considered correct and respectful when some people reckoned Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles and representatives of other nationalities living in Latvia among "Russian speaking" and fight for their right to consider the Russian language their main language on the territory of Latvia.
From here comes the problem of status of the official language (in Latvia this is the Latvian language). To analyse and evaluate this situation it is incorrect to use the examples of Canada or Finland. The Russians in Latvia do not form the unified mass. Here we can see at least two layers. The first - the Russians that came to Latvia for different reasons - religious (Old Believers), economic or political (especially after October 1917). Majority of these people and their descendants automatically became citizens of Latvia in 1919 as well as in 1991. Nobody tested their knowledge of the Latvian language or history.
The second layer - the people that arrived after the WW II to construct the basics of "socialism" and later the "developed socialism". This construction crashed but the people remained with their own world-outlook and understanding of development of political and economic processes. This category of people often lost the orientation and became now, not at their free will, the mentioned "Russian speaking" group without the national identity. Such manipulation cannot help the creation of a nation of any state. Because the sober minded people understood that nobody is going to deport anyone anywhere. So the issues of relations between nations should be solved in reality giving the possibility to everyone to understand his national identity - Russian, Belarusian, Pole, Ukrainian, etc., - without the humiliating, to my mind, term "Russian speaking", taking into consideration that in Latvia the official language is the Latvian language. It is necessary to find optimal model of further development. Knowledge of the official language is not only an issue of attitude towards the state, a citizen of which any person is or wants to be, this is also the issue of respect towards the indigenous population as well as the overcoming the certain informational vacuum. And the national self-consciousness of neither Russians, nor Belarusians, nor representatives of other nationalities can be humiliated.
From our point of view the considerations of such politicians and political scientists who think that soon the issue of nationality will cease to be, is below criticism. All of us will become citizens of Europe which is conditioned by the integration process. At the same time refusal of the processes of national differentiation between peoples can only lead to the aggravation of the situation.
Situation in Kosovo where there is no end to the conflict to be seen proves the above. Only one thing is proven - issues between nations cannot be solved by the military force. At the same time the Kosovo crisis gave possibility to the politicians who do not know or do not want to know situation in Latvia, talk about the repetition of this crisis at Baltic shores. Such political speculations harm the relations between nations. Because any person on hearing about the perspective of the second Kosovo in Latvia shudders and thinks about possible murders and violence. At the same time not a single person left Latvia on grounds of lethal danger because of his or her belonging to a different nation. There was not a single pogrom or even anything resembling pogrom in Latvia. But we cannot say the same about Central Asia, Caucasus, etc.
One has to be very careful choosing comparisons, and it cannot be allowed that politicians built their careers and interstate relations in such a way. Here great role should be given to non-government meetings and discussions of publicly active people of acodemic and creative midst, people who work with their intellect.
Back in 1995 the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy made a conclusion that Russia as the most powerful state should initiate rapprochement with the Baltic states, a move in direction of creation good relations with them. From our point of view we should not wait for just Russian initiatives; all of us in Latvia, Russia and Belarus alike should initiate meetings, discussions, search for solutions. Relations of people cannot be built on the principle of division into "large" and "small".