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December 2, 2002

Sveiki, all!

NATO faded in last week's news, taken over by news on the EU. More importantly, a new memorial was unveiled in Latvia which will perhaps finally start to heal the past, at least where the atrocities of Nazism are concerned. In the news:

We received a card from artist-filmmaker Daina Krumins about her current exhibit, which we misplaced and for which we apologized--this week's link is to that information.

As always, AOL'ers, remember, mailer or not, Lat Chat spontaneously appears every Sunday on AOL starting around 9:00/9:30pm Eastern time, lasting until 11:00/11:30pm. AOL'ers can follow this link in their AOL browser: Town Square - Latvian chat. And thanks to you participating on the Latvian message board as well: LATVIA (both on AOL only).

Finally, we and the mailer will be "out of town" for a couple of weeks; there will be no issues on 12/9 and 12/16; we will return on 12/23.

Ar visu labu,

Silvija Peters

 

  Latvian Link

Our apologies for misplacing the announcement...

Daina Krumins, daughter of Latvian artist Martins Krumins, is a succesful artist in her own right, recognized for her filmmaking and digital imagery. Her exhibit Mindpixels is currently on show at the Micro Museum, in Brooklyn, New York, through January 15th. Micro Museum is located at 123 Smith Street. It is always open on Saturdays from 12:00 to 6:00, and on alternate Sundays. It is also open by appointment if someone wants to see the pictures at another time--call (718) 797-3116. Daina will speaking at the Micro Museum about her pictures on December 14th (a Saturday). There will be two 1/2 hour talks at 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm.

      www.micromuseum.com for general information

You can also find more information about Daina's films at:

      http://www.gigmasters.com/krumins/

and browse some of her digital "sightings" at:

      Unusual Phenomena In and Around Westfield, New Jersey

 

  Editorial

Our response to the Christian Science Monitor about Fred Weir's article.

Regarding Christian Science Monitor's November 26th issue's article by Fred Weir, "Latvia gives Russians cold shoulder"

While interviewing multiple parties and appearing to strive for objectivity, Mr. Weir's article ultimately paints a shallow picture of the Latvian-Russian landscape in Latvia.

Latvia's heritage is one of multiculturalism and tolerance. Until W.W.II, most Latvians spoke two or more languages: Latvian, German, Russian, even Polish--Poles came to Latvia as seasonal farm workers. There was a vibrant merchant community in which the Jewish community was well-entrenched. Anti-Semitism was a foreign concept: my mother (now nearing 91) tells of the dry goods merchant making his weekly rounds through the farmland giving away candies to the children, including her--she was one of his "favorites"; grown up in Riga, she tells of being pulled into a store for a hat she was "perfect for"--stories told not with stereotyping or prejudice, but with fondness for a more innocent time.

The twin evils of Nazism and Stalinism shattered that world. As occupying forces vied for the Baltics, Latvians chose whichever side appeared to give them a better chance of staying alive; it was not uncommon to fight for both sides against both sides, or to be arrested by both sides as a collaborator for the other. Anti-Semitism took root as the Red Army used the Jewish population as scab labor to replace Latvians arrested and deported (as at my mother's post office). Yet she was saved when one of those workers told my mother not to go home the day the rest of her family was taken away to Siberia. They, too, were only trying to survive. However, in war there is death; death breeds vengeance; to avenge, one must blame; to blame, one must depersonalize and vilify. What is never mentioned about W.W.II in Latvia is that the Red Army was the first occupying power; after a year of brutal occupation, the invading Nazis were the liberators--and, for some, it was an opportunity to exact revenge in the most tragic way against the perceived collaborators of the Russians.

But I digress ... fifty years later, Latvia independent once again. Most of my mother's family had survived Siberia and returned to Latvia, 15-20 years after their deportation. My aunt had 7,000 rubles saved in her bank account, enough to retire comfortably. Independence and currency revaluation reduced those life savings to... 200 rubles per Lat, 60 cents per Lat... $58.33. Instant subsistence level living off the same pension as everyone else (55 Lats/month, or about $90, as the article mentions). But hardly a plan to oppress the Russians. Latvia pays the same pension to its Soviet-imposed non-citizens as to everyone else. (Incidentally, Russia announced an increase in its pension from 450 to 600 rubles a month--from about $14.50 to $19 even.)

And, when independence came, where did all the assets of all the collective farms and factories go? Fields revert to forest--farming equipment sold, money pocketed. Impoverished Russian workers live next to empty factories, mere husks, insides stripped bare, again, by their own Russian communist ruling class, sold, money pocketed. Less than a year after independence, a Russian woman calls into a radio talk show mad as hell that her apartment building isn't granting her a parking space for her second Mercedes--in fact, she had already gone to the Russian embassy to file a formal complaint that she was being oppressed. Russian thieves? Yes. Latvian oppressors? No.

And actually learning Latvian? We heard it on the radio ourselves, a Russian woman saying she would "never learn that language not fit for a pig." Even more telling, walking down the street in Riga, talking Latvian, and hearing, from passerby Russians: "NEXT time we'll send them ALL to Siberia!" Learning the Latvian language means acknowledging the loss of preferred status. Loss of artificial privilege? Yes. Oppression? No.

Finally, for all the complaints, when the Red Army "pulled out" of Latvia, what really happened? Thousands upon thousands retired from the military and stayed--and claimed their state-provided apartments. (Anyone who "legally" gained a residence during Soviet occupation got to claim it--hardly oppressive.) As for the Soviet military, Latvia was their favorite retirement community for decades; estimates range over 40,000 total. And why did they stay? Because in a Russia which so vehemently "defends" its now expatriates abroad, returning Russian Latvians are derided and called Latvians! There is no mother Russia to return to; no warm hearth, only cold rebuke. And even worse for returning Russian military: no barracks, no housing, no money to pay salaries. Meanwhile, Latvia lets them keep their apartments and pays pensions to retirees. Latvia treats the embodiment of its oppression, ex-Soviet military, better than Russia treats its own.

It's not necessarily one's ethnicity that determines one's Latvian-ness: I have met Russians who make wonderful Latvians; in the same vein, among my own relatives are those who "married Russian," whose children speak no Latvian, and who have through callous inattentiveness even disowned their own parents: Latvians who make miserable Latvians. In a territory the size of West Virginia, overrun by Germans, Russians, Swedes, Poles, even French--every regional power of the last eight centuries--there is no such thing as a "pure" Latvian. It is the love of Latvia and Latvian culture that makes one Latvian, and it is the inherent and unique richness of the Latvian culture that has helped it survive--along with its sibling Lithuanian, the oldest surviving Indo-European culture, the oldest surviving Indo-European language. (And the survival of language IS the survival of culture. It's hypocritical to flog the Latvians for preserving their language when American media routinely run alarmist "exposes" of Miami and how no one behind the counter at the local 7-11 speaks English.)

In the future, those who work to build a better Latvia for all will be the Latvians; those who don't, whether through disdain, or yearning for--or resentment of--past privilege, or simple apathy, will be marginalized. It's about attitude, not ethnicity.

 

  News


Latvia gives Russians cold shoulder
Copyright 2002 Christian Science Monitor
November 26, 2002
A decade after the republic won independence, many of its Soviet-era immigrants remain outsiders.
By Fred Weir, Special to The Christian Science Monitor

      RIGA, LATVIA – Alena Gausche carries an "Alien Passport," possibly the oddest official document in existence. Issued by the Latvian government, it affirms that the bearer is not a citizen of Latvia.
      Ms. Gausche is among more than half a million Russian speakers — nearly a quarter of this tiny former Soviet republic's population - who have spent most of their lives here and do not plan to leave, yet still have not become citizens. They cannot vote, run for public office, or hold a state-sector job.
      The citizenship issue, along with Latvia's tough single-language law, has roiled relations with neighboring Russia, drawn charges that Latvia is using strong-arm tactics to assimilate its minorities, and divided the country's politics along ethnic lines.
      Pressured by Western governments, Latvia in 1998 eased its formerly draconian citizenship law enough to satisfy many critics. Last week, Latvia was invited to join the Western military alliance NATO, and the Baltic state hopes to be admitted into the European Union in a couple of years.
      Yet most agree that Russian speakers here remain in an abnormal situation.
      "What we have here is a conflict of two just causes," says Grigory Krupnikov, general secretary of the New Era Party, which won the most votes in last month's general election. "Latvia was occupied by another state for half a century, and we had the right to restore our independence. On the other hand, we know most of these people are not individually guilty. It's not a normal situation by European standards, but Latvia is not a normal country given our history."
      Laws require most public information, street signs, broadcasting and all state services to be in Latvian only. "We didn't want to make another Brighton Beach here," says the legislation's main author, Dzintars Abikis, referring to New York's colorful Russian quarter. "We have eliminated the bilingual situation here, and it would be unpleasant for Latvians to bring it back."
      Higher education is in Latvian only, and use of Russian in secondary schools will be halted in 2004. Mr. Abikis, of the centrist Peoples' Party, acknowledges that the country's language policies will be a problem when it comes to joining the EU, but defends the measures: "Latvian is the language of a small people, and we had to make sure it would survive."
      When Latvia broke free from the USSR a decade ago, it offered documents immediately to all who had been citizens of independent Latvia before it was swallowed up by the Soviet Union in 1939, and their descendants. But hundreds of thousands of Soviet-era immigrants, mainly Russian-speaking factory workers and their Latvian-born children, were left in legal limbo.
      Latvia's neighbor, Lithuania, simply gave citizenship to its permanent residents and now finds itself on a faster track to EU membership. The third Baltic state, Estonia, has moved more swiftly than Latvia to grant municipal voting rights and other concessions to its noncitizens.
      Many Latvians resent Moscow's occasional efforts to stir up noncitizens against NATO membership and integration with the West. In 1998 Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov even compared the Latvian government to Pol Pot's genocidal regime in Cambodia after Riga police broke up a rally of mainly Russian pensioners.
      "As long as the Latvian elite chooses confrontation and segregation to bar Russians from political life and the economy this will remain a serious problem in our relations," says Vyacheslav Igrunov, a liberal deputy of the Russian State Duma.
      Car salesman Igor Orlov, a fluent Latvian speaker, says obtaining his citizenship in 1993 was "a most unpleasant experience" in which officials seemed to think the goal was to discourage Russians.
      Nikolaj Neilands, a leader of the left-wing Harmony Party whose family has been Latvian for centuries, says he examined the citizenship test used in the mid-1990s and found many questions impossible. "There was a primitive brand of nationalism behind this. It was designed to make the Russian population feel unwelcome here."
      Officials say that procedures have been liberalized since 1998, and that the main problem is noncitizens who lack motivation. "Any noncitizen can apply for citizenship, and it is not difficult to obtain," says Janis Kahanovics, deputy head of Latvia's naturalization board.
      One reason for Latvia's foot-dragging may be political. The Party for Human Rights, which speaks for the Russian minority, is already the second-largest force in Latvia's parliament. "Many Latvians fear that if you gave all noncitizens the vote, there would be a reorientation of policy toward the East," says Nils Muiznieks, Latvia's new minister of integration. "There is also the concern that if they had more political influence, Russian would receive the status of a state language and that would remove any incentive for them to learn Latvian," he says.
      Amid all these considerations, the fact remains that many noncitizens seem uninterested in changing their status. "Some feel offended, and think it unjust that they must apply for citizenship," while ethnic Latvians were simply granted it a decade ago, says Mr. Krupnikov. Many young men may be avoiding Latvia's compulsory military service. Others may have business or family interests in the East and prefer the visa-free entry Russia offers noncitizens to the hassles of traveling to the former USSR on a Latvian passport.
      Some just haven't made up their minds. "I may go to university in Russia, in which case it's better to remain a noncitizen," says student Maria Chemm. "Or, I could decide to study in Paris, and then it would be better to have a Latvian passport."
      Ms. Gausche, a Belarussian who married a Latvian in 1959, says citizenship is not her biggest concern. "My only real problem is that my pension is just 55 Lats (about $90) per month," she says, adding, "My Latvian neighbor's pension is the same as mine. She and I get along fine, and the question of citizenship never comes up."

EU mulls longer land sale curbs for candidates
Reuters World Report Tuesday, November 26, 2002 12:52:00 PM
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd.

      BRUSSELS, Nov 26 (Reuters) — European Union president Denmark on Tuesday proposed allowing candidate countries to introduce or extend moratoriums on the free sale of land to EU citizens after accession in 2004.
      Denmark, presenting its final package on funding the EU's eastern enlargement, said all candidates should be allowed to restrict sales of land for seven years after they join, a period which could then be extended by a further three years.
      Many people in candidate countries fear that rich Western individuals or companies could buy up their prime real estate at rock bottom prices. The issue is sensitive as many candidates have a long history of foreign domination.
      EU diplomats said Denmark made the offer on land sales to meet demands of several candidates which have had second thoughts about the issue.
      Those candidates — the three Baltic republics, Hungary and the Czech Republic -- initially agreed on a shorter period to shield their land from foreign buyers.
      But after Poland, the biggest candidate due to join the EU in 2004, secured a moratorium on land sales of up to 12 years earlier this year, other candidates began to grumble.
      Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had not previously sought grace periods for selling land to foreigners. The Czech Republic and Hungary had secured only seven-year moratoriums on sales.
      The EU plans to admit 10 countries — the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus -- on May 1, 2004, after closing entry talks in December in Copenhagen.

Prodi says Ukraine, Russia should not join EU
Reuters World Report Wednesday, November 27, 2002 8:18:00 AM
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd.

      AMSTERDAM, Nov 27 (Reuters) — Former Soviet republics such as Ukraine have no place in an enlarged European Union and Russia is just too big to join, European Commission President Romano Prodi said in an interview published on Wednesday.
      Ten mostly ex-communist countries are due to wrap up accession talks with the EU next month and to join in May, 2004. They include Poland, which has a long border with Ukraine and Belarus, and the three Baltic republics which share borders with Russia.
      "It is important that we now ask ourselves what will happen after this big expansion. Where does Europe end? The Balkan countries will join, they belong. Turkey is officially a candidate, that is clear. But Morocco or Ukraine or Moldova? I see no reason for that," Prodi told Dutch daily De Volkskrant.
      "We need to talk about our criteria. The fact Ukrainians or Armenians feel European means nothing to me. Because New Zealanders feel European too," he added.
      Prodi said Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked him on a recent visit to Brussels about potential Russian membership of the Union.
      "I told him straight away clearly: no, you are too big," Prodi said.
      Russia has not said publicly it would like to join the wealthy bloc, though the 15-nation EU is already its largest trade partner -- a fact to be reinforced by eastern enlargement.
      Prodi told Reuters this month that his long-term vision was for an enlarged European Union surrounded by a "ring of friends" from Russia to Morocco, with which it would share everything except membership.
      The 10 countries due to join the EU in 2004 are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania aim to join in 2007. Turkey has yet to open negotiations.

Outside Riga, a memorial to 25,000 murdered Jews is unveiled
AP WorldStream Friday, November 29, 2002 12:46:00 PM
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press

      RIGA, Latvia (AP) — In the woods outside this Baltic capital, where 25,000 Latvian Jews were murdered by Nazis, a sprawling iron and stone memorial was dedicated amid calls to never forget one of the country's darkest moments.
      "It was one of dark days and maybe even the darkest one in the whole history of Latvia," Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told hundreds of people who gathered in the icy wind in the forest 10 kilometers (six miles) from downtown Riga. "This is a day of mourning for all of Latvia because this crime happened on our soil and our people took part in it."
      The sands of Rumbula became a mass grave for most of the residents of Riga's Jewish ghetto and another 1,000 European Jews. They were executed in two waves, Nov. 29-30 and Dec. 8, 1941.
      Marched eight kilometers (4.9 miles) from the ghetto and forced to strip, they were shot at the edge of huge pits dug by Soviet prisoners of war.
      The killing was done by Nazis, but mostly members of Latvian police units, including the Kommando Arajs, secured the perimeter, oversaw the forced march and shot stragglers.
      "Of those 1,700 killers, between 1,000 and 1,500 were residents of Latvia" drawn from the local police force and Latvian ghetto guards, Brian E. Carlson, the U.S. ambassador to Latvia said during an earlier ceremony at the Riga Jewish Community Center.
      Their involvement was inscribed on the memorial, an act that sparked controversy throughout Latvia after the Riga City Council, which oversees the memorial, made no mention of it in the memorial plans.
      Many prominent Latvians, however, pushed for the inclusion, including Prime Minister Einars Repshe and Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete.
      The council agreed Wednesday to mention the Latvian Nazi collaborators.
      "This is a memorial to all Jews killed in Latvia," said Arkady Sukharenko, the leader of Riga's Jewish community.
      Latvian Jews played indispensable role in the prewar society, said Boris Cliot, Latvian Holocaust survivor and principal sponsor of memorial in Rumbula, who lost his entire family here. Of the 95,000 Jews in Latvia before World War II, barely 4,000 survived, he stressed.
      As the ceremony ended, a cantor sang, breaking the silence.
      All along the paved square of the memorial trembling voices joined and people wept. Some squatted down and caressed the vertical stones -- half buried in the earth to symbolize the lives cut short.
      Some stones, placed as the Star of David with a large menorah of intertwined iron bars in its center, have inscriptions on them. They are the names of the victims, but only about 1,300 are known.
      "We will search for them and engrave them," Sukharenko said.
      The rest of memorial represents level grassy squares indicating the pits.
      The entrance is marked by a two-story high, 10-meter (30 feet) wide iron sculpture with boulders beaded on them. It hangs over half of a six-lane highway leading into Riga.
      Latvia lost its independence to the Soviet Union in 1940 and was occupied by Nazis when Germany and Russia went to war in 1941.
 

  Picture Album

A view along the city canal, from July 2001.

Riga city canal

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