One in four inhabitants of Latvia is a Latvian Russian. Most Latvian Russians inhabit the major cities of Rīga, Daugavpils and Rēzekne. Russian language is the most used minority language and widely used and understood around the country. Latvia hosts public and private media that broadcasts in Russian. Furthermore, the Latvian government funds schools and classes with Russian as the language of instruction.
Latvian Russians have reached top ranks of Latvian arts, science and politics. To name just a few, the ballet-dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, the sculptor Vera Moukhina, the opera star Aleksandr Antonenko and the mathematician, theoretician of cosmic sciences Mstislav Keldysh are all representatives of the Latvian Russian community.
First Russian merchants from Polotsk and Novgorod came to Latvia as early as the 12th century. The original Latvian Russian community however, was established by Orthodox Old Believers who fled persecution in Russia during the 18th century. More Russians came to Latvia following the incorporation of the Latvian territories in the Russian Empire by 1795.
Census of 1897 showed 171 thousand Latvian Russians, the majority of them in Latgale. Most of them were peasants many were middle class, while a few were noblemen. Russian industrialists engaged in business in Latvia, as a result ventures like Kuznetsov Porcelain Factory and Nesterov Shipyard were among the biggest enterprises in Riga by the early 20th century.
The number of Latvian Russians grew after 1917 due to Russian emigrants fleeing Russian Civil War. However, most of current Latvian Russians or their parents settled in Latvia during the Soviet period (1940-1941, 1945-1991).
Many Latvian Russians were strong supporters of regaining the independence of Latvia by the end of 1980’s. The idea of establishing the Popular Front of Latvia, the main force in re-establishing the independence, was supported by prominent Latvian Russian writers like Lyudmila Azarova and Roald Dobrovensky. At the same time there were great numbers of those who opposed Latvian sovereignty, forming a massive counter-independence movement „International Front”.
Since Latvia regained independence the Russian community has shrunk from 905 515 in 1989 to 520 136 in 2014, Latvian Russians having left for their ethnic homeland or other, EU countries.
The non-citizen issue which is often raised as an issue related to human rights or ethnicity has little in common with either of these aspects. After securing the continuity of its interrupted statehood in 1991 and renewing the body of its legitimate citizens, the Latvian official authorities have put all the necessary legislation in place to facilitate integration of former USSR citizens and create procedures for them to obtain Latvian citizenship by naturalization. 142 616 people became naturalized citizens between 1995 and 2014. However, since the non-citizens enjoy the same rights as citizens in social and economic plane, the naturalization process has slowed down. Between 2008 and 2013 the average annual rate is around two thousand per year.
However, the advantages provided by Latvian legislation and the NGO support system are well appreciated by Latvian Russian population to advance their social initiatives and create relevant organisations in Latvia. Today there are several dozens of Latvian Russian associations and organizations which promote cultural and social causes.
© Latvian Institute 2015;