Latvia, in the Baltic sea area, was an important maritime base for the USSR. During the Soviet rule years, thousands of Russians were sent to Latvia to provide manpower for Soviet factories. Latvian historians believe these workers were part of a conscious plan developed by Moscow to dilute native Baltic culture.
However, the USSR collapsed and Latvia regained its fully independence in 1991. Nationalism had grown considerably over the last years of Soviet occupation and its campaigners were pursuing the revitalization of a damaged language and culture; of a country that was trying to go back to its roots.
Latvia had then to deal with Soviet legacy. One of the most important aspects were former USSR citizens. In 1991 the Baltic country was home for around 715,000 residents from the extinct Soviet Union. These inhabitants were given the status of non-citizens after the Latvian Parliament, Saeima, created this legal category for these individuals who were neither citizens of Latvia nor any other country but, who, in accordance with the Latvian law, had the right to a non-citizen passport issued by the Latvian government as well as certain rights.
These inhabitants were not only Russians, but Belorussian, Ukrainians and Poles too. Most of them settled in urban areas such as Riga or Daugavpils and they are usually referred to as a Russian speaking community. Current Latvia’s ethnic mix is a legacy of almost half a century of Soviet rule.
Since then, the status and rights of these residents have been an important issue that has sparked controversy and raised international questions. Non-citizens are not allow to vote and they cannot work for public bodies. They might also face several problems when traveling. Latvian nationalism, minorities rights and Russian influence have played important roles over disputes on these matters.
Non-citizens have been allowed to acquire Latvian citizenship through a naturalization process, but it has to be said that not all them are willing to embrace Latvia as their new homeland. Despite this fact, it has been proved that there more than twenty years after the collapse of the USSR, their integration to Latvian society is yet to be a reality.
By January 2011, there were still 326 735 non-citizens in Latvia, what means around 14.5% of its inhabitants. Several organizations and political parties have called for a review in policies concerning non-citizens and citizenship. Few weeks ago Latvian president Valdis Zatlers spoke out about a citizenship debate that is going on in the country. One of the points Mr. Zatlers stressed was that the path to Latvian citizenship should be eased for children born to non-citizens and stateless persons.
I will be covering this subject as part of my documentary for my MA course. So I will keep this blog updated with the latest news on it.