The last Russian tank rolled out of Latvia more than a decade ago. But Inesa Kuznetsova, 75, a resident here for more than 50 years, has little doubt where she calls home."My address isn't a city. My address isn't a town. My address isn't a street," says the dressmaker, who arrived from Leningrad during World War II. "My address is the Soviet Union."
Kuznetsova's address is, in fact, Bolderaja, a largely Russian-speaking neighborhood on the outskirts of Riga, where a former Russian naval barracks sits empty and signs in the supermarket are in both Russian and Latvian. Here, she inhabits a parallel universe that has little to do with Latvia. She watches a Kremlin-funded television station, eats Russian food, and has no intention of learning the Latvian language — "Why the hell would I want to do that?" — though she says her grandchildren are being forced to do so.
Kuznetsova calls it an "insult" that residents who arrived after 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, must now take a naturalization exam to become Latvian citizens. She has not done so, instead pinning her hopes on a new "Russian occupation" of Latvia.
Obviously Kuznetsova's dream of a reoccupation of Latvia, which I guess would force Vaira Vike-Freiberga to flee one more time while Einars Repse finds himself escorted to a Siberian psychiatric hospital, is scary. And it's not just scary to Latvians. It's scary to Swedes, who are haunted by memories of Baltic refugees, and scary to NATO commanders who have sworn to defend the boggy meat in the Baltic sandwich, as City Paper puts it.
But beyond the shock factor, by reading this article I have come to this conclusion. One reason that people like Inesa Kuznetsova still think they belong to the Soviet Union is because they have not yet been invited into Latvia. If Inesa had the right to vote, would she pay more attention to who her president was and what parties were in the Latvian Saema? Maybe she would, maybe she wouldn't. But she would be forced to accept that she had a genuine relationship with a new state. Latvia. Today she is still stuck in the gray, and will most likely die that way. But for those who would look to prevent the kinds of attitudes that would welcome the destruction of their own homeland, perhaps citizenship could ease the mental transition.
Now Latvia is in a different situation from Estonia because Estonia has naturalized more than half of its non-citizens. There's still about 9 percent left of the total population to go. Therefore, you could call Estonia's citizenship policies successful, though they are controversial. But I am considering the idea that granting long-time residents of Estonia - perhaps only people that have been born there, and this INCLUDES those born after 1992 as the current law dictates - citizenship may in the long-term prove beneficial to the survival of the state. By eliminating a subcaste of discontents and by virtue of citizenship forcing them to join in the Estonian dialog, you can basically end that debate.
People in Estonia, and more understandably in Latvia, are worried that by granting citizenship to people that arrived illegally in the period between 1945 and 1991 and their descendants that they will be appeasing the Soviet Russification policies of the 1960s and 70s that led the nationalist backlash that resulted in the reinstatement of independence.
But I think that, at least in Estonia, without the support of Soviet or imperial Russian bureaucracy, this is something that is not to be feared. The false dichotomy of the 1960-90 period, where Estonians rapidly declined as part of the population and Russification policies were enacted at the federal level, is over. The Estonian language is the language of the majority, and in a state that is split 70/30 does it make more sense economically to teach the language of 30 percent to the 70 percent or vice versa?
Politically, those who would suffer the greatest would be right-wing politicians from Estonian people's parties like IRL. The knee-jerk reaction is that KESK would be able to rely on its ethnic Russian supporters, but I don't think that's true either. Surely, the non-citizens of Ida Virumaa would, if granted citizenship, also be inspired to vote for a party like Reformierakond, that wants to make Estonia one of the five richest countries in Europe. Or maybe they would prefer to vote for the Social Democrats or the Greens. Just because KESK has a better ground operation, doesn't mean it owns the ethnic Russian minority, because beyond being of Russian descent, they are also Estonians. They live there and have a future there, and perhaps they have more to worry about than a dead country their fathers belonged to.
I honestly don't think that the government will change its policy. It doesn't have to because the current one is moderately successful. But in light of information like the article about Latvia, I thought I would take the time to discuss other options. What are your thoughts?