It is becoming more and more apparent that Latvia is taking advantage of the recent fray between Estonia and Russia to make itself look like a good boy in the eyes of the eastern, more often genocidal neighbor.
First came the ratification of the border treaty where -- in Russia's eyes -- Latvia abandoned its land claims to the Pytalovo district or its uninterupted legal continuity during the Cold War period.
That's not to say that Latvia had any land claims or that it gave up its legal continuity when it did so, but from the perspective of the Russian media, which is like FOX News on steroids for Russia, it did. And what did Latvia gain? Well, it already had a border and it already is in the EU and NATO. So I guess it gained the image of being a good boy in Moscow.
This was confirmed by the recent invitation of President-elect Valdis Zatlers to visit his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, sometime in autumn. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov himself will also visit Latvia, after the border treaty is ratified, of course. One can only dream of the day when such Russian dignitaries offer the same access to Estonia's elite.
Finally, there's this tidbit. Latvia will restore an inscription on a monument in Riga that reads: 'to the soldier liberator of Soviet Latvia and Riga from German Nazi troops.' It was removed in the 1990s during a period of ideological fervor, but now, since Latvia is a good boy, it's time to address the needs of 'dozens of thousands of Riga residents who treasure the monument,' Latvian politician Janis Urbanovics said in a report.
In Latvia's recent posturing one sees signs of the kind of self-censorship that marked Finland's position during the Cold War. But does that mean that the new Cold War is upon us, or is this something else. It could be the pragmatic thinking of Latvia's political elite to accept reality -- that ethnic Latvians lack critical mass in Riga to ever attempt what the authorities did in Tallinn, and moreover, they are terrified of provoking a similar response among their residents.
Or maybe they just see a window to escape the hostility of Russia. I recall that in 2003 and 2004 the news reports similarly smacked of the hysteria towards Latvia that now has been shown towards Estonia. Who could blame them for making superficial sacrifices to maintain stability with its increasingly rich and powerful neighbor? Afterall, the school reforms will go on, won't they?
Well, that's another question. Is there a slippery slope to this behavior. Will we soon see the elimination of the citizenship policy? Will the unilingual policy fall after that? And sovereignty after that? One hopes not, but I am sure that rightwing Latvians are already saying it's the case.
At the bottom of comparison with Estonia is that the two countries are different states. I know that Estonia sees itself as part of the Nordic community if not a Nordic country per se. Although the Russian relationship is often the most discussed and emotional, it is the Swedish and Finnish and Danish relationships that are as, if not more important.
That's not to say that Estonians are more like Danes, or have nothing in common with Russians. But in terms of the state, its perspective is guided by its place as a state among states in that community. For example, the national coat of arms in Estonia is a derivative of the Danish coat of arms. In Võru, there are photos of Gustavus Adolphus up to commorate the 375th birthday of Tartu University. This is in Võru, not even in Tartu.
At most junctures in Estonia -- the name of the capital, the seafaring nature of the islanders, the main university that has served a cultural and political engine for Estonian life, the national epic -- there is a Scandinavian or Nordic root. So, Estonia sees itself as part of this family of northern European nation states. Relations with Russia are important, but not essential to the identity of the state, if only as an antagonist to help prop the state up and reinforce its vision of itself.
In Latvia I have read that there is a history of viewing the country as an interface between Germany and Russia. Then again, perhaps that history was authored by Artis Pabriks, the current foreign minister of Latvia. But Latvia's recent actions are more in tune to this concept of Latvia -- as a mildly nationalist civilizational conductor between Germany and Russia, neither of which give a crap about inscriptions on monuments, uninterupted legal continuity, or most of Latvia's policies if they aggrevate or complicate the German-Russian (Nord Stream) agenda.
On the flipside, when the anti-Estonian Putin is gone from office, perhaps Estonia will see similar efforts from Russia to have a 'normal' relationship -- the kind it has with Norway or Finland as Russia comes to accept the Baltics' EU status. This is the kind of relationship that the EU and the US have both been urging Russia to take towards the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. Maybe the softening in Latvian-Russian relations will have even positive implications for other countries too.