Ainars Lerhis, the chairman of the board of Centre for East European Policy Studies, leading researcher of Latvia University History Institute
In May 2010, during one of the meetings with World War II veterans in Novorossiysk, while responding to a claim on the part of a veteran that secondary school teachers paid too little attention to the theme of the “Great Patriotic War”, stated that that subject was to be granted a particular attention. He added: “Such attempts are made, but they have to acquire a systemic character (“systemny kharakter”). The “systemic character” or “systemic approach” is probably the right attribute for describing involvement of representatives of various level authorities in the process of explanation the “correct” history.
Over the last years, Russian political technologists have mastered also the use of assistance of non-governmental organizations, and the case of “Nashi” is far from being the sole example. All the major Russian television channels are broadcasting, as intensively as during the Soviet period, the indoctrinated Soviet films, along with a quite large choice of such produced nowadays. Both in 2005 (the 60th anniversary) and in 2010, the media presented the black-and-white reflection of the World War II. The negligent attitude of the former USSR to its soldiers was not subject to discussion anymore, for Putin had already instructed to “raise the sense of pride”.
Attempts are made to contort the view of history
We would ignore the Russia’s specific view of its own and the other countries’ historical events, if this view was not actively spread also in Latvia. The “Russia Federation’s National Security Strategy till 2020” section “Culture” includes the sentence stating that “attempts to revise the interpretation of Russia’s history […] increase the impact to national security in the sphere of culture”. When a risk or threat is defined in a state security document, it is inevitably followed by the threat prevention measures. The aforementioned Russia’s security strategy comprises the prevention instrument – i.e. “development of a joint information-telecommunication space in the CIS space and neighbouring regions”. The “neighbouring regions” quite surely include also the Baltic countries.
The abovementioned allows us to conclude that the spread of the specific interpretation of history in Latvia through the media and “compatriots” organizations is not a coincidence – it is the element of foreign policy. Besides, one should bear in mind that the view of Latvia’s history is only one of the number of factors related to Latvian national identity addressed by Russia with the aim to distort it or reshape it according to its own pattern. Culture, education and the use of language are the decisive factors in building of each nation’s identity and national self-awareness. Unfortunately, since regaining of independence by Latvia in 1991, Russia has been questioning Latvia’s position on nearly all the aforementioned issues vital for the state and people of Latvia, these issues being moreover the exclusively internal matters of each country.
One of the far-reaching goals of Russian political elite is to promote creation of pro-Russia authorities in Latvia. The number of just the votes of so called Russian speakers is insufficient for its achievement thereby the “humanitarian dimension” in Russia’s foreign policy of the last years has been directed not only to the Russia “compatriots”, but also to Latvians. However, different approaches are used toward the two audiences. Renewal of the former Soviet period values – “friendship of peoples”, toleration of the Soviet period symbols, traditions, etc. – is stimulated within the Latvian audience. The fact is considered that a new generation has appeared under the conditions of independent state in Latvia over the last twenty years whose members lack the experience of the Soviet time and whose opinion on the USSR and Russia can be directed to a more positive angle. Attempts are made to stress the contradictions and negations, the citizens’ disappointment about the economic crisis, ineffective state administration and “plunder of the state” in order to cause Latvians’ doubts about their previous opinion and value system. Also considering the issues of history, the manipulators while regularly reminding of the contradictory points in Latvian historical events, follow their objective to question the significance and meaning of not only the Latvia’s state policy, but also the state of Latvia as such. The current economic difficulties are opposed to the former “stability” and “secure” life during the Soviet era.
The idea of “harmony” – integration in Russia’s framework
A different approach is used toward the Russian speakers’ audience – no change of identity is demanded from them. The existing in Russia motif is used for consolidation of compatriots – the “raising from knees” of the great nation in the spheres of culture, language, religion, etc. The past victories and achievements, as well as assurance of positive development of situation, success and progress in the future are stressed. Russian speakers are reminded that, together with Russia, they are the nation of conquerors, and the present difficulties can be overcome and the goals reached only with Russia’s assistance.
The overall objective of these activities regarding both communities – to gain the public support for change of Latvia’s strategic course (foreign policy orientation) to achieve Latvia’s political and economic approach to Russia. Russia offers to replace the Latvian governmental society integration plan with its own solution – “harmony” and integration in Russia’s cultural-political framework. Integration on the basis of Latvian values is refused. Put in the other words – first, you should integrate within Latvian political space according to Russia’s instructions, and next we will include you (the whole Latvian political space) in the joint post-Soviet space (information, political and cultural spheres of Russia).
In order to expect the necessary response in the future, Russia creates preconditions for introduction of the history and values positioning in Latvian schools and universities, possibilities are searched for changing the content of history curriculum in schools. Presently Russian officials are using foreign policy rhetoric friendly to Latvia, and it may remain such till at least the election to the 11th Saeima (the next parliamentary election). The future developments will depend on the election results and the new coalition membership.
What should be done by Latvia?
So far, over the twenty years of independence, the state of Latvia has not defined its values yet. There has prevailed a light-minded illusion that regaining of sovereignty and the status of independent state by themselves would secure maintaining and popularizing of our values, functioning of culture and education systems on the basis of Latvian values. We should define and chose our own values for interpretation of Latvia’s history. It is necessary to agree on a single position regarding the values to be protected by the people and state of Latvia, and no bargaining should be allowed on these issues. Furthermore, no moratorium on the history-related issues may be introduced. Because – which moratorium can be applied to the historical memory of society?
The aforementioned context should be taken into account also in the first congress of Latvian historians “Latvia’s History: Research Situation, Study Problems and Solutions” to be held this September 16 – 17 in Latvia University. The congress will address issues of history beginning with prehistory up to nowadays. The mission of the congress will include not only summarizing of the achievements in historical research and defining the future research directions, but also assessment of the role of history in the restored state of Latvia and its society, accentuating the role of history in development of national identity, as well as promoting creation of a collective historical consciousness.