• Analysis
  • The extreme right in the Baltic States: Latvia

  • By Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat | 04 Jun 20 | Posted under: Baltic States , Latvia , Central and Eastern Europe , Rightist Movements
  • Read the second text of our article series on the far-right forces in the Baltic States.

    In 2013, extreme right parties from the Baltic countries signed a declaration in Bauska (Southern Latvia) on cooperation in combating "cultural Marxism", multiculturalism, globalization, and Russian imperialist ambitions. For the Latvian right, the Bauska Declaration was signed by the National Alliance – a formation that has continuously been present in the Latvian parliament since 2010, and since 2011 has been part of three successive right-wing government coalitions.

    The full name of that group is the National Alliance Everything for Latvia! – For the Homeland and Freedom / the Latvian National Independence Movement; it is made up of the names of three smaller nationalist groups that originally operated on their own, but gradually united their forces. The last element of the name has the longest history – the Latvian National Independence Movement (LNNK), which was established in 1988 as the radical wing of the People's Front of Latvia. When the People's Front’s leadership only demanded greater autonomy for Latvia within the Soviet Union, activists in the Latvian National Independence Movement fought for full independence of the state. In the first years of independence, under the name of the National Conservative Party, they demanded acceleration of the country’s Latotization (Latwization) and warned against the threat perceived in a significant group of Russian-speaking residents. However, they lost their political significance as early as around 1993. This was partly the result of losing in the rivalry with another nationalist group called For Homeland and Freedom (TB), and partly due to the fact that key demands of the national conservatives have become part of the political mainstream in Latvia and to this day are basically accepted by the right wing. It’s about emphasizing the leading role of the Latvian language as the only official language, about preventing the Russian language from being given a minority status, and about strict rules for obtaining Latvian citizenship – it being an entitlement for those born in Latvia before 1940 and their descendants, while those who began to live within the borders of the present Latvia in the Soviet period can only obtain citizenship after passing an exam on Latvian language, history and culture (with more liberal procedures applying to their descendants already born in Latvia). Otherwise these people may remain in Latvia as "non-citizens".[1]

    In the right-wing discourse after 1991, the Russian-speaking population who came to Latvia during the Soviet period as part of internal migrations (in connection with the expansion of industry) was regularly referred to as a "fifth column" and "occupiers", despite the fact that this population – with exceptions – is completely loyal towards the Latvian state. Building a climate of fear of minorities and emphasizing the need to strengthen an endangered Latvia has also been at the heart of the more radical programme of the For Homeland and Freedom group, founded in 1993, which has been present in all the Latvian parliament’s terms of office since that year. According to that group’s concept – also to next be widely accepted on the Latvian right – Latvia’s inclusion in the USSR was a period "ripped out of the history" of Latvia, a time of occupation, while the new state should not be considered so much a successor as rather a continuation of the republic from the interwar period. The party promoted the soldiers of the Latvian SS Legion as true heroes of Latvian history; this at a time when its chairman Guntars Krasts headed a right-wing coalition government (1997-1998) and the Legion’s Memorial Day became a public holiday[2]. Also on the initiative of the For Homeland and Freedom, a law was passed in Latvia, according to which state officials are required to talk to applicants only in Latvian. In the group's programme, nationalist accents were linked with unequivocal praise of the market economy, privatization and limitation of the role of the state (although some degree of intervention was initially accepted). Gradually, after 1997, when LNNK (the Latvian National Independence Movement) and TB (For Homeland and Freedom) merged into one party with a two-part name, economic issues began to come to the fore in the organization's discourse. However, this was an effect not so much of withdrawing from a nationalist programme as the fact that its foundations – the separation of the Latvian and Russian communities, the establishment of criteria for granting citizenship and priority for the Latvian language – simply became part of the widely accepted credo of the Latvian right.

    Thanks to a strengthening of the alliance between the LNNK and TB by the inclusion of the All for Latvia! party, which finally took place in 2010-2011[3], the nationalists stabilized their electoral support at a level of a dozen or so percent and the same number of seats in parliament. Following the 2014 election, they had 17 (of 100) representatives in parliament, but four years later failed to repeat this result and eventually had 13 representatives in its single chamber. In matters concerning the Latvian language and promoting the assimilation of minorities, the Everything for Latvia! programme goes the furthest of all nationalist programmes, as it plans an additional reduction in the number of non-citizens who can be naturalized in a given year, and the implementation of a programme encouraging ethnic Latvians to return to the country and persons from minorities to leave. In 2019, the party was also instrumental in passing a law restricting to a minimum the possibility of education in public schools in minority languages. Finally, a distinguishing feature of All for Latvia! policy is combining nationalist and homophobic slogans (homosexual relationships are believed to weaken the traditional family and the entire nation, which should be growing in size) and moral conservatism (including demands to limit the sale of alcohol). In matters of historical politics, the party’s activists also participate in glorifying the Latvian SS Legion and the uncritical cult of the post-war underground ("forest brothers").

    In Latvia, what has become a repetitive mechanism is the formation of coalition governments by right-wing and centre-right parties, appealing to the Latvian electorate to ignore the centre-left Zgoda (Consensus) party representing the Russian-speaking community, and prevent it from coming to power. The Zgoda party obtained the largest number of votes in both 2014 (21.9%) and 2018 (6.7%), but was unable to form a government due to the lack of a potential coalition partner. In turn, an essential element for the formation of the right-wing was the nationalist party and its several parliamentary seats. In this situation, it might seem that the place of the far-right, blocking any discourse in Latvia is indisputable. However, the elections in 2018 brought about a fairly significant change in the form of the start of three completely new groups[4], which in addition declared that political and ideological differences are more important to them than the established divisions along ethnic lines. Also in the election campaign, discussions about the "Russian threat" generated from within by minorities have been pushed into the background by debates about the state of the Latvian economy, the disastrous immigration balance and the problems of poverty and uneven development. In a situation where the participation of minorities in Latvian society has significantly decreased compared to the first years of independence, and the younger Russian-speaking generations are either assimilating or at least fluent in the Latvian language, nationalist parties seem to be losing the "fuel" that previously powered them. On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that the themes of ethnic division will be regularly dusted off by the ruling right, if the current eclectic five-party coalition fails to solve the country’s current problems. However, a field in which the nationalist Latvian far right has achieved lasting success is the issue of historical politics. Perception of the Soviet period solely as an occupation with tragic results imposed by aliens, blurring the significant participation of Latvians in the October Revolution and the civil war, as well as in building socialism in Latvia, and denying the oppressive nature of the authoritarian rule of Karlis Ulmanis in pre-war Latvia is for all intents and purposes a sure-fire guarantee of success in the politics of remembrance conducted by the state and its positively disposed foundations and institutes. Different versions of historical memory are only cultivated in the Russian-speaking minority, which is generally tolerated by Latvian governments, although there are also situations when – rather in order to cover up other issues – questions are raised concerning the possible destruction of still existing Soviet monuments. Recently in 2019, nationalists were trying to initiate such a debate regarding the Victory Monument in Riga.
    Despite having gained a stable position, nationalists in Latvia seem to have already reached their maximum mobilization.

     

    NOTES

    1. Similar legal solutions, although not so strict, were adopted by Estonia. In Lithuania, citizenship of an independent state was granted to all interested residents of the former Lithuanian satellite state of the USSR (a so-called "zero option" was adopted).
    2. In the end Latvia withdrew from celebrating this holiday at state level.
    3. The three nationalist entities first formed a coalition for the 2010 parliamentary elections, and a year later strengthened their union, forming a party with a three-member name. 
    4. This refers to the eclectic, "anti-system" party To Whom Does The State Belong?,  the NewConservative Party positioning itself in free market republicanism and the typically liberal LA-KP! Alliance.

     

     

    This article series was first published in Nasze Argumenty 1/2019, the magazine of the Naprzód Foundation.


Related articles