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Latvia answers difficult questions2008-12-24 09:36
"The war in Georgia was another "difficult question", affirmed Latvia's President Valdis Zatlers at a meeting with Latvian ambassadors on 18th December. "Here we will never share Russia's opinion. But in the future we would like to develop good-neighbourly and pragmatic relations with Moscow." Moreover, there is another "difficult issue" for Latvia - its attitude to its Russian-speaking citizens.
Latvia's position on Georgia is well known. Back on 14th August the presidents of Lithuania, Estonia and Poland made a joint declaration following a trip to Georgia. And they demanded that Russia immediately stop its aggression and subsequent occupation of sovereign and democratic Georgia. The address emphasized that only a NATO Membership Action Plan could save Georgia from similar acts of aggression.
The Seym's declarations reflected this spirit. A few months later the site NEWSru.com quoted Latvia's transport minister Ainars Slesers who summed up this fuss perfectly. "After the events in Georgia we missed a fantastic opportunity to just keep quiet. If Latvia is so determined to fight for democracy throughout the world, it should launch a struggle against Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea. Why did we need to fall out with Russia? It's the only country that can make up for the losses which we are enduring because of the crisis in the West."
But this position did not reflect the authorities as a whole. On 18th December the republic's Foreign Ministry reported that as of next year Latvia would act as a contact embassy between NATO and Georgia for two years. The main task of these institutions is to facilitate closer interaction between Tbilisi and Brussels. Latvia's Foreign Ministry concluded that this demonstrated the success of cooperation between Latvia and Georgia, which is founded on support for Tbilisi in its determination to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures.
At the same time another attack was launched on the "fifth column", meaning "local Russians" (who, incidentally, make up about 40 percent of the population).
On 18th December the Seym's legal commission approved amendments to the code for administrative infringements of the law. Now the fine for using Russian at work will be doubled. When starting a job candidates have long been compelled to present a certificate confirming their knowledge of the official state language. This document was invented by Latvia and Estonia. In order to get a job residents belonging to the "wrong ethnic minorities" need to pass humiliating and expensive exams testing their proficiency in the official state language.
It is no wonder that this nationality policy has led to almost half the country being openly discontent with the authorities. And the authorities, in turn, do not trust this section of the population. Just as they mistrust all of Russia as a whole.
The wariness and fears of the republic's rulers concerning Russia are constantly reflected, in particular, in speeches made by the European Parliament deputy from Latvia Girts-Valdis Kristovskis. Back in October he was scaring his colleagues in Brussels with his arguments that the Russians cannot be trusted:
"Russia has a thirst for revenge in its duel with the West, it still hasn't reconciled itself to defeat in the Cold War. The Kremlin's policy of defending its countrymen is especially dangerous. The implementation of this policy carries significant risks not only for Georgia, but also Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltic states. Russia's countrymen who were settled in these regions during the Soviet occupation are an instrument for Moscow to carry out its aggressive policies."