Latvia’s othering of Russian minority resembles policies of Nazi Germany. Writes Ahmed Adel
Ethnic Russians residing permanently in Latvia should be “isolated” if they are deemed not to be loyal to the state, Latvian President Egils Levits said. Such a move demonstrates that the liberal experiment in the Baltics has failed and is quickly descending into fascism
“We see that some of the Russian community is disloyal to our country… Our task is to deal with them, to isolate them… They should simply be isolated,” he said on Latvijas Radio.
The majority of Latvians, according to Levits, have become “more nationalist and patriotic” as a result of the war in Ukraine, which he believed was a positive thing.
The Latvian president’s statement is an expression of open and unacceptable discrimination without precedent, effectively a new type of fascism. When looked in the context of Latvia openly glorifying and supporting Nazism by removing monuments to Soviet martyrs, as well as being ardent supporters of the fascist regime in Kiev, the non-condemnation from the European Union highlights that liberalism will always descend into fascism when non-Western powers challenge their hegemony.
During World War II, Latvians fought on the side of Hitler and served as guards at concentration camps. Just like what happened in Ukraine since 2014, Nazi collaborators are now being elevated as heroes in Latvia. Although defenders of anti-Russia policies point out that Levits could not be a fascist as he is Jewish, they also ignore Volodymyr Zelensky, also of Jewish heritage, is a gatekeeper of Far-Right ideology in Ukraine and describes the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and Right Sector as heroes and patriots. In addition, Zelensky’s top financial backer, the Ukrainian Jewish energy oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, has been a key benefactor of the Azov Battalion and other Far-Right extremist militias.
21st century fascism is motivated by Russophobia rather than antisemitism, as was the case in the previous century. As pointed out by Toward Freedom: “In its bid to deflect from the influence of Nazism in contemporary Ukraine, US media has found its most effective PR tool in the figure of Zelensky […] For a U.S. media engaged in an all-out information war against Russia, the president’s Jewish background has become an essential public relations tool.” Therefore, dismissing Levits’ anti-Russia racism because of his Jewish heritage does not hold and is a lazy effort to dismiss the emerging fascism in Latvia.
Since the three Baltic countries – Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia – achieved independence in the early 1990’s, they have worked towards a homogenization that does not respect minorities. It is recalled that an “Estonianization” was carried out in Estonia in the 1930s, which forced Poles, Russians, Germans and Jews to adopt Estonian surnames. This is similar to the Ukrainization that was forced on Russian-speakers in Ukraine, as well as the Polish, Romanian and Hungarian minorities, since 2014.
It cannot be discounted that Russian people, supposedly living in liberal Europe, will find their language, culture and identity attacked, with individuals targeted for being proud of their ethnicity. Latvian authorities could take away the Russian minorities citizenship or even expel them from the country, with little to no recourse from Brussels.
Emboldened by the lack of condemnation from the West, Latvia’s actions could force Moscow to make its own retaliatory measures, such as terminating diplomatic relations and the transit of goods through these countries, from which they earn fees. Although initial reactions in the West might be celebratory, just as happened in Ukraine, it is remembered that Kiev is now the biggest loser as it is not earning full transit fees for the transportation of Russian energy.
Latvia recently declared Russia a sponsor of terrorism and suspended the issuance of tourist visas to Russian citizens. In addition, the Baltic countries are actively fighting against their Soviet legacy, among other things, by disgustingly demolishing monuments to Soviet martyrs and soldiers who defeated Nazism in World War II.
Two million people live in Latvia, of which more than 220,000 are so-called non-citizens. These are permanent residents of the country, whose ancestors arrived after 1940 when Latvia became a part of the Soviet Union. Non-citizens, despite being in Latvia for multiple generations, have limited rights and cannot participate in elections and referendums. To obtain Latvian citizenship, they need to go through the naturalization procedure by passing an exam in Latvian language and history.
This procedure itself is a demonstration of fascist policies in supposedly liberal Europe.
None-the-less, calling for the “isolation” of Russians in Latvia is an othering resembling the policies of Nazi Germany against its Jewish and Roma citizens. Yet, as Russophobia has become a mainstream and acceptable form of racism and fascism in the liberal West, it will continue to receive little condemnation.
Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher.