Admiring its Jugendstil, when in Riga, I also inquired about the Russian minority, a remnant of when the Baltic states had been Soviet Republics. To be granted Latvian citizenship, they had to demonstrating loyalty to their new home state. But many did not care: As ‘non-citizens’ they enjoyed residency rights whilst also having access to Russia.
Maybe the EU was unhappy, but strategic concerns must have prevailed. Along with Estonia, Latvia was accepted together with Lithuania (with fewer Russians). But at least Baltic non-citizen residents can travel in the EU.
A history buff, I made sure we also went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Upon leaving we had coffee nearby. It was a Sunday, and the place was packed with Russian speakers. We wondered how they felt about – indeed, whether they even knew about – the Latvian struggle for independence.
But, not to worry: the Riga mayor – no doubt in this case a citizen – was an ethnic Russian. Also, a short walk away was the late-19th century Russian Orthodox Nativity Cathedral vying for attention with the near-by (Latvian) Freedom Monument. Obviously, accommodation was possible.
Still, I could not help thinking: what an opportunity lost for integrating a contingent of Russians into the EU! At the same time, given its history, one can sympathise with Latvia not bringing herself to accept without much ado Russians as compatriots.
Had they done so, would there now be moles? Maybe, but not more than we should be wary of anyhow. And, according to some reports, more Russians in Latvia become citizens now!
Why recall all of this? Because now the close to 20,000 permanent residents with Russian citizenship remaining (clearly, a minority amongst ethnic Russians) must do what they have not so far been forced to do: prove that they can speak Latvian. Otherwise, their residence permit will not be extended. (Euro-topics 2023) Will they be extradited? And, once again, would it not have been wiser to be magnanimous towards what in the Baltic States are described as ‘colonists’? They hardly came of their own volition! Anyhow, even if some of them upon becoming Latvian would have remained Russian loyalists, those who would not might have been a beacon to their fellows across the border that a Russian identity does not always mean to take sides – right or wrong – with the Russian State!
Euro-topics (2023). Available at: https://www.eurotopics.net/en/294503/latvia-discusses-new-immigration-law?zitat=294429#zitat294429.