Tensions in Latvia

By Meyer, Cord | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 24, 1998 | Go to article overview

Tensions in Latvia


Meyer, Cord, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


United States officials have grown increasingly concerned over Moscow's bullying rhetoric and tactics against Latvia. There is the fear that if the Russians get away with these Soviet-style tactics against Latvia, they will try it on others. When a demonstration by a few thousand Russian-speaking residents of Latvia was broken up by the police on March 3, Russians overreacted by comparing Latvia to Pol Pot's Cambodia.

Moscow says Latvia is discriminating against non-Latvian citizens, while Latvian officials say that Russian speakers have been slow to apply for naturalization but more than 95 percent of those who did apply have been able to pass the Latvian requirements for citizenship. So much for the allegations that the language is so impossibly difficult that it is used as a way of penalizing the Russian minority.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has written a sharply worded letter to Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov that was recently delivered. She warned that Washington was concerned about the dangerous trend toward rising tensions between Russia and Latvia, and she warned against any attempt to use economic sanctions. Among reforms proposed by Mrs. Albright is the abolition of a system of age restrictions on the number of people allowed to apply for naturalization. About 688,000 of those living in Latvia now do not have Latvian citizenship, including 450,000 ethnic Russians.

The state secretary of the Latvian Foreign Ministry, Maris Riekins, who is in Washington, has remarked that bashing Latvia is unfortunately the one issue that has managed to unite the Russian government, parliament and media. In reaction, the United States, the Nordic nations and Britain, as the current president of the European Union, have all protested to Moscow. Relations between Russia and Latvia have long been strained by the fact that during 50 years of Soviet rule, the communist system was crudely imposed on the democratic institutions of Latvia. By cutting off some shipments of oil to Latvia, the Russians have brought economic pressure to bear.

Meanwhile, in London, the Economist of April 18 reminds us how high the stakes are in the Baltic Sea. In an article on the Baltic revolution, the Economist reminds us that the Baltic is crucial to the economic prosperity of half the Continent, that it serves as the gateway to Russia, and that it has the best chance of linking Russia solidly to Europe. With free trade and stability the richer countries of the region will revive the poor countries of the East with capital and know-how. …

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