Is the State Like a Museum of Ethnography? A Critique of Latvian Programmes of Integration

Sergei Kruk (Rīga Stradiņš University)

Maintenance of social cohesion is a task of every state. In multi-ethnic Latvia, this problem is reduced to the integration of ethnic others into the society composed of ethnic Latvians.  By default, ethnicity is considered to be the key factor securing the social cohesion. Numerous policy documents on inter-ethnic integration adopted by the government since 1998 treat language proficiency and traditional culture as the main instruments of integration and indicators of social cohesion. This paper argues that current integration policy is grounded in the romantic concepts of language and culture developed by Young Latvians in the 19th century. Their task was to create a communicating community distinctive of Baltic Germans and Russians. Language and culture were treated as indicators of distinctiveness and instruments of homogenisation of individuals. Language and culture per se were conceived as structures organizing thinking and directing behaviour of individuals; inevitably, the shared language and culture produce similar modes of thinking and behaviour among the members of community. Adhering to structuralist determination, the programmes of integration lack reflection upon the practical experience of individuals and groups in given social setting, as well as their interaction producing social bonds.

 

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