Category Archives: Latvia

Latvia Between the Centers of Gravitation of Soft Power – the USA and Russia

Andis Kudors (Centre for East European Policy Studies, Latvia)

As a democratic country, Latvia is open to the influence of different foreign actors. Two countries – United States and Russia have better opportunities to implement soft power policy toward Latvia than others. According to the soft power theory of Joseph Nye, soft power can be implemented through the use of public diplomacy. Nye identifies three dimensions of public diplomacy: daily communication, strategic communication, and work with opinion leaders. Since the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991, the political elite has traditionally been pro-American, and the same applies to the majority of ethnic Latvians. A significant characteristic is the difference of attitudes toward the USA and Russia between ethnic Latvians and the Russian speaking part of society. Previous studies show that the U.S. “loses” to Russia in daily communication. The latter has many more chances to comment on events in Russia and in the world on a daily basis to the Latvian audience. Russia’s daily and strategic communication influences the political socialization of Latvian citizens, as well as social integration processes. Besides that, the securitization of culture in Russia completely changes the assessment of Russian soft power. If the United States is interested in the future support of Latvia for its global foreign policies, then it is important to comprehend the attitudes of Latvian citizens toward the U.S. and Russia and the factors that form these attitudes.

The Economic Crisis in Latvia: A Success Story?

Vyačeslavs Dombrovskis (member of the Latvian Parliament)

Latvia’s economic crisis will likely enter economics textbooks as one of this century’s most striking and controversial episodes. Some observers, most notably Anders Aslund, herald it as a success story, an example of how a democracy (!) can overcome a deep economic crisis by defying conventional wisdom, implementing one of the most decisive fiscal adjustments (around 15 percent of GDP) and refusing to devalue its currency. Other observers, such as Paul Krugman, point to the extraordinary recession, which comes second only to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The figures are as follows. Latvia’s GDP declined by 21 percent from 2007 to 2010, unemployment peaked at 20.7 percent, real estate prices fell peak to trough by about 60 percent, about 10 percent of the population emigrated during the last ten years, and Latvia’s poverty rates are among the highest in Europe. Clearly, Latvia’s experience raises a number of important questions. Was the extent of the preceding macroeconomic imbalances largely to blame for the deep recession? Or, was it the government policies? Was internal devaluation a sound decision? What lessons does Latvian experience offer to other countries, notably other troubled Eurozone economies? During the last few years the speaker has been an Assistant Professor of economics at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, an active blogger and commentator on economic policy issues in Latvia, and, as of recently, a member of Parliament and one of leading politicians in the newly created Reform party. His presentation will combine these three perspectives to offer a critical assessment of the Latvian experience with the crisis.

Keyword: Vyaceslavs

Financial Support and Student Labor Force Participation in Post-Soviet Latvia

Kenneth Smith (Millersville University),  Daunis Auers (University of Latvia), and Toms Rostoks (University of Latvia)

Several studies indicate student employment has a significant impact on student academic performance.  Thus it is important to understand motivations for student employment and labor force participation.  Several studies – primarily from the U.S. – indicate that the availability of financial aid and parental support play an important role in student employment.  Using data gathered from Latvian law and social science students at various Latvian institutions of higher education, we examine determinants of labor force participation.  Latvia is an interesting case study as higher education is quickly evolving in the post-Soviet era.  Unlike much of Europe, private higher education began to grow rapidly in transition and many “public” institutions charge relatively high tuition.  Further, financial aid is rapidly evolving in Latvia with a young student loan program emerging.  Results suggest that student financial support has a significant effect on labor market activity.  Our findings also indicate that the type of support is important in determining student labor market outcomes including whether a student is active in the labor market and whether or not the student is employed or unemployed.  As opposed to most studies of student labor, our data allow examination of unemployment as well as employment.  An interesting finding is that unemployment appears to have an effect on academic performance comparable to part-time work.

Investment in Latvia: Impact Analysis

Janis Zvigulis (Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration)

Investment analysis has been done on the macro and micro level in a handful of studies on many countries and regions. The most commonly used approaches are quantitative analysis of impact of investment on the national growth on aggregated level, as well as impact of investment on a disaggregated level – on specific characterizing indicators of the national economy. The studies tend to present somewhat controversial evidence of impact of investment on the national economy.  Likewise, most investment research in Latvia has been done on the macro level. The macro level analysis cannot solely explain the impact of investment on the national economy. Micro level analysis can be used for checking the macro level explanations utilizing a bottom-up approach. Hence, the aim of the paper is to analyze the macro and micro level approaches in investment analysis, conduct analysis of investment impact in Latvia, and derive conclusions about investment impact on the national economy of Latvia as well as put forward a methodological approach for investment analysis in Latvia.

Negotiating Nation, Locality, and Gender in Exile: Latvian Refugees and Deportees 1940-1953

 Irēne Elksnis Geisler (Grand Valley State University)

The concept of locality is paramount to scholarly discussions confronting the relationship between territory and identity. Contemporary discourse frequently encourages us to refine the concepts of “nation” and “collective belonging” relative to territory and cultural entity. For Latvians who were deported to Siberia, and who fled to the West, the path into exile was a journey of border crossings. This was not only a physical experience, but an emotional passage into multiple unknowns. Many Latvians in diaspora and former deportees now living in Latvia continue to self-identify with origins linked to a distinctive rural Latvian homeland. Accordingly, to lose one’s dzimtene (native place) is analogous to losing one’s personhood. As Latvian women and men self-reflect on dzimtene, they reveal the centrality of gender and locality in the basic construction of Latvian national identity.

This paper utilizes the lens of gender to explore and interpret oral narratives of former Latvian refugees and deportees of Second World War and Post-war Latvia, specifically in relation to concepts of locality and identity. It finds that women, because of their social roles and gender constructs, identified with these ideas differently than did men. Throughout the chaos and suffering of war and deportation, women often sought to preserve tradition, social norms and customs. During Summer Solstice, refugee women picked Jāņuzāles, flowers with healing properties rooted in Latvian folklore. Some deportees made great efforts to bring along folk costumes to Siberia. In the narratives of survivors, particularly women, locality shaped experiences and memories, reinforcing the notion of loss of national belonging.


Keyword: Irene

The Baltic and East Europe at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire: Past, Present and Future

Paulis Lazda (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire)

Just three weeks after Latvia had regained its independence, in September 1991, seventeen students, accompanied by a Faculty Resident Director, arrived in Riga.  Learning began as the students stepped off the Warsaw-Riga train with the observation that occupation –the moral equivalent of war– had ended only three weeks earlier.  For the rest of the semester, history, politics and diplomacy were taught in class and “on the street.”  Guest speakers included foreign diplomats, leaders of political movements, and government leaders (Andrejevs, Meri, Laar, Berklavs, Čekoulis, Zhdanoka, and others).  This Semester in Latvia program was the result of a year-long negotiation between the University of Latvia and UW-Eau Claire.  Parallel to but separate from the semester program in Latvia, UW-Eau Claire established a full scholarship for Baltic students for one academic year.  To date, almost 50 students have studied here. The East European Area Studies Minor includes a Baltic state focus.  The annual East European Symposium brings shapers of policy and academics from the Baltic, Europe, and US (Laar, Andrejevs, Jack Matlock, Krasts, Sven Juergenson, Raun, Senn, Plakans–over a hundred experts).

An annual summer Baltic/East Europe Travel Seminar attracts nation-wide student participation. University research resources include a full microfilm base of State Department-Baltic materials and a respectable book collection. Five of our student-participants have earned a Ph.D. with a Baltic focus at other universities. Future plans for the Baltic program include a national consortium of colleges and universities.

The Five Year Achievement Exhibitions of “Renewed” Latvia: Mazpulki Members’ Responses to the Ideology of the Kārlis Ulmanis Regime

Jordan T. Kuck (University of Tennessee)

One of the hallmarks of the authoritarian regimes that emerged throughout much of Europe during the interwar period was the overt use of government propaganda.  In particular, there was often, as was the case in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere, an emphasis on indoctrinating the youth, who were viewed as the foundation of the future.  Interwar Latvia was no exception to this norm.

This paper examines a significant case of government propaganda in Kārlis Ulmanis’s Latvia—the 1939 achievement exhibitions which commemorated the five-year anniversary of the May 15, 1934 coup d’état.  Jointly organized by the Ministry of Public Affairs and a number of other government ministries and chambers, events were held highlighting the “progress” of “renewed Latvia,” as the government often called post-democratic Latvia.  An art show was held at the national museum in Riga, an architectural exposition at the University of Latvia, a general exhibition at the Congress Hall in Riga, and an agricultural exhibition in Jelgava, where the Chamber of Agriculture was located.

My paper focuses on the events in Jelgava, specifically, on the ideological nature of the exhibition, which sought to link the Ulmanis administration with advancements in farming technologies and techniques.  Descriptions of what people saw at the Jelgava exhibition helps inform us how Ulmanis sought to legitimize and build support for his non-democratic regime.  In my paper I analyze heretofore unexamined essays submitted by Mazpulki (the Latvian version of American 4-H) members on the question, “What did you like best about the Jelgava exhibition, and why?”  I argue that while for the most part the youth overlooked Ulmanis’s cult of personality, they did associate his government with progress and hence supported his rule wholeheartedly.

Creating National Universities in Latvia and Lithuania, 1919-1925

Per Bolin (Södertörn University, Sweden)

The formation of the new Latvian and Lithuanian states in 1918-1919 had radical implications also for academia. The crucial undertaking of creating new and national universities in Riga and Kaunas was as a way of structuring these new nations in both symbolic and institutional terms. In these projected universities, the imperatives concerning the respective nation’s history and culture could be materialized. Moreover, instruction would be conducted in Latvian and Lithuanian, languages that had hitherto been seen as simple peasant vernaculars, completely unfit for the purpose of academia or even higher abstract reasoning.

The academics assembling in Riga and Kaunas to create these new universities had to handle a number of problems and dilemmas, one of which is the focus of this paper: the recruitment of a sufficient number of well-qualified academics—who preferably were to be fluent in the state language—in a situation where very few Latvians and Lithuanians had previously received proper university training.  This gave rise to a particular dilemma: should the organizers rely on less qualified academics from the majority nations, or should they also appoint outstanding scholars and scientists of other nationalities?  While the first option would certainly fit the agenda of a nationalizing state, it would to some extent run counter to established notions within the European academic field: that appointments and promotions should be made solely on the basis of scientific and scholarly merit.

In this paper I explore the different ways the organizers of Latvia’s and Lithuania’s universities handled this dilemma during the formative years of 1919 to 1925.

Memory of the Latvian SS Voluntary Legion: The Personal, the Public, and the International

Mara Lazda (Bronx Community College of the City University of New York)

More than fifty years after the end of World War II, the memory of the Latvian SS Voluntary Legion remains a controversial part of Latvia’s past under the Nazi occupation, both within Latvia and globally.  In particular, the annual commemoration ceremony on March 16 elicits protests and press coverage.  The unresolved memory—and insufficiently written history—continue to shape European politics in the twenty-first century.  In March 2006, the Latvian Foreign Minister was called on to respond to concerns voiced in the European parliament about “Nazi tendencies in Latvian governmental institutions.”

This paper examines the politics and history of the Latvian Legion through an analysis of Latvian memoirs, oral history interviews, and the Latvian and international press.  Many Latvians saw, and continue to see, the Legion as the only opportunity to participate in the battle against the Soviet Union—and saw a fight against Germany as the next step that would free Latvia.  Outside observers, however, including both the Western and Russian press, raise concerns that the Legion commemoration is a sign of the rise of the extreme right.  Furthermore, extremists on opposite sides of the political spectrum—extreme Latvian nationalists on one hand and Russian nationalists on the other—manipulate the commemoration to serve as a platform for their organizations.

“A Wondrous Animal”: Estonians and Latvians in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Scholarly Literature

Stefan Donecker (University of Konstanz)

A satirical poem published in 1707 in the Relationes curiosæ presented a bizarre description of a “wondrous animal,” so repulsive that even the devil himself avoided its presence.  This strange being was known as a “Livonian peasant,” and the learned journal entertained its readers with a meticulous account of its strange and often disgusting habits.

The description in the Relationes curiosæ is a particularly spiteful example of the denigratory attitude towards Estonians and Latvians prevalent in the erudite literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  In this paper, I intend to document the stereotypical image of the indigenous Livonians among early modern men of letters. The learned discourse was dominated by two motifs: the alleged vices of the Livonian peasants—in particular their inclination towards superstition, paganism and sorcery—and the question whether the strict system of serfdom was justified and could contribute to the betterment of the villainous peasants.

Up to the early seventeenth century, domestic and foreign scholars rarely distinguished between Estonians and Latvians.  They were aware of the linguistic differences, but they did not consider language to be a significant criterion for the determination of ethnicity.  Instead, they preferred to label all indigenous Livonians as Undeutsche (“non-Germans”), regardless of their language.  This perspective, however, began to change in the mid-seventeenth century. Estonians and Latvians came to be classified as separate ethnic groups, and scholars assigned to them particular ethnic characteristics that diversified the common “non-German” stereotype, a shift in ethnic categorization rooted in the methodological innovations of seventeenth-century ethnography.