Ambassador in Canada lambasts «baseless assertions» of newspaper

Latvia's embassy in Canada on December 5 gave a stinging response to a news story in a leading Canadian newspaper that depicted Latvian Russians as a poor, oppressed minority reduced to shopping in flea markets and Latvians as big spenders lording it over them.

The article in question by journalist Dylan C Robertson in the National Post is titled "'Russia isn’t a threat’: As Canada prepares to send troops to Latvia, not everybody is ready to welcome them" and is based largely on an interview with President Raimonds Vejonis and vox pops with "dozens of people" on the streets of Riga.

The piece has several questionable points, such as a claim that to get full citizenship, Russian speakers "have to master Latvian" (In fact, the language test is rudimentary and hardly anyone ever fails it).

There are also a few instances in which the text seems confused or poorly sub-edited, such as a claim that "Russian jets and submarines are crossing into Baltic states with a frequency last seen during the Cold War."

Not quite, as during the Cold War, the Baltic states were actually occupied and even had Soviet bases on their territory. And we've yet to see any submarines "crossing into [the?] Baltic states" this time around.

One particularly startling claim is: "Steps from the central market, separated by a railway underpass, well-heeled shoppers stride confidently into a Nordic department store. They all speak Latvian."

Quite how Robertson ascertained that only Latvian-speakers were crossing the threshold of the Stockmann department store (the only 'Nordic' one separated from the central market by an underpass) is not disclosed.

There is also a strange opposition set up between spending money on security and on creating "Latvian jobs" which probably wouldn't stand up to any real economic scrutiny, but if you'd like to read the full thing, it's here.

 

The feature drew a full-on broadside from Latvia's ambassador in Canada, Karlis Eihenbaums, who published the full text of his letter to the editor of the National Post on the embassy's Facebook page. It is reproduced below in full.  

Dear Editor,

I was surprised to find that Dylan Robertson’s article offers a present day Kremlin-style perspective of complex social questions, and conveys an extremely false and negative impression of Latvia, suggesting it is full of what he calls “angry disenfranchised Russians”.

Baseless assertions are paraded as facts (if you are ethnic Russian in Latvia, your chances for a pension could be “restricted” – this is downright preposterous). To be fair, Mr Robertson has included some realities amongst the wild opinions he claims to faithfully reproduce. But his true accounting is jumbled with false assertions and inaccurate data, and I maintain the hope that what has been composed here can be credited to the author’s limited information and naiveté, and that we can assume the narrative is not purposefully constructed to mislead.

Perhaps in an effort to increase dramatic value, the author has fallen prey to the temptation to exaggerate tensions and to suggest that Latvia has policies which run counter to societal integration. He suggests, for example, that ethnic Russians are hit harder than Latvians in terms of unemployment and the gap between rich and poor. He suggests that upscale stores in Riga are frequented more by ethnic Latvians than by ethnic Russians. This aspect of the portrayal of Latvia is silly and not fit for a serious publication.

Furthermore, Mr Robertson provides incorrect and misleading information about obtaining citizenship. “To get full citizenship, people like Krasnopercev would have to master Latvian; something he claims is too tricky and expensive.” We are speaking here about people who are living in Latvia for a quite a time - and they still find it too tricky to master the language? Really? This would be like saying you need to master French or English in order to get Canadian citizenship. Neither Latvia nor Canada employ language as a major stumbling block in their applications for citizenship. As widely known and acknowledged, the Latvian citizenship tests are actually fairly simple - to say the least - and only a small percentage fail the test. The tricky part is that few of the permanent residents of Latvia that currently lack Latvian citizenship are interested in applying for it, and this is because they do not face discrimination or hardships in Latvia due to the lack of a Latvian passport. In a free country like Latvia, you have the choice to live without the benefit of an EU passport if that happens to be your preference.

The troops that Canada is sending to Latvia will certainly be welcomed with open arms by Latvia’s residents, and they will be serving a vital role as NATO’s visible multinational presence (along with Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Albania and other countries) which is so important following the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the continuous acts of aggression in eastern Ukraine, all of which demonstrate the Russian Federation’s lack of hesitation in redrawing borders recognized under international law. After carrying out a brutal military invasion into neighboring country Ukraine in 2014 and after the annexation of Crimea and starting a bloody war in eastern Ukraine the sentence...Russia isn’t a threat to anyone...does not hold water.

Latvia joined the EU and NATO in 2004. This past summer, it joined the OECD, a group of economically advanced countries that work together on improving the economic and social well-being of people around the world. Latvia considers itself fortunate to have steadfast partners like Canada which uphold the principles of a rules-based international order. The same day that this article was published, 1 December, Latvia celebrated the delivery of its very 1st of 20 Canadian built Bombardier CS300s, the beginning of a long-term and fruitful partnership that is good for Latvia and good for Canada as well.

When you decide on how a country is performing and its level of merit in being a friend and ally for Canada, maybe asking everyone you meet on the street is not the most scientific method. It could lead readers astray, making them believe that they are getting the “true” story. The example of the 60-year-old woman named Marina who says “I will not give my last name, because Latvians would set my store on fire…” creates the impression that in Latvia stores are set on fire for carrying a different political opinion. That, of course, is absurd and the doubt that it places in readers’ minds is nothing short of incendiary.

Most of us are not clairvoyant. We cannot see into the minds of Russia’s leaders and know what they are planning or not planning. If Mr Robertson knows why “Russia is not a threat”, I hope that he will share his insight in an upcoming article, and that the article will be based on more than just interviews with “dozens” of shop-owners and shoppers, passersby transformed into political scientists and security experts. Your readers deserve the highest quality news and information from the National Post, and please do not settle for less. Articles like this one, propagating myths and falsehoods, are inappropriate for a serious and respected source of world news.

Kārlis Eihenbaums
Ambassador of Latvia to Canada

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