Celeb paints skin dark for questionable integration campaign

A new public relations campaign titled “Our people” was launched Thursday to promote public awareness and support for the social integration of third-country citizens living in Latvia, informing about their contributions to the nation and their place in its daily life.

However, in a highly questionable move the strategy features the use of darkened skin tones using make-up and stereotypical costumes. 

The campaign will feature posters of three celebrities on public transportation and outdoor billboards, except that they will be dressed and made-up to appear to be members of a completely different nationality.

Singer Igo has been transformed into a Chinese man apparently straight from a Charlie Chan film, skeleton athlete Elīza Tīruma is uncontroversial dressed in a Ukrainian folk costume, while social network draugiem.lv public relations specialist Jānis Palkavnieks has blackened his face and donned clothes to appear to be a generic 'African'.

Palkavnieks told LSM “I don’t think that nationality or skin color has any meaning; it’s offensive that people are so uneducated that they pay attention to it at all. At the same time, I understand them: when I was a teenager, I too was a regular Latvian from the countryside, a homophobe, a racist… When you grow up, you begin to think – everything becomes different. That’s why I’m involved in this campaign – if at least one person changes their mind about judging people by their skin color, then my task will have been accomplished.”

At the urging of the Social Integration Fund project, three popular persons agreed to serve as campaign ambassadors by actually “getting into the skin” and playing the roles of citizens from foreign lands living in Latvia. The goal is to educate residents about the people who come to Latvia to live from other countries, explain the reasons why they live here and what they can bring and give to their host nation.

During the campaign third-country nationals living in Latvia will show their skills and demonstrate the benefits of their national and cultural diversity. Joint projects are envisioned in music, cooking, and sports, said project leader Dace Rasa, adding that it was important to get to know the people living alongside you.

A similar social integration campaign took place in 2012 under the auspices of the Latvian Human Rights Center and used actual foreigners who had long since adapted to life here as campaign ambassadors. Center researcher Sigita Zankovska-Odiņa pointed out that besides such campaigns, the government must also put into place successful integration policies to reduce prejudice and improve understanding between Latvian society and the foreign country citizens who belong to it now by virtue of their living here.

Citizenship and migration data show that there are currently about 70,000 third-country citizens living in Latvia, most from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, as well as from China.

Of Latvia's entire population, 1,813,466 people have Latvian citizenship, according to the data released the same day by the Latvian Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs.

The citizenship and migration authority recorded the figure on January 1, 2015.

As of January 1, 2015, there were also 262,622 non-citizens in Latvia, 51,029 holders of permanent residence permits, as well as 33,244 people with temporary residence permits here.

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