Krāslava mayor alarmed at local pro-Russian agitation

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As Latvians gathered by the thousands on Lāčplēsis Day, carrying torches, lighting candles and sporting their flag-ribbons to honor the nation’s freedom-fighting soldiers, the mayor of Krāslava, one of Latgale’s farthest border zone towns by the Russian and Belarus borders, told daily newspaper Diena that he was worried about pro-Russian activities in his district.

Krāslava District Council chairman Gunārs Upenieks (Greens-Farmers Union) believes the ground is being prepared for provocative ideological activities carried out by paid agents of Russia, while national security authorities are paying insufficient attention to these developments.

According to the district mayor, agitators are going door-to-door, handing out brochures, and telling residents about opportunities that would open up should Latgale be annexed to Russia.

“The information reaches us at council fairly quickly, but we have no means for stopping this. They’re visiting schools and other social institutions, we’ve heard about payments offered to persons in leading official positions, some community leaders might be on their side. I’ve talked this over with neighboring district colleagues, but there’s no possibility to intervene. Where the Security Police are looking, I don’t know,” the Kraslava mayor fretted.

He admits that the region’s low-income residents living near the poverty level are “easier to bait with talk of salvation from the big neighbor,” while local residents who have jobs and automobiles are less susceptible to pro-Russian propaganda.

For instance, the district council chair cited the example of Daugavpils, where on the one hand they allow the Eternal Flame to stay permanently lit, while children are allowed to take part in pro-Soviet Victory Day marches while officially at school.

The situation at Kraslava’s Russian-track Varaviksne high school is cited to support the mayor’s claims. According to information obtained by Diena, “favorable grounds for powers friendly to Russia’s politics” are being prepared at the educational institution. Members of the Harmony party are said to have visited there on numerous occasions and spoken against the idea that Soviet Latvia was an occupied national territory and suggested that its current status as an independent republic is only temporary. The school has also received substantial donations from the Harmony party.

An official of the local government who declined to reveal their name told Diena that “the money figures in the thousands, the school organizes projects and the administration takes every opportunity to tell the kids how good the party is, pumping them full of their ideology. The first day of school was even taken up by pre-election speeches by a Harmony parliamentarian.”

Indeed, visits to the school by Harmony deputy Jeļena Lazareva, re-elected also to the 12th Saeima, have been confirmed by the Educational Quality State Service (IKVD). IKVD leader Inita Juhņeviča pointed out that political parties are permitted by law to donate to schools as long as the funds are used for development or acquiring curricular materials and equipment. However the law doesn’t provide for any control mechanisms over how these gestures of giving reflect upon the political mindset of the students.

Another Kraslava school administrator, Jānis Tukāns of the Latvian-track high school vehemently denied that he would ever let any agitators for Latgale’s secession from Latvia anywhere near the building. While acknowledging some palpable presence of pro-Russian ideological provocateurs in the region, Tukāns said none of the students at his school, one-third of whom are ethnic Russian, had ever hinted of having had contact with such covert propaganda.

Daugavpils mayor Jānis Lāčplēsis (Unity) on his part told LTV news program Panorama Wednesday that Latgale’s biggest problem with seditious activities inciting national hatred are out in the internet, as well as on television rebroadcasts of Russian media in Latvia’s border regions.

By far the hardest to control are internet blogs, Lāčplēsis told LSM. “There are cases where clearly this is incitement to hatred,” he said, urging the national security authorities to look into this more thoroughly.

Indeed, Tuesday’s Lāčplēsis Day events were targeted by certain web-based commentators, who ridiculed the holiday by comparing it to Nazism, said the Daugavpils City Council chairman.

Meanwhile, other local government leaders in Latgale province downplayed the Kraslava mayor’s concerns over the region’s security situation.

Ludza district council leader Alīna Gendele (Latgale Party) said the local scene is ‘all quiet’ except for some elderly supporters of the national Bolshevik Russian-language advocate Vladimirs Lindermanis.

Zilupe district council deputy chairman Vitālijs Vaļdens (Harmony) responded to Diena’s query with his own rhetoric: “Why is there such a low opinion of our district? All of our young people speak perfect Latvian, we count some of Latvia’s greatest patriots among us! People here are preoccupied with the daily life of their households, they don’t have time for any foolishness,” he defended his constituency.

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