Latvia’s Russians vie for ‘European’ label

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Tuesday’s rally at the Laima clocktower against the escalating violence in Ukraine revealed that Latvia’s ethnic-Russian population is far from united in its attitude towards the issue.

As reported by LTV news program Panorāma, two pro-Russian organizations were visibly present at Tuesday’s rally – the European Russian Movement with its photo poster gallery of the Ukrainian unrest, and the humanitarian aid group Baltija with its table for collecting donations to refugees fleeing the violence in eastern Ukraine.

Both groups cited the name of the ‘emergent’ state of 'New Russia' in reference to the self-declared ‘people’s republics’ of Donetsk and Lugansk, which are led by Moscow-installed ‘parachute politicians.’

Latvia’s Russian media pundit Igors Vatolins, who was reported to have founded a European Russians Movement in Latvia, has also been featured recently in the Latvian press, according to Baltic news network BNN, with a few opinion pieces, articles and July 30 interview with Latvian daily Latvijas avīze.

Vatolins, a former reporter with Russian-language daily Čas, has said his goal is to unify those Russians who oppose the aggressive foreign policy now being pursued by Moscow and promote European democratic values among Latvia’s ethnic Russian community.  

However, on the way to the Social Organizations Registry to formally sign up his new NGO with Latvia’s authorities, it turned out that he was beaten to the quick by supporters of MEP Tatjana Ždanoka, who had hastily and identically registered the official name 'European Russian Movement' before Vatolins got there.

“Now they’re organizing a picket on behalf of Russia’s policies,” he fumed incredulously. Vatolins told Panorāma he believes the humanitarian mission is a cover for supporting Putin’s mercenary insurgent army and that similar rallies will probably be held in other European cities for the benefit of Russian media.

“It’s a Putin propaganda commission and probably part of the pre-election campaign for Latvia’s Russian Union political party,” he said.  

Vatolins warned in his Latvijas avīze interview that a hybrid war like the one now unfolding in the east of Ukraine could be a likely scenario for Latvia within the next two years, unless serious efforts are made soon to reconcile the Russian community with the Latvia community.

Vatolins said his still informal organization has about 30 supporters who meet regularly. The group plans to officially register itself at the beginning of September - with a new name.

On her part, the newly-registered NGO’s spokeswoman Jelena Bacinska, who is also an activist in Latvia’s Non-Citizens’ Congress, said she didn’t want just one group speaking out for the interests of Europe’s Russians.

“I consider myself a Russian of Europe, but I’m a Russian and the Russian cultural space is a value to me and I do not wish for others to be able to interpret my interests for their own benefit or somebody else’s good,” she said.

Aleksandrs Gaponenko, a prominent initiator of the failed referendum proposing official status for the Russian language, is also among the founders of the newly-registered European Russian Movement.



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