UPDATED: Refugee poster campaign to be reviewed

Latvia's Defense Ministry seemed to have won a victory Tuesday in its battle to have a publicity campaign by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees scrapped.

As previously reported by LSM, the attack on the UNHCR campaign was led by Defense Ministry official Janis Garisons who argued against the suggestion that in a war situation Latvians might flee their country.

The idea amounted to a slur on the willingness of Latvian troops to defend their country, he argued, and asked for the help of the Foreign Ministry in getting the campaign shut down.

Speaking to Latvian Radio on August 22, Garisons even went so far as to compare the poster campaign with information war techniques designed to sap the will to defend the homeland.

"There will be attempts to influence our minds with both psychological operations and information operations," Garisons warned.

He received considerable support on social media, not least from the armed forces themselves.

National Guard commander Leonids Kalnins told Latvian Radio "only children and the elderly" would have a justifiable reason to flee the country during a war, as a last resort.

The UNHCR on the other hand said the campaign showed that in a situation such as that in Syria, with a civilian population under bombardment by chemical weapons and barrel bombs, ordinary people might justifiably become refugees.

On Tuesday advertising agency DDB, which was hired to come up with the publicity drive said that due to the adverse reaction it was going to review the campaign.

"The aim was to promote compassion for refugees and asylum seekers and to remind people that they are people too, who find themselves in inhumane conditions... the aim of the campaign was never to divide Latvian society," said DDB's Andris Rubins, who apologized for any offense it might inadvertently have caused.

On Wednesday the Defense Ministry itself released results of a survey carried out last November examining Latvians' willingness to fight against external aggression "with rifle in hand".

According to the research carried out by the SKDS pollster, 40% of respondents answered that, if necessary, they would be ready to fight with weapons in hand to defend Latvia, including 15% who would be "fully" ready to do so. 

By contrast, 44% of respondents admitted that they would not do so, including 24% who "definitely" would not.

The corresponding figures for 2014 were similar with 39% saying they would fight and 46% saying they would not.

The survey took the opinions of 1022 Latvian residents aged 17 to 74.

The same survey commissioned by the Defense Ministry also asked people directly whether they would stay or leave in the case of an armed conflict in Latvia (see page 17 of report).

Half (51%) of respondents said they would stay, while more than one in three (37%) said they would leave, with the remainder undecided.

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