Young Russian speakers living in former Soviet republics tend to identify themselves with their countries of residence (and citizenship) than with Russia. Not only in Ukraine, but in Latvia, a country that doesn’t seem to do anything to encourage that — quite the opposite. Aleks Tapinsh has some details on Latvian developments. Among other things, the Latvian government is pushing ahead with monolingual Latvian education. Well, they have softened a bit under pressure from the EU and decided to allow 40% of classes to be taught in a “minority language” Still, give me two good reasons to learn that much of Latvian!

Parallels with Mexicans in California are easy to draw but they aren’t really parallels. Both Spanish and English are great world languages; English is absolutely indispensable for success not only in the US but in all parts of the western world. Not learning English is thus going to cripple a child’s chances for success in this life. Not learning Spanish will at most alienate her from her community — and of course a body of great literature. On the contrary, Latvian is spoken by a couple million people; Russian by a couple hundred million. Latvian is needed, of course, to work and do business in Latvia, but Russia is not only its most important neighbor but by virtue of sheer size a country of international importance (especially when lumped with CIS countries where Russian is spoken and understood). When Latvia joins the EU, young ethnic Russians with a Latvian passport or green card will need perfect English ten times more (and German five times, and French three times more, etc., etc.) than perfect Latvian: they will be able to work elsewhere in Europe — and seem more likely to do so than native Latvians. Putting too much effort into learning Latvian is therefore impractical for a native Russian speaker.

I suppose Latvia’s “ascension” to the EU will benefit ethnic Russians a lot. Not only will they be able to plea their case in Brussels, but, much more importantly, they will be free to choose a country to live and work in and thus no longer depend on the mercy of the native chiefs. If the Russians — the best and brightest of them first of all — start moving to other places, will Riga regret its “integrationist” policies? The quality of Russians (i.e., quality of human capital) in Latvia seems higher than that in Estonia, where they are concentrated in the stagnating industrial Narva area. Latvian Russians are mostly urban dwellers; they nearly dominate Riga; rural areas are almost exclusively Latvian. Russians appear very successful in Latvian business; let’s hope they become the market-dominant minority, not the market-dominated one. But if they start taking their business out of the country, what then?

The Ventspils story is a different issue; it has more to do with the Russian oil sector than the rights of minorities in Latvia.

These are opinions of a dilettante, though; I could be completely off the mark on Latvia.

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