Latvia's Russians

March 12, 1998

An excerpt from a Tuesday editorial in the Chicago Tribune:

THE Latvian people have a long list of legitimate reasons to fear and resent their giant neighbor, Russia. Six decades ago, the Soviet Union invaded and absorbed not only Latvia but also the two other independent Baltic nations, Lithuania and Estonia. What followed was a brutal and relentless campaign by Moscow to destroy Latvian identity, culture and language.

But none of that excuses the thuggish behavior of Latvian police last week when they roughly dispersed a crowd of mainly elderly Russians protesting inflation and higher prices.

Latvians are understandably uncomfortable about the large number of ethnic Russians still living in their country. Most of them were moved into Latvia during the decades of occupation, as part of the effort to dilute the national character. Few of them ever bothered to learn the local tongue, and Latvians view them as suspect outsiders. Nevertheless, by harassing and discriminating against its Russian minority, Latvia is hurting only itself.

Latvia must be wise enough not to antagonize unnecessarily the insecure behemoth that lives next door. Like it or not, Latvia must find a way to accommodate its unwelcome Russians.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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