A casual review of Latvian media might give the impression that racism is not an issue in Latvia. A look at the homepage of a group of Latvian extremists, which seeks to justify racial segregation as an acceptable form of animal breeding, proves otherwise. The National Youth Council of Latvia has joined the European-wide Action Week Against Racism, will anyone else?
Latvia is on the verge of joining the European Union and worries about a possible influx of refugees and guest workers in the near future are increasing. I have several objections and comments concerning this topic. First of all, I cannot understand the basis for these fears. Since 1998, the Latvian Centre for Refugee Affairs has received only 98 refugee applications and only 8 people have received refugee status. Second, it is important that the Latvian government make sure that young people (potential manpower) do not emigrate from Latvia in search of a better life or economic gain. Finally, Latvian society must officially acknowledge that it is multicultural and that every minority group plays an important role in our society.
The Second Report on Latvia produced by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its chapter on extremism, expresses concern about the existence of Latvian and Russian racist and extremist group, including Nazi groups. In looking through the homepage of a group of Latvian extremists, I found a “new theory of life,” which stated, “As is well known, the owners of pure-bred dogs and cats are careful that their pets do not mix with other breeds.” How are we to interpret this comparison of society with animal breeding? Does our modern society suffer from such tremendous insecurity that it cannot accept diversity?
A black idol, but not classmate
There is an apparent contradiction among young people concerning opinions about different skin color, nationality or religion. Young people are most influenced by music, movies, television and computer games but also by teachers as well as peers.
Often, musical artists are able to affect the lifestyle of young people in a manner that is difficult to change. It is strange then, for example, that a young person’s idol may be a black guy or girl, but personal conversation reveals that this very same person cannot imagine a classmate with a different skin color. When questioned as to why they might have this prejudice, they answer – “I was raised that way!”
I would, therefore, like to invite readers to listen to two very different and almost opposite types of music – for example, the band Rammstein and the song “Stole” by Kelly Rowland. I really would not want to insult anyone who likes heavier music, but, for example, Rammstein often sings about intolerance towards others, while Kelly Rowland sings about intolerance in schools and those innocents who suffer as a result. At the end of the “Stole” video-clip, a girl writes on a wall, “Think before you act!”
The media keeps silent about racism
The media plays an important role both in the way Latvian and minority groups interact with each other and in the process of forming opinions and creating understanding. The television, radio and printed media continue to foment ethnic prejudices by propagating negative stereotypes like, for example, that Latvians wants to banish Russians from Latvia because they are occupants, but if Russians wants to stay then they must study Latvian. In a comparison of the Latvian and Russian media, a single issue is often portrayed in two very different ways.
Flipping through the pages of the major Latvian papers in search of articles on “racism in Latvia,” I found only one article on the topic in Lauku Avīze (Countryside newspaper), which was not even related to Latvia – “Suspicion about racism in the British police force.” Such a casual review of Latvian media might give the impression that racism is not an issue in Latvia.
Teaching tolerance in schools
Since 1998, the standard basic education administered by the Latvian government has included several obligatory subjects such as ethics (7th grade), economics (8th grade) and civics (9th grade). When teaching these subjects, emphasis should be placed on inter-cultural co-operation and basic human values, excluding the subjective prejudices of the teacher while exposing pupils to different points of view from all around the world. Latvia should take special care to head the recommendations of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to introduce subjects into the system of secondary education that would provide a well-rounded education about diversity and human rights. It is also important that young people are informed about their own rights as provided for by Latvian legislation and its international obligations.
Youth NGOs – influencing opinion in the place of street
Nowadays, it is the younger generation that is the first to grab the bull by the horns and start changing things for the better. Youth NGOs serve as an important example, effectively working to provide young people with other points of view, and not just those coming from the biggest NGO – street. The National Youth Council of Latvia, which unites 35 youth organizations from all over Latvia, has joined the “European-wide Action Week Against Racism.” This project will run from the 15th until the 23rd of March all over Europe. Sadly, the National Youth Council of Latvia is the only organization in the Baltic States that has joined the “European-wide Action Week Against Racism.” As a part of “Action week,” several events will be held on the homepage of the National Youth Council of Latvia and a discussion will be organized, “Is racism a real problem in Latvia?”
 Quote from article “About tolerance and racism” by Aivars Gedroics, Latvian rights advocate and publicist from Daugavpils at www.latvians.lv (original text in Latvian).