The Referendum and Ethnicity or Measuring Integration

13. October, 2003


Ritvars Eglajs


Only 16% or one-sixth of all Latvians voted against Latvia joining the European Union while over 80% of all non-Latvians voted against it, as proven by a comparison of the referendum results with the ethnic composition of Latvia’s regions.

It became readily apparent on the night of the referendum that its outcome would be overwhelmingly convincing. The only thing that could keep the public interested was the reality show-like government crisis. More attention could have been paid to the breakdown of “for” and “against” votes in the various regions of Latvia. The “against” vote was led by Daugavpils, followed by Rezekne. The results hovered around one-half both for and against in the Daugavpils, Kraslava, Ludza and Rezekne district. Also, well-to-do Riga was not far from the 50% mark. The conclusion is obvious – once again ethnicity determined the way people voted and, along with that, the results of the referendum. But is that really so?

Ten Discrepancies!


To verify this initial impression, just glance at the referendum results and the proportion of Latvians in each municipality. The similarity is striking (if one hasn’t already thought about this subject or studied it) and unequivocal (in any case).

Those who remain unconvinced or unsettled might object: first, this comparison is between residents, but only citizens participated in the referendum; second, only citizens over the age of 18 can vote; third, the last census was taken in 2000 and some time has passed since then. Correct! Thus it is worth comparing the results of the referendum a second time – with the ethnicity of voters.

Some Observations about the Correlation

Before making this comparison, let us review a few facts about correlation, which I will refer to and use several times later on. Namely, a correlation is the relation between different measurements when a measurement is dependent on not just one other measurement, but on several measurements. For example, a person’s weight is dependent on his or her height, but that does not mean that people of the same height have the same weight.

The level of dependence of one measurement on another is determined by a correlation coefficient, which ranges between –1 and 1. Independent measurements are not correlated (their coefficient is 0). If a coefficient is either 1 or –1 than these measurements are linearly related. The sign of the coefficient shows that the relation is positive or negative, that is, if one measurement increases, the other either increases or decreases.

Latvians for, Others against

The results from 26 districts and 7 cities were compared. In the interest of simplicity, the proportion of “against” votes was used. The proportion of spoilt ballots (however small) bears a positive correlation with the “against” vote (0,803), which indicates that many ballots were invalidated purposefully by euroskeptics.

As concerns ethnicity, the proportion of Latvians and Russians was used: first, there are no other self-sufficient ethnic groups in Latvia; second, only 2% of Latvia’s residents (and even fewer citizens) speak neither Latvian nor Russian as their native language (in truth, the majority of people who belong to other ethnic groups have been either Latvianized or Russianized); third, the smaller the size of a nationality, the more haphazard its disposition.

The resulting correlation supports the conviction that the results of the referendum were dependent on ethnicity. It is obvious precisely how different the choices of Latvians and Russians were on the basis of values and how similar they were on the basis of the model. Knowing one, the other also becomes clear.

It is also obvious which choice those who belong to other ethnic groups made. This is proven by the fact that, by including non-Latvians in with Russians, the correlation moved farther away from zero.

One-Sixth vs. One-Fifth


As the resulting data indicate, a very high correlation coefficient, which is close to linear dependence, allows for a calculation of the size of the “for” and “against” vote among various ethnic groups of voters. If the results of the referendum were calculated only on the basis of the Latvian vote, then only 15,7% or one-sixth of all Latvians would have voted “against” Latvia joining the European Union.

Knowing the proportion of Latvians among all voters and the size of the total “against” vote, a second figure can be calculated. After the Latvian “against” vote is removed from the total “against” vote, it become clear that 80,1% of all non-Latvians voted “against” and only one-fifth voted “for” joining the EU.


But is it possible to precisely determine the Russians’ choice? Nowhere in Latvia’s regions or cities do Russians make up even close to 100% of residents, which lowers the level of reliability of these calculations a little. Yet, it is possible to calculate that about 91% of Russians voted “against” and only one-tenth “for”. This then explains how those belonging to other ethnic groups voted.

Integration in Action

For people who have followed Latvian politics since the time of the national “awakening” in the late 1980s, the political importance of ethnicity is nothing new – it can be clearly seen in every election and popular referendum. For example, in 1998, the votes of Latvians and non-Latvians in the referendum on softening the Citizenship Act were related: 55% of Latvians voted in favor of preserving the existing law, but almost all Russians voted in favor of softening the law, which determined the final outcome.

Thus, it can be concluded that the importance of ethnicity is not decreasing. In fact, the opposite holds true. This year, the difference in opinion between Latvians and Russians was greater than in the Saeima election ten years ago. In this respect, the results of the EU referendum call into question the essence of official ethnic policy – social integration. In comparing the results of the referendum in several districts, it becomes clear that the choices made by citizens of different ethnic groups bore the greatest similarity in those areas where the proportion of Latvians was over 75%. Yet, Latvians make up 58% of the population and in over 2/3 of the areas home to other ethnic groups Latvians are in the minority. The result of integration policy is obvious.

It is significant that the importance of ethnicity is being downplayed by two apparently polarized views. On the one hand, you have the objections from the national Latvian euroskeptics (D. Svilis on “I would like to argue against the statements of a few demagogues that the majority of voters “against” are non-Latvian”), and on the other hand, you have those directly responsible for integration policy (Head of the Naturalization Board E. Aldermane in “Diena” on September 23: “It would be a big mistake if we placed the blame on non-Latvians…”). This attitude is understandable as otherwise they would have to acknowledge the uselessness of their work and would have to turn their attention to more realistic tasks like, for example, the bailing of the Baltic Sea or cultural relations with Mars. raksts

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