My interlocutors, Pyotr Pogorodniy, a project management expert, and Victor Vilks, a director, are natively from Latvia. Pyotr is one of the founders of interactive portal IMHOclub, not least to mention, one of the most cited sites in Latvian mediaspace. While Victor is a ‘cult’ Latvian director: it has been already 20 years that he manages a production studio in Riga. ‘VILKS Studio’ has become one of the best music video studios working in post-Soviet area. Together with his crew, Vilks has shot videos for such figures like Zemfira, Bi-2, Spleen and Mumiy Troll.
These ‘Russian Latvians’ have visited Crimea not so much as tourists, as for practical reasons: Crimea as a part of Russia is a keenest investment playground. While in August an agreement on cooperation was concluded between the ‘Russian Unity’ and the Russian Union of Latvia, and it were Sergey Aksyonov and Miroslav Mitrofanov who signed this paper. So it could be stated, Russian Latvians are known in Crimea.
Pyotr POGORODNIY: I’ve arrived to Crimea with a certain mission. There are Russians in Europe seriously experienced in the European market operations, with knowledge of the European business culture and approaches, which are distinct from the Russian reality. As I’ve been engaged in marketing and management for many years, I came to Crimea to implement knowledges and experiences I’ve got. One of the projects concerns the urban lighting. It is based on our successful experience of modernizing the saving street lightning in Europe. It should be my supertask to perform a modernization of lighting without any noticeable budget investing and make Crimea lightly.
– And now you feel Crimea is a ‘black hole’, do you?
P. P.: I use to travel a lot and I’ve got a habit to associate countries and cities with women. Crimea, as I observed in these days, seems to be a fatal beauty. A black-eyed brunette. Monica Bellucci. A fine silhouette, but the eyes aren’t highlighted. Very dark.
Certainly, Russia and Russian-speaking regions in general are very close to my heart, but what’s about lighting, it usually appears as a real gloom. Crimea is awesome for its distinctiveness: sometimes I catch myself on a thought I’m now in Moldova, then in Himalayas, after that in Kabardino-Balkaria or…
Victor VILKS (interrupting): Pyotr is for the first time in Crimea, which is only funny. But I grudge him, for he has so much to discover! As for me, I love the peninsula in October and November. And in winter time, when it becomes green and vacuous. It’s the only place on the planet I’m ready to move to any time. Besides, it’s the place I’m always regretful to leave. It has ever been my wish to make production here, in other words, to deploy here the business I’m doing in Riga. To transmigrate here. And now the stars seem to be predisposed to that. The trend reveals that production service is going to very actively develop here. It’s no secret, at some moment Ukraine ultimately defeated Russia in movie production: in prices/quality of casting and locations, in equipment rental conditions and specialist’s support, Kiev was very hard to compete with. And then the tragedy occurred there. Of course, it’s horrible. But now nobody would like to go to Kiev from Moscow. And they wouldn’t hurry up to our Riga due to the rouble exchange rate, so they have to come to us, Latvians, into Crimea. It has taken 18 hours for us to get to Yalta from Moscow…
P. P.: But it weren’t Crimean roads that I would have put in the first place. It actually reminds me Latgalia for its desolation: you move on and see the remnants of empty industrial facilities. Though externally in Latvia the collapse of economics is not so evident. You can find it in stats: a quoter of Latvians has been ruined because of the credit system. The banks have seized their mortgaged property and many were compelled to leave for Europe on earnings. As a result, they may lose language identity in the second generation. It is a sensitive issue in Latvia that people leave the country, for the official policy is contrary to the public interest. One needs to be on friendly terms with neighbors, but we’ve got the situation when real Latvia is living on the account of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, while official Latvia hinders it by any means she can. Yes, there are EU grants, but those, as a rule, intended to finally crash down the national economy (for example, funds were allocated for that fishers themselves would destroy their fleet and farmers wouldn’t sow their fields) or to bribe the creative class which is, unfortunately, eager to promote the national ideals of the second half of 1930-s and so they don’t incline their ears to the situation ordinary people are living in. ‘Who’s at the gates, what’s the talk? This, how do they call’ em? Folk’ And it’s quite comprehensible, what is it for. No secret to anyone, there are certain people taking certain inquiries and working it out for a good price. They would spit on public interest in principle.
We are painfully familiar with what’s going on in Ukraine now, the same scenario we had once in our home. Thank God, the things in our case didn’t come to war.
By the way, we have also held a referendum in defense of Russian language and all native Russians have voted ‘yes’. Now the pendulum swung in the opposite direction: they are going to forbid any education in Russian and exclude Russian from the National Curriculum. It is all very dangerous. The eastern people allow not themselves to manifest nationalism for it is a child play with matches near a fuel tank. They count it a sensitive theme which is better to be passed by. As for us, northern people, we have got blood half with water, so everybody understands there’ll be no explosion, but it doesn’t make life comfortable.
– And how do Russians in Latvia respond to such authorities’ decisions?
P. P.: Men of culture would always find common language, and there has been no one harmed because of language knowing. But should Russians claim their language to have become the second national, it would be a failure. Why? Because Latvians are very keen on language matters, so they will take it as a new occupation attempt.
All depends on how you are going to explain it to your neighbor. If Latvians internalize that Russians just want to educate their children in their native language with certain intention to learn Latvian, the society will gain mutual understanding.
V. V.: There were strong tensions in Latvia over this referendum. The real exit from blind alley is to do nothing and not to exert pressure on anyone, to declare English or, in more practical mode, Chinese the second national language. And gradually a generation will grow using Latvian, Russian and Chinese. Today the society is divided. no one has even little hope to see any decent man in the government. Personally I feel hatred seeing that Russians go to vote for Russian parties, Latvians – for those Latvian and aliens – for those of aliens. It’s so primitive and totally discredits the faith in humankind. Taking into consideration that Russians and Latvians are numerically equal in our country, this situation cannot lead to anything positive.
– To speak generally, how do Russians fare in Baltics? They are said to get hard…
V. V.: Do you know who is the mayor of Riga now? His family name – Ushakov, first name – Nil. He is naturalized Russian, whose parents arrived into Latvia after 1940. Will it be possible to affirm that Russians live badly, once the Riga’s mayor is Russian? As Pyotr said, the nationality issue is a very sensitive one. But there are always two sides in conflicts. As Russian, I feel obligatory for myself to restrain my own Russian nationalists, not those Latvian. The fact that the Latvian educated class doesn’t see difficulties in constructing ‘Latvian Latvia’ is not, to say so, my prerogative. The national haughtiness seems ludicrously and it surely directs to troubles. I have a friend, Tajik by birth. He has spent his school years in Moscow. Believe me, in Latvia Russians do not meet problems of the sort he did.
Yes, there are underwater flows and old resentments, however, these could be found in any society, I’m sure, in yours too. For example, once two Russian kids join to a Latvian kindergarten, the whole group begins to speak Russian. Not to say this would be unsustainable, but it generates a sort of fear. Like any small nation, Latvians have an irrational fear of perdition within themselves.
P. P.: It was namely for the matter Victor has pointed that they once didn’t enlist my son Nikita into the Latvian kindergarten.
– Pyotr, why aren’t you, an indigenous Rigan, considered a Latvian citizen?
P. P.: Oh, it has been a special op. When Latvia became an independent republic, huge assets emerged to be privatized by all Latvia dwellers. So they then invented the institute of non-citizens. They did it in order that a citizen would have one set of rights for privatization certificates, and a non-citizen another. So I am a non-citizen, albeit born in Latvia.
– And how do you do bearing this status?
V. V.: I envy Pyotr, for with his passport he can go visa-free both to Russia and to Europe…
P. P.: It’s OK with the status. Everyone has his own problems, everyday situations. For we’re living our life in communication with people. State, policy are quite remote notions. While a customs official, a border guard, a policeman, a doctor, an employee are people, those who live next to us. Then you have to stare into each one’s eyes and you’ll appreciate what ideals and vital philosophy he stands for.
V. V.: As a whole, to be a non-citizen is Pyotr’s principle attitude, for he has no lack of possibility to acquire the citizenship through naturalization. To my mind, it is not that the politicians play their dreggy games which is disgraceful for him, but the fact that his neighbors don’t notice that. That is, a sort of oppression, even small as it is, takes place with their silent consent. ‘Be it so, I won’t become a citizen and you’ll be ashamed!’ But it doesn’t strengthen the faith in humankind, yes.
P. P.: The radicals cry, return to your historic motherland. Yes, I have one, it’s a fact. But one is able to live where he is needed. And as of today, there are more Latvians who have left for earnings than Russians, and they do not want to come back.
V. V.: Petya, don’t take offense at radicals for who they are!
– Victor, a question to you: you have Russian name, Latvian family name, so how do you identify yourself – as Russian or Latvian?
V. V.: Blood is fifty-fifty in me. Both my grandmothers are Russian, both grandfathers – Latvian. Latvians perceive me as Russian, because Russian is my native speech, and for Kazakhs I’m Latvian, as blood on the paternal line is the thing they acknowledge to be the main, while language is just a bridge between people. Mainly, by language, by culture I’m Russian. My paternal grandfather has been the people commissar of agriculture in the first independent Latvian state. It was called Iscolat (Russian abbreviation for Executive Committee of Latvia, 1917-1918 – editorial) and existed for several months. It was a bloodless revolution. The barons have fled, the peasantry has not objected to jointly possess their former property. It is unacceptable to recall Iscolat, for this state has been a predecessor to Latvian SSR, a part of the Soviet Union. My grandfather was a convinced communist, he named his children Vladimir and Eleonora. It’s understandable, why Vladimir, and Eleonora was Marx’s daughter’s name.
My grandfather has graduated from the courses of Red Professors, then he worked in the diplomatic corps in Germany, became head of the Department of Political Economy at the University of Latvia. What am I about? While being a full-fledged Latvian, he didn’t reckon himself Latvian. It’s still a riddle for me, why? Perhaps, he suggested there would be neither Russias, nor Latvias under communism and all the people will live as a unified human community. Or, perhaps, he have seen something detrimental in the idea of Latvian peasant, based on his petty bourgeois and petty property-loving nature. He was a man of idea, an idealist.
– How has the Crimean referendum been perceived in Latvia? In general, what was the reaction to all these events?
V. V.: Fear it was that bloodshed will happen in Crimea, and it’s perfectly good it hasn’t. Everyone understands that an overwhelming majority of people has passionately expressed their will. It’s no doubt even in Ukraine. All Russian channels spoke of that, and that is a pure truth. However, at the same time Russian federal media are trying to give an impression that Russia has already won in the informational war, and her position is allegedly recognized in Europe and there are many Russia’s supporters among the ordinary people. This seems to me a pure propaganda. Everything is as opposite: Russia is feared, Putin is regarded with hatred, Crimea is considered occupied and the referendum is believed to be fake. Russia hasn’t overcome in the informational war. Nonetheless, it is the question of time, nothing is required to be done but to wait.
P. P.: There is a conceptual war that lies in the core of problem. If a crevice of historical and mental controversies appears, then a wedge shall be driven into it. It’s amazing how perfectly it all works, especially at the moments of escalation, like during the events in Georgia in 2008 and today’s in Ukraine. What about the ‘Crimean spring’, not only the Latvian officials, but the Latvian society in its most part have negatively met this. The national Latvian elite took openly anti-Crimean position. But there are two camps. Some support the policies and ideals of one force, some those of the other. As a rule, they do not hear each other and have no mutual trust.
V. V.: And that does not imbue the faith in humankind as well.
– Latvian authorities have not only backed the integration of Ukraine into EU, but have also highly estimated the so called ‘peaceful plan’ of Petro Poroshenko…
P. P.: And what if Russia has negotiated with America to get Europe down, you may see, it is only Europe which loses from all these sanctions? In all the history there was no soldier to have perished in the war between Russia and the U. S., while the wars with Europeans have taken away a great number of lives, as we know. I do not insist on that it goes namely this way, I’m simply proposing to think critically.
V. V.: Petya, let’s talk about light! If everyone responsibly approaches to what he’s doing in his own place, for example, illuminating the city, we’ll be easily and confidently walking, not stumbling in a murky backstreet.
Irina Kovalyova, SIMFEROPOL