Dear Friends

I am sure that reading this collection as well as visiting the exhibition of the same name will contribute to a better understanding of the realities of present day Latvia and Europe in general, where rich national diversity and different interpretations of history need not weaken cultural and political integrity.

Since 2004 I have been an MEP, elected mostly by the votes of the Russian minority of the Republic of Latvia. At my request, over the period 2007-2008 a team of professional historians and journalists prepared a review exhibition on the history and present day realities of the Latvian Russian community. The exhibition has been presented in several towns in Latvia, as well as in the European Parliament. All exhibition materials have also been published in the special issue you are reading now. The materials are selected in 37 sections, reflecting the most significant historical periods and spheres of life of Latvian Russians. Some items are covered exhaustively in this study whilst other themes are only highlighted. For example the history of Soviet Latvia deserves a separate study and deep reflection. After some discursions the editorial team rejected the idea of dedicating a part of the exhibition to contemporary politicians and businessmen of Latvian Russian minority origin. The historical contribution of these persons can only be judged impartially by future generations. Now we have an opportunity to prepare an overview of previous historical experience and we must seize it.

The journey of the Russian community did not begin yesterday. It is sourced in antiquity. From the ages of the proximity of old Baltic and Slavonic tribes as well as the spread of Orthodoxy in ancient Latvian lands through to those times when contacts between nations were limited to war and trade. The traditional Russian minority emerged in the territory of present day Latvia in the 17th century and was related to the migration of the Old Believers’ religious refugees. They were the first wave of Russian settlers followed by another three waves which eventually merged into the contemporary Russian minority of Latvia. During the 18th and 19th century the territory of Latvia was part of the Russian Empire, but of the conditions comfortable for Russian cultural and social life in what were then the Baltic provinces of the empire came about only for a short period at the end of the 19th and beginning the of 20th centuries.

Over the past 300 years, the Russian minority of Latvia has experienced two periods of rapid industrialisation, eight changes of political regimes, several terrible wars, evacuations, repressions, stagnations and awakenings. The history of the Latvian Russians is inseparably interlaced with the fate of the Latvian nation as well as with the history of some other national communities. Without any doubt the names of many outstanding Latvians, Germans, Jews, Poles, Byelorussians, Ukrainians and representatives of other peoples must be inscribed in the Golden Book of our history. The modern Russian community of Latvia was formed through the peaceful coexistence of several ethnic groups and under the influence of different cultures. Latvian Russians are a natural part of the global Russian speaking community. At the same time they are an important component of Latvian civil society and one of the appreciable ethnic minorities of the EU. The development of this community isn’t without its problems. The Russian minority in Latvia still has to resolve some painful problems related to the legal status of one half of the people belonging to this community, as well as to the development of Russian culture and education in the complicated political conditions of the present day Republic of Latvia.

Respect for national history is a precious source of our confidence and moral force, our openness and consistency, our common sense and friendliness in relation to other peoples.

I wish you fascinating reading! Tatjana Ždanoka MEP

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