29 Jan 2015

People's Republic of Latgale?

photo by antiglobalisti.org

In an earlier post, I have already written on the problem of Daugavpils and the Latgale region. Yesterday, a Facebook comment about the possible flag of a breakaway Latgale with a name inspired by the People's Republic of Donetsk and Lugansk, provoked public scandal in Latvia. Investigation is being carried out by the Security Police (Drošības polīcija) on the issue as an attempt to undermine Latvia's territorial integrity. The comment was posted in a discussion started by Russian minority activist Vladimir Linderman.
Another person published a map of the possible territory of the new republic with a comment: 'I am Latgalian' ('Я латгалец') and that the majority of Latgalians are dreaming about it. The picture with the map is circulating on the Internet in recent days and the flag was originally designed by a Latgalian ethnographer and now overlaid by the text in Russian: 'Latgale's People's Republic'.
In 2013, a criminal process had been started against  Linderman on the basis of his organizational activities and utterances on the idea of Latgale's autonomy.

by nra.lv

Clearly, the separatists appeal to the regional identity of the minority (mainly Russian speaking) population of the region. It may indicate that an eventual fusion with Russia would not be enticing for the Russian speakers of Latvia (especially having in mind the differences of living standards in the Russian Federation and Latvia). But is is very likely, that such initiatives are coming from Russia, as they are in line with Russia's geopolitical interests. Russian influence also appears to be more acceptable wrapped in local identity, which is usually associated with civic movements.  In this case, separatists try to make use of a distinctive cultural-territorial identity, which already exists for several hundred years.
Latgale is a historically-culturally distinct region of Latvia. Latvians living there speak a special dialect of Latvian, often characterised as a distinct language. Latgale was under Polish rule from the 17th century until 1918. That is the reason why most Latvians living there are Catholics (in contrast with the Lutheran Latvians in other regions of the country). Besides that, Latgale always experienced stronger Lithuanian and Eastern Slavic cultural influence than the rest of Latvia. Serfdom was abolished in 1861, a couple of decades later than in other Latvian territories, which also resulted in the economic backwardness of the region. After becoming part of the independent Latvia in 1918, Latgale received wide autonomy (including the recognition of Latgalian as an official language besides Latvian.) After the Ulmanis-coup in 1934, the autonomy of Latgale was curtailed. Under Soviet rule, Latgalian identity and culture were banned. Latgalian language as a dialect of Latvian is now protected by the state, e. g. in Latvian state radio there is a radio programme in Latgalian.
According to deputies of the Saeima, separatist tendencies are not even nearly as prevalent as they are sometimes pictured, but economic problems in the region raise most concerns of the inhabitants and therefore must receive more attention.







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