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Latvian report
by Euro Reporter
2015-09-30 10:33:04
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Refugee benefits in Latvia not included in the budget 2016

The amount that Latvia could pay in benefits to refugees has not yet been included in the 2016 budget draft, this according to Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis (Unity) in an interview with the LNT show "900 sekundes".

latvia_400He reminded that the refugee selection, relocation, and accommodation process will be funded by the European Union, however, state benefits for these people will have to be covered from Latvia's national budget. Nevertheless, this amount has not been included in the 2016 budget bill that the government is to approve today. The minister said that experts are currently calculating the necessary sums, and today the estimates will be submitted to the government. Kozlovskis declined to reveal specific figures, but he did not deny that that the expenditure could amount to several million euros.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry's State Secretary Ilze Petersone-Godmane said in an interview with Latvian Radio that the refugee task force that came up with a plan for the refugee acceptance is proposing to keep the EUR 256 benefit, which will be paid to refugees for one year, unchanged also in cases when a refugee finds a job in Latvia. This proposal is justified assuming that refugees will be motivated to look for a job in order to improve their financial and economic stability.


Latvians find unity in rejecting refugees

In a country that is deeply divided between the ethnic Latvian ruling majority and an alienated minority of Russian speakers, shared dread at the prospect of resettling a few hundred asylum-seekers is bringing the two communities together. Latvia voted this week to approve the European Commission’s plan to share out refugees, agreeing to accept 531, more than twice the number it has accepted since the restoration of independence in 1991. That immediately prompted a furious demonstration in Riga, with protestors comparing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to Adolf Hitler at a rally attended by members of the right-wing National Alliance, part of the ruling coalition. Latvia’s population has shrunk to about 2 million people from 2.6 million in 1989 due to waves of emigration to Western Europe in search of jobs, but the right wingers share the view of some Central and Eastern European leaders that the mainly Muslim asylum-seekers will find it difficult to integrate. “France and Sweden have failed to integrate them, because they are simply against integration — they have a completely different set of values,” the secretary-general of the National Alliance, Raivis Zeltīts, told POLITICO, adding that he would prefer new arrivals to the Baltic state who “belong to the same civilization.”

All the three coalition parties were reluctant to agree with the EU imposing quotas on the number of refugees each member country must accept, but they eventually decided not to defy Brussels. The issue has created an unusual degree of political unity.  The opposition Harmony Center, widely perceived as a party of Russian-speakers, helping the nationalists to push through a law stripping the government of the right to accept more refugees without putting it to a parliamentary vote in future. Last week, Nils Ušakovs, the charismatic mayor of Riga and leader of Harmony Center, put up a posting on Facebook from a comedy show depicting Germany being taken over by Muslims, complete with announcements of executions and German Chancellor Angela Merkel clad in a burka. “The future of Muslim Germany,” Ušakovs wrote in a comment. He later put up a Russian-language satirical video, which said the refugees will drive up the crime rate in Latvia. Latvian politicians’ harsh stance on refugees reflects opinion polls which show that around two thirds of their compatriots are L against taking in asylum-seekers. The Russian-speakers appear to be at least as fiercely opposed as ethnic Latvians.

That attitude stems partly from history: an earlier wave of migration has shaped today’s Latvia. During four decades of Soviet occupation, Moscow sent thousands of Russian-speakers to the annexed country to dilute the ethnic Latvian population. Their share dwindled from 75 percent before the war to 52 percent in 1989. Russian speakers now make up about a third of the population, and tend to live in the larger cities. “This trauma is still not healed. Latvians are feeling insecure, which explains their views on refugees,” said Arnis Kaktiņš of the SKDS polling agency. Olga Procevska, a cultural history researcher at the University of Latvia, said a fixation on the Soviet era makes ethnic Latvians “feel they are still entitled to receive help, not provide it.” Russian-speakers harbor their own grievances, upset by how Latvia tackled the ethnic imbalance following independence. After 1991, Latvia denied citizenship to everyone (and their descendants) who had moved in after 1940, leaving 700,000 people with the status of non-citizens. They had all basic rights, except the right to vote. The new government also moved to squeeze Russian out the public sphere. The exclusion of many ethnic-Russian voters ensured Latvia’s smooth accession into the EU and NATO. A difficult process of naturalization coupled with emigration has reduced the number of non-citizens to 260,000, but the country remains divided.

“When politicians here say ‘Latvian,’ they mean ‘ethnic Latvian.’ There is no notion of a political nation here,” said Procevska. Despite efforts to come across as a non-ethnic party, Harmony Centre is perceived and treated as the “Russian” opposition to the “Latvian” government and has never been invited to join a coalition with “Latvian” parties. The current government is entirely comprised of ethnic Latvians. The only Russian minister in the history of post-independence Latvia stepped down last May. Despite Russian-speakers’ status as a sometimes put-upon minority, they are now united with ethnic Latvians on the issue of refugees. Kaktiņš said that might be because they tend to watch Russian television, which shows the refugee crisis as a sign of an imminent “end of Europe” caused by multiculturalism. There is also “a widespread phenomenon when a discriminated group turns harsh on another minority that’s even lower in the hierarchy,” said Procevska. Despite frictions, the two-community system has stabilized over the years, allowing ethnic Russians and Latvians to live fairly separate lives without confronting each other. The possibility of including a third group, even a very small one, has succeeded in uniting both Latvians and Russians to defend the status quo.


Broadcasters association slams Latvia’s denial to register Rossiya Segodnya

The Head of Latvia's Association of Broadcasting Organizations criticized banning Russia’s Rossiya Segodnya news agency stressing Latvian society unwillingness to get a comprehensive view on current world news. Banning Russia’s Rossiya Segodnya news agency in Latvia means that the Latvian society is being limited in the desire for comprehensive view on what is happening in the world, Gunta Lidaka, the director of the country’s Association of Broadcasting Organizations, said, as cited by the local media. On Friday, Latvia turned down the application to register the representative office of Rossiya Segodnya in the country, explaining its decision by the media’s registration application allegedly not complying with Latvian constitution.

Latvia received the application from the international information agency Rossiya Segodnya on April 29. The agency has until October 4 to appeal the rejection, according to Latvian regulator spokeswoman Evija Ivdra. Earlier the Republic of Latvia's Register of Enterprises refused to register Rossiya Segodnya Information Agency as a media outlet in the country.

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