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Latvia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

Only the rights of ethnic minorities are recognised on a cultural policy level; other cultural minority groups based on common interests such as gender or sexual orientation are not on the agenda of cultural policy.

Native inhabitants of Latvia are Latvians. Only one ethnic minority is recognised as an autochtonous minority: the Livonians or Livs that were the indigenous inhabitants of Livonia, a large part of what is today north-western Latvia and south-western Estonia. Only a small group of them has survived into the 21st century: there were 180 Livonians living in Latvia in 2011 (Inhabitants Register of Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 2011). The other minorities living in Latvia have general cultural rights (freedom of artistic expression) and the rights of ethnic minorities ("to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity") recognised by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia (1922, c. 8).

However, the ethnic representation is not homogeneous. Latvians constitute less than 2/3 of the inhabitants.

Table 1:     Inhabitants of Latvia, by ethnic origin at the beginning of the year, 1935-2014







1 905 936

2 666 567

2 377 383

2 001 468


1 467 035

1 387 757

1 370 703

1 229 067


168 266

905 515

703 243

520 136


26 803

119 702

97 150

68 695


1 844

92 101

63 644

45 282


48 637

60 416

59 505

43 365


22 843

34 630

33 430

25 025


93 370

22 897

10 385

5 402


3 839

7 044

8 205

5 594


62 116

3 783

3 465

2 886


6 928

3 312

2 652

1 882


4 255

29 410

25 001

54 134

Source:     Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Today in Latvia the Russian speaking population constitutes about 37% of the population and is larger than the ethnic Russian minority because a majority of Byelorussians and Ukrainians also have Russian as their mother tongue (Population census, 2011).

The situation is even more complicated because of the fact that not all the inhabitants are citizens of Latvia. According to the population census in 2011, 83.5% of inhabitants were citizens of Latvia, 14.3% were non-citizens of Latvia (a special status of non-citizens is defined by the "Law on the Status of those Former U.S.S.R. Citizens who do not have Citizenship of Latvia or of any Other State", 1995) and 2.3% - citizens of other states. A large number of Russians are non-citizens: in 2013, 195 734 Russians living in Latvia were non-citizens (Inhabitants Register of Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 2013).

Cultural policy goals

The vision of a national culture policy includes an "open and consolidated society" and a "dialogue-based, diverse, excellent and accessible culture process" (The National Culture Policy Guidelines). However, the strategic aims of cultural policy reveal that this vision is to be reached through the step by step process of building national culture within a strong national state. The guidelines also include concepts of cultural pluralism and intercultural dialogue, however, when it comes to the performance indicators, they concern the indigenous minority Livs, the identity protection in Latgale culture-historical region, and Latvian art and culture.

Concerning other ethnic minorities, Latvia has chosen the "social cohesion approach" – a strategy aimed at integrating immigrants and having them learn the language and traditions of the host country. Since 2011, the Ministry of Culture is responsible for integration (in 2009-2010 it was the Ministry of Justice).

The Guidelines for Social Integration Policy have been in the development phase for several years and have experienced many alterations and editions. Finally, the Ministry of Culture has elaborated a new proposal and, after public debates in 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers has endorsed the National Identity, Civil Society and Community Integration Guidelines 2012-2018. The Guidelines have been criticised because of their excessive focus on Latvians and identity issues. Guidelines include also some of the national Roma integration policy measures (see Information on Roma integration policy measures in Latvia). The programme Livonians (the Livs) in Latvia 2008-2012 addresses the rights of Livs.

Policy instruments

The main cultural policy instruments concerning the rights of ethnic minorities are legal and financial instruments.

The main laws providing civic and cultural rights to national minorities are: the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia (1922) and the Law on Free Development and Rights of Cultural Autonomy of National and Ethnic Groups (1991), which aim to ensure the rights in accordance with the international norms for cultural autonomy and cultural self-governance of national and ethnic minority groups.

In 2005, Latvia adopted a Law to ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, and in 2007 a Law to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions.

The main financial instrument is direct subsidies to cultural and other institutions of ethnic minorities. The Ministry of Justice regularly supported the NGOs of ethnic minorities.

The Ministry of Culture regularly supports the Association of National Culture Societies of I. Kozakēviča, which unites more than 20 organisations of ethnic minorities, called national culture associations or unions (LVL 17 526 in 2008, LVL 11 715 in 2009; 12 350 LVL in 2010; 15 100 LVL in 2011; 15 000 LVL in 2012).

These subsidies are mainly intended to maintain the ethnic identity of diverse nationalities, and for the most part to preserve traditional culture (folk groups, dance, festivities etc.). The experts of the study Implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (2007) point out that "interpreting minority culture as a traditional culture might diminish the numbers of people who would wish to maintain their ethnic identity".

As to public institutions, public support is allocated to the mainstream cultural organisations of the ethnic minorities, such as theatres producing and presenting performances in the Russian language. The Ministry of Culture supports the Riga Russian Theatre, and the Russian language productions at the Daugavpils City Theatre and the Latvian Puppet Theatre. For the most part, cultural diversity is supported by the allocation of public support to the organisations of ethnic minorities. There are no programmes or financial support schemes that would encourage other cultural institutions to carry out audience development activities or cultural programmes to address cultural diversity and achieve more diverse audiences. The staff of Latvian cultural institutions tends not to be culturally diverse.

Some mainstream organisations pursue cultural diversity at least in the language sphere. There are several initiatives, such as the Symphony concerts for kids and their parents (both Latvian and Russian language programmes) by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; several museums offer pedagogical programmes also in the Russian language for pupils from bilingual schools. All minority groups and organisations are eligible to apply for grants to the State Cultural Capital Foundation and the Latvian Society Integration Foundation.

A good example in the field of integration are the activities of the association "Trepes" ("Stairs") which is aiming to integrate socially and physically disadvantaged youth groups in  social and cultural life. In 2011, with the support of Riga City Council, 100 children got the possibility to visit museums and participate in creative workshops during their school holidays.

Another example of integration is the participation of Riga Central Library in the project "Prison Fellowship Latvia", by opening a branch in the Prison of Brasa in Riga. The project included training for prisoners that will take over the position of librarian in the prison library.

The Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia runs a project Latvia - Dreamland, addressing those inhabitants of Latvia who are not citizens of Latvia.

There is a lack of data about cultural activities outside the public sector, although Russian cultural life – guest performances and concerts from Russia, and other activities play an important part of the cultural life in larger cities, such as Riga or Daugavpils and they are mainly financed by the private sector.

Education in national minority languages is a precondition for maintaining the cultural identity of national minorities in Latvia. The Latvian government provides education in eight national minority languages, which is more than in the most European countries. State-financed education in Latvia is in Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Hebrew and Romani. Courses in state-financed universities are taught in Latvian, while some private educational institutions have opted for languages other than Latvian as the medium of instruction.

Upon regaining its independence in 1991, Latvia inherited from the Soviet Union a segregated education system – Latvians went to Latvian language schools, while Russians and other minorities attended schools with Russian language instruction. In the early 1990s Russian schools taught virtually no Latvian language and produced graduates whose poor Latvian skills hampered them from competing in the job market and for university admissions. The phasing in of education reform took place gradually, starting from 1995, and was fully completed in 2007.

In 2009, a reform was started in the education system to enhance efficiency that led to the closure of schools with smaller numbers of pupils. As part of minority schools have a small number of pupils, the debate on the future development of such schools has been raised. One of the development strategies for such schools suggests transforming them into multifunctional centres for minority culture and education.

Further reading:

Policy impacts

The survey (2009) shows that cultural consumption is lower in the group of those who does not speak Latvian in their families than among Latvian speakers: during the previous year, the respondents participated at least in 7.5 and 9.6 cultural activities respectively. In the professional arts sector, the difference between those who speak Latvian at home or another language is even larger. Latvian speakers attend museums, exhibits, theatres and opera more often than those who speak other languages at home.

Although ethnic minorities attend and consume cultural activities on a less regular basis than native inhabitants, the analysis of major barriers for art attendance does not reveal reasons for this. Possibly, the barriers hindering arts attendance among ethnic minorities might be due to perceptions, beliefs and attitudes, motivation and cultural factors. 

Chapter published: 17-07-2018

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