Between the Restoration of National Sovereignty and the Respect for Minority Rights: Testing the Concept of Post-Colonialism in Latvia.

Adrey, Jean-Bernard

Coventry University, UK

WS127: Multilingualism in post-Soviet countries

This paper discusses the extent to which the concept of post-colonialism can be useful to understand the sociopolitical and sociolinguistic make-up of Latvia in the post-soviet era (since 1991). In that context, after 1991, antagonistic discourses of restoration of national sovereignty and respect for minority rights permeated social life and polarized social groups, creating a gap between the titular population and the Russian-speaking minorities and signing away national integration. In these disputes, both international organizations like the EU and Russia were also involved. Beyond domestic political tensions, the situation begs the question of whether Latvia has now broken away from the soviet form of colonization and what role the EU and Russia have been playing in such developments.

The paper first briefly recalls traditional, ‘western’ understandings of post-colonialism, underlining what predominantly qualifies a postcolonial situation, and then succinctly sketches the historical process of sovietification and russification of Latvia between WWII and the 1991 independence, arguing that soviet-ruled Latvia could be considered as a colonial situation.

The second part then focuses on the three main strands of post-soviet ethnic policy in Latvia - language policy, citizenship policy and education policy - as the main instruments meant to restore national sovereignty. Through these policies, Latvian politicians have attempted to do away with the soviet heritage by reversing soviet-inherited sociolinguistic status asymmetries. By contrast, the champions of the rights of Russian-speaking groups have successfully drawn on the discourse of respect of minority (language) rights, summoning up support notably from the EU, to limit the scope of these status-reversing strategies.

In the light of the above, and looking at today’s Latvia, the paper ultimately claims that the concept of post-colonialism, originally coined in relation to ‘western’ postcolonial situations, and the correlate questions of restoration of national sovereignties and respect for minority rights, need to be reexamined in the post-soviet EU context.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Multilingualism in post-Soviet countries
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 17