Friday, November 20, 2015

Mr Wigley goes to Riga

Dafydd Wigley, who was recently in Latvia, has produced an article extolling the virtues of EU membership for this small Baltic nation, you can read it here.

Around 35%* of the population of Latvia, Mr Wigley tells us, are ethnic Russians, the consequence of  "attempts by Stalin to erode their national identity by flooding Latvia with Russian immigrants."  I'm not sure if this is completely true. Certainly only around 9% of the pre-war Latvian population were ethnic Russian, rising to 27% by the end of the 1950s; but then 21% of the Welsh population in the 2011 census were born in England and this population movement can't be laid at the door of a Stalin.  The Latvian in-migration was the result of the opening of factories in places such as Daugavpils and the higher standard of living found in the Baltic states.  No doubt Latvian nationalists would,argue that these factories should not have been sited in the republic.  It's also claimed that in the 1980s many released criminals from elsewhere in the Soviet Union found their way to the republic, something which could never happen here in Wales, of course.

Around 12% of the Latvian population, mainly those of Russian descent find themselves in the position of being non-citizens and thus deprived of various rights, including the right to vote.  This non-citizenship can apply not only to those born in the old Soviet Union but also to their children born in Latvia itself.  Citizenship can be obtained by passing examinations in Latvian language and state-approved history. In the days before the BBC went full Russophobe they even highlighted examples of these second class Latvian citizens.

I wonder if anyone in Wales would welcome following the Latvian example - Welsh as the sole official language and voting rights denied to migrants and their offspring unless they learnt Welsh and passed a government approved history test?

While highlighting the benefits of EU membership the subsequent decline in Latvian population is only hinted at by Mr Wigley - a 10% drop in population since joining in 2004.

Mr Wigley was also in the news this week calling for an end to the character assassination of Saunders Lewis. I certainly agree with Mr Wigley on this.  Lewis seemingly foresaw a clash between a Fascist British state and the Welsh working class.  In that event, as the Western Mail reported, he was clearly on the side of the Left: "It is possible that there would be bloodshed in South Wales if there was a Fascist Government. In such a case the Nationalist Party must take sides with the popular masses of Wales against Fascist dictatorship."

In Latvia of course this stand point was obviously put to the test, with hundreds of Latvian nationalists participating in the murder of Jews and others.  Instead of confronting this past the Latvian government seeks to dilute these killings by claiming that Soviet repressions also constituted a genocide, indeed Latvia has passed a law imposing sentences of five years imprisonment for denial of the Communist's "genocide".

Instead of acting as a crossroads between Russia and Europe, Latvia has chosen to be at the frontline of a new Cold War.  Nato mouthpieces continually warn of (wish for?) Russian military intervention in the Baltic states and any unhappiness amongst the Russian speaking minority is blamed on Moscow meddling rather than Riga's own discriminatory policies.

* The 2014 census says 26% are ethnic Russians


Anonymous said...

Very interesting and good post.

Latvia is completely different to Wales. It is really irresponsible for anyone to draw any kind of comparison between Russians in Latvia and English people in Wales, particularly as the English in Wales have not faced any state sponsored discrimination.

Yet there does need to be an acceptance that Latvia's position is now much more stable, peaceful and prosperous than under Russian rule. It isn't some kind of miraculous society, and has severe historical legacy issues, but through EU membership there is probably a pathway towards normalising human rights including for Russians.

Regarding Saunders Lewis, the character assassination must stop. But it must also be replaced by an actual analysis of his views. His real views, not made up ones. Lewis was not a fascist, a Nazi, or a sympathiser. He did however sympathise with radical right-wingers and was not hard enough on the Nazis in the lead up to World War Two. His views on industrialisation were also profoundly wrong. Plaid Cymru did not even accept his views on socio-economic policy and his obscure school of political thought didn't characterise Plaid Cymru in the future. A complicated figure who doesn't need assassination but ultimately failed to define Plaid Cymru's (and Dafydd Wigley's) views.

Jac o' the North, said...

I've always viewed Saunders Lewis as a clerico-reactionary of the type that was quite common in the 1930s but would be difficult to describe to modern students.

If Lewis had models they would have been found in Spain, Ireland and Romania rather than Germany, France or Italy. (Though I know he was attracted by a certain Catholic and right wing outlook to be found in France.)

This goes a long way to explaining his views on industrialisation, which he saw as having both diluted the Welsh identity and introduced an unhealthy materialism at the expense of more spiritual values.