In Latvia, we've never had ethnic tensions because, at least since the Soviet rule, we've always had a sizeable Russian population. I always say that there's not a problem between the Latvian people and the Russian people. The problem is between politicians in Moscow. It's policy that threatens us.
If you look at the population of Russians in Latvia today, those who were born in the last 27 years are European Russians. They were born in an EU country, at least since 2004, and they know full well what the advantages are of being in the EU. Those who have become citizens can travel; they gain all the benefits.
Even since 2014, with what happened in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, we have always had questions from our western allies about whether there could be an uprising amongst Russians. We have no indications of that.
Yes, there are a few extreme voices, but they have no popular support. Yes, many of the Russians in Latvia watch Russian television and follow Russian news, but they also know what living conditions were like in eastern Ukraine, even before Russia came in. There's no comparison to Latvia. Even the poorest sections of Latvia are still vastly different.
We don't feel any threat there. We know that there's always the Russian pretense that could be used to say, “Well, we have to defend our countrymen,” but it's not plausible to anyone who knows the situation there.
Our parliament has 100 members. The largest party is a so-called pro-Russia party. These are Russian citizens from Latvia. There are many Latvians. It's a social democratic party. They're the furthest left party in Latvia. They're in parliament. They haven't been in government. The mayor of Riga is a Latvian-born Russian. He's very popular. Even Latvians vote for him. So they're part of the political process.
Probably the only reason that the pro-Russia party has never gotten into government is that there are two positions that they refuse to change. One is that they have never recognized officially that the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, because Moscow doesn't recognize that. The other is that they have always tried to insist that Russian should be made the second state language of Latvia. For us that's a sacred issue. We're a small country, with a population of under two million. The Latvian language is one of the reasons we wanted an independent country, to preserve that. We don't discriminate against other languages. You could speak Russian, English, whatever you want in Latvia, but as a state language, it has to remain.
If they were ever to change these two policies, there could be a switch in attitude. They haven't been openly aggressive, but even in cases like Ukraine, they will not condemn Russia. What they will say is that Ukraine is a very corrupt country and that it caused these problems, or they'll say that NATO or the U.S. forced Russia to intervene. Otherwise, no, we don't see tensions.
I'm a Latvian who was born in Europe after the war. I was a refugee. I was born in a refugee camp in Munich, but I grew up in the United States. I learned that in Latvia, even under Soviet rule, we never had ethnic gangs. We never had Russian and Latvian gangs. It just never divided up that way. Finally, one-third of all marriages in Latvia are mixed marriages, Russians and Latvians, so love conquers all.