Russia takes interest in Latvia’s Latgale minority

The latest example of Putin’s claims winning out over reality involves the Latgals of Latvia, a group of approximately 100,000 people who feel themselves culturally distinct from Latvians and speak a language that Radio Free Europe at one time even broadcast in. Among them are a tiny number of activists who would like more autonomy and a less anti-Russian Latvia. . . .

Rosbalt journalist Petr Zhuk, for example, says that the Latgale issue exists almost entirely because of the actions of Vladimir Linderman, a Latvian Russian of Jewish origin who has been a member of Russia’s National Bolshevik Party since 1997. Three years ago, Linderman had called for a discussion on autonomy for Latgale. In response, the Latvian Security Police conducted an investigation, including searching Linderman’s office, and filed charges against him. Latvian officials both in Latgale and in Riga said at the time and have repeatedly said since then that there is no popular support for any secession (Rosbalt, February 6).

Nothing much was heard of it until earlier this year when stories about the creation of a Latgale People’s Republic began to circulate online and when one of them showed a map of Latvia minus Latgale. Emblazoned on it was the unofficial flag of the kray with “Latgale People’s Republic” written in Russian. The security police announced that they had identified the culprits, although they have not released their names because the case is still sub judice. But some in the police said that these sanctions “correspond to the geopolitical interests of Russia” and that Latvians should inform the authorities if there are any new developments. Jānis Lāčplēsis, the mayor of Daugavpils, the largest city in Latgale, said at that time that all such talk about secession was the purest fabrication, adding that while “there are people in Riga who call themselves Latgals, in [the region of] Latgalia [itself], you cannot name even one prominent one.”