The Russian Society of Latvia – a national-cultural citizenship
University of Latvia (Latvia)
University of Latvia (Latvia)
Information Technology Management Institute (Latvia)
Social-political and ethno-cultural transformations at the turn of the 20th and the 21st centuries have brought to the foreground issues concerning the spiritual self-determination of an individual taking place in the ethno-cultural discourse (Ross 2008). Latvia is a multicultural society where various ethno-cultural groups coexist along with the dominant ethnos. Among the representatives of ethno-cultural minorities, the crisis of social identity can manifest itself in the form of “acculturative stress” (J.Berry 1997),
which has been caused as a result of breaking the close link between a positive ethno-cultural identity and “ethno-cultural tolerance”. According to contemporary scholars
(R.D.Albert, J.Berry), integration is the most positive strategy that helps to overcome this crisis, which involves the tendency of keeping one’s cultural identity and the tendency of acquiring the culture of the “title nation”. The social perception of cultural
distance is the key mechanism of integration which enables the representatives of ethno-cultural minorities to create positive local identities (“a Russian in Latvia”) (Neimatov 2002).
Based on these ideas, a non-governmental organization “The Russian Society of Latvia”
was set up in Latvia in 1996. The Russian Society unites the Russian inhabitants of Latvia on the basis of the Russian language, history and culture. Its members want to preserve their national identity, traditional spirituality and the historical memory of the Russian people.
The purpose of the article is to analyse the activities of the Russian Society aimed at preserving the Russian language, Russian culture and developing national identity. Research methodology:
- the analysis of academic literature devoted to the issues of national identity and
historical sources concerning the Russian culture in Latvia starting from the thearly 20 century;
- the analysis of the documents concerning the Russian Society of Latvia and its
- conversations with the representatives of the Russian Society of Latvia ; an
interview with Mr.Yefremov, head of the Latvian Association of the Teachers of
the Russian Language and Literature, the vice president of the Russian Society;
- A survey of the participants of the project “Russian Culture in Latvia:
Tatiana’s Day” to establish the attitude of senior secondary school students
and teachers to the Russian language and culture. The survey participants
represented three different schools;
- statistical research methods.
Key words: national identity, Russian culture, the system of Russian education, spiritual self-determination.
The History of the Russian Society of Latvia
The Russian Society of Latvia was set up as a national-cultural citizenship community in the complicated 1990s. At that time, the socio-cultural situation in Latvia had caused the crisis of social identity among the representatives of ethno-cultural minorities, which Russians had become after Latvia regained its independence. In the situation of social and cultural transformations, the orientation of individuals towards the most stable traditional values like ethnos, culture, and religion is a natural process. Mental values, providing a certain frame of reference in the form of traditions and the experience of generations, help an individual to overcome the crisis of social identity in the unstable world (Erikson, 1996; Marcia, 1980). In the period of acute social instability when the traditional norms and values are breaking apart, searching for the ways of spiritual self-determination becomes the key issue for many people (Bibler, 1957; Kasianova, 1994).
The representatives of ethno-cultural minorities started forming positive local identities (“Latvian Russians”) corresponding to the new ethno-cultural and social political reality.
According to scholars, integration is considered to be the most positive strategy of overcoming the crisis of social identity: „preserving the national cultural belonging and
acquisition of the culture of the dominant ethnos‟ (Lebedeva, 1999: 218). However, the
traditional social organizations and the existing educational model in Latvia did not fully provide individuals with the world view principles necessary for productive interaction with the representatives of other value-orientations, ethno-cultural traditions and lifestyles. There arouse a need for a new non-governmental organization that would unite Russians on the basis of the Russian language, history, and culture; thus, in 1996 the Russian Society of Latvia was established. The Russian Society of Latvia is a non-governmental organization which unites the Russian inhabitants of Latvia willing to preserve their national identity, traditional spirituality and the historical memory of the Russian people.
The Purpose and Objectives of the Russian Society
The main purpose of the Society is to preserve the cultural, historical and creative heritage of the Russian people, its spiritual and moral values, and to develop the national identity on this basis. The main objective of the Russian Society is creating a socio-cultural, spiritual environment for Russian people in Latvia, reducing social exclusion, and expanding social inclusion. The work of the Russian Society of Latvia is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the laws of the Republic of Latvia.
The Russian Society of Latvia is striving to maintain contacts with Russia, other Russian associations and organizations, as well as compatriots living in different countries to unite the Russian inhabitants of Latvia, to establish and maintain good relations with other national and ethnic groups on the principles of mutual respect and trust, as well as to develop cooperation with them.
The Main Directions in the activity of the Russian Society
The main direction is the cultural and educational activity: the preservation and study of the Russian language, history, culture and traditions of the Russian people. The Russian Society organizes open lectures on Russian culture, celebrates the jubilees of prominent figures in Russian culture. The folk group “Rodnik” (“Spring”) has an active concert
life. They participate in festivals organized both by the Russian Society and other national-cultural organizations and often visit nursing homes for old people to give concerts there. The group also takes part in the celebrations and festivals that are organized in Latvia at the state level.
Another important direction in the activity of the Russian Society is setting up its regional branches and centres promoting Russian culture and education. Ventspils Branch does serious cultural work in the city and carries out the project “The Russian
Book”. In the last years, the Latvian libraries have not purchased Russian books.
Within the framework of the project “The Russian Book”, there has been set up the
readers‟ club “Labyrinth”, which has become popular among the city inhabitants. The members of the club, the lovers of Russian literature, order books in the Russian language, exchange books with other readers, and organize literary evenings in Parventa Library. There is also a youth theatre “We”, which stages performances in the Russian language. In Ventspils, they also organize public festivities “Sviatki, Maslennitsa” in the
traditional Russian style and concerts of traditional folk-songs. The Ventspils Branch of the Russian Society has long-standing and fruitful cooperation with the Association of National Cultural Societies of Ventspils.
Similarly, the Salaspils Branch of the Russian Society actively provides cultural programmes for the city inhabitants, organizes various festivities and excursions to memorial sites.
A very important direction in the activity of the Russian Society of Latvia is the support and development of the system of Russian education. There has been set up the Latvian Association of the Teachers of Russian Language and Literature headed by Mr. A. Yefremov, a teacher of the Russian language and literature. Each year they organize the contest “The Best teacher of the Russian Language and Literature.” A teacher conducts
a class in the auditorium of the Russian Society in the presence of other teachers and students with its subsequent discussion. During the discussion, each participant can express his/ her opinion, offer some innovative methodology or interesting educational technologies. When asked, why these competitions were personally meaningful to them, the teachers said that it was a very strong incentive for self-development. Mr. Yefremov, who teaches the Russian language and literature in Pushkin Lyceum and has been a multiple award-winner of this contest, defined its significance for him personally referring to Hegel‟s philosophy: In his philosophy, Hegel advocated the idea of
individual‟s autonomy and pointed out that personality is never perfect, and it promotes its self-development. Lack of interest in one‟s own development means mental lethargy. The Latvian Association of the Teachers of Russian Language and Literature is the member of the International Association of the Teachers of Russian Language and Literature.
The Russian Society carries out its cultural and educational work with children on the basis of the concept developed by E. Bondarevskaya. The key idea of her concept is education as the development of a citizen, a man of culture and spirituality. The author of the concept singles out five key elements constituting „a man of culture‟ (the term
proposed by M. Bakhtin): the development of free personality, the development of humane personality, the development of spiritual personality, the development of creative personality, and the development of practical personality. The Russian Society implements the principle of humanism in its practical activity, which implies taking into account the gender and age characteristics of the learners, as well as the principle that education should be based on national and cultural traditions of the people, culture, as well as ethnic peculiarities and habits. (Bondarevskaya,1999).
The development of national identity has been promoted by children‟s works and
performances. The contest “Russian Culture in Latvia: Tatiana‟s Day – 2012” was a
particularly memorable one. The participants were offered several kinds of competitions:
- the competition of school theatre performances. The classical theatre of Pushkin Lyceum was awarded the grand prix for the performance “New Year‟s Fairytale”.
Zolitude Gymnasium won the first prize for the performance “In Pursuit of Happiness”.
The awards for the best actor and actress were also given;
- the literature competition “The Fairytale in Russian Culture”. The authors read their
- performers‟ competition : there were two nominations – instrumental music and vocal
- the competition of drawings “The Fairytale in Russian Literature”. This competition
turned out to be the most popular one among the school children.
In order to find out what attracts students to creative competitions, a survey was carried out in three secondary schools in Riga: Pushkin Lyceum, Zolitude Gymnasium, and Secondary School No 34.
The survey question was, “What attracts you to the competitions organized by the
1. Awareness of one‟s abilities and possibilities 30% 25% 20%
2. Interest in creative activity 10% 15% 10%
3. Opportunities for self-expression 15% 10% 15%
4. Expanding the circle of friends in creative activity 20% 25% 30% 5. Becoming familiar with Russian culture 25% 25% 25%
The key incentives for the students were the awareness of their abilities and possibilities, becoming familiar with Russian culture and expanding their circle of friends.
In the Russian society, there has been set up an education centre where senior secondary school students who are planning to obtain higher education in Russia are given an opportunity to attend preparatory courses according to the curricula of Russian secondary schools. As regards educational issues, the Russian society cooperates with the governmental institutions as well: it participates in the Consultative Council of the Ministry of Education and Science with the representatives of ethic minorities in Latvia. The Russian Society has played an important role preserving education in the Russian language in Latvia.
At present, the Latvian Society has understood the importance and necessity of social integration. Therefore, the Russian Society has set a goal to develop not only ethnic (Russian) identity, but also multicultural identity. The dialogue is the key mechanism for the development of multicultural identity. In the present historical and cultural situation, the dialogue becomes „a universal, all-embracing mode for the existence of
culture and for an individual in culture‟ (Kagan, 1996; Bakhtin, 1986).
In the concept of the Russian Society, multicultural identity is viewed as a personality feature which characterises individual‟s need and ability to understand and accept
Latvian culture, the rich diversity of the world cultures, various forms of self-expression, and various forms of the manifestation of human individuality. The development of the multicultural identity of secondary school students is based on the interconnection between the objective cultural values and value-orientations of an individual.
Multicultural education is based on the interconnection and mutual enrichment of various cultures, in the Latvian context - the Latvian and Russian cultures, and the acquisition of cultural and educational values, which will lead to the consolidation of the society and the development of European identity.
The Russian Society has developed an interesting series of lectures “Russian-Latvian
Relations”. After lectures, there are held discussions “We Have to Live Together”
involving both Latvian and Russian participants; there are also organized competitions of Russian as a foreign language in which the representatives of Latvian schools take part.
The humanitarian activities of the Russian Society in helping socially disadvantaged people also facilitate the integration of society. It is another important direction in the work of the Russian Society of Latvia. They have set up the club ?Friendship” for
elderly people. The club provides comfortable atmosphere for communication, thus promoting the social inclusion of elderly people, it also organizes interesting lectures and talks with psychologists.
Since 1999, there are also computer skills courses for the elderly, which promote the idea of life-long learning, on the one hand, and expand the informational space, on the other hand, thus helping senior citizens to adapt to the contemporary world. Since 1998, there are also held Latvian language courses for low-income and elderly people, and courses in the history of Latvia helping people to prepare for the naturalization process, since there are about 400 000 non-citizens living in Latvia.
The cultural, educational, and humanitarian activities of the Russian Society include both large-scale events and small-group activities. The age of the participants ranges from school children to senior citizens. All the efforts of the Society are focused on increasing the adaptive capabilities of the social groups involved, strengthening their individual positions in society, i.e. to the development of integration and increase in social potential.
The international activity of the Russian Society in the development of integration is also worth mentioning. It involves helping people who are looking for their lost relatives who died during World War II. Since 2006, the Russian Society of Latvia has been involved in search activities. The results of their work are regularly published on the website http://voin.russkie.org.lv. Their work is focused on clarifying the names of the fallen soldiers and making a complete list of memorial sights. This is done by means of advanced technologies. For instance, with the help of the site http://maps.google.com
there has been made an interactive map of World War II memorials, which has been visited by 36 000 people during the year and a half of its existence.
At present, the website contains information about more than 105 000 soldiers and 160 memorial sites. Due to this work, hundreds of people living in Russia, Latvia, Belarus, the Ukraine, Estonia, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Israel, and the USA have found the places where their relatives were buried, have received photos from warrior‟s cemeteries, or have learned how to visit them.
The Russian Society of Latvia was established in the period of social and political transformations in Latvia. These events led to the crisis of national identity among Russians living in Latvia.
Setting up of a national-cultural citizenship community – the Russian Society of Latvia –
was a challenge of the period. The Russian Society has united the Russian speaking inhabitants of Latvia on the basis of the Russian language, history, and culture. The activity of the Russian Society has promoted the development of national identity and social integration since the knowledge of the native language and culture, like the knowledge of Latvian culture, is an important precondition for the integration of the Latvian society.
At present, the development of European identity is also a priority direction in the work of the Russian Society.
The analysis of the research results demonstrated consistent interest of the Russian secondary school students and teachers in Russian culture and a positive attitude to the activities of the Russian Society of Latvia.
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