ANNA DOES THE BALTICS, or A PRIMER ON RUSSIA HATE

Riga panoramaFinally I am getting around to recapping my September adventure in the Baltics. The trip happened because I decided that sure, it’s a brilliant idea to fly across several national borders just to meet a blogger friend for a few drinks! I will get to that bit of a good time over the next four posts, but first I wanted to get out of the way what was probably some of the worst travel experience I have ever had: having to deal with virulent anti-Russian sentiment that permeates the region.

It’s not that it was entirely unexpected. The relationship between the Balts and the Russians in the post-Soviet era can be described as tense at best. In fact, while buying the plane tickets I had even joked that I would be flying into hostile territory. What surprised me was how strong, open and often hypocritical was the expression of Russia-hate.

* * *

Let’s start with a short recap of Latvian history as narrated by the cheerful guide of the Riga walking tour: For thousands of years Latvia was a great and prosperous land. Then came the Russians and ruined everything. Today everything good you see in Latvia (Riga) is Latvian; everything bad is the fault of evil Russia and evil Russians. Poor Latvia. The end.

This was delivered with utmost earnestness of someone who wasn’t even alive when the USSR came apart, let alone bothered with non-selective reading of history (particularly the parts where the Poles, Germans, and yes, Balts of different stripes have tried for centuries on end and with mixed results to take over Russia).

The icing on the cake (or in this case more like insult to injury) was the downright reverential treatment bestowed upon Germany and the Germans in our tour group by the same guide. Germany is wonderful! We love Germany! What’s that you say about Nazi Germany playing a direct role in the Soviet occupation of the Baltics? Never heard of it! **EMBARRASSED GASP** What’s that? A pre-World War I monument commemorating centuries-long German oppression of Latvia? OH MY GOD I AM SO SORRY GERMAN TOURISTS, PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT IT WE LOVE GERMANY!

You’d think I’m exaggerating for effect, but this is pretty much verbatim, with several parts recurring many times throughout the three-hour excursion. Especially “evil Russia/evil Russians” – that’s right, not USSR or Soviets, nuance or history be damned.

Funny note about the German tourists: they were having none of this socio-historical blindness. Two German ladies, whose parents probably fought USSR in World War II, actually called out our enthusiastic story-teller on Latvia’s treatment of its Russian population, which makes up more than a quarter of the country, and nearly half of Riga, the capital. Fun fact: ethnic Russians in Latvia are often relegated to the status of second class citizens, or rather not citizens at all. Let’s say you’re a nice 70-year old granny, born in Latvia to Russian parents who moved to Latvia from elsewhere in USSR in 1940 or later, you’ve lived in Latvia your whole life but only learned to speak Russian? You’re sh*t out of luck where your citizenship status is concerned, unless you’d started taking Latvian language classes at the tender age of 50. Good times. The German ladies were very pointed in their questions and statements, our guide had no rebuttals and squirmed uncomfortably, and I felt a swelling of warmth for Germany like only a Latvian could.

The expert on Latvian history, culture and society in a coral skirt; my two German lady-knights in shining hiking gear directly to the left of her, and then -- Linda!

The ‘expert’ on Latvian history, culture and society in a pink skirt; my two German lady-knights in shining hiking gear directly to the left of her, and then — Linda!

Three hours later I was ready to drink away the stress of this emotional S&M travel experience. Naturally, Linda knew just the spot(s). Like world-weary pilgrims we wandered from one watering hole to the next, striking up conversation with locals, expats and tourists alike. When the inevitable “where are you from?” question rolled around, Linda’s answer was usually met with loud cheers of “YAY IRELAND!,” while I ended up on the receiving end of chilly stares and “ah…”’s. “Yuppp….,” I would reply, and take another swig. I didn’t need their judgy company, Linda was party enough for me.

Now, I have been a Russian in America and an American in Russia, and a bit of both as a study-abroad student in Europe around the time US invaded Iraq, so association with some kind of “evil empire” wasn’t new to me. It could definitely get uncomfortable at times, but it had never turned outright hostile or nasty. So, while what I was feeling in Riga wasn’t pleasant, but neither was it bad enough to define my whole Baltics experience. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

* * *

The lowlight of the trip came as I was enjoying a perfect dry vodka martini at a lounge on a top floor of a swanky hotel overlooking all of Riga. Linda and I attracted the attention of a group of 5 European lads – a Dane, a Dutchman, a Norwegian, a German and a Swede, I believe, all in town for a long weekend BFF getaway. All grown-ups, educated, professionals. The conversation started up pleasant and flirty, rounds were bought, stories shared. Then came My Favorite Question: “Where are you from?” “Russia,” I answered and exhaled, resigned to the upcoming awkwardness and judgment.

The reaction defied all my expectations. “Russia? Russia is so bad. Why is Russia so bad to all other countries? And Putin. Putin is evil, so evil, pure evil. Putin is more evil than Hitler. Hitler really wasn’t that evil actually, he is only viewed as evil because he is culturally misunderstood [um…]. And anyway he only killed 6 million people [sorry, WHAT?!] while Stalin killed 40. And Putin is more evil than Hitler.”

This was the Dane, and he would. Not. Stop. For anything. Linda and I tried to change the subject, to anything else, but he was relentless. No, we have to talk about Russia, we have to talk about Putin. And by talk, he meant rant, never caring about my personal story or history, nor the answers to the questions he posed about Russia — and answered himself a moment later. Even his friends could not rein him in when they finally had enough (and that took awhile, because for the most part they were nodding along). And no, he wasn’t drunk.

It was at that point that I just couldn’t take it anymore, and mumbling some excuse, practically ran away from the table so that I wouldn’t break down in sobs right then and there. I felt the kind of gut-wrenching pain that I did not know words of a total stranger could bring. And yet they did.

* * *

For the rest of my stay in Riga I was Anna, a banker from New York. Everybody ate it up. Everybody loved me. Linda could not believe the change in attitude – except she has been bearing witness to it all for two days.

I was still Anna, a banker from New York, when I arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, the following day. And I was still a very authentic New Yorker on my walking tour of Tallinn, where I got to hear all about how for thousands of years Estonia was a great and prosperous land, until the Russians came and ruined everything. Today everything good you see in Estonia (Tallinn) is Estonian; everything bad is the fault of evil Russia and evil Russians. To be fair, I did get made fun of as an American once – when our bubbly and cheerful guide pointed to a church and said that it’s older than my country. She then smiled widely and told me that they love Americans in Estonia, and Obama was in town two days before, it was all very exciting.

I did not break cover until a nice German struck up a conversation with me over dinner. But that’s a story for another day.

Martini at Sky Bar Riga

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130 thoughts on “ANNA DOES THE BALTICS, or A PRIMER ON RUSSIA HATE

  1. Love the last photo! Aw, what a tedious experience 😦

    I have no idea why people feel compelled to rant on at perfect strangers about their political opinions, based solely on having identified their nationality. Over the course of history, virtually every country either has been or will be in the doghouse at least once, and their saintly patch of home soil could well be next!

  2. Russians only have themselves to blame. as a Russian living overseas I will simply say this: stop complaining. Latvian people are fun, cheerfull and hospitable. for all of the crimes Russia committed against them they are great troopers to have survived it all. and its very noble of them to allow Russians to live on their territories after the fall of soviet union. the problem of us, Russians is that we `ve never recognized our own crimes and never really tried to change. Germans have changed and the world views them positively. If latvia does not recognize certain parts of European history and makes mistakes, the wolrd is not in danger because of their mistakes. Russia, on the other hand, still remains a violent and cruel nation because of our inability to be honest about our own history. as a result, the safety of Europe is now in danger because of us. therefore I am not suprized to see Latvians attitude change for the worst. so put on your big girl panties and stop crying about unfair treatment. yes, sadly, sometimes we have to pay for our ancestors mistakes as well as the crimes of our leaders. we have to accept it and try to change our country for the better.

    to latvians reading this – please dont think that all of us Russians are as bigoted and short sighted a sthis lady. you have a wonderfull country and you have a ccomplished many things. keep up the good work.

    • Myopic view of history never helped anyone, and neither has the twisting of said history. I do think there is very real harm in that, especially when shared by several nations swept up in revisionism and political frenzy, that get them to say stupid shit like Putin is more evil than the man/regime who sent more than 50 million people to their deaths in camps, on battlefields or in occupation.

      • Dear Anna, I’m very sorry you had such a bad experience in Latvia. I would hope that Latvians are beyond blaming people for the sins of their leaders, or beyond blaming individuals for sins of their people. But I know people are only human.
        Also, having grown up in Latvia, I observed how a lot of this… disregard for Russians was evoked by the leaders of Russia themselves. That is what I as a Latvian saw – Putin and his kinship didn’t want Russians in Latvia to live to enjoy their lives. They didn’t want them to become Latvians or Europeans. Rather, they were to serve a higher goal – for Putin. Of course, I cannot deny it has caused the expected deplorable reaction from some “nationalists.”
        I came across the link to your blog through another link, and at first felt I should express my heartfelt sympathies for the bad treatment you got. I still think guests should be treated nicely, without discrimination. But I’m beginning to think it might have been your attitude that caused this. You’re clearly not being objective. How do we know you were when interacting with those people who showed their attitude towards you?
        Hitler didn’t kill 50 million people. That’s the total estimate of people who died in WWII, including the Pacific Front, Germans themselves, and including the “Soviet citizens” Soviet Union killed itself. Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Stalin killed 7 million Ukrainians in Golodomor + 1 million starved to death in Kazakhstan + some 1 million executed for whatever reason + 1 million died in camps + millions of lives ruined in camps. Rough numbers of course. Stalin was as bad as Hitler, it’s just that his crimes weren’t exposed and judged upon so quickly.
        Respect to Maks Tepurov – he sums it up well and seems to understand the source of Latvian collective trauma. Germans were remorseful and created a new, forward-looking identity. The fact that Putin’s Russia hasn’t done that is somewhat frightening. That is the whole problem. We Latvians have Russians friends, and we embrace them. Especially those Latvian Russians who are loyal to their new homeland.
        I hope your experience doesn’t discourage you from visiting Riga again. Who knows, perhaps we can try to have a meaningful discussion on this?

        • Hitler killed 30 millions of people in Soviet Union alone. statistics have been rewritten multiple times in favour of certain countries/people but its true. stalins crimes have always been “increased” by the historians while Hitlers crimes have always been decreased. research the genocide of belarusians (theyve lost one third of their population, having multiple villages burned down to the ground with people in them), Russians, jews etc on the territory of Soviet Union, not to mention the fact that German soldiers were encouraged to rape as many women as they possibly could – all that on top of medical experiments done on children, people sent to work as slaves in Germany (and purchased as slaves on actual markets), multiple schools and colleges burned down with students and teachers in Ukraine (the Ukrainian nationalists are now remving the memorial plates to pretend it never happened), 3.5 million of people in St Petersburg alone starved to death in 100 days as a blocade by the German and Finnsih army… I could go on ad on. its wrong that Russian people dont learn the crimes of their own country, I belive they should – this way they woudl be more understanding of others and I hope it changes one day. But europeans dont learn ANYTHING the Nazis have done in Eastern europe and then drop such ignorant statemnts as yours. and yes teh Soviets were fucked over badly aftt this and did fucked up shit too but its incomparable. still each nation has their own view on history and every view should be respected. Btw I detest Putin with my heart and soul but I do have to admit that the constant twisting of WW2 history in post soviet countries has partly contributed to this antagonism between Russiaand the west.

    • Lol,Russian crimes?Ok let remined the crimes which were made by Baltic states:Lithuanian-Polish invasion of 1612,Occupation of Moscow,Post revolutionary massacres commited by Latvian soldiers and collaboration with Nazis(guarding a Jews consentration camps,massacres of ethnic Russians in Pskov oblast).As you see there are many of them.

      The percon like you already tried to change Russia.As a result we get the crisis of the 90s and almost collapse of the country.

      Well thats why millions of Ukrainians,Belorussians,Kazakhs,Uzbeks,Kyrgyzs,Tajiks,Azerbaijanis,Armenians and Georgians(modern European country blah blah blah) come to Russia as a migrants for low paid works.

      So if you are acting like a pig against another person you can say:your ancestors make something with my country thats why…Right?

      Butthurt of EU integrast detected.Latvians(most part of them)can to accept critic no matter what natianality the authoe of the critic belongs to.

  3. Wow, Anna.
    I do believe your version to be authentic, without any fiction. The aspect that surprises me quite a lot, must say, is that the guide appears to be quite young and in my experience people younger than 30 don’t show as much hatred towards Russians as elder people actually do.

    And every time I meet someone who is able to perform those kind of statements I honestly feel embarrassed for them.

    • Linda is my truth-checker here; she said she wouldn’t have believed this had she not been literally by my side for those two days.
      Both guides – in Riga and Tallinn – were in their early 20s, but the Latvian one was decidedly more defensive and aggressive toward Russians. The Estonian had a touch of self-deprecating humor about her.

  4. Ugh, that sucks, although I can’t say I’m surprised. The history in that area with regards to Russia is rarely sparkly.

    The treatment you received reminds me of every. single. time. I went out clubbing here in Moscow. There was always a Russian who COULD NOT drop the omgimperialistamerican conversation. So… upside? There are short-sighted jerks everywhere.

    • That blows, but it also makes me think about how much current context affects the conversation: were you here in the 90s, you’d have been one step from being a saint / Beyonce-level celebrity just for being an American. It was a total cult. It is beyond striking how this changed in just over a decade.

  5. That Dane sounds absolutely crazy! I would have run away long before you did.

    When I was first in Germany for my year abroad (so still taking German lessons), around the time of Reunification Day we had a class where everyone had to talk about their national holidays. With a bunch of Americans and a few Africans in the class, a large percentage were celebrating independence from Britain. It wasn’t long before the lesson turned into a discussion of “those evil Brits trying to take over the entire world!”. Thankfully the teacher put a stop to it failry quickly, but I’m always glad things like that rarely happen to me – we were on the winning side so people tend to turn a blind eye to our various atrocities.

    • That’s interesting, I havent heard stories about Brits being called out on the imperialist past before, in social conversations. In the US at least there’s this infatuation with all things British, plus the generally superior attitude of “we won.” Maybe that’s why Russians are a lot less touchy about Germans than Americans and Brits, despite WW2 being the defining part of history for the nation.

      • It doesn’t happen very often. I put it down to the specific combination of nationalities in this class. I’m sure there are still plenty of Africans that resent the European powers that had colonies there.

        With the independence vote this year, I read a LOT of hateful comments from Scottish people about the English.

        • No, I mean… I am aware of it, Russians are ALL about it, but rarely am I in a non-Russian social situation where Britain/someone from Britain gets called out on it. Actually, personally I have never been in one.

          • I think I have told you that before, but even though Russians have every reason to harbor the most vicious animosity toward the Germans of all other nations, it is probably the European country viewed most favorably at the moment. Like, Nazis = bad, we kicked their asses, Hitler Kaput — but Germans, Kohl, Merkel? They’re cool, we get it, we get each other, peace and partnerships forever. Not at all how Americans and Brits are viewed right now.

          • Vicious animosity? But why? My grandmother is 82, she was a child during the war. None of the actual perpetrators are left alive, and subsequent generations have made (and are still making) a huge effort to make amends. If there is still that much resentment among younger generations of Russians, it strikes me that it must be some kind of ‘displacement anger’…

          • Russians do live in history, in a way, for many, MANY reasons (which I’d rather transfer to private gmail discussions), and it would be rather patronizing to tell them not to, to get over it and move on, considering the losses of the nation. What’s interesting is that they’re more willing to overlook the ‘sins of our fathers’ when it comes to the Germans and the French, with whom they’ve fought epic, devastating wars, than that of the Brits and Americans, with whom little “direct” blood was shed – ever.

          • That’s an interesting observation… I’d never thought about it like that. But then again, I can’t claim to know how Russians feel about anything. That’s what I’ve got you for 😉

          • If I am the standard than here’s the summary: we like pork, beer and anything deep-fried. we don’t like shrimp and stupid, ignorant people.

  6. Hate is coward’s revenge for a fear experienced. Regretfully our proud nation really contains lots of them cowards. You were just unlucky to meet some of them. Meanwhile most of Latvians live and work in mixed (Latvian-Russian) circumstances and make mixed babies. And babies aren’t products of hate ya kno… 😉 😀
    So next time you take a courage to visit our great, proud and independent empire drop a line on couchsurfing.org. I am sure that lots of nice and lovely Latvians will offer you their company. 😉

  7. Neighbors always seem to hate one another at one point or another. In the U.S.,. Marylanders can’t stand Pennsylvania peeps. Californians make fun of Oregonians, Then, internationally we know about the Brits and the French, or the Brits and the Irish, and then there are the Scots…Here in Serbia, it is the hate of all the close countires that are Muslim, Turkey, Albania…. I am quite surprised as an American I don’t get more hate than others since we bombed this region less than 20 years ago. When I travel, I have often pretended to be Canadian! Glad you had a great time with Linda! I am jealous! I can’t wait to hear about her adventures in Russia or yours in Germany. 🙂

    • I think in Serbia it is NATO that is held cumulatively responsible for the 1990s campaigns, rather than the US on its own. By the way, I visited the Balkans, including Serbia, a month and a half ago, and I will have things to say about that when I get around to recapping THAT trip, probably in 2017 😉

  8. Many colonial powers have committed great atrocities in their colonial lands… in the case of USA and Australia, even continent wide genocides, or in the case of Germany, World War and holocaust.

    The difference between this and situation with Russia vs Latvia and the deportations and humiliations Latvians experienced (and many of these people are still alive today) is that all of those countries have apologized for what they did and condemned the perpetrators. Russia, on the other hand, glorifies Stalin, and insists that by invading Latvia in WWII it actually “liberated” it. Even today politicians in Latvia who are Russian insist on it, because this view caters to their voter base. This is an insult that just keeps on and will keep on generating hate – as you have noticed, even into the next generation of people.

    Its not just hate, its anger about what could have been. If Russia wanted to, it could be one of the most developed countries in the world. It could be like Norway. Imagine how amazing it would be to Latvians if they could live next to a gigantic Norway. Instead Russia is what it is, and its imperial ambitions keep pushing Latvians towards EU, eurozone, NATO and USA, where most Latvians don’t even want to be, but are left with no choice.

    Until Russians are capable of making peace with their dark past, condemning genocide they commited, condemning invasion of neighboring countries, condemning war criminals instead of calling them war heroes, attitudes of Eastern Europeans towards Russians and Russia are not going to change. And don’t say its just Latvians – from my experience attitudes in the eastern block are identical, just vary from person to person you meet.

    • well, here’s a point of fact: it is not Russia’s past, per se. It is the Soviet past. However much the Russian part was at the center of it, Russians themselves have suffered just as much at the hands of the most brutal aspects of the regime – including political executions, starvation and concentration camps (including my own family). It wasnt Russians doing bad things to everyone but the Russians. It was a regime brutal to everyone, and whose most brutal leader – and his second in command, the Himmler to Stalin’s Hitler – weren’t actually Russians even by a long-shot, yet actual Russians are the ones held responsible for their crimes.

      • And Germans didn’t suffer from Hitler’s regime? Germans can make exactly the same claim – it wasn’t Germans and Germany who did all those atrocities, it was Nazi’s and their Nazi state. The number of excuses to make up is neverending – just look at the excuses coming out of Turks denying armenian genocide. 1 million people dead and they basically did it to themselves!

        Its exactly this kind of attitude that gets us nowhere. The reality is, the Soviet Union is just another name for Russian Empire. Soviet WWII war heroes are today’s Russia’s war heroes. The Soviet victory in WWII is today’s Russia’s victory and is celebrated as such. It was a regime that was pro-russian through and through, and it implemented a policy of russification, kind of like what China is doing with Tibet today.

        All of this is the past and can be forgiven, but…

        One day I met this old Latvian man. When the Red Army invaded Latvia, oh sorry, liberated it from Germany, his father was shot in his house. They were civilians, and the Russian soldiers just came to loot the house. He saw his father getting shot, and he had to hide in a forest hideout after that. His father’s property was nationalized by the state and an unrelated Russian family moved in there until independence was restored and he could get it back.

        Oh, but it gets better. I thought about this, that guy who shot his father. He could very well still be alive. Living in some apartment in some Russian city, receiving his war hero pension, hanging his medals and kids giving him flowers in May 9th and thanking him for saving them!

        Oh, but it gets EVEN better. Instead of living in some Russian city, he could very well be living in Riga, receiving his war hero pension from Russia (yes, they do that), and Russian kids would be giving him flowers on May 9th in “Victory Park” right in the center of the town, and the guy who had his father shot – he could go watch!! And if he protests? The Russians standing there – they could just call him a Russophobe and a Nazi supporter.

        Its like the ultimate insult anybody could theoretically think of.

        Нас вырастил Сталин — на верность народу,
        На труд и на подвиги нас вдохновил!

        – reads the inscription in Kurskaya metro station.

        • German-Germans were never exterminated by their regime en masse. Simply never happened. Nazi was a political group that a lot of Germans belonged to, and that domestically persecuted their political and ethnic opposition, plus groups that were “the others” – Jews, communists, gypsies, handicapped – but not their own people, so to speak. Stalin and Beria was Georgians! Who have killed off, more often than not indiscriminately, millions of all ethnicities as part of a national terror campaign.

          The Soviet regime was soooo pro-Russian, that it sent to labor camps, imprisoned and executed millions of ethnic Russians, from the military, peasantry, nobility, intelligentsia, and workers’ class. The logic is infallible.

    • Also, I don’t see the UK apologizing for still owning the islands at the bottom of South Frigging American continent, or US apologizing for Iraq 2003, Iran coup and regime change in half of Latin America.

      • But they, but they, but they… a classic Russian response.

        If you didn’t notice, the Argentinians hate the UK, and Iraqis, Iranians and half of Latin America hates the USA to the point where US tourists in these countries sometimes have to fake being other nationalities. A path that has led nowhere, just like the attitude you have presented here simply fuels more and more Russophobia.

        • Oh yes, the Russians are guilty of “whataboutism.” How horrible! This is the favorite indictment of countries that want to live by one set of standards and rules, but hold everyone else to another.

    • I also don’t remember Germans apologizing to Latvians for 7 centuries of slavery or Latvians apologizing to Russians for mass slaughters of Lenin’s enemies.
      But all-in-all I can’t understand how stupid one must be to blame Russian-American tourist in Soviet occupation or in Ukraine conflict. I’d call such a person not only stupid but also insecure and miserable.

  9. Don’t even dare to touch the Danes! In April, I have spent 3 weeks on a Danish research vessel among some 40 Danes. This was when events in Ukraine already unfolded. Yet not a single bad word was said to me albeit everyone knew that I was born and grew up in Russia. For all the negative reception that Russians get abroad and that Anna described and protested, Russians can only blame themselves and their leaders. Well, they deserve one another. Unlike Germans, Brits, and Americans, neither USSR, nor contemporary Russia has ever apologized for anything. No repentance, no forgiveness. Sorry, Anna.

      • Just the same with your decision not to discuss your personal viewpoint on the politics of Russia in the comments section of this blog and then again piteously discussing other people’s political opinion on Russia/Russians.

        • I am not discussing politics or a political topic. I am describing my personal, specific travel experience – and this was a huge part of my personal experience in the Baltics. The conversation about politics was brought to me, despite my wishes, and however much I try to abstain from anything related to it overall, I would be doing a disservice to my readers, as well as sacrificing personal integrity if I omitted a defining element of this trip and went on to present a whitewashed experience of balsams-drinking and art nouveau architecture tour.

          Btw, nowhere in the post nor the comments do I condone/condemn Russia’s current foreign politics, and only respond to the political issues brought up by the commenters, which in this context is fair game.

          I also do think it is important to point out when there is an obvious highly biased interpretation or even a false recap of history being stated, such as reducing a number of regime’s victims by a factor of 10, or comparing expansionist geopolitical ambitions of Russia’s current president (even if you accept Russia’s fault in every conflict of the last decade and a half and take the highest estimate of deaths in all of them and blame them ALL on Russia) to systematic extermination of millions of civilians and deeming the latter more innocuous.

  10. I am so sorry that you get this everywhere you go. And that you can’t even escape it in comments here.

    At least you got a fun martini to make up for it?

  11. Sorry to hear you had to go through this, it’s annoying when someone judges an entire country based on its leaders (who people may or may not agree with) or its past. Or in some cases, a minority, but that’s another story. I do hope the rest of the trip was better, I would love to visit these countries soon and I’m interested to see what you thought of them, political views aside. 🙂

    • There is a Russian expression, “ujma vpechatlenij”, which translates loosely as “a whole lot of impressions.” I spent just 5 days in the Baltics but the takeaway, the impact, was huge, from history and architecture to food and nature. I would recommend this to everyone (esp non-Russians 😉 )

  12. Really, really interesting read. I really like the Baltics but their treatment of Russian residents is awful, as you correctly point out. Riga even has a Russian majority and yet the government will not grant Russian co-official language status. When I was in Lithuania, no-one wanted to speak Russian to us at all, but no-one could speak English or German very well, so they were forced to – but they were not happy about it!

    P.S. You know Estonia recently erected a statue to the Estonians who fought in WWII for ‘freedom’ alongside the Nazis? The statue was in full Nazi uniform and the EU ordered them to take it down a few days later.

    • Russia has 144 million inhabitants. Latvia has almost 2. Estonia has 1.3. You retract the rough 15-25% of the Russian speakers in LVA and EST who refuse to learn the State language hence lack the citizenship and add the magnetism of the ever-present Russian media. Then you judge these two midgets for trying to maintain a cultural phenomenon called Latvian and Estonian languages that would otherwise become extinct. Just like Prussian has.
      But before you rush to any judgement – some independent researches prove that it is the “indigenous” people in Latvia who are more discriminated at work. For not knowing Russian. If you decide to challenge me on this, I’ll look it up.
      I mean, we’re just trying to keep our culture alive. And at no expense to others.
      John, if you ever speak about Latvians and Estonians being Nazis, you should really revisit your history – for that would have been an oxymoron, at least for Germans. Furthermore, if you come from UK, you should shut up – in WWII, it was your country among others that failed Latvians and made them make the deal with the devil. If you ever care, try to watch this one. The truth about the legionaries.

      • Eliza, firstly I apologise if I offended you with my comments – that wasn’t my intention. As you point out, I’m British, so fairly ‘neutral’ in all this, but I must say I do worry that Russians are treated as second-class citizens in the Baltic States today, (even though many were born in Latvia or Estonia.)

        Regardless of politics, if 25% of a country speak a different language, it’s my belief this language should be given political recognition, to ease tensions in the country and to give equality. (Latvian and Estonian are protected by the EU and so they will definitely not die out – and any comparisons to Prussian are a bit far-fetched.)

        Latvians also do not need to “keep their culture alive” – it is no longer under threat – and certainly subduing Russian residents in the country will do nothing to help.

        As for my comment about the statue in Estonia, I was trying to point out how cultural memory changes sides over time – once Germans were “the enemy” and now it seems many believe it to be the Russians instead. I am also well aware what Churchill’s actions at the Yalta conference meant for the Baltic States, and I discussed it at length at the Occupation Museum in Riga when I visited, so please don’t assume I am ignorant about Britain’s role in European history.

        I hope that clears some things up for you.

        • It’s your belief… Well, maybe you shouldn’t have beliefs about things you don’t understand. If Russian language was acknowledged as a co-language (which we had a vote for, and majority voted NO! ) then Russian speakers would have even less reasons to learn Latvian language. What happens then ? We simply lose another language.

          And where the hell did you get that Russians are treated as a second class citizens ? How does that look in real life ? We reject their ideas about joining Russian empire ? Or reject the idea of leaving the EU in favor of aligning to Russia ?

          • Of course the majority voted no, when the majority is Latvians. It boggles my mind that you can be a citizens of a country you’re living in (USSR), then wake up one morning and – not be. And still not be more than 20 years later. Not being able to run for a political office, for one, thus being able to influence the circumstance of your constituency.

        • John, thank you for the clarification – I believe you didn’t intend to offend me or anyone else. I’m sorry if I sounded too tense.

          But you know what – I think I’m going to run for an office one day, and I’m going to make my slogan “Hands off our Russians!”. We embrace the added value they give to our political, cultural life and economy. We certainly don’t treat them as second class citizens – give me one example were we do! The truth is, in everyday life, we can’t even tell the difference. In politics, we have so many of them, people forget they’ve ever been “Russians.”

          If your only example of maltreatment is Russian not being the official language – then again – we come to the same old issue. The Baltic States were occupied, forced under a foreign rule, and consequently, against all the international rules, subject to a civilian colonisation. This at no point, as I believe, was the fault of the people resettled, who went to the Baltic States in the full belief they were moving within their own country. Nor their descendants. Still, it doesn’t mean it was all justified or that the Baltic nations should just accept the fact of being overtaken, just as Stalin intended that!
          Instead, now as we have restored the previous borders and citizenship (which included the “Russians” living in Latvia before 1940 and their descendants), it is only natural that we undo the damage as much as we can, with the least harm to the people. Which is – allow all these good people to live and prosper in Latvia (where they are very much welcome) and learn the bloody Latvian! Why should Latvians give something up again because they were violated and deprived of their sovereignty in the first place?
          Have you ever been to Latvia? Up until the very last generation sprung up – whenever there were 5 Latvians and one Russian, the group would be speaking Russian. That’s the sort of magnetism Latvians lack(ed). And Russian always had.
          No one is forbidding them to speak Russian. God forbid. It’s just the respect for the home country. You’d want every immigrant to UK to have it too, no?
          I love my Russians. But I prefer to call them Latvians. If that’s what they want their passports to say.
          I also don’t believe we’re looking for enemies. It’s just Putin’s revisionist policies makes us ALL wonder.

        • John, my chime in is so late that it is of token value at best.
          However, the issues continue to be important.

          “As you point out, I’m British, so fairly ‘neutral’ in all this, but I must say I do worry that Russians are treated as second-class citizens in the Baltic States today, (even though many were born in Latvia or Estonia.)”

          First of all, british can hardly be called neutral. Not even scots, scots could be compared to finns. Balts and estonians would be like welsh perhaps.

          Secondly, it is an annoying habit to write Russians with the capital R. Capital Russians denote the citizenship of the Russian Federation, while small caps russians denote ethnic russians – at least those are the rules taught in Estonia and I am aware that many people elsewhere might have different customs. Russians with the large caps (Russians) are most certainly treated as foreign citizens – because they are. Russians with small caps are treated as any other non-native immigrants, be it ukrainians, georgians, finns, poles, germans, whoever. All immigrants have to legalise themselves in the country they reside in, otherwise they would continue to be illegal immigrants. It does not matter how many occupation years any colonist has lived in the Baltics, what matters is how many years they have lived within independent Baltics. And other requirements are just part of the due process of getting the citizenship, just as in any other country. Citizenship-by-birth is not a universal human right, citizenship-by-inheritance takes precedence.

          “Regardless of politics, if 25% of a country speak a different language, it’s my belief this language should be given political recognition, to ease tensions in the country and to give equality.”

          That is a very chauvinistic point of view, in my opinion. Basically it would open up hijacking any country or any region just by occupying and colonising it and then annexing it. The proper citizens of any state have to retain their rights to decide on those matters. Citizenship is not a human right, it is a responsibility – one that can only carried out if said person is an expert on state matters and proficient at the state language(s).

          “(Latvian and Estonian are protected by the EU and so they will definitely not die out – and any comparisons to Prussian are a bit far-fetched.)”

          EU by itself does not protect any nation. In fact, the Schengen space threatens the future of smaller nations.
          Any nation is in danger if their share in the local population falls below 90%, so even lithuanians are not out of the woods yet.

          Alternatively, one could annually observe the indicator of the share of natives in the state, whether it increases towards the 90% goal or recedes towards oblivion.

          [Latvians also do not need to “keep their culture alive” – it is no longer under threat – and certainly subduing Russian residents in the country will do nothing to help.]

          That is just rubbish.
          The vast majority of languages (I seem to recall about 95%) of the world are under threat of dying out. It is always a struggle, save for english, russian, german, spanish, french, latin, chinese, arabic.

          [As for my comment about the statue in Estonia, I was trying to point out how cultural memory changes sides over time – once Germans were “the enemy” and now it seems many believe it to be the Russians instead.]

          The statue actually did NOT wear any nazi symbols, the case was reviewed by the “semiotics school” of Yuri Lotman at the University of Tartu.

          • I’ll only weigh in to say that in English, anything pertaining to a country or a nationality (incl. the language) should be capitalized in all cases.

          • I really don’t agree with any of the comments you have raised here I have to admit, but I don’t have much interest in resurrecting a closed discussion. The only thing I do wish to add is that all denonyms are capitalised in English, whether referring to ethnicity or nationality. As you point out, I am British and a native English speaker so I think we can at least both agree I am right about this.

            I’d also like to add that your notion of 90% “ethnic purity” of a nation would be laughable if it weren’t such a dangerously fascist idea. But – like I said – I’ve no interest in prolonging this discussion.

            Let’s just agree that the Baltics is a beautiful region (and one I like very much).

      • A very good informative film that defines the dilemma of Latvian people in the middle of two larger countries at war.

  13. oh Anna but Russians only have themselves to blame. If you guys cant apologize, at least have the decency not to repeat crimes you had already committed. after occupying half of eastern europe after WW2 you went ahead and did this to Ukraine as well. you ve made your bed now sleep in it.

      • a few people above me made similiar comments. its not just generalizing. yes us westerners did fucked up shit too. and a lot of our crimes have been swept under the rug. In particular my country Austria has committed crimes against Ukrainians for which I dont remember anyone blaming us. you know why? because we got over it and changed. how about Russians stop building the so called “Russian world” in occupied territories and build their own country instead? I feel bad for the decent people who may get the backlash but as someone who works for Putins propaganda channel you probably deserve it.

        • If I were attacked for my job and whatever it stands for, it’d be fine enough. But these people had no idea about it. Just my nationality – like the nationality of millions of Russians of millions of families who were persecuted by the same regime but now have to apologize for it to other people? I cant even bother with this lack of logic.

          Good for you for “getting over” Austria being complicit in starting the Holocaust and WW2 as Germany’s #1 partner. You know, maybe that’s a good attitude – whatever someone else doesnt like about USSR and Russia, I’m over it, it’s their problem.

        • Also, it is absurdly hilarious and frightening at the same time that you can say with a straight face, “hey, how awesome do Austrians have it? we killed millions of people but nobody blames us!” It’s not because you “got over it” but because in the public conscience that blame was transferred onto Germany – and still is , in any WW2-related discussion.

          • when I said we re over it I meant we are no longer acting as if we could do this again to anyone and so nobody is afraid of us. as for you….. what have you achieved with this occupation? what are the benefits of it? your country became an outsider and will most likely fall apart within the next few years. zato krym vash….

      • I dont think these attitudes help anyone.
        Funny enough, when in the next post I was saying nice things about Latvia and Riga, a bunch of Latvians got upset that I was whitewashing their horrible existence. Damned if you do…

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  15. Pingback: Gosh! Riga in Latvia is gorgeous: 10 reasons to go there right now! | The British Berliner

  16. Seems that you met not so pleasant and kind wrong side of Latvia, but as latvian who works in hotel as administrator I can say just one thing- alot of Russian tourists acts like douchebags and kings of the world (and not only them- lot of Germans too and others 😉 ) and that can make opinion about russians really wrong, and from one side- seams that You are one of those persons too- you didn’t even tried to find good things (persons) here, but somehow as you heard first bad opinion start to think that everything in Latvia is anti-russian.

    It’s not like that- we are really proud nation and just don’t like that other nations, especially neighbors, think of us as lower nation.

    I could write about history and every other reason why in Latvia everything goes like that, not different way and bla bla bla 😉 but hope, that you’ll come to Latvia again and see something more of Latvia not just Riga, because country side of Latvia is more gorgeous than cities 🙂
    And yes- Latvians are douchebags too and our favorite dessert is others latvians, but still we love to share with our tradition- so next time plan your travel to Latvia at Midsummer time- believe me- you’ll love that! 🙂

    • I do think that tourists in general could be an obnoxious bunch – Russian in Latvia or US, American in Russia or France, Everyone Everywhere. The issue with my situation was – if you read this piece in full, you will see – that I wasnt just reacting to the first bad situation in Riga, but to a series of bad incidents.

      And if you read my blog further, you will also see that despite those interactions I had quite a lovely experience in Latvia, in fact writing this: https://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/lovely-riga-or-lindas-latvia-lies-exposed/ . And not just Latvia, but the Baltics in general, where I had an amazing 5 days, as evidenced by posts like this https://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/tallinns-unexpected-culinary-adventure/, this https://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/rigas-remarkable-art-nouveau/ and this https://gohomeandaway.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/estonias-gorgeous-countryside/.

      • Than think- maybe series of bad incidents where happening because of yours attitude, because I don’t know any Latvian who will attack just because you’ll say that you’re from Russia.

        One of reasons why in Latvia someone could attack- is saying that you completely support president which threatened attack their fatherland and restore USSR.

        That topic is kind tabu these days 😉

        And yes- I read those articles.

        • I had no attitude: literally the first interaction of the morning was the tour guide whose whole approach to Riga’s history was “Russians/Soviets did lots of bad stuff and let’s talk about that for 2 hours, and the Germans did some bad stuff too but we won’t talk about that stuff because we love the Germans.” I said nothing. You know who called her out on her biases? TWO GERMAN TOURISTS in the group! And things like that were happening throughout the trip, down to personal attacks without me EVER bringing up politics or history or anything of the sort. Just where I was from. Was my experience unique? Maybe. But it was my experience, and it was very real and very unpleasant.

  17. Anna, I do feel sorry you had such a painful start of your Baltic trip. Actually there’s quite a lot of things done by Russians that constitute contemporary charm of Riga (Mikhail Eisenstein not the least among them) and as surely quite a lot of things we, Latvians, have messed up by ourselves. But, believe me, the lives of both Latvians and Russians of Latvia would get much, much easier and the tension between us so much less if there wasn’t a president in a neighbouring country (let’s not mention names so you don’t get offended or hurt again) that regards the collapse of USSR as the ‘greatest historical tragedy’ and dreams of re-creating it (empire, not tragedy). That, as nothing else, keeps the history VERY much alive for us here.
    As to the history of this region, I can only advise anyone to read Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands”. He’s not Latvian, you know, so he shouldn’t be biased :).

  18. Wow, I just read some of the comments you received on here for the first time and I’m really sorry you have to deal with all this just for posting about your experience.

    On to brighter things – our meeting in Moscow and ALL OF THE PELMENI!

    • I knew what I was getting into, posting this 🙂 It’s sort of a lose-lose, because both sides have valid points, and both sides have their own history and their own numbers, as ridiculous as that might sound (how many times do simple events, even body counts, get revised?), so there’s no way to find a peaceful balance (btw, Russians feel very much historically eff-ed over by the Balts as well, we just won the LAST battle, so to speak). I think perhaps why Russians and Germans tend to actually get along well now – look forward, interact as PEOPLE, find ways to cooperate, rather than rehash history, which rarely plays out well for anyone.

  19. Wow- “Fun fact: ethnic Russians in Latvia are often relegated to the status of second class citizens, or rather not citizens at all.”

    Stopped reading the blog after this line. This is so ignorant, please, stop talking nonsense, if you don’t have any idea about the actual situation. The actual situation in Latvia is as follows – The younger generation finds it hard to find a job, because you need to know the Russian language. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know Latvian, all that matter is that you know Russian, because the “old ladies”, having spent most of their lives in Latvia, still don’t understand Latvian. You really pissed me off with that sentence, I’m actually “boiling inside now”.

    • It’s a fact that on the last count, more than 40% of ethnic Russians living in Latvia didn’t have Latvian citizenship, and most of them were in the country before the collapse of the USSR (another fun fact: Soviet citizens couldn’t move freely within the USSR, so most who came to the Baltics were actually relocated there on government orders, for work or military service).

      • So, Anna, tell me. How about those Latvians who were pressured to leave Latvia and live in USSR – they were in USSR before it collapsed. Did they not have to learn Russian language?! They did! Before and after! For obvious reasons.
        Ignorance does not absolve from responsibility.
        Would You ever have idea to go to US and not learn English? You simply couldn’t find a job or communicate at all. Same goes for moving to every other place in the world.
        Those people who weren’t satisfied with the situation when USSR collapsed and when Latvia regained independence, could have easily moved back to Russia were their native language and culture was cherished and loved.
        It’s not like there people didn’t understand that they are living in another country with it’s own language and culture.
        I do not consider that attitude towards You was acceptable. It’s not. And i’m sorry for that. I hope Your lucky to visit Latvia again and meet some nicer people.

        But please don’t defend people who still simply doesn’t respect the place where they live.
        Regardless from where they are.
        Unfortunately the most of these examples in Latvia You can see from etnic Russians or Latvians (i do feel that it would be more appropriate to call them) that are born in Latvia but comes from Russian families and are brought up with this ”we are huge country, we don’t need to learn Latvian regardless we have been living here for our whole lives” attitude.
        These ”Latvians” won’t move to Russia because there’s nothing there for them, and won’t integrate in the country they’re living in. Obviously there will be anger about this from the people who are actualy loyal to their country.

        • “How about those Latvians who were pressured to leave Latvia and live in USSR – they were in USSR before it collapsed. Did they not have to learn Russian language?! They did! ” So what you’re saying is, your standard for how to treat people in modern Latvia is the Soviet Union? Good enough for USSR then, good enough for Latvia today? I love the logic. Also, a statement like “could have easily moved back to Russia” is SO ignorant – these were people with families, jobs, communities, A LIFE there. And again, they didn’t just move there of their own free will. Yes, I moved English when I moved to the US. When my family CHOSE to move there.

      • it is crucial to remember that 25 years ago Latvia did not declare the independence but restored it. There is a difference. Latvia was declared independent 1918 when all the inhabitants of Latvia no matter their etnicity, religion, social status became citizens, including thousands of Russians living here. 1940 the Baltic countries were occupied by Soviet Union. And it is crucial – unlike the other Soviet Republics the three Baltic States were NEVER part of Soviet Union but were independet countries occupied BY Soviet Union. They had their exile goverments in US, the gold reserves were locked in Britain waiting for the independence to be restored etc When it finally happened the citizens of the independent Latvia before the Soviet occupation ans their children got citizenship automatically, The ones who immigrated in Latvia from Soviet Union and their children were given the choice to become citizens if they wanted, they just needed to apply for it and in a special exam prove their skills of the latvian language. 140 000 did it and are now citizens of Latvia. some 40 000 decided to become Russian and not Latvian citizens, but 290 000 still haven’t decided for some reason to use the opportunity ans rights to become citizens of the country they live in and therefore are not citizens but it is important – they can become citizens if they want.

      • Well, even if you ARE relocated to a place where you know live mostly people who talk some local language, it is, I think, a matter of politeness to learn at least basics. When Latvians (Estonians, Tatars, whatever) where “relocated” to Siberia, they quickly learned Russian, the age notwithstanding. You live in America and don’t, I think, feel humiliated to talk English. Why should someone living in Latvia feel humiliated to talk Latvian? But, for some reason there still is a part of Russians in Latvia who think it is ‘normal’ for them to speak Russian, but ‘nationalistic’ – when Latvians want to speak Latvian. Could you, please, explain me that? Because there are more people in the world speaking Russian? So what? The more reason for us to try to protect our ‘small’ (comparatively, there are much smaller in the world) language…

        • When those Russians (or other Soviets) WERE relocated, the language everywhere was Russian, right? So the choice for a bunch of people was learn a new language in not-so-young age, or leave the place that’s become home for years or decades.

          • Anna, history is complicated here. No doubt. Wars, occupations, deportations. You can see it in the comment section yourself. 1991 after 50 years of totalitarian rule and oppresion we learned to become democratic and free again. Many thought we’ll fail like Russia just did. But from all the former Soviet Republics, I think you will agree, we in the Baltics succeeded most. But that was not alway easy. Early 90ties things were tense, there were people who thougt that those Soviet citizens who immigrated here during Soviet times should leave because according to Fourth Geneva Convention it is prohibited to move people to Occupied territories, accordingly these peoples here were illegaly. But most realised that the many Russian, Ukrainian Bielorussian people now living here had nowhere to go, they also could not be blamed for Stalin’s crimes, and themselves were victims of history like us. There was more understanding among people than you think. So instead of whining about history Latvians streched friendly hand to local Russians to create tollerant society where rights of individuals are respected – laws were passed that allow everyone to become citizens if they want. But yes – they must want it and like free people show the will to become part of this country where life and destiny has brought them. To learn the language of the country shows respect and loyality and is minimum requirement. And today in many countries in the world Germany, Australia etc you need to speak language of the country to become citizen. For older people the requirenments for language are easier than others. State organises language courses for free and helps in different ways. Latvians did their part. So Russian people should also do their part – stop whining about having to learn the language, and just do it, stop whining about now having citizenship – and just get it, like so many have done. Mayor of Riga now is Russo-Latvian, MPs from number of parties are Russo-Latvians. The state finances the minority schools where their children can learn in native language but also learn Latvian.There are many mixed marriages. We have state financed Russian theater in Riga, so you can live good life in Riga as Russian. And despite history we get along very well. Therefore unlike in other former Soviet Republics where Russians en masse left and returned to Russia after the collapse of USSR, relatively few Baltic Russians returned to Russia. And even more – , there are Russians that are now escaping upheavals of Putin’s Russia and find refuge in peaceful, beautiful Latvia 🙂

      • Did you know that ‘evil-latvians’ voted in a referendum FOR changes in the citizenship law that would grant automatic citizenship to all ‘non-citizen’ children born after 1996?

        Also, do you know, what being a ‘non-citizen’ really entails? The only difference between a Latvian ‘citizen’ and Latvian ‘non-citizen’ is, that they can’t vote. In every other aspect ‘citizens’ and ‘non-citizens’ are equal and have equal rights in Latvia. Other countries may treat ‘citizens’ and ‘non-citizens’ differently for travel purposes, hence, ‘non-citizens’ don’t need a visa to travel to Russia as opposed to ‘citizens’. This is also one of the reasons why often ‘non-citizens’ who have relatives in Russia choose not to acquire citizenship.

        Fun fact. Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union. According to international law, population transfers could have been ‘reversed’ upon restoration of independence. Instead, the re-established Latvian Republic allowed people who are affected by this to stay and acquire citizenship if they learn the language. Wow, how inhuman!

        • First of all, nowhere do I say ‘evil Latvians,’ let’s go easy on the hyperbole. Second, not being able to vote in a country where you’ve lived for decades is kind of a BIG EFFING DEAL, especially in the country that touts its democratic credentials at every turn. Voting is a primary tool of social and political agency.

          • Fair enough. Can I go to Russia, stay there for a decade and be awarded voting rights without passing any citizenship exams? Will it be awarded just like that?

          • >.< I'm saying it's the lack of citizenship that is problematic, and there is a difference between you choosing to move to Russia of your free will, and already living somewhere (most likely a decision you have had no hand in), being a citizen of A country, and suddenly not being a citizen of anywhere at all unless you're willing and able to meet a set of preconditions just so that you could have the same rights as everyone else.

          • Exactly. There is a difference between me moving on my free will to Russia and an occupying nation carrying out deportations and population transfers.

            The funny part is, public meaning research shows that most non-citizens are not exactly willing to have the citizenship because of multiple reasons:
            1) They don’t care.
            2) They like to travel to Russia without visas.
            3) They don’t recognize the legitimacy of Latvian Republic.

            Why would these people be ‘made’ into having the citizenship?

          • OMG dude, when did I EVER condone what the SU did, when did I ever say, in this post or this whole thread, that the Baltics weren’t occupied by it? But the Balts werent the only ones who suffered from it. In essence, the non-Balts in Europe are the ones paying for what the SU did but they themselves had no control over and the Balts are saying “too bad.”

  20. There is a war in Europe. It affects us all. It would be strange to expect for the business to continue as usual after something like this, war is horrible, we know it, it kills people, destroys homes, poisons relationships among peoples and nations. We did not want the war, but now we have it, and that is very sad. Good thing is that you don’t live in Ukraine and your suffering in Riga was nothing compared with what people in Ukraine are now going through. Baltic people are now on edge. We are afraid, there is no way to deny it. Our freedom is very dear to us and the idea that we might loose it again is painful even to think about. Knowing our history I think our anti-putin sentiment is quite understandable. He just invaded another neighbour country – again. So forgive us for being…

    • I take no offense at any anti-Putin sentiment (it’s like… get in line). It’s that anti-Putin hostility is transferred to ordinary Russians (25% of all foreign visitors to Latvia, more than Estonians and Lithuanians combined – that’s no small change).

      • First of all, I’m sorry you did not feel welcome in Riga.
        Second, I don’t know how much time have you spent in the US, but I must tell that the communication culture is completely different between Eastern Europe and “the West”. People are used to speak out their opinions, as well as used to others speaking out.
        Being half-Latvian (and half-Russian, by the way), from what I read, you personally were never treated with hostility (to Eastern European standards). It’s you identifying yourself with Russia that made you feel uncomfortable. Putin and Russia are all over the news, every day, and, rightfully or not, many people are scared shitless of that country, and it’s constantly in their minds. You mention being Russian – they play the association game and speak out. I bet in most cases it was not meant to be personal.
        Yes, Latvian people are pain in the ass to communicate with, they speak without thinking and like to take their political views to the extremes. Just use google translate, find a Latvian news article on Russia, language law, gay rights, May 9th celebration or things like that, and check the comment section :). But on other hand, they are honest. You don’t need to guess what they think or what they’re up to. They will tell you everything right away, and most often with great deal of exaggeration.
        If you ever decide to come back to Latvia again, my best advice would be – do not question peoples political views and beliefs, don’t play the devil’s advocate, don’t try to convince them of the opposite. Just observe, try understanding the reasons for such extreme thinking and enjoy the ride in their odd, f*cked up minds. And most of all: don’t take anything, that is not addressed to you directly, personally.

        • Thank you for the support 🙂
          Here’s the thing though – I didnt really argue with anyone or try to prove my point or defend Russia or anything of the sort, because I really just didnt even want to engage on the issue while on vacation. Several times I even asked people to change the subject, but they wouldn’t. So I was sort of stuck. I might stick around to being American for a bit 🙂

      • Anna is it your desire to gain clicks and posts to improve your web presence that has motivated you to use such a title “A PRIMER ON RUSSIA HATE”? That title plays in to the hands of Russian propaganda that has the purpose to expand and occupy other countries. Putin explicitly communicated that he gives greater priority to Russian citizens in other countries than to the sovereign borders of those countries. There will always be Russians in other countries. I would like to suggest ‘A PRIMER ON THE CONSEQUENCE OF RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AGGRESSION’

        • I write about my experiences. And this was my experience. Trust me, having 120+ comments, most of which are mini-essays on why I am wrong and why Russia is the worst, is really not the kind of “web presence” I am after. But I also wasn’t going to just ignore what was one of the most defining aspects of that whole trip.

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  22. Is it not the desire to have the people of an aggressive government to communicate disagreement with their government so as to stop the aggressive momentum of their government? Anna’s reaction is understood to be the first type of reaction most people would have. But at a deeper level Latvians feel the horrors of WWII could return as they see a progression of aggression from Russia in to Ukraine today. That came after military aggression in Georgia. Anna could write a blog about the stresses on people in countries surrounding Russia as a way to discourage the momentum of her Russian government. But instead this blog from Anna adds to the momentum of an aggressive Russian government. I would like to ask Anna what she would like people to be saying about Russia when the sense of security of these people is being undermined by Russia?

    • I’d like them to not turn geopolitical into personal. Russians’ sense of security is perpetually undermined by the EU, NATO, US, etc, yet unless the visitor explicitly engages (or asked to engage) in a political discussion, a tourist sightseeing around Moscow isnt greeted with “oh you’re from France? LET ME TELL YOU WHY NATO IS EVIL AND ALSO THAT F*CKER NAPOLEON!”

  23. Interesting. I speak basic conversational Russian and if anyone was over 40 or so, I asked directions, etc., in Russian. Never an issue. To me, speaking Russian is not the same as supporting the dictator Putin. My Russian friends in Russia agree with me. One could be from many countries where Russian was taught until 1991.

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