3.3. Shared Social Memory National identity is rooted in a common perception of a nation’s history. Social memory shaped by knowledge and perception of the most significant historical events consolidates the society. Properly organised social memory provides landmarks for moral standards; it strengthens the feeling of being a part of the State and geopolitical entity. Divided social memory means a divided society. Previous integration policy has ignored the problems related to perception of the history of Latvia, as well as the potential of the politics of memory in social integration.53
Ever since Latvia regained independence, a different perception of Soviet occupation and its consequences among a part of the Russian speaking population has become a significant challenge for building a cohesive national and civic identity. There is a growing trend among the Russian speaking population to view incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union as a voluntary act: in 2004 this view was held by 44 %, whereas in 2009 – the share was 55 %.54 A significant share of Latvians (29 %) hold that people who believe that after WWII Latvia was liberated by the Soviet Union may not be deemed patriots of Latvia. A similar position is shared by very few Russians (9 %).55 This position maintained by a part of the Russian speaking population towards the Soviet occupation period creates obstacles for a shared understanding of Stalinist crimes and the victims to be commemorated, this being an important part of Latvian social memory.56 It is also at odds with European social memory where Communism is seen as a totalitarian regime and Stalinist crimes are denounced in a way similar to the crimes of the Nazis.57 Thus, a different understanding of the events of WWII manifested by a considerable part of the society jeopardizes not only the Latvian national identity but also its geopolitical identity or affiliation to the Western world.
These differences in the perception of events of WWII are manifest also among schoolchildren: 40% of the native Russian-speaking schoolchildren believe there has been no occupation, whereas among Latvian schoolchildren this view is shared by only 12%.58 Although in national minority schools, the history of Latvia is taught according to the standards approved by the Cabinet, surveys bear evidence that in some cases schoolchildren have acquired a distorted representation of the Soviet occupation and WWII, as well as of more distant periods of Latvian history.59 Thus, though there is formal compliance with the requirement of teaching shared understanding of history in national minority educational establishments, the intended goal is not always achieved. An important task to be accomplished is the use of textbooks and materials published in Latvia rather than in Russia during Latvian history classes.
The divided nature of social memory in Latvian society is evidenced in the public attention focussed on the observance of March 16 and May 9 as unofficial commemoration days. The idea that March 16 should be observed as a commemoration day of the Latvian legionaries is shared by 61% of Latvians, whereas among the Russian speaking community this approach is shared only by 17% of the respondents. On the other hand, May 9th or Victory Day is recognised as a red-letter day by 69 % of the Russian speaking population and 32% of Latvians.60 During the past five years it has been celebrated by 59% of the Russian-speaking population and by only 11% of Latvians.61
In order to eliminate this obstacle standing in the way of integration, a politics of memory should be developed at the national level and implemented in particular projects. In democratic countries politics of memory is a specific policy area, which, without prejudice to academic historical studies, aims at reducing the ways in which conflicting representations of history might increase the present social discord. Such politics respects diversity of opinions, while taking a principled stance against the falsification of history.62 The goal of an effective politics of memory of Latvia should aim at achieving a State when a major part of Latvian society conceives the occupation of Latvia and its consequences in a way that is consistent with democratic values. An important pre-condition of such politics is the quality of the history teaching at educational establishments and the popularization and approbation of the best practice on regular basis among history teachers both in Latvian and national minority schools. Thus, there is a need for more systematic clarification of facts, showing that Stalinist deportations affected the more successful, entrepreneurial and educated Latvian citizens, among them many national minority representatives. For the implementation of history policy skilful use of other infrastructural social memory elements (movies, museums, and new media) consolidating different mnemonic communities is of importance. The Latvian Museum of Occupation is deemed to be one of these infrastructural elements which should receive long-term support by the State; it has been positively evaluated by both Latvians (78%) and a significant part (41%) of the Russian speaking community.63
On the policy level there is a need to promote a positive attitude towards celebrating the foundation day of Latvia on 18 November. Presently it is the only public holiday related to Latvian history that plays an integrating role. It is observed by 66% of Latvians and 46% of other nationalities.64 It is important that attitudes are expressly positive also among the younger generation: 18 November is positively evaluated by 98% of Latvian schoolchildren and by 79% of Russian schoolchildren.65 Problems relating to organising the celebration of 18 November and tailored messages for the target audience noted by social researchers indicate that the potential of this national holiday has not been fully utilised for consolidating Latvian society and promoting positive identity.66 In social memory it is important to stress the role played by national minority representatives in the foundation of the State of Latvia and during its growth between the two World Wars. In parallel with the National Day - 18 November, there is a need to support participation of people in other historically meaningful commemoration days which emphasize meaningful landmarks in Latvian statehood, identity of its independence and democracy: 11 November, 25 March, 4 May, 14 June, and 23 August.
WWII has left a tragic imprint in the social memory of national minorities of Latvia. During the holocaust 70,000 Jews who were Latvian citizens were exterminated, more than 20,000 were deported from Western Europe and killed in Latvia. Due to the active efforts of the Jewish non-governmental organizations there has been a lot of research in Latvia on the Holocaust and knowledge is being transferred to the general public. The public predominantly has negative attitude towards Latvian participation in the Holocaust.67 There is less information of those Latvians who were involved in saving the Jews. The Nazi regime killed many representatives of the Roma community. During WWII approximately 2,000 Latvian citizens from the Roma minority, which is about half of the Roma who lived in Latvia, were exterminated.68 The scope of these tragic events has not yet been fully understood and studied. There is no tradition of memorial events dedicated to commemorating the extinction of the Roma. There is a need for consolidating memory of Nazi crimes towards national minorities during the occupation period as a part of the shared social memory of the Latvian people.
The history of Latvia is a part of the European history, but among the majority of the people there is but little awareness of Latvian history before the 20th century.69 It narrows down the concept of national identity and does not facilitate seeing it in a broader cultural, historical and geopolitical framework as a part of the European history. Research shows that about 20% of the people of Latvia feel they are a part of Europe.70 However, the share is significantly higher among the younger generation (50%).71 The European historical context may serve as a resource for positive identity building and integration. However, it is still rather rarely utilised to emphasize self-confidence promoting historical events and personalities representing the people of Latvia as creative, successful and innovative. As a result, historical events and people are not seen as an important reason for being proud of the country.72 The task of the national policy is to promote a more fundamental understanding of Latvian history and use it as a basis to increase the possibilities for building a positive identity. For successful implementation of history related policy, it is necessary to increase government support for producing cultural products aimed at promoting Latvian history as a part of the European history. This work would require much more active involvement of public media and institutions storing evidence related to history of Latvia – National Library of Latvia, National History Museum of Latvia, National Archives of Latvia, Latvian National Museum of Art, regional museums and libraries.
Also, Latvian local mnemonic communities may serve as a sustainable basis for building a shared and politically unbiased social memory. The strongest affiliation felt by the people of Latvia is to their native village, parish or town.73 Besides, on the local identity level there are no essential differences between Latvians and national minorities. Therefore local history, including awareness of the events that took place during the years of occupation, should be particularly promoted as a subject in Latvian schools, and both Latvian and national minority schoolchildren should be purposefully involved in the teaching process. Focus on the history of the town or the county and emphasis on the local significance rooted in history of the official commemorative days lead to building a stronger identity with Latvian history both on the national and local level. It is important to involve expatriate Latvians in strengthening local identity, thus maintaining their affiliation to Latvia.