Latvians angry at accusations of 'apartheid': Latvians vote in the first free elections for 62 years and deep resentments are surfacing

'LIES, all lies]' muttered an onlooker in the crowd as ethnic Russians poured out tales of woe about the injustices perpetrated against them in today's independent Latvia. The observer, an ethnic Latvian, seemed to have a point. As plump babushkas wailed patriotic Russian songs, some of their angry compatriots waved banners denouncing the return of an apartheid - or, even more dramatically - a Nazi state.

'The SS is on the brink of taking power again,' warned Stanislav, 56, who came to Latvia in 1960 in one of the waves of ethnic Russian migration that followed Stalin's annexation of the country in 1940. 'A fascist regime is being installed here.'

It sounded ridiculous: the deluded rantings of an extremist fringe within Latvia's vast ethnic Russian 'minority' which still finds it impossible - and unbearable - to accept that the orders no longer come from Moscow. Not only was it ridiculous, it was also provocative. The protests this weekend, which attracted a few hundred hardliners, were staged opposite Riga's Freedom Monument, built to commemorate the founding of the first independent Latvian state in 1918. 'Such gatherings should be banned here,' fumed the onlooker. 'This is our holy shrine.'

And yet, the protesters had something to shout about. As Latvians voted this weekend in the country's first democratic elections since 1931, roughly one-third of its 1.8 million adults were not entitled to vote. Those excluded were essentially those who moved to Latvia after 1940 and their descendants. Almost all were ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Belorussians, many born here. Nazi Germany? Certainly not. But what about the comparision with apartheid South Africa?

The mere suggestion sends most Latvians into a rage. 'Please look at our history,' they plead. 'These people were brought here against our will as part of a deliberate and criminal policy of Russification which, had it continued, would have resulted in the elimination of the Latvian identity. We are not saying they have to leave. But we will set the rules as to how and when they can become citizens.'

Fears about the long-term survival of the Latvian nation are well founded. In 1935, the ethnic Latvian percentage of the population stood at just under 80 per cent. Today, as a result of the mass deportations of Latvians ordered by Stalin and the subsequent settling in their country of almost a million ethnic Russians, Latvians make up 52 per cent of the 2.6m population. In Riga, the capital, only one in three is an ethnic Latvian. 'You come over here accusing us of violating human rights, but in the West you would never accept this situation,' said Armands Skershkhans, a student. 'Would you in Britain give automatic voting rights to an uninvited immigrant population of almost 50 per cent? I doubt it.' There are some on the extreme right who would welcome the forcible repatriation of those they see as occupiers, but most accept that they are here to stay and the new parliament will have to regulate a naturalisation process.

The toughness of any new citizenship law will depend on who holds power after the election. The centre- right Latvian Way is emerging as the largest party, but the far-right Latvian National Independence Movement, set for third place, demands stringent quotas on new citizens.

The Latvian Way, a centre-right alliance whose leading member is President Anatolijs Gorbunovs, last night appeared to be heading for a comfortable victory. With just over 10 per cent of votes counted, it stood at 38 per cent, well ahead of its nearest rival, the Latvian Peasant Union, on 12.5 per cent. The two front-runners looked likely to form a coalition.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map