Latvians under fire for essays' race jibes

August 10, 2001

An essay competition for young Latvians has caused a political storm with critics branding it chauvinistic and anti-Russian.

Critics claim the entries, collated into a book by the Vieda publishing house, paint a prejudicial picture of "alcoholic" Russians "ruining the environment". Amid the controversy, a small bomb was exploded in the entrance to the publishing house.

Although the book has received support from a few nationalist MPs and several students from the Latvian Academy of Culture, representatives of universities and human rights organisations have condemned it. They say that those who back the book are "damaging Latvia's international image".

Latvia is hoping for accession both to the European Union and, eventually, Nato. But there has been repeated international criticism of perceived discrimination against Latvia's large Russian minority.

Latvian prime minister Andris Berzins has instructed the security office to look into the competition and the book.

But officials said that although the book contained "rather different" opinions, there was nothing in it deserving legal punish-ment.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Latvia said the book was in "bad taste", but that it should not be considered as "promoting hatred".

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