ETHNO-RELIGIOUS MINORITY IN THE BORDERLAND: THE CASE OF LATGALIAN OLD BELIEVERS (LATVIA).

AuthorKorolova, Jelena
  1. Introduction

    Borderland is a territorial system that is under the impact of border factors, whereas a border region is a territorial system impacted by a group of factors related to borderland (Spiriajevas 2019: 18). Both of them can be defined as toposes with multilayer and diffused identities of the people living in them, thus, they represent complex societies characterized by a unique border culture that "conveys plural expressions of identity and singular imperatives of belonging" (Konrad 2014: 42-43). Borders are not just territorial lines between nation-states, but "dynamic processes of cultural production and negotiation" (Ristolainen 2014: 1208); it is a territory where "identity is formed and re-formed among those who claim indigeneity and others who cannot" (Konrad 2014: 41). Borders may not only divide similar ethno-religious groups, but they territorialize their thinking, as well as provide specific parameters that they need to live within (Ristolainen 2014: 1208).

    Although the territorial borders of modern Latvia were formed in 1920, its ethnic composition has always been rather multicultural. In various cultural-historical periods, the population of the country has been represented by the titular nation (the Latvians) and by various ethnic minorities, the proportion of which in contrast to the titular nation ranged from 24% to 48%. The borderland in the south-east of the Republic of Latvia--Latgale region--represents a territory with a relatively stable co-existence of different ethnic groups and their cultures. According to the most recent data (2018), there are 45.9% of Latvians, 36.7%--Russians, 6.5%--Poles, 5.1%--Belarusians, and 1.3%--Ukrainians in the region (Demografija 2018: 28). After the proclamation of the State of Latvia in 1918, the cultural autonomy for national minorities living in the country was ensured in the "Constitution of the Republic of Latvia", adopted in 1922 and signed by the Speaker of the Constitutional Assembly Janis Eakste (1920-1922) (the first President of the Republic of Latvia from 1922 to 1927), "Latvia as democratic, socially responsible and national state is based on the rule of law and on respect for human dignity and freedom; it recognises and protects fundamental human rights and respects ethnic minorities" (The Constitution... 1922). While stating the fundamental principle for the existence of the country--protection of sovereignty, national independence, territory, territorial integrity, it was also declared that "[p]ersons belonging to ethnic minorities have the right to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity" (The Constitution... 1922).

    The protection of national and ethnic groups has been stipulated also by the Law "On the Unrestricted Development and Right to Cultural Autonomy of Latvia's National and Ethnic Groups" adopted after the restoration of the independence of Latvia in 1991 (Par Latvijas nacionalo... 1991). Acceptance or rejection of otherness depends on various factors, also the willingness of both the titular nation and minorities to strive for mutual tolerance which determines the presence or lack of conflicts between various groups characterized by the keyword 'diversity'. Among such constituting parts of a multi-faced phenomenon of diversity as intercultural communication, otherness, similarity and sameness, it is important also to mention the aspects of territorial integrity and division, respectively. Due to rapid globalisation and cosmopolitanism tendencies ethnic diversity nowadays is discussed also as a possible threat to the territorial integrity or existence of the titular nation, especially in the case of small nations.

    The paper is aimed at investigation of Old Believers of Latgale region that represent an ethno-religious group within the Russian ethnos as a sample for avoiding or settling ethnic conflicts while focusing on the exploration of their life experience and oral testimonies containing descriptions and solutions for peaceful coexistence. The Old Believers in Latgale region are approached as a representative model for settling ethnic and religious conflicts. Not only did they survive in any climatic conditions and under any political regimes (their settlements can be found even in Alaska and in South America), but they also overcame difficulties with the help of their unwavering faith. Faith was the reason they were persecuted for and faith was also the means that helped them survive and integrate into the titular nation without causing any ethnic or religious conflicts.

  2. Theoretical framework:

    Old Believers as an ethno-religious minority in Latvia

    There are several fundamental studies dedicated to the in-depth research on the Old Believers' lifestyle, culture, language and religion in the Baltics, including Latvia and Latgale region (Ljonngren 1994, Baranovskij and Potashenko 2005, Zhilko 2005, Koroljova 2013, Ganenkova et. al. 2019 a. o.), however, the aspect of Old Believers' beliefs and attitudes important for settling ethnic conflicts analysed in the article, has not yet been studied widely enough.

    The Old Believers--Eastern Orthodox Christians who refused to accept the liturgical reforms imposed upon the Russian Orthodox Church by the patriarch of Moscow Nikon (1652-1658) (Zavarina 2002: 19, Zimova 2002: 58)--have been present in Latvia since the 1660s when after the Schism of 1666 they fled from guberniyas of Pskov, Tver, and Novgorod to the outskirts of Russia (Siberia, the Russian North), as well as abroad--to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Swedish Empire (now Estonia), Prussia, the Austrian Empire, and Turkey (Zavarina 2002: 20). After the migration and resettlement, the Old Believers became a scattered ethnic and religious minority in exile who wanted to preserve church traditions of the old Russian Orthodox Church: the old tradition of putting together fingers (when praying, they put together two fingers instead of three), double hallelujah, an eightpointed cross, old ceremonies (for example, baptizing by immersing in the baptismal font), and divine service according to olden books. Jadviga Janashek notes, they have even an 'aggravated' self-consciousness (Janashek 2011: 161). For the Old Believers, only their own faith is true, and they themselves are the only preservers of this faith (Orlov 2005: 105).

    In the result of the plague outbreak and wars (the Russo-Polish War of 1654-1667, the Swedish invasion or the Second Northern War of 1655-1660), the south-eastern region of Latvia-Latgale, which at that time was a predominantly Roman Catholic territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was devastated and drastically underpopulated, thus in the need of human resources.

    Although the first organized groups of Old Believers appeared in Latvia (Liginiski, Latgale region) in 1659, extensive migration of Old Believers to Latvia began in the eighteenth century. Since 1772, Latgale was one of the most remote areas of the Russian Empire of that period and was incorporated into the new Republic of Latvia in the final stage of Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920). Nowadays it is a borderland region of Latvia that borders with the Russian Federation, Lithuania and Belarus and is represented by the titular nation (the Latvians) and ethnic minorities--a large population of ethnic Russians and other smaller ethnic minorities (e.g. the Polish, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, etc.). Having arrived in Latgale, the largest number of Old Believers settled in Daugavpils, Rezekne and Ludza districts (Zavarina 2002: 21). According to the statistics of 1780, in Dunaburg (former name of Daugavpils) district, there lived 2 864 Old Believers, whereas in Rezica (former name of Rezekne) district-778, and in Ljucina (former name of Ludza) district-340 Old Believers (Zavarina 2002: 30). At the beginning of the 1930s there were more than 60 Old Believers' communities in Latgale, which is a surprisingly high indicator (Markelov 2002: 225). The statistical data of 1935 confirm the rapid increase in...

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