Different from both their parents and Latvian peers. Latvian Russian-speaking youth choose liberal freedoms, EU values and are satisfied with NATO membership — research by Spektr. Press and SKDS
A gap takes shape in the Russian-speaking environment in Latvia. This is a generation gap, and it lies in the field of life values and difference in worldviews. It turned out that residents of Latvia under the age of 30, who consider Russian as their main language, born after the USSR and gaining independence by Latvia, to a great extent differ in their ideological values from the older generation who caught the Soviet Union, a kind of anniversary of the collapse of which we celebrate this year … They do not quite coincide in their outlook on life with their Latvian-speaking peers too.
The analysis of data from our last year’s large-scale study «Attitudes of the Russian-speaking population of Latvia to European values and various political and social issues», carried out by the Spektr.Press magazine together with Doctor of Communication Sciences and Strategic Consultant Olga Procevska and the SKDS Public Opinion Research Centre, leads to such conclusions.
It is worth reminding that this sociological survey was conducted in July-September 2020 with the support of the Netherlands Embassy and the Embassy of Sweden in Latvia and covered more than 1,100 respondents from the target group — Russian-speaking residents of Latvia. It was perhaps the largest number of respondents in the history of Latvian sociological surveys, whose main language of communication was Russian. At that time its main conclusion was that more than 73% of the Russian-speaking population of Latvia are Europeans in their views, and so they perceive themselves; they are closely tied to their home country, but categorically do not want to change their identity; they value Russian culture and language.
«Initially, Spektr. Press' research focused on European views, finding out whether Russian-speakers support them in Latvia,» Olga Procevska explains. «But then we became interested in how the worldview of Russian-speakers looks in the context of generation. The difference in the views of different generations in Latvia is, in principle, little studied, and as for the Russian-speaking youth, practically nothing is known about them. So the views of Russian-speaking youth in Latvia, their difference from the views of older generations of Russian-speakers, as well as from the views of their Latvian peers are a big blank spot and our new focus».
Therefore, we now decided to subject this data to a new analysis, focusing on how the responses from last year’s survey were distributed in different age groups. In addition, we asked SKDS experts to select similar surveys in their recent studies in order to compare the data we received with the answers in the same age groups of Latvians. Spektr. Press expresses its deep gratitude to the Embassy of Sweden in Latvia for supporting this work.
The answers of a relatively small group of young people under 30 or about 210 respondents were at the disposal of the researchers. Olga Procevska admits that this is not enough to draw reliable conclusions, but there are no more volumetric fresh data on Russian-speaking youth in Latvia. «In standard surveys, Russian-speaking youth are represented not by 200 people, but by about 20, not allowing any conclusions to be drawn about this group at all. Since this study was initially focused on Russian-speaking people, the representativeness of Russian-speaking youth in it is higher than usual», she says. «Therefore, our data provide a valuable starting point for understanding some of the trends and many ideas for further research».
In the course of this analysis, Olga Procevska drew attention to one isolated cohort of respondents, namely, young people aged 18 to 30. A more careful study of the data showed that it is this group that significantly differs in its views from older age groups (the experts identified more groups from 31 to 50 years old and from 51 to 75 years old), as well as from peers whose main language of communication is Latvian — data about them were collected in SKDS.
It is quite indicative that it is this age group — from 18 to 30 years old — that includes the most people committed to European values — 76.2%. They know the Latvian language better than other generations: 60% of respondents under 30 rated their knowledge of the state language as «good». For comparison, 55.6% of people aged 31 to 50 assess their knowledge of Latvian in the same way, with only 36.5% among those who are from 51 to 75 years old. However, the linguistic gap is much more noticeable in the example of English — 42.7% of young Russian-speakers speak it at a good level compare to only 28.1% in both older age groups combined.
Perhaps, this is why being in the Russian-speaking cultural space, reading books, watching films in Russian is no longer as important for them as for the older generation: 75% of respondents under 30 noted the Russian-speaking cultural space for themselves as the core one, while 86, 9% expressed the same opinion in the age group from 31 to 50 years old, and 83, 4% in the group from 51 to 75 years old.
Young people are less dissatisfied with Latvia’s membership in the EU (15.1%) than in the next two age groups (22.1% and 23.7%, respectively). 45.4% of Russian-speaking Latvians under 30 are satisfied with Latvia’s participation in NATO, while in the age group from 31 to 50, only 35.1% of the respondents answered so, and in the group older than 51 even less or 25.2%.
Least of all (55.5%) 30-year-olds oppose EU sanctions against Russia, while Russia’s actions in the East of Ukraine are supported by only 10.7% of young people, and the gap from older generations is quite noticeable here — 22.3% (from 31 up to 50) and 29.2% (from 51 to 75), respectively.
Russian-speaking youth in Latvia are more tolerant and less bloodthirsty than the older generations: only 20.6% of respondents under 30 consider the death penalty permissible, while in both older age groups more than 31% in each support it. 30% of young people are ready to officially recognise same-sex marriages, while only 12.8% of people from 31 to 50 and 5.9% over 51 years old are able to accept it.
Young people also make a clear choice in favour of liberal freedoms (58%) rather than religious values (20.2%), while in older age groups this choice is not so obvious — 42.7% were in favour of liberal freedoms in the group from 31 to 50 and 31.1% among those who are over 51 years old, religion is preferred by 32.9% and 44.4%, respectively.
Professor of the University of Latvia Juris Rozenvalds said in his commentary for Spektr. Press: «In many respects, one can agree with Ms. Procevska: indeed, there is the generation gap in the Russian-speaking population in relation to values that can be conventionally called European. This is evidenced by support for same-sex marriage, for example, or the emphasis on liberal freedoms as opposed to religion. This is a rather relevant topic now, given that these so-called traditional values are exploited by politicians who are oriented towards the Latvian voters, and those who are aimed at the Russian-speaking population. This is important because we see how various kinds of protest voting largely turn upon these issues.»
Ieva Bērziņa, Senior Researcher of the Latvian National Defence Academy, emphasised: «28% of young respondents (accоrding tо the data on the Russian-speaking participants in the survey conducted by SKDS in June 2020; according to the study by Spektr. Press, there are even more of them or 45.4% — Spektr. Press) are positive about Latvia’s participation in NATO. According to my interpretation, here we see the influence of the media, since young people are more on the Internet. They are not influenced by the media subordinate to the Kremlin, in particular, the federal Russian TV channels. There are also young people participating in the activities that the Latvian army, in cooperation with alliance partners, is carrying out in schools».
Ieva Strode, Head of the Socio-Political Research Department of SKDS, agrees: «In both the Latvian and Russian-speaking communities, young people are more Euro-optimists than older generations, although in general Latvians have a better attitude towards Latvia’s membership in the European Union. Among Russian-speakers aged 18 to 30, the assessment of the country’s participation in NATO does not reach the level of approval among Latvian peers, but it is still significantly higher than that of other groups of this ethnolinguistic community. It is noteworthy that Russian-speaking youth know both Latvian and English, while, for example, in the cohort of 51−75, almost half of the respondents — 42% - admit that they do not know English at all, and they are poor at Latvian too. This explains a lot: if you are fluent in English, the whole Internet is open to you.»
Juris Rozenvalds is less optimistic: «Young Russian-speakers have a better attitude towards Latvia’s EU membership than older ones, but not on principle. There are traditional things, the burden of generations, the influence of family and environment. As for NATO, this is a predictable issue. At least they are much more positive about the EU. This is the influence of both the public sentiment and, to a certain extent, of the information flows in which families live. They indirectly affect young people as well. However, it is interesting that since about 2000, in the triad of questions about Russia, NATO and the EU, the attitude towards NATO has been improving at the fastest pace, although support is still not high enough».
There are several economic questions in the study that also expose the generation gap. Olga Procevska notes that young people are more optimistic in their forecasts for the development of the Latvian economy than the older generation and their Latvian-speaking peers. And they see the current situation in the country in more rosy prospects.
It was called «good» by 10% versus 4% among Latvian peers and 6% among the previous Russian-speaking age group (however, 60% of Russian-speaking young people consider it to be unambiguously bad as against 41% of Latvians of their age). Why they answer that way and whether there is any correlation with their own or their families' income is unknown — there is a lack of data.
Russian-speaking youth in almost the same way as Latvian-speaking are much more optimistic about their prospects for finding a job in Latvia and experience less pessimism in the labour market than their elders. Procevska believes that they seem to feel well equipped with certain skills, mainly with language skills.
Ieva Strode notes that in assessing the general prospects for the development of the Latvian economy, intergenerational differences are not so obvious, but in judging the financial situation of the family, young people are more optimistic. Among Russian-speakers and Latvians, there is almost the same proportion of those who rate it as good. Though, more Russian-speakers recognised it as unambiguously bad — 28% versus 20% of Latvians. In the forecasts of family well-being in a year, again, the Russian-speaking youth are almost as optimistic as the Latvian, in contrast to the older generations. Although Latvians are still more confident about the future: among them there are fewer of those who believe that in a year it will be worse.
Judging by the answers to the question about the attitude towards homosexual people, homophobia, predictably, turned out to be the prerogative of the older generation. This is especially true of Russian-speakers — 62% of the 51−75-year-old cohort condemns them (versus 41% of Latvians). The middle generation is more tolerant. Olga Procevska admits: she expected that Russian-speaking youth would be more liberal and by a wide margin, but it turned out that there was almost no difference: 10% of respondents in groups from 18 to 30 and from 31 to 50 accept homosexuals, and approximately the same number (36% and 40%) condemn.
Among Latvian youth, acceptance was expressed by 15% of respondents, and condemnation was also expressed by 15%. In this aspect, Latvian and Russian-speaking youth differ. «It can be assumed that the Russian-speaking in this matter are under the influence of their parents, who are more conservative,» Olga Procevska says.
However, last year’s study by Spektr. Press, which is more representative than the SKDS omnibuses, on the basis of which these comparisons were made, gives slightly different numbers, as mentioned above. To a similar question «Is it permissible to officially recognise same-sex marriages?» 30% of Russian-speaking respondents from 18 to 30 years old answered «yes». And here we have just an obvious gap — among 31−50-year-olds, only 12.8% of respondents gave a positive answer.
A surprising and unexplained discovery by researchers lies in the field of attitudes towards reproductive behaviour. Young people, both Russian-speaking and Latvian, are much less likely to unconditionally approve of abortions than both previous age groups. At the same time, they are much more secular than the older ones — religious values mean equally little for this age group in both ethnolinguistic communities. The same cannot be said about the older generation. Let us recall that if in the cohort of 18−30 years old they are unambiguously preferred by only 20.2% of Russian-speaking respondents, then among 31−50-year-olds there are 32.9%, and in the group 51−75 years old — 44.4%. Both phenomena need to be explained — the tolerance to abortion of the elders and the rejection of the youth.
«Here, rather, it is necessary to explain not why the youth have a negative attitude, but why the elders do not have it,» Olga Procevska says. Both she and Ieva Strode believe that this is an echo of the Soviet past, when abortion was the most common practice of birth control.
«It is interesting that the older generations, on the one hand, more often than the young ones, advocate religious values, and on the other, are more tolerant to abortions. Probably, these issues are not connected in their worldview,» Strode notes. Here we do not observe the so-called package thinking, which links together all equally ideologically coloured value issues, in this case — the so-called traditional values in the worldview of an individual person. There are historically different attitudes towards different issues. «Homosexuality was criminalised in the Soviet Union, but abortions were not,» Ieva Strode recalls.
«It is interesting that, in general, the liberal views of young people are not uniform,» Olga Procevska says. «International studies show that in their views on LGBT rights, they are many times more liberal than their parents, which is consistent with our data. However, for example, they are also several times less tolerant of adultery. Perhaps this is more a matter of personal morality, because in Latvia the topic of abortion is not too politicised in comparison with the rights of LGBT people. Family ethics are clearly transforming. Young people believe that a family is no longer only a man and a woman, but at the same time those who are in family relationships should be faithful to each other and not have abortions».
Ieva Berzina expresses a different hypothesis: «Why do young people not support abortion if they do not believe in God? Perhaps, for health reasons. They may be more informed about safer sex and believe that abortion is not the best way to plan a family. That is, they are ready to refuse artificial termination of pregnancy not for ethical reasons. Maybe this is a value shift that will be clarified by the theory of generations, according to which health issues are important for young people».
«As far as global value issues are concerned, there is no particular difference between young respondents with the main Latvian and the main Russian language,» she continues to reflect. «In questions about attitudes towards abortion and homosexual people, the diagrams are almost identical. There are no big disagreements on economic views either. But we see that political alienation is expressed among Russian-speaking youth — it is manifested in a lower assessment of the general situation in Latvia and the activities of the government. And, of course, there is a pronounced difference of opinion on the security policy in Latvia — Russian-speaking respondents are more critical of Latvia’s participation in NATO».
Juris Rozenvalds opposes: «It seems to me that it is not worth making too optimistic conclusions about the worldview convergence of Russian-speaking and Latvian-speaking youth. There are data that should make politicians in Latvia ponder. First, if we consider this group in detail, we will see that 18−24-year-olds, very young people who are just entering an independent life, express the lowest sense of belonging to Latvia in comparison with other age groups (62%) and the highest (12%) to Russia. The difference between them and 25−34-year-olds is small: among the latter, 9% gravitate towards Russia. But at the same time, belonging to Latvia in the cohort of 25−34-year-olds is significantly higher — 72%. Note that the respondents aged 18−24 have the lowest knowledge of the Latvian language among close age groups (I'm not talking about people of pre-retirement and retirement age). These are people who were born and raised in independent Latvia, went through the education system reformed in 2004, which radically strengthened the position of Latvian language in schools. To a certain extent, we can say that these very young people, perhaps, compensate their relatively not very good knowledge of Latvian with their knowledge of English. Probably, here we have the processes that were noticed several years ago in Estonia: young people from different ethnolinguistic groups communicate with each other in English».
«Young people, mainly speaking Russian, in their attitude towards liberal values are in an intermediate position between their Latvian peers and their parents», Olga Procevska sums up. «Somewhere they are as liberal as Latvian youth, somewhere less. But if we take the whole spectrum of liberalism, we will surely see that there are issues in which they are more liberal, for example, in relation to the languages of communication between the State and residents».
The editorial staff of Spektr. Press would like to thank the Embassy of Sweden in Latvia for their support in creating this material.