Authors Name: 
Catherine Gibson
University: 
University of St. Andrews
Category: 
History
Highly commended

What factors account for the preservation of Latgalian ethnoregional identity during the formation of the Latvian national movement and nation-state in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

Latgalia, the south-eastern region of Latvia, has retained a separate ethnoregional identity from the rest of the country. Examining Latgalia’s differing historical circumstances prior to the twentieth century sheds light on the historical explanations for Latgalia’s linguistic, ethnic, religious and economic distinctions from western Latvia at the turn of the twentieth century. The creation of the Latvian nation-state in 1918 brought with it a new government in Riga, which based its concept of the Latvian nation-state on western Latvia. Latgalia faced pressures from a centralising administration to become more homogenous with the rest of Latvia. Supporters of the Latgalian ethnoregional identity turned to the Latgalian language as a means to bolster their distinction, and this trend survived the period of Soviet rule, gained momentum with renewed Latvian independence in 1991, and remains strong to this day. This paper contests the Latvian national master narrative view of Latgalia as inherently part of the Latvian nation-state, and challenges the conceptual hegemony of the nation-state by examining non-national forms of identification, ethnic and linguistic diversity within a nation-state, and the intermixing of peoples and cross border loyalties which frequently occur in borderland regions. Moreover, this paper contributes to the broader comparative historical field of the role of language in Central and Eastern European nationalisms and the political significance of the status of official languages and dialects, particularly relevant to current EU legislation protecting minority languages. Finally, this “peripheral” region, as seen from Riga, is often neglected in mainstream Latvian scholarship, and by extension, even more so in the West. This paper hopes to go some way to rectifying this.