CNN Photos

Latvia's largest minority: Russians

Photographer Tina Remiz is from Latvia, but both her parents were born in Russia. They moved to Latvia when it was part of the USSR.

Remiz went to both Russian and Latvian schools and had friends of both ethnicities. She generally felt part of both groups, but sometimes there was a cultural barrier with Latvians, she said.

“I was born just before the fall of the Soviet Union, and I grew up with this question of ‘Where do I belong?’ ” she said.

She explored the culture of Russian-Latvians in her project “Krievi,” which means “Russian” in Latvian. The project led her to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds from the arts to commerce, medicine and politics.

After the Soviet Union collapsed and Latvia became independent, Russian residents, even those born in Latvia, were not granted citizenship.

In 2012, 13.8% of people living in Latvia were non-citizens.

Russians make up roughly a third of Latvia’s population, according to the CIA, and is the largest minority in the country.

The Russian language permeates the country, but some Latvians avoid learning it, she said. Most Russians, particularly those who lived through the Soviet era, speak both languages.

Janeta Jaunzeme-Grende, the country’s minister of culture, urged Latvians to not speak Russian in March, echoing rhetoric heard before on Latvia’s political stage.

“We should firmly protect our language, culture, and country,” he said.

Citizens petitioned for a referendum that would have made Russian a second official language, but it was voted down in February 2012.

Ethnicity doesn’t draw conflict in daily life, Remiz said, but it is still a social issue. Political parties typically form based on ethnic background, and a politician’s ethnic background is noted in the media, she said.

“It is very much a political issue supported by media and politics,” Remiz said. “If they weren’t bringing it up, it would probably disappear over time.”

When working on her project, she looked for diversity.

“I kept my final selection as inclusive as possible without drawing conclusions [about] people,” she said.

Remiz spoke to Alija Bazhenova, an 18-year-old girl who was working for political representation for those practicing the Russian Orthodox religion.

She also found Antonina Nenasheva, chairman of the board at the youth political organization PatriotiLv, who said she didn’t want to be considered Russian. She strived for unity regardless of nationality and language, Remiz said.

Now living in the UK, Remiz identifies as Latvian. She says she only brings up her Russian roots when she’s in Latvia, and she remains generally neutral toward the issues surrounding the Russian-Latvian community.

“People are people no matter what,” she said.

- Lauren Russell, CNN

Tina Remiz's “Krievi” series received an honorable mention in this year’s FotoVisura awards.