Accepted paper:

Our main capital are people: re-emigration discourse and exploitation in Latvia


Klavs Sedlenieks (Riga Stradins University)

Paper short abstract:

On the basis of my material from Latvia I argue that the seemingly cooperative care for re-emigration and re-population of the countryside in fact is an attempt of the successful power-holders to draw the escaping underdogs back into subordination and exploitation

Paper long abstract:

Thousands upon thousands of Latvians have used their freedom of movement leaving the whole country, but in particular countryside, half-empty. Villagers who have not gone to Ireland go to Riga. One response to this is a publicly vocal view about the process as a tragedy that requires immediate effort to bring back the migrants to where they supposedly belong - to Latvia and in many cases - to their native villages. To achieve that goal, governments work on policies and civil society dreams visions of revived countryside. But whose tragedy is it and why? In this presentation I will argue that the seemingly cooperative and caring ethos of bringing back people to Latvia and repopulating countryside is the discourse of the former winners who are nearly defeated by a successful application of the weapons of the weak. Those who chose emigration did so because they could not (or would not) be successful in the local power-struggle. However, cooperation with the underdogs is an essential element of winning. Without underdogs there is no success. Therefore calls for re-emigration programs are so actively supported but mainly by those who have not migrated themselves; calls for re-population of the countryside are not designed by those who have left the villages. The resulting policies try to lure migrants back into their subordinate positions which would thus re-build the dominating positions of the power-holders. This presentation draws on analysis of public discussions, ethnographic observations, interviews and official policies.

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