Asoc. prof. Inta Mieriòa.

Migration researcher Inta Mieriņa outlines aim of new research survey

The Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Latvia (LU FSI) has launched a new survey, funded by the Fundamental and Applied Research Programme (FLPP). Aimed at Latvian nationals and emigrés living outside Latvia, as well as those who have returned or moved to Latvia. The project, titled “Well-being and Integration in the Context of Migration” is the second wave of a survey that was conducted by the Institute 5 years ago, titled “The Emigrant Communities of Latvia”.

The survey is available at Migracija ⇄ LV in three languages – Latvian, English and Russian. There are two options – a short (20 min.) or long (30 min.) version.

This interview with lead researcher of this project, Director of the Diaspora and Migration Research Centre (LU DMPC), Dr. Inta Mieriņa will reveal more about the research.

How does this study differ from previous LU FSI and LU DMPC research?

This study is the continuation of research in the form of a survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Latvia in 2014, with participation by over 14 000 people living in 118 countries. This time we would like to invite those who previously responded to take part, as well as those who didn’t, or only emigrated later.

We are most interested in finding out how the lives and views of people from Latvia living abroad have changed in the past five years. During this time Latvia has experienced changes – both wage growth and a change of government as well as the adoption of a Diaspora Law and a number of major upheavals have rocked the world in general.

The study is unique in that it is the first longitudinal study of its kind in Latvia, following the lives of emigrants – for instance, who has returned, who has remained, whether their life circumstances and life satisfaction have changed, their relationships with their loved ones, their ties with Latvia.

A longitudinal study is the most effective way of researching this as it allows researchers to gain evidence of the influence of different factors on the life course of a person. This is of great value not only in the context of Latvia but is also a rarity in the European context.

Will this study be aimed at a particular target group?

This study will differ from others as it is not only aimed at emigrants but also those who have returned to Latvia. This year’s research will also help us to gain better insight into the number of Latvian nationals who live outside Latvia and those who have returned to Latvia. Currently there are different versions and calculations but there is no precise data. But this should be the foundation for our research! We especially need data on the emigre (trimda) Latvians, and so this time around we sincerely hope that many members from this group will take part, which would give our colleague, Prof. Hazans the opportunity to be able to make a more precise evaluation of the situation.

We are also particularly interested in a group called the transnationals – people who define their home to be in a number of countries, who are in constant movement between Latvia and another country, maintaining close ties with a number of countries. Our 2014 data shows that 17% of our respondents fall into this category. Migration processes are no longer the same as they were previously – a person makes a decision to leave, packs his bags and goes. Nowadays these processes are much more flowing and dynamic, often a person may live in one country, he may have another job or his family in another country. This category is steadily on the rise, and for this reason our research will focus also on this group.

What is the aim of the research?

The central issue is the wellbeing of emigrants and return migrants. Our aim is to find out how Latvian nationals feel living outside Latvia, analysing this in depth from various aspects – those that are most important to migrants, including psychological wellbeing, the availability of health services, their inclusion into the labour market and the value of their skills and contribution outside as well as in Latvia. We will also be looking at the integration of emigrant and return migrant children into the school system and other questions that influence the wellbeing of migrants, with the aim to understand what support would be required to help solve these problem situations. From a scientific point of view, the plan is to find out the factors that allow people to integrate into their new host country most seamlessly, and why some people decide to return.

From theories we know that by emigrating, one improves one’s economic situation, career prospects, gains new skills and knowledge and improves one’s financial and material situation in various ways. Yet we know much less about the way that emigration influences other facets of life: relationships with one’s peers and friends, family, how one integrates in society as a whole, the extent to which one gets involved in social and political life, the availability of health care, how children integrate into schools, other details that are no less important than the material side of things. We would like to find out if, by improving one’s material situation, we end up paying for it in other areas – do our ties with loved ones and an overall sense of belonging weaken, do we have to live with psychological tension and stress in a foreign environment, with difficulties in the labour market, the education of our children.

What questions would you like to get answers to in this study?

We will cover a number of different themes. One of the most recent questions – how we can look at questions of integration in the context of flowing, transnational migration, bearing in mind that up till now, the politics of integration has been directed at people who have moved to live in a particular country permanently? What does integration mean to those migrants who have not fully integrated into a society, and maybe don’t even wish to integrate, feel quite satisfied with the situation that they are in. What does being well-integrated mean? Does this mean it is mandatory to learn the official language? Does it necessarily mean you should establish close ties with the local community? Or can you be a good resident without all these things?

In the literature, these questions are usually answered from an epistemological point of view, also a philosophically theoretical sense, yet in this study we plan to ask the people to answer this themselves.  Do they feel well-integrated or a sense of belonging to the society in the host country? Do they even want to fit in? If not, why not? If they do – in what way? This could help to understand the new reality that the increasingly mobile Europeans are faced with. Maybe we try to force unnatural models of integration onto people, who feel very different?

Our previous research clearly illustrated the subjective status of migration – what does leaving or returning mean? For this reason we will also ask how people see themselves – as emigrants, as Latvian nationals living abroad, as exile representatives, as members of the diaspora?

Many of these terms are foreign to our people living outside Latvia. For instance, we know that many don’t identify themselves as members of the diaspora, even though this is the most frequently used term in political documents. And the term emigrant doesn’t sit well with the old emigre community, who don’t see themselves as emigrants, as this word has a negative connotation. Those who have left recently also frequently don’t want to see themselves as emigrants or migrants either, as there is generally a prejudice towards the word migrant. Therefore we will find out how people identify themselves.

It is important that among our researchers are people who live or have lived outside Latvia; that also contributes to a better understanding of the views of people living outside Latvia.

Why should people take part in this research?

In the past five years, significant changes have occurred in diaspora and remigration policy. We are pleased that our scientific research has provided the inspiration and informative base for various policy initiatives and have made a significant contribution to the development of diaspora policy. Because those of you living outside Latvia have trusted us with your opinions, we have been able to lobby for the changes required in certain areas. Among these are support for return migrant children, or changes to taxation regulations and social benefits, the establishing of support mechanisms in Latvia.

Our research has also promoted the development of various private and social initiatives regarding job opportunities. The research findings have been widely publicised in the media in both Latvia and outside, they are utilised in the academic teaching sector and have been published in international journals and monographs, helping to better understand the views of those who have left, their motivation and life stories. If I am asked – is it worth taking part in the research, then today I can proudly show quantifiable results that have been achieved because of our previous research efforts.

In addition to academic interest, policy makers are also interested in the findings of this research. In the realm of diaspora politics, our research is taken into account very seriously and serves as an information and knowledge base for the developing of support measures for the diaspora and return migrants. It is not just research like any other research. It is being conducted by Latvia’s leading emigration researchers and it has a unique knowledge base that will ensure that the results will be voiced loudly and have far-reaching influence. We are also convinced that we as researchers should work with the diaspora – collaborating with diaspora organisations and groups, tackling the most pressing problems that the diaspora and return migrants face and helping to highlight and solve them.

If you would like to take part, please complete the survey by 31st October at Migracija ⇄ LV.

The original version of this interview, in Latvian, is available at Migracija ⇄ LV

Laura Bužinska ir ieguvusi bakalaura grādu Latvijas Universitātē Āzijas studiju programmā un maģistra grādu izglītības zinātnē programmā Dažādības pedagoģiskie risinājumi. Latvijas Universitātes Diasporas Migrācijas Pētījumu Centra pētniece.

Maskavas un Baškortostānas latvieši piedalās Latviešu valodas nometnē

Labas idejas un  skaisti nodomi nāk no debesīm. Dažreiz negaidīti, citreiz jau laikus brīdinot. Arī latviešu valodas nometnes ideja nāca laicīgi un tiešā lidojumā no debesīm.

Sadarbība ar Maskavas latviešiem sākās 2017. gadā, kad ansamblis “Atbalss” piedalījās Lieldienu svinībās Latvijas vēstniecībā Maskavā. Tam sekoja 2018. gada Latviešu kultūras dienas Arhlatviešu vidusskolā, kur ar bērniem strādāja trīs skolotājas no Maskavas.

Uzaicinājumu piedalīties nometnē no Maskavas latviešu skoliņas vadītājas Antras Levovas saņēmu 2018. gada nogalē. Es apzinājos, nometnē mums ir jāpiedalās. Bija jādomā par to, kur ņemt finansējumu ceļa izdevumiem, un tieši tajā laikā Latvijas Republikas Ārlietu ministrija izsludināja diasporas atbalsta projektu konkursu. Pēdējo gadu laikā, piedaloties diasporas atbalsta projektu konkursā, esmu varējusi piepildīt ļoti daudz ieceru un ideju. Man un maniem skolēniem par lielu laimi projekts tika apstiprināts, atlika sakrāmēt ceļasomas un skolotāja Ilona, Arkādijs Cīrulis, Kristīne Trocenko un Kristīne Braznovska varēja doties ceļā.

Darbs nometnē bija aktīvs un uzdevumiem piesātināts. Nometnē bērni mācījās latviešu valodu, dziesmas, dejas un rotaļas, darbojās radošās mākslas pulciņā. Ar skolēniem strādāja Maskavas Latviešu skolas skolotāji, kā arī pedagogi no Latvijas. Paralēli darbam nometnē, skolēni un skolotāji gatavojās Maskavas Latviešu skolas 25 gadu jubilejai. Skoliņa dibināta 1994. gadā, tā darbojas Latvijas vēstniecības Maskavā telpās. To absolvējuši aptuveni 240 skolēnu, ar skolēniem strādājuši latviešu valodas skolotāji no Latvijas un Maskavas. Pašreiz skoliņā mācās 32 skolēni vecumā no 6 līdz 14 gadiem. Skolēni apgūst latviešu valodu, Latvijas vēsturi, skolēniem ir deju nodarbības, kā arī radošās mākslas pulciņš.

Es jūtos gandarīta par to, ka šis mācību gads bijis labiem notikumiem bagāts. Man prieks, ka to noslēgusi Latviešu valodas nometne, kas uz dažām dienām spējusi apvienot Maskavas un Baškortostānas latviešus.

Maskavas skolas jubilejā Arkādijs un abas Kristīnes runāja Jāņa Petera dzejoli “Tēma ar sveci”, man liekas, svarīgākais, ko bērni paņēma no šī brauciena ir ietverts dzejnieka vārdos:

“Nevajag daudz, vajag, lai dzīvo

Viss, ko tu jūti un redzi”.

Ilona Saverasa ir skolotāja, kas māca latviešu valodu un kultūru Baškortostānā.

Sling your hook! My part in the Latvian centenary series “Sarkanais Mežs”

I have always preferred minor character actors to A-list film stars. They might only get a scene or two, but the presence of these strangely-shaped, broken-nosed, odd-looking and heavily-accented figures gives a film a human appeal and variety that can never be conveyed by the handsome and beautiful leading men and ladies.  

When I was young I even had a book called The Heavies, which chronicled the careers of a certain sort of supporting player. To this day I can rattle off the biographies and filmographies of Elisha Cook Jr,. Marc Lawrence and William Bendix, oddballs who can be seen lurking in the backgrounds of innumerable films noirs. No-one else is the least bit interested in them.

So when I was offered the chance to join the ranks of odd-looking people with a minor role in Sarkanais Mežs (Red Forest), the flagship TV production of Latvia’s centenary funding project, I accepted quickly despite a notable lack of acting experience. If reading The Heavies had taught me one thing, it was that drama school and The Method were by no means pre-requisites for a successful acting career. All it really takes is an interesting face that can be suitably contorted in the inevitable death scene.

Joining the cast came by a roundabout route. I occasionally act as a script consultant. Sarkanais Mežs is an adventure series loosely based on real events and set in 1949. Part of it involves Latvians being trained in England to infiltrate the Soviet occupation of their homeland and consequently, numerous scenes are set in a postwar England conjured from locations found entirely in Latvia. 

There are a few sections of English-language dialogue and the producers sent these to me for a quick look, as a result of which a few  minor changes were made. They mainly concerned the machinations of a slimy English doctor, a sweet Latvian nurse and our fine, upstanding hero. In a couple of scenes, a barman by the name of ‘Jim’ loiters in the background and occasionally brings drinks. The part could have been written for me as I do a lot of both in my spare time.

This was a marvellous opportunity to boost my thespian bona fides. The barman who does nothing but polish beer glasses and nod to customers is one of the great stock characters of twentieth century cinema. Only on rare occasions – notably The Shining – does the barman do more than polish and nod but oh! the importance of this job in establishing the mood or mise en scene, if you prefer the Godardian to the Kubrickian.  

Night in the Museum  

I arrived on the location for a night shoot convinced a new career would soon open up for me. The transformation of the Mentzendorff House museum into an English pub of the late 1940s was extremely well done. Reproduction advertisements for Guinness and Bass Ale adorned the walls, bottles with specially printed labels were lined up behind a neat little counter and tweed-capped “regulars” filled the tables, puffing on empty pipes and playing brag with practiced ease.

After being issued with a white shirt, black waistcoat, a pair of rather tight shoes and a natty little apron to signal my occupation unambiguously to the viewing public, I wandered around the set admiring the work. I was even able to provide a little additional value by pointing out that prices on the menu (Jim seemed able to cook a variety of lamb dishes combined with increasingly unlikely vegetables but little else) and beer pumps should be written with a “d” to represent pence and not “p” in pre-decimal Britain.

When I told this to an assistant director, he looked skeptical.

“But why ‘d’ if it stands for pennies?” he asked, not unreasonably.

I had to admit I had no idea, though subsequent research showed that it was derived from the Roman dinarius. Maybe later this year Britain will regress to using “d” for pence again as its post-imperial Brexit fantasy plays out and it reintroduces the florin, the sixpence and the shilling?

Another of my pieces of advice went unheeded, for the simple reason that the change I suggested would have completely ruined one of Sarkanais Mežs‘ main plotlines. In the scene in question, some Latvians are singing along to the popular song Rozamunde when an English hooligan takes exception to these foreigners and their music, becomes aggressive and winds up having to be ejected from the premises by yours truly, Jim the barman.

The accordionists pumped, and the Latvians sang to get their voices warmed up for the scene.

“Um… there’s a problem,” I said to the assistant director.

“What now?” he replied.

“The song,” I said.

“Yes, Rozamunde. It was a very popular wartime Latvian song!”

“It was also a very popular wartime British song. It’s called “Roll Out The Barrel“. It’s exactly what you would expect to  hear in a British pub of the 1940s. No-one would ever get angry about hearing Roll Out The Barrel.” 

“Oh,” said the assistant director, “Let’s not say anything. Maybe the hooligan doesn’t like the Latvian words.”

With everyone warmed up, including myself courtesy of a small fire kindled behind me to add extra atmosphere, it was time for the moment of truth. My pre-poured beer was safely hidden out of site below my fake beer pumps. The extras were positioned with precision. The actors waited like caged panthers to hit their marks and collect their beers from Jim.  

Action!

Curiously, at precisely this moment I became acutely aware that polishing a beer glass is in fact the most difficult feat of dexterity ever required of human hands. It really is extremely demanding. When combined with nodding to customers and – even worse – moving one’s lips silently, it becomes virtually impossible. Never can a veteran barman have looked so curiously incapable of performing the basic tasks of his profession as I did during the dozens of takes it took for me to look like someone who was not being operated by a puppeteer. I was only marginally less wooden than the bar top on which I placed the beer.

But this shot was merely the prelude to my big scene. This would involve a very large working-class Englishman bursting into the bar, directing a stream of abuse at the singing Latvians and consequently being ejected by Jim.

Roll out the Barrel

Impressively, the casting director had somehow managed to track down a genuine Geordie lunatic to play the part of the troublemaker. While the set was rejigged and the cameras and recording equipment were prepared we got talking. It turned out he came from the same grimy town in the North-East of England as my mother. We compared notes while running through our lines and bonded by agreeing the town was a complete dump.

Then we were on. The accordion played, the Latvians sang, the Geordie stormed in, said something like “Shut up you rotten Germans!” and I shuffled out from behind my bar. “Don’t cause any trouble, please go away,” I advised and ushered him politely towards the exit. And that was it. This acting businesses was easier than I expected.

“Hmm, it lacks something,” said the director. It was hard to argue with this conclusion. It was about as dramatic as the unusual combinations of lamb and vegetables on Jim’s lunchtime menu.

“Try it again, only this time a bit faster,” the director suggested for the second take.

“That was better, but this time, even faster and push him in the chest,” he said for the third take.

“A definite improvement, but this time much louder and really resist each other,” he said for the fourth take, adding “And don’t feel like you need to stick to the script, just say whatever you English people would really say in this situation.” That was the key phrase, which explains what happened next.

The next few takes are something of a blur. The accordion plays, the Latvians sing Rozamunde, and in bursts a psychotic Geordie who pushes everyone aside and bawls “Shut yer f****g mouths in my f*****g pub, yer bunch of f*****g German ****s!” 

Cue barman Jim, who leaps his counter, sprints into the fray and says “Sling your hook, you stupid b*****d, they’re Latvians, not b*****y Germans and this is my b****y pub, not yours, so b****r off!”

Even as I said it I thought “I wonder how they will translate ‘Sling your hook’ in the subtitles?”

Now Jim and the thug engage in protracted pushing and wrestling until eventually the Geordie Achilles is ejected. The scene concludes with an audibly breathless Jim returning to the room to make sure no Latvians were hurt during the making of this movie and finally taking his place again behind the counter where he resumes his totally inept polishing of tankards that are already perfectly clean.

And it only took about twenty-five takes. Indeed the exertion was so intense that by about take fifteen, instead of leaping over his counter, Jim the barman unceremoniously collapses behind it with cramp in his foot, caused by the unfamiliar shoes handed to him in wardrobe and the fact it is now three o’clock in the morning and he has been standing up, polishing his spotless collection of beer glasses since 10 p.m. Look out for it in the blooper reel.

A Star is Born

But we got there in the end. I have no idea how much of my boozy heroism will make it into the final cut of Sarkanais Mežs, but I would not be surprised if Jim’s brief but memorable appearance leads for calls for him to get his own spin-off series in which he protects Latvians in dangerous situations and tells villains to sling their hooks, preferably in exotic locations.

With my brief scene having held up proceedings for several hours, it was time for the real actors to take over with some high-intensity exchanges during which they threw the English-language dialogue I had doctored back and forth. It was impressive, highly professional, and a sharp contrast with the rank amateurism I had displayed. But I was improving. I only managed to ruin their scene three or four times when I put a glass of whisky on the table between them in a manner even more awkward and artificial than the way I polish beer glasses.

Just before dawn, it was all in the can. Handing back Jim’s apron and cramp-inducing shoes to the wardrobe department, I felt very much as Peter O’Toole must have felt handing back his robes and camel at the end of Lawrence of Arabia. And like O’Toole I left in search of an early-morning drink. It’s what we actors do.

However, I do have an admission. At the end of filming I stole a bottle of beer from the set which I intend to drink at the moment I make my screen debut. This is not such a serious crime as it sounds. After all, it was my b*****y pub.

This article was originally published on March 3rd, 2019 at http://lsm.lv


You can watch the series online worldwide via the Re:Play portal.

Mike Collier is a book author and the English editor of lsm.lv