Scholar and activist Dr. Andrey P. Berdnikov (in Latvian – Andrejs Berdnikovs), has recently come under political attack in Latvia for his research and political activism. With a number of others he co-organised a conference on “The autonomy of Latgale: political, legal, economic, historical and cultural aspects”, as well as a survey on public attitudes towards autonomy. Latgale is the eastern province of Latvia and has a high proportion of ethnic Russians, Belarussians and Poles as well as an ethnically distinctive Latgalian population whose language and religion differ from the rest of Latvia.
The current Latvian government is deeply hostile to any discussion of minority rights and autonomy-related issues. Four activists involved in the conference had their homes searched by the political police and the survey data removed. Andrey has lost all his income as a result of political pressure, with a number of funders breaking off their collaboration and colleagues becoming afraid to work with him.
The message this sends to the outside world is that it is impossible to do scholarly work in Latvia and disagree with the ruling ideology; this does not reflect well on the image of Latvian scholarship abroad.
We want to state clearly that academic freedom includes, and must include, the right to research and freely discuss social or political issues even where they are inconvenient to the authorities. Like all citizens, scholars have a right to be politically engaged and hold views that differ from the dominant ideological discourse. Diversity of ideas does not threaten society; on the contrary, it is the best way to solve social problems. We stress that the constant practice of making accusations of disloyalty is a dangerous trend that could have a serious effect on the development of Latvia as a democratic country.
We call on the Latvian intellectual community to stand up for intellectual freedom and for scholars’ right to political engagement. We also call on the Latvian authorities to stop the stigmatization of its political opponents and on Latvian academics and funders to restore their collaboration with Andrey P. Berdnikov.