Testimonies » Latvia
The youth situation in Latvia can be described in different terms. On a governmental level there are many more problems then possibilities. The government does not award a lot of money to youth organisations, but it is good in the field of education as this is free (until secondary level, higher education is not for free, but in Universities there are some financed places, it depends on University) and of quite a good level. There are also NGOs where young children can spend their free time and bring their thoughts into reality. The aims of Latvia’s youth organisations, as they are arbitrarily decided by some kids, are to develop knowledge of youth, to acquire attitude and values for motivating their possibilities to take part in society’s processes, and influence them. The main task of an NGO is to provide the same facilities for all young people to prove themselves in many different kinds of activities.
The main problem is the different opportunities for those youngsters who live in rural areas and for those who live in cities (education, job). Unemployment in rural areas is one of the reasons why these youngsters find alternatives on how to spend their spare time through drugs, alcohol, and vandalism. They are not informed about the different possibilities that could maybe even change their lives. Another problem is that most of the youngsters start working during studies only to get money to survive, and this influences the quality of their studies that sometimes are not finished completely. All in all, some youngsters do not understand the meaning of good education, or at least some education. Another problem especially spread among young girls from rural areas (and not only) is the willingness to go abroad. Mostly they go to find a better paid job, but very often the thing they face is just prostitution. All these problems (and many others) must be solved with the help of government, but most of the people who care about them come from different non-governmental organisations. NGO work is not financed by the state.
Jurmala is the 5th largest city in Latvia. 38% of all the inhabitants are youths. Our institution is interested in working with this part of society because it is the future of our city and our country. Because I have close contact with youths I want to develop these relationships into a new dimension which will help them to get a clear sight of what they want to achieve. I am interested in developing new, innovative methods of involvement of youth in public activities in order to raise their self-confidence and leadership, because of what is usually said about Latvians, that we do not have a spirit of entrepreneurship. Yes, it is about our mentality but I would like to change this thing and encourage young people to set new challenges and reach them by being socially active citizens of the world.
Young people in Latvia are very different, as all over the world. Actually, once I wrote an essay on this to the Latvian Youth Council. Some are rich, others are poor. Some speak Latvian, some speak Russian. The thing I would like to put emphasis on is that what unites most of us are the problems of studying and employment, and finding an appropriate job. Seeing youth NGOs acting from inside, I can also say that they are not working properly.
We are thinking a lot on the situation of young people having problems with finding a job after graduating from middle school. This year our Latvian government made different work places for youngsters but they did not think that the demand will be so huge. That means we need to solve that problem by discussing it in the Budapest Meeting in October 2004.
I see it this way: young people are divided into three parts. One part consists of those who are studying, maybe working, and trying to build their family; those who are not studying but working and trying to live without education; and those who are not working, not studying, committing crimes, walking on the street, using drugs, etc. I think that in the last few years the situation got better because more youngsters want to do something for their future. They care more about themselves. But still there are young people who need some stimulation and encouragement to do something for their lives. That depends on education at school, in families, their free time activities and friends who they hang out with.
The situation for youngsters in Latvia is nowadays not as good as it could be. There are many youngsters confronting many disadvantages, who come from poor families or orphanages. Education is getting more and more expensive, and most of the students cannot pay for their studies since they have to work. Youngsters living in Riga are in a relatively good situation compared to those in the countryside or the smaller towns. The situation there is almost critical because of unemployment and poverty. It is almost impossible to study and get higher education if your parents do not support you financially. NGOs are trying to propose some opportunities for them, like travelling and volunteering abroad. European Voluntary Service is a very good possibility, and now more and more youngsters are getting involved in it. There is still a big unsolved national conflict between Russian and Latvian youngsters. These two ethnical groups are completely separated and the relationship between them is getting worse and worse I think. It is coming from the families, of course, but also from mass media and politicians. There are two different societies in Latvia – Russian and Latvian, and youngsters are the ones who become victims of political games.
We are like everybody else in the world and yet we differ. Our country has a long and painful history and now we have to develop fast, and that sometimes means to have failures. Failure could happen even in youth work. At the moment the biggest problems include drug abuse, lack of a clear vision of youth policy in our country, difference between popular professions and the real situation in the labour market, very big differences between capital cities and regions in proposals of cultural life, quality of education, etc.
The youth policy is developing right now in Latvia. There is no youth policy law at the moment. This also means that sometimes society does not understand what does youth work mean and how important it is. For many years our government was giving money only for youth free time activities. But the fields of youth work are so different: youth information, social situation, youth participation, health, etc. There is almost no financial support from the government for youth NGOs, and that is why some organisations are working only during projects. Unemployment rate in the Eastern part of Latvia is rather high and many youngsters are going abroad to find work. Youth drug problems are also increasing, mainly in big cities. But the situation in youth work policy is changing step by step, and I hope that in some years it will be better.
In my country youths are not very active in NGOs. However there are some strong and successful youth organisations functioning. There is a lack of resources to organise youth houses and offer training and events for the youngsters, especially in the countryside. It is a pity as well that young people from country regions are involved in household chores such as feeding cattle and working in fields. On the other hand, they do not have time to do school homework properly, not even talking about non-formal education and getting active at NGO levels. Young people try to enter the job market very fast after school. Also, most of the students work besides studying to support themselves. In a way it is sad because young people do not have time to enjoy their youth, but at the same time they become responsible about themselves at a very young age and it is sure that they will not get lost in life. Of course, it would be great if it was possible to find balance between both of these values and let young people to learn about the world and themselves, giving them a chance to explore other countries, joining activities which benefit local community, and not to force them to grow up too fast. As I have travelled quite a lot and have lived abroad, I can say that the difference in the level of maturity is very big.
I think that young people in Latvia are getting more and more open for new things. But this is having its good and bad sides. On the one hand people are getting addicted to drugs, something new for young people in Latvia and still they do not understand that it is killing them. On the other hand young people are not afraid anymore of travelling around. They are studying and working abroad and getting involved in many interesting and educational projects. Young people started to understand how important is good education, and some students are studying in more than one university at the same time. I like Latvian youngsters, because they know how to make things work. Some time ago we were cold Northern people, but I know that my generation will definitely break this stereotype. I think that more and more Latvian youngsters start to look at their life differently. They see their future. They see the possibility of getting a good job and to be important for society.
To be young is great but it does not mean that you can reach a lot. Everyone has aims, but some of them make them real because young people have to be resolute, purposeful and have to believe in their power. Young people start to look around during secondary school time (16-18 years old) for voluntary work, competitions, and projects (mostly from other organisations) in their regions, make groups of active members, and try to find and to join other people of their age. And after Latvia’s joining the European Union, opportunities grew because of financial support. But active young people still have to meet a lot of difficulties to realise their projects, aims, and activities. They really have great ideas, but to realise them without money is very hard. As a surprise Latvia’s youth have realised a lot of ideas without money! For being in Best this summer I organised a leisure course and I spent a lot of my energy in fund-raising. As I wrote, the budget for youth activities in my country is bigger but it does not mean that for young and active people it is easier to reach. We have to build our group strong and share our force.
Young people in Latvia are very active, purposeful, love travelling and discover new countries and things. They value education highly, and start their professional career at an early age.
The aim of our country is to create democratic, tolerant and lawful society of equal opportunities where each young person can feel his/her value. There is no youth law in Latvia yet but the preparation work has started already since 1998. Latvian youth are willing to participate and work, and they are doing it actively in different organisations. The socially active part of young people is those who study and participate in NGOs. The largest support is needed to youth who do not study, work, and mostly live in the countryside. Young people in the countryside have fewer opportunities to get involved in civil society processes. They are less motivated for various reasons. Unfortunately there are many young people who use drugs and alcohol, are criminals, etc.
The teenager situation in our country is not so bad! Yes of course we have problems with teenagers, like crime, but I think it is like this everywhere. But the government works very much with this problem. There are more and more new non-governmental organisations which are interested in teenager evolution. These make many projects and try to find different resources from sponsors. Also in schools there are teenager organisations like ours. These organisations involve teenagers in different measures. The result is that teenagers do not have so much free time and they are engaged.
Right now the youngsters are getting a bit more active in the field of different activities that are prepared by themselves. Young people start to have trust and believe that they can do something and that it is not important how old you are to do the things you like and to work on projects that reach further than your city or region. It means that more youngsters are open to the new opportunities from different funds and programmes. But there is still a difference between the capital and the back country because of the difference of resources available. I believe that a lot of young people would be interested in action to improve their lives and make them more interesting, but they just need a bit of courage and a little push to start acting. In general I think that they are open to the whole world and willing to meet people from other cultures, but they just have to have a bit of trust that it is possible, in spite of their financial situation and belonging to some social groups.
We have problems with the quality of education in regions. Our politicians would like to see only the higher paid education in Latvia which limits the access to knowledge for most young people. This is important because we have big percentages of unemployment among young people who have only secondary education (46.1%). It gives rise to new problems, such as alcoholism, drug addiction and crime. Our young families do not have enough support from the government which is one of the reasons why birth-rate in Latvia is so small. But we, young people of Latvia, we do not lose hope and we will work hard to change the situation in our country. It will not be easy because we have a lot of things to do.
Latvia is a beautiful country and of course there are a lot of young people. They all are very different. Now it is very important for young people to get good education, to be independent, and to have a good job. There are a lot of possibilities for young people, but sometimes they do not use them correctly. I think the most important quality is that young people are not listening to what is happening around them.
At the moment there is a very strange situation with youngsters in our country. I am living in a small city which is close to the capital of Latvia, Riga. The main problem in our community is that all young people are leaving to the capital city for a better life. Youngsters who stay in our city are mainly either very attached to the countryside or they do not know what to leave. I find the problem in another aspect. With the joining of the EU there can be a rise in racism and narcissism. It is still hard to find coloured people, with different religions and life styles, in our city, which has a population of 20,000. But it is going to change. And we need to be ready for the changes.
The biggest problem is the employment of young people in our country. In rural areas and cities youths have nothing to do during their leisure time and they start to use alcohol and drugs. For that reason they need such organisations in all regions of Latvia. Youths in our region think that the biggest problem is employment. They would like to find a job in summer, but only some young people succeed. Generally in Latvia, the situation for young people is good, because comparing with other countries there is not a big percentage of youths using drugs.
Latvia is a multi-ethnic society where more than twenty nationalities, apart from Latvians, are living. The share of non-Latvians in Latvia is 44.2% according to the data of the Statistic Committee of Latvia gathered in 2000. The integration process in Latvia is of a very formal nature. In fact, the great problem is the estrangement of society into two parts: Latvian-speaking and Russian-speaking, as it is recognised by young people of different nationalities who study together in one university and in the same group. Youth from majority and minority sectors do not communicate. The continuation of this situation could lead to very negative consequences in the future. In October 1991 citizenship was restored to those who were citizens of pre-war Latvia and their direct descendants. A large portion of the remaining inhabitants of Latvia may qualify for citizenship through naturalisation. At the beginning of 2000 the number of non-citizens among non-Latvians was about 620,000 or 26% of the population of Latvia. It is 58% of the non-Latvian population. These people are excluded from political participation. Latvian is granted the status of a state language. However, according to statistical data about languages used in the family of all registered inhabitants, 58% use Latvian in the family, 37% use Russian, 4% use both languages, and the rest use other languages.
41% of young people are students. About 30% of students can study free of charge. About 40% of students study in intramural programmes. Young people are free to join non-governmental and governmental organisations. These possibilities are widely promoted in educational institutions. Information is available on media (mostly on the Internet) and many other kinds of events. The majority of participants in non-governmental organisations are students and graduated. Young people can easily find jobs, depending on their level of education, whether it is average or well paid. In spite of the good work by NGOs, intercultural learning is still needed to integrate society. Questions about minorities are still debated since many students form part of these national minorities.
Young people’s interests in Latvia are protected by the Latvian government, NGOs, and student and pupil councils. Since May 2004 young people from Latvia can use all the opportunities that the European Union offers them. But the question is whether Latvian young people are ready to use them or not. Do they have enough information and motivation? I think it is really important to inform and encourage new generations.
Being part of the EU has a great impact on Latvian youth. I think young people in Latvia are very different and they want to live better than their parents in the Soviet Union. A lot of them are eager to study and work at the same time and not depend on their parents. I think there is a problem among young people who do not want to live in their native towns when they grow up because of unemployment, and so they move to the big cities. The situation with knowing foreign languages gets better than few years ago because young people can see their real use now that we have to make contacts with foreigners. A lot of young people like to experience working or studying abroad.
I would say that young people in my country mostly live on their own. The economic and social problems reflect on the young generation drastically, in both rural and urban areas with their peculiarities. The main problems we meet in Latvia are unemployment, lack of social services for young people, and lack of tolerance.

– Testimony updated by Ms. Marita Kroica