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Broadcasting and National Imagination in Post-Communist Latvia: Defining the Nation, Defining Public Television. By Jānis Juzefovičs. Chicago: Intellect Books, 2017. 164 pp. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. $50.00, paper.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2019

Katja Wezel*
University of Pittsburgh
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Book Reviews
Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 2019 

Jānis Juzefovičs’ monograph Broadcasting and National Imagination in Post-Communist Latvia: Defining the Nation, Defining Public Television provides detailed insight into the media and TV viewing habits of ethnic Latvians and Russian speakers in Latvia. Juzefovičs's research angle and his methods allow him to go beyond generalized attributions and positions. His research approach of quota and snowball sampling to recruit participants for ten focus groups, as well as in-depth qualitative interviews with five families (including three generations) at their homes permit him to rebuke widespread accusations by ethnic Latvian politicians who tend to regard Russian speakers as completely stuck in the orbit of Russian propaganda. As Juzefovičs stresses, Latvia's Russian speakers are far more critical of the Russian media than they are given credit for.

Another important merit of this study is its focus on the diversity of Latvia's so-called “Russian-speaking population.” Here, the monograph's appendix, in which Juzefovičs provides short overviews of the focus groups’ participants as well as family profiles, is particularly revealing. The family profiles give the reader insight into the diversity of Latvian family life, where intermarriages between ethnic groups are common, and “Russian speakers” are by no means all ethnic Russians.

The monograph is organized into five chapters discussing the ways in which television viewing habits can help us understand the central question of national belonging in post-communist Latvia. Most of the research was conducted between October 2011 and July 2012, with emphasis on public television. While Juzefovičs assesses both viewing habits of ethnic Latvians and Russian speakers, a large focus of the study is the overarching question of national loyalty among Latvia's Russian speakers. The crisis in Ukraine has exacerbated the questioning of this group's loyalty by Latvia's nationalist politicians and also raised concerns among NATO partners. Yet, as Juzefovičs argues, even those (mostly elderly) Russian speakers who view Russia as their fatherland still see Latvia as their homeland, show interest in news from Latvia, and feel connected to the Latvian nation. At the same time, they accuse Latvia's main public broadcaster, LTV1, of excluding Russian voices—and therefore the narrative of the Russian-speaking population—from its broadcasts. Here, it needs to be added that Latvian public TV has expanded its Russian-language broadcasting since 2014 (after the study was conducted), in response to the crisis in Ukraine, filling the need to provide alternative points of view missing from the Russian media sphere.

Juzefovičs’ study underlines the generational divide. Those Russian speakers who were born and grew up in independent Latvia after 1991 are far less likely to watch the news on the popular media outlet Pervyi Baltiiskii kanal, which produces some local programming and rebroadcasts Russia's state-owned Pervyi kanal. This finding once again raises the awareness of “the Russian-speaking population” as a very diverse group, and not a monolithic bloc. Taken seriously, this should make Latvia's nationalist politicians rethink their education policies. As Juzefovičs's research shows, younger Russian speakers in Latvia already speak Latvian very well and are loyal to the Latvian state, even if they criticize Latvian politicians.

This is an important book not only for scholars interested in media habits and public television but also for those who would like to understand the diversity of Latvia's population. At times the author could have provided more detailed explanations about Latvia's history for the non-expert audience. For instance, the concept of non-citizenship is introduced only very briefly. Its history and the reason why Latvia introduced the “non-citizen” passport in 1995 remains unclear. As a reader, I would also have wished for a more thorough editing process. At times, sentences are very long and convoluted, and there are some grammatical errors that can make the reading experience less enjoyable.