EXPECTING REFUGEES IN LATVIA: INTERGROUP ANXIETY
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In the context of the contemporary refugee crisis in Europe, Latvia has agreed to provide shelter to several hundreds of refugees. However, Latvian society remains very sceptic about such plans, and reportedly demonstrates strong negative attitudes towards refugees. The host society is preparing for a new social context, which may change the status quo and challenge national identities in Latvia. Although the surveys indicate that the level of negation in the society is close to 80%, media report that these feelings do not really impact the behaviour of Latvian residents, reflecting cognitive and emotional components of such attitudes only. According to the survey, by the end of 2015 the factual experience of interaction with refugees did not exceed ten per cent of Latvian population. Therefore, most of the real attitudes are formed by mass media and other socialisation agents. In order to uncover the nature of these feelings, the present study has been designed to make an in-depth social psychological study on prejudicial attitudes. One thousand Latvian residents evenly representing Latvia’s demographic composition have taken part in this study. A modified Stephan’s Intergroup Anxiety Questionnaire has been used to assess participants’ real and imagined discomfort and anxiety level when interacting with refugees. According to the Integrated Threat Theory, this is one of emotional components of attitudes. The results identify factors influencing the formation of such attitudes and reveal how they may shape the identity of the host society in future. When evaluating their prejudicial attitudes towards refugees, Latvian residents demonstrate conformity in answers. Carefulness and impatience are the most typical emotions describing how Latvian residents feel or would have felt when interacting with refugees. The results indicate that the level of readiness to accept newcomers in Latvian society is very low. Most of these attitudes are formed not as a result of interaction with the new group, but based on the assumptions; they are anchored in the fear of the unknown and in doubts that the coming changes in the established balance of interethnic relations in Latvia will bring in more opportunities than threats. The study suggests that there is a strong link between the current situation and Latvian ethnopolitics.
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