Maybe it is just a kind of scientific fallacy, but it is said that some large animals, when shot by hunters, will keep moving or attacking even after they have suffered fatal injuries. The damage is done, but for various reasons, it can take many seconds or even minutes for the animal to die. Given a “freeze frame” image of the animal just after it was shot, a veterinarian could say that while the creature is very much alive when the snapshot is taken, it is just a matter time before the injury it has suffered will kill it or at best severely cripple it.
The 2011 Latvian census, sadly, is this kind of snapshot. A nation isn't exactly a charging rhinoceros, so the analogy is poor, but it is a living socio-economic and historical organism. It can suffer fatal damage that is visible, obvious, yet will take time to work its ultimate effects.
The 2011 figures show that Latvia had a population of 2.068 million, down 13% from the last census in 2000 and down 22.4% from the 1989 census, the last before Latvia regained its independence. In absolute numbers, this represents a population loss of 600 000, more than the losses suffered to political repression (including deportations), combat in the Second World War, and refugee flight to the West.
At first glance, these figures would appear to be evidence for the strident claims that Latvia's 20 year period of independence has amounted to “genocide” in excess of anything the national has every experienced. This is not true. Of the 13% population loss since 2000, 190 000 are emigrants. Presumably most of them are alive and many of them are better off economically than their cohorts in Latvia. 119 000 represent deaths in excess of births, but very few of these deaths were violent, although some could be considered premature by European life expectancy standards. So to speak of “genocide”, except in some peculiar metaphorical sense, is a misleading exaggeration.
However, it is not an exaggeration to say that the end result of Latvia's demographic decline will be further depopulation in coming decades and the eventual unsustainability of the Latvian nation as such. In other words, there will not be enough people of working age to support a growing number of pensioners and, indeed, to prevent economic stagnation. Labor immigration may be the only way to remedy this, reversing the depletion of the active labor force by emigration and low birth rates.
Who or what is at fault for this? I would say that the Latvian political elite over the past 20 years is responsible for, in effect, keeping open and “salting” the deep wounds ripped into the nation's fabric by 50 years of Soviet Communist occupation. Not the least, most of Latvia's governments since 1991 have, to a greater or lesser degree, perpetuated the Soviet mentality and Soviet way of handling matters. Most notably, they have largely ignored the advice (sometimes not well presented) of Western countries and during the European Union accession process to do a number of things that require little or no spending – stop bribery, end other forms of corruption, run government cleanly and efficiently. I have expounded on this before.
Now that Latvia has failed to do what it could have done to heal and mitigate the wounds of occupation, it has, in effect, turned these into self-perpetuated wounds that have now turned the nation into a ticking demographic bomb that it is probably too late to disarm. Latvia is well on its way to becoming, and will probably inexorably become a territory with a shrinking, aging, demoralized population and a stagnating, most likely shrinking and unsustainable economy. That is the brutal reality of the census.