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Latvia: Russian as an Official Language

Historians say with confidence that the Russian language is not foreign to the Latvian land

03.11.2011 08:07 Leonid Kruglov

Latvia: Russian as an Official Language
In Latvia the collection of signatures began on November 1, in support of giving Russian a status of an official language. This became possible after the Rodnoy Yazyk (Native Language) association managed to collect 12 thousand certified signatures of citizens wishing to see Russian as a second official language in Latvia. Thereafter, the Central Election Committee (CEC) announced that from 1 to November 30 the collection of signatures will be held to amend the constitution on the basis of which Russian can be given the status of a second official language in the country.

It is important to note that according to the census of 2000, in Latvia, with 29.6% of ethnic Russians, 37.5% of residents consider it as native language, and by proficiency degree, it ranks first among the country’s population - 81.2%. Only the French-speaking Community of Belgium is a larger, in percentage terms, linguistic minority in Europe.

However, for Russian schools and Russian speakers it’s not all that simple. It is to be recalled that for consideration of the bill on the subject by the Latvian Seim it is necessary to collect about 170 thousand votes, that is, at least one tenth of the population must agree thereto. Only after that can the parliament appoint a referendum in which not less than 700 thousand citizens of the country must agree to the introduction of a second official language. But it is no secret that most Latvians will not support this idea.

In addition, the CEC has not provided any information regarding the places of collecting signatures and their addresses. Moreover, it was found that these places are located in Latvian schools what clearly characterizes the position of the democratic governance of Latvia. But on the other hand, the All for Latvia nationalist movement, which aimed to eliminate the Russian language in Russian schools, was known for everyone - the Latvian public has been informed in advance of the addresses of places and their work schedules.

According to the chairman of the Native Language association, Vladimir Linderman, the collection of signatures was also complicated by the position of the Consent Center (CA) led by the Mayor of Riga Nil Ushakov. He said that the CA does not support this action. Although everyone in Latvia knows that this party represents the interests of Russian-speaking population, and with its help it would be much easier to achieve the desired result.

However, the initiators of the action, even in case of unsuccessful outcome, hope to build a foundation for further work to improve the living conditions of Russian-speaking population. Based on the available voices, opinions of national minorities and international law, members of the Native Language association will be able to appeal to the European court and UN bodies. And then we can talk about discrimination against minorities and undemocraticity of the language policy of the Latvian leadership. Note that the UN has already recommended to eliminate in Latvia the status of non-citizens for more than 15% of the population.

Council of NGOs in Latvia emphasized in its address: “A victory at this important stage is a weighty statement of the Latvian language policy’s undemocraticity, which can not be ignored by the international community. The voters’ support for giving the Russian language an official status provides an opportunity to draw on our side the democratic forces of the Council of Europe and the EU and together with them to begin seeking a way out of the situation, in which today the Russian language finds itself.”

Historians say with confidence that the Russian language is not foreign to the Latvian land. The Russian-speaking community has continuously existed on the territory of the modern Latvia at least since the second half of XVII century (the wave of Old Believer immigrants). It has grown considerably in the XVIII-XIX centuries in connection with the accession to Russia and the rapid economic development of Ostsee provinces, and later due to the entry of Latvia into the USSR. But over the past 20 years, the Latvian leadership has used every effort to wash out the language being native for hundreds of thousands citizens, and Adviser to Minister of Culture, Berdnikov said that the Russian language is under threat in Latvia.
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