Comment: Those who have visited Latvia like I many times, the country looks beautiful from the outside but from the inside it is another story especially for about a third of the population that speak Russian as their first language. Other sources claim that Russian speakers comprise of 44% of the country’s 2.1 million people.
While few will deny the human rights violations committed during the Soviet regime on language groups like the Latvians and Estonians, the question we should ask is if these countries have learned anything from their history.
What will ethnic Latvians or Estonians gain by excluding a large sector of the population from society by placing language and citizenship barriers? Do they believe that denying language rights will make the “problem” go away over time?
This, I believe, is wishful thinking. Finland could play a bigger role in pointing out to these countries how, for example, we came to have two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Certainly there are historical differences why the Swedish speakers were given language rights as opposed to Russians in Latvia and Estonia, where they account for about 25% of the population.
Despite that we haven’t embarked on questionable path of the Baltic States when it comes to mending ethnic relations, Finland has not always had a benign view of its its Russian speakers. Discrimination is a sad reality but it manifests itself different than in Latvia.
Writes the guardian.co.uk: “Hundreds of thousands of Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians moved to Latvia and the neighboring Baltic republics during the population transfers of the Soviet regime. Many of them never learned Latvian and were denied citizenship when Latvia regained independence, meaning they do not have the right to vote or work in government.”
Are the Latvians sowing the seeds of future conflicts and strife by excluding Russian speakers?
Latvian voters have resoundingly rejected a proposal to give official status to Russian, the mother tongue of their former Soviet occupiers and a large chunk of the population.