guardian.co.uk: Latvians reject Russian as official language

by , under All categories, Enrique

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?

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Associated Press

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.

Read whole story.

  1. Hiski

    While I think that the majority of Latvians are voting against their best interest by keeping Russian-speakers second-class citizens (and many thousands of them are not even citizens, despite decades in Latvia) the Finnish bilinguality system is not a working or democratic model. In most of Finland, you have a much better chance of being served in English than Swedish. In some places, even Russian is a better choice. If there was a referendum about the status of Swedish language in Finland, it would certainly lose its theoretical equality.

  2. Seppo

    I agree with Enrique that the Finnish model could be used as an example of relatively well functioning bilingualism.

    There are two big differences here. Firstly, most of the Russian-speakers in Estonia and Latvia are modern immigrants and what is important, they arrived through and during an occupation. The Swedish-speakers of Finland have lived on this land for hundreds and hundreds of years. Secondly, Russian has posed and in a certain way can still be seen as posing a serious threat to Estonian and Latvian languages. If Russian was given the status of a second official language it would actually become the dominating language, at least in Latvia. This is the same reason why English can never be given an official status in Finland.

    But certainly the treatment of the Russian-speakers cannot be justified. Mother tongue is a human right. It should be possible to go to school and get public service in your own language if you constitute such a big minority as the Russian-speakers do. But, as far as I know, this is possible in Latvia. And for that the language does not need to be an official state language. In Estonia however they are slowly forcing Estonian even in the Russian language schools.

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