Saturday, February 25, 2012

Latvia: Latvians Reject Making Russian a Second Official Language

Latvians voted overwhelmingly on Saturday (February 25) to reject a proposal to make Russian a second official language, in a referendum that has heightened ethnic tensions and sparked renewed criticism of the patriarch of the old Soviet Union.

Understandably, the vote was initiated by Latvia’s pro-Russian lobby, which says the large Russian-speaking minority has been denied equal rights since Latvia broke free from the Soviet Union in 1991.

COMMENT: With about 830 of 1,035 voting districts counted, results showed 76% against the proposal and 24% in favor of it. About one-third of the roughly 2 million population are Russian-speaking, though not all have the right to vote, largely because they have not passed the Latvian language test that is one of the requirements of citizenship.

Latvia regained its independence in 1991 after 50 years of Soviet rule. Post-independence laws were aimed at cutting Russian influence and boosting the Latvian language and culture. Among the Russian-speaking population, the vote was seen as a way to protest against measures that they say discriminate against them, such as the requirement to take Latvian language and history tests.

During 2002-2006, when I was responsible in delivering anti-terrorism training to a number of Central Asian nations, including such countries Georgia and Azerbaijan, they understandably insisted that translated materials and simultaneous interpretation of US instructors be in their native languages.








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