Language Referendum in Latvia

Feb 20, 2012 by

On February 18, 2012 Latvia held a referendum on the issue of Russian as a second official language. A turnout of more than 70 percent underscored the extent that this issue has stirred the public, and the results were overwhelmingly against this proposition. However, what most Western coverage, including the article in The New York Times, failed to call attention to is that these referendum results reveal political and nationalistic tensions in Latvia more than the actual linguistic situation in the country. As is typical of language laws around the world, they are more a reflection of how the world should be, according to some, than how the world actually is.

The referendum results were greeted with some pretty harsh nationalistic rhetoric. The Latvian president Andris Berzins said in a statement after the vote:

“The vote on a second state language endangered one of the most sacred foundations of the Constitution – the state language. I would also like to thank everyone who, despite the emotions and impassioned atmosphere which were conjured up by the referendum, maintained a cool head and tolerance without yielding before provocations and attempts to foment hatred.”

But how is asking to formalize the language of nearly 40% of the country’s inhabitants – proportionately, one of the largest linguistic minorities in the world – as a co-official language a provocation? Or an “attempt to foment hatred”, as if none existed before? In fact, bitterness and frustration characterizes both sides of the language divide. Many in the Russian-speaking minority came to Latvia during the Soviet times because of jobs that were assigned to them through the then-current “distribution of personnel” system, whereby graduates of higher education institutions were assigned to their first job and typically had little, if any, say in the matter of where it would be. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, a linguistic policy was instituted whose goal was to eliminate non-Latvians from managing posts, so ironically, many Russians who moved to Latvia for their jobs lost those jobs as a result of the new policy. Today, Russians who do not speak Latvian – and it should be noted that some do – are limited in their employment to the private sector, which is more lax in applying language laws. On the other hand, ethnic Latvians, most of whom do not speak Russian, tend to work in the public and state-run sectors. Moreover, they run the risk of not being understood in a store or a hair salon, where clerks and hairdressers are often Russian-speaking.

In my opinion, refusing to make Russian a second official language serves only to perpetuate the divide and to further nurture those frustrations. Latvia’s Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who actively opposed the referendum, seems to agree, as his harsh rhetoric in support of the referendum results is mitigated by some conciliatory remarks. “What we need to think now is what additional measures could be done on integration and naturalization policies, including more opportunities to study Latvian,” he said in a telephone interview. But people in the business world disagree. According to the Latvian Confederation of Employers Elina Egle, the real problem not in the shortage of Latvian in education, but in the shortage of Russian there:

“We see that Latvian children become less competitive [in the job market], because Russians know Latvian, and Russian, and English. But the parents of Latvian children already understood that they need to learn Russian too, and not to pity themselves. The current problem is the shortage of Russian language teachers — there is not enough good teachers in Latvia.”

Thus, the language issue is far from being resolved in Latvia. It remains to be seen what further steps will be taken by Latvian government, business organizations, and the education policy makers.

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  • Ivan Derzhanski

    Could the concern be that if Russian becomes an official language in Latvia, no Russian will ever learn or use Latvian, then the ethnic Latvians too will switch to Russian and English, and Latvian will go down the way of Liv and eventually East Prussian?  (I don’t really know if this would be a reasonable concern.)

    • This is a very reasonable analysis. The concerns of the Latvians who voted “no” to Russian definitely involve their worries about national identity, as was mentioned by various political leaders in their post-referendum interviews and statements. To me the possibility that Latvians will stop speaking Latvian seems rather laughable though…

      • Ivan Derzhanski

        Well, yes, but one never knows what may happen in a few decades.  When I read that the prime minister had ‘said that Latvia respected its minority groups but should have only one state language’, my first thought was ‘why so? Ireland, for example, has two official languages’, but then it occurred to me that the example might not be thought worth following, as Irish is an endangered language (although this is more likely a reason for the official status of English there than a consequence thereof).

        • You are right about Irish. But Latvian situation appears to be different. There does not seem to be waning use of Latvian among Latvians. Besides, I think that many non-Latvians there are rather put off by such languages law. In any case, these laws do not refelct or change the situation on the ground, not in Latvia, and not (as I’ve discussed in other posts in the blog) elsewhere…

          • Randy McDonald

            “There does not seem to be waning use of Latvian among Latvians.”Mightn’t there be a risk of that? As I understand it, Russophones form the majority or at least plurality in all of Latvia’s major cities, as you note the Russian language is strongly entrenched in the private sector of the economy, and the relative “burden” of bilingualism is on the Latvian side: ethnic Latvians are more likely to be fluent in Russian than Russophones are to be fluent in Latvia, even after more than two decades of independence. Couple this with the burdens of history and the substantially greater population base and overall importance of the Russian language compared to the Latvian, and concern over the long-term survival of the Latvian language isn’t inappropriate.Could a change in state language policy that a) removed pressure to learn Latvian and b) granted the Russian language equal status (or near-equal status) to Latvian end up shifting the balance of power in Latvia’s language ecology towards Russian? Sure. Here in Canada, despite aspirations towards nation-wide English/French bilingualism, in most Francophone-majority regions outside of Québec Francophones are much more likely to know and speak English than Anglophones are to know and speak French, leading to situations where Francophones tend to default towards the English that’s the majority language of Canada and the North American continent, and a shift in the language frontier. Ironically,leaving aside the special case of New Brunswick where the two language communities are roughly equally balanced (though still English has a strong advantage), the most bilingual province in Canada is Québec where a language policy that prioritizes French is responsible for people learning and using French.

          • Dm

            People always tend to feel that their culture is at risk because of strange customs and languages of the others (think fears of immigration or gay marriage in the US), and it belongs to the broader class of ritualized purity and ritual purification phenomena. Impure is easily taken to mean threatening, perhaps in a way which may have been evolutionarily primed by the actual dangers of pathogens and poisons, or perhaps also developed from one of culture’s functions in self / non-self recognition.

            Anyway there is a myriad ways in which impurity prompts people to feel threatened, beyond reason … and then for the politicians and culture warriors to capitalize on these fears.

            But some loss of urban Latvian usage might have been happening for real. At least my only close ethnic Latvian friend told us that this has been common among her circle in Riga (she didn’t speak Latvian herself, although her Belorussian husband did)

          • Randy McDonald

            You’ll note that I didn’t use the language of purity in referring to the Latvian language situation. (Others, sure.) Otherwise, agreed.

          • Actually, I am not sure that it is true that more Latvians speak Russian than Russians (and other minorities) speak Latvian. Nor is it correct to say that Russian “is entrenched in the private sector”, as Russian speakers (who do not speak Latvian, and many do) are limited in their employment, not working there by choice. The greater overall base doesn’t matter either, as world-wide plenty of even smaller languages survive next to — and in contact with — bigger ones.

            Interesting that you brought up the Canadian example as it shows quite clearly that language laws do not reflect or affect the situation on the ground — the very point I was trying to make! Having official bilingualism doesn’t make anybody de facto bilingual (unless they want to), and many English-speaking Canadians outside of Quebec do not speak French. And the policy that prioritizes French in Quebec made people learn French or leave the province, as many Anglophones did, is another good question.

          • Randy McDonald

            The 2001 Latvian census apparently reported marginally more people fluent in Russian than in Latvian–~84% versus ~81% ( I’m willing to stipulate that by now, Latvian has probably taken the edge.

          • Randy McDonald

            But in a previous post on the Latvian language situation, you’ve commented that despite the language laws it’s still advantageous to speak Russian–you mentioned Latvian-educated students being shortchanged on the private job market relative to their Russophone peers. I agree  that the Russophone specialization in the private sector is a reaction to the requirements for Latvian fluency for public sector employment, but Latvia’s is a basically capitalist economy with the Wikipedia page on the Latvian economy identifying two-thirds of all jobs being in the public sector.

          • Randy McDonald

            As for language planning in the case of Canada, while it hasn’t created a bilingual Canada it _has_ created a Quebec where French, not English, is the local prestige language. A fairly complicated mixture of laws and policies governing immigration, education, and employment–yes, including requirements that companies of a certain size be able to serve their clientele in French–has significantly changed the sociolinguistic situation in that province. Had the language laws not been passed, Quebec would be very different, and Canada, too: the ability of Quebec to survive within Canada as a predominantly Francophone society is probably the single most important factor in Quebec having remained Canadian despite two referenda.

          • Randy McDonald

            As for the survival of Latvian, it is true that small languages often survive quite well alongside larger ones. A critiucal factor in this involves the survival of clear boundaries, I think (have you read Laponce’s work). Latvian might have more first-language speakers than Estonian, for instance, but Estonian held on to many of its niches–Russophone immigration had a much shorter history, and was concentrated in a few discrete geographical areas (the northeast, some suburbs of Tallinn). This is in contrast to the situation in Latvia, where there is a proportionally larger Russophone population, all the major cities are Russophone, and large sectors of the economy and society still default to the Russian language that’s the language of the populous and wealthy demi-continent next door. Pressures exist in the case of the Latvian language that don’t for eityher Lithuanian or Estonian.

          • Official bilingualism is not designed to promote individual bilingualism: on the contrary, it is intended to allow individual monolingualism.  If all officials in New Mexico are required to respond in English to English and in Spanish to Spanish (I don’t know if this is actually true), then individual New Mexicans can be monolingual in Spanish or English if they choose, or bilingual if they choose that.  In countries were individual bi- or multilingualism is common, it’s quite likely that there will be only one official language, often a non-native (i.e. colonial) language.

          • nanobot5000

            Canada has nothing to do with it. Most of you are ignoring the very real history of Russia eradicating neighboring cultures and languages. Making Russian official only continues this tradition. It’s tragic. It’s incremental ethnic cleansing. 

          • glj

            You clearly do not realize how russian and latvian relations in Latvia work at all? The main problem is heritage of Soviet empire  and russian chauvinism in most extreme – it really depends on individual(I have met many of russians and maybe 1 from 1000 are capable of human interaction and understanding where they are – in sense – they still think that they live in some other world, that has nothing to do with reality and other – nonrussian people) and for most of the times soviet subjugated people(including russians, ukrainians, tatars, bashkirs) are really proud of what Soviet system has done to them… o.O I noticed that you have claimed jewish ancestry and are proud of that. Will you boast about your jew heritage as successful slave traders to afro-american? I guess NO, because otherwise there will be guaranteed riots, like in Florida(2012.III), for example…

            All russians can study in Latvian universities and they can work as civil servants – as a matter of fact there are many russians, who work in governmental offices, sometimes on basis, that their relatives or friends were working there in Soviet times, so language or nationality clearly wasn’t main requirement to get job there – as a matter of fact the main problem of Latvia is corruption. There was a comment, that russians are forced to be in private business… well this is a BIG LIE – most of factories and enterprises from soviet times had russians in key positions and they had a better kickstart to make their business in independent Latvia, especially with privatisation, that allowed all – not only citizens, to gain parts of these business and in most of cases people who were there as superiors, claimed those businesses as their own, so don’t blame latvians. Also most of russians had better housing in soviet times, because immigrant worker in soviet times had a priority of getting housing over locals and restitution of previous owner rights to pre-war built houses just worsened latvian situation, because they had to leave these houses and probaly rent some flats in so called hruscovkas(so called 5-storey high homes which were built in Hruscov times – usually by army) from russian residents…

            I have encountered some of russians who were studying at university where they clearly could get in by verified knowledge of latvian language – most of them were normal, but some of them… they demonstratively used russian as a sign of superiority in conversation with course of studies assistant(whose job apparently was to help students, even such pricks). There are many more examples – like shop assistants demonstratively ask customer(!) to speak in russian and so on.

            Well, most of the times it is not as bad, because there are mixed marriages and friends and coworkers, but please… I do not think, that you really want to be in conversation with very selfrighteous “russian”… this is very pity – not only feeling, that you have to share this kind of conversation with such person, but also, that even arguing with this person clearly will lead to aggression and even as a latvian jewish descendant, I’m not ready to argue here… 😉

            I can’t really understand why this is latvian problem and why they have to protect russian language? There are still state-funded russian schools in Latvia, where pupils are thaught in russian as a part of soviet legacy and clearly they do not receive patriotic education, as well. Are they really that endangered and DO they really need to be nurtured, like they are not grown-up enough? This clearly is russian problem – they have a fear of latvian language and they have a fear of assimilation and they have to deal with it. And they really have the choice – to stay and adapt or leave(in USSR nobody could leave!!! – and to some jewish people the choice was not leaving to Isralel, but Birobijan – look up in map if you are so interested). Though, really to what adapt – most of soviets came to Riga to expect secured old age and sometimes forget to raise more than one kid, because prefered luxury… and now they are most declining group of people in Latvia.

            I also have passion for linguistics and languages along with history, but there are some margins between serendipity by learning about languages, nations and their history and politics and intrusion… this article really goes further than just liguistics and seems like a trend of total disinterest in topic to me. As a matter of fact – it seems, that you are making the same mistakes as Karl Marx, who just repeated mainstream thoughts about European minorities – only then he proposed just to exterminate basques, scots etc… to make United Europe, because even in nowadays nothing has changed in treating linguistical minorities where more aggressive nations have taken over and are responsible for such situations and I’m really pi**ed off that it is easier to blame someone in yet another short article by repeating mantra, that everyone does without any proper knowledge, than to dig thruth by themselves.

            Oh, well, I’m waiting for 9.V. This will be another nice time to celebrate liberation from germans(whom latvians really hated for 700 years of oppression, but they really changed minds, when russians started to banish latvians to Siberia) and that they forgot to depart from half of liberated Europe for next 60 years… even if we miss a point, that USSR and Third Reich were allies in the beginning in WW2, when they divided Poland, along with Baltics.


          • >>
            ethnic Latvians are more likely to be fluent in Russian than Russophones are to be fluent in Latvia
            That’s just not true, especially if one speaks about young people.

            Read more:

          • Thanks for confirming my point below, Natalia!

        • Randy McDonald

          The endangered status of Irish is the consequence of centuries of language policy administered by various polities and rulers (the Kingdom of England, the Commonwealth under Cromwell, considerably later the United Kingdom) which actively promoted the use of the English language at the expense of Irish, these policies having been initiated by the strong association of the Irish language with political and religious dissidence. (If the Protestant Reformation had gone over as well in Gaelic Ireland as it did in Wales, I wonder if Irish might be more widely spoken.) The critical issue was the mass emigration triggered by the Potato Famine in the 1840s, both demographic shifts which were felt more strongly in Irish-speaking communities than in English-speaking ones. By the time the Irish Free State formed in 1922, only a tenth of its population spoke Irish natively and most of those were poor people living in remote corners of the country.

          • Ivan Derzhanski

            Yes, that’s what I meant when I said that the official status of English in Ireland isn’t the reason (or the first reason in any case) for the decline of Irish — there are other reasons, many of which don’t apply to Latvia.  It’s just that the example of Ireland might not set the minds of the Latvian leaders at ease.

      • Jeannine Miller

        I agree with your opinion. The Latvians are not going to stop speaking Latvian.

  • nanobot5000

    “In my opinion, refusing to make Russian a second official language serves only to perpetuate the divide and to further nurture those frustrations. ”
    Well, take it from this Estonian:  Making Russian an official language will accelerate and help the centuries-old tradition of Russia exterminating neighboring cultures. Screw the invaders. Hard times? Aaaaw, my heart goes out to them. Meanwhile, they executed half of my family and took our two farms. No sympathy. Integrate or leave.

    • “Integrate or leave” — you sound just like they did, alas!

    • John Cowan

      That wasn’t done by the individual Russians now in Estonia. In any case, would you think any better of them if they learned Estonian? Somehow I doubt it.

      • Great points, John!

      • Ivan Derzhanski

        This has obviously nothing to do with speaking (or being) Estonian or Russian. We hear of a single family that owned two farms, and lost them. Did they suffer because they were Estonian, or because they were rich? Did Russian landowners fare any better at the time? Clearly a social conflict is misrepresented as a national one.

  • In response to glj:

    Your VERY lengthy comment indeed highlights what I’ve argued in this post and elsewhere in this blog: that language laws have little to do with what they meant to regulate. In truth, the hatred that has already been fomented has nothing to do with language whatsoever. If those Russians you rant about would speak Martian from now on, you’d still hate them just as much. The problem is that you confound Russians and Soviets. And while there are good reasons for doing so, historically speaking, let me point out that you state that “russians started to banish latvians to Siberia”, but let’s not forget that the father of Dalstroy, the most awful of the Soviet Gulag camps, was a Latvian Eduards Bērziņš (also known as Eduard Berzin): I need to remind you that most of the prisoners in Dalstroy camps were Russians? And that other nationalities, like Jews, were overrepresented?You can read more about Berzin’s “wonderful work” here: will also be another GeoCurrents post, dedicated specifically to Gulag, so stay tuned.

    • glj

      I must quote my professor, who had saying, that in short – topic would take 40+ minutes, as opposed to long, so this is why in short my comment is VERY lenghty, because in SHORT – you have no idea about topic from latvian point of view and also about other local issues.

      First of all – I do not hate russians or any other nation, on the grounds of nation and I base my attitude on common latvian practices about relations toward foreigners, where all follows simple logic: people who are settling among us, should accept our customs and not supress us, on the simple basis, that they are just guests and they have a choice of becoming own people(by learning our language and accepting our values) or stay as guests and enjoy the sadomasohistic pleasure with Russia who is just using them as useful idiots. You may notice the sarcasm about Russia, but there is no way, that latvians could do any massacres or expulsions of other nations on their own, even if Russia would loose all territories and power, because we had the chance in 1918 against germans(they repatriated to germany in 1938, when Hitler asked to do so) and we had chance in 1990 and the problem is that everything is too complicated, as I mentioned before – there are many families with relatives from these nations and that is the only way to go. You will be surprised to know, that there are many people, who have no-latvian roots, despite the fact that they are latvinianized – french, votians, russians, among other, however I do know, that history has examples of expulsion – like livonians, that were expelled by curonians from Kurland, so that they had to settle around Riga. You also state that hatred is from latvian side – we’ll I see it from the different point of view – russians, because they do not feel a part and do not really understand latvians hate latvians(I had been in many situations in my life, where russians were calling me and latvians gansi – /Hans is german name/, or just other names or talks about how latvian are stupid etc. and the amazing thing is that this applies with any other nation and race, not just latvians, but the main problem is that they even don’t realize, that this is rude and in USA for such talks you will be accused as racist and xenophobian), also germans hated latvians and called them Bauer Volk. The thing is – there are no germans in Latvia anymore and won’t be any russians at all in shorter term than in 700 years(Latvian demographic is mostly bad, because russians are dying out more than latvians, even if they do not emigrate – this is russian problem, that they in fact feel so bad), so I’m really sorry for them, but I do not hate russians, as there are no more depressed and despairing people than russians and I have met quite many nationalities. Also you must understand, that unlike other latvians I have extensivelly studied history of latvians and also russians and there are much closer ties latvians have with russians, than latvians and russians can imagine and there is much sadder history of russians that they have suffered, than what they are proud of. This clearly has imprinted some things in brain, as I have read many stories, where people in 90ties have settled in Russia and remembered how good was in Latvia comparing to Russia, because they have been a bit different mentally, by living so close with latvians and had problems, adapting with people in Russia. There were some returnings of these people to Latvia and some returned, because they couldn’t cope with Caucasians(not as race, but language group), but they have continued antilatvian policy so I guess there is nothing else to do – “горбатого могила исправит”. I guess, you really won’t find any differences from estonian russians, but I notice many, that make them different from latvian russians, even if they enjoy some common heritage. And finally – I really have to point out, that we do not care, what language are speaking amongst themselves – they can be first Martians as well, I really don’t care(even the fact that current Mars atmosphere do not support breathing and talking as well) – the main problem is that russians do not want to learn language of state, BECAUSE they don’t wan’t to and they think that what russians has acquired during conquests are forever. Also I have noticed, that russians suffer more greatly than other people, when they realocate to other countries… I am living right now in UK and I do not have contacts with latvians there other than my close relatives, but sometimes I have contacts with russians and guess what – most of the times I have to help them to accomodate to a live there… because they completelly rip-off each other by cheating each other, because they can’t cheat other people who can’t speak russian! This is complete mental, and I really have not read any russian classic literature, but I don’t think that it will tell something new here… and the problem is the same in Latvia, only I had too busy there to observe this kind of behaviour.

      Now about Soviet theme – you really have the impression, that I think, that there aren’t soviet influenced latvians, don’t you? Oh, there are, but they are dying out as well(well – sometimes even my mother remembers good times when she was young, but then I politely ask her to point out bad things as well, that I have experienced, so I know about the topic… which ends with remembering too much, actually), so it won’t be a problem to us anymore after a while, because there are virtually no new generation of latvians who are thinking, that CCCP was a great prosperous state( 😀 because they would be mocked to the end – and be reasonable – VEF in independent Latvia was manufacturing first radio in the world with plastic cases and had their own automobile and aircraft manufacturing industry, which was adapted as Russian, when they took over and all that we ar left with today is dependant state from EU), but that thinking is quite common among russians, because they even do not relate to pre-war russian diaspora not only in Latvia(as they are mainly migrants), but also with russians in Russia, because soviets had done a great work of creating myths, distorting the history and erasing memory.

      Well, I do not clearly understand why you are referencing to Eduards Bērziņš, as creator of Dalstroy(Russian compound of: far+build) camps? HE DID NOT INVENT anything new here – Gulags were created long before he was sent to create Gulag system camps in Far East. I can even imagine how this worked – someone suggested, that there are some comissar and Stalin signed the order and this system did not need personalities, but doers… and how do you imagine, where went all the good people who objected? And are you aware, that HE WAS CITIZEN OF USSR AND NOT INDEPENDENT LATVIA? Because you clearly don’t make any distinctions in time and space. You have clearly missed out, that Latvians in 1919 had to fight with bolsheviks, part of whom also were latvians(not all bolsheviks were latvians – we really lack people resources for that…), not only germans and White Movement before gaining independence? Oh, and I’m aware, that latvians had to cooperate with germans at some point… against bolshevisks, despite the fact that germans had their own ideas at that time. The history of that period is quite a mess, but in the end – latvians decided to be independent, because bolsheviks spoiled the chance by using mindless terror – the same way it was done in the whole USSR, and was dictated by communist ideology, where Latvian divisions in Red army were just mere 1% of whole Red Army, that was 3 millions in size. Or are you implying, that latvians were superhumans, that could be in all the places and in fight for all men, because all that I have been reading was that latvians were used as personal Guards for Lenin(that is main accusation from russians, despite the fact that they are so proud of soviet heritage) and they were used with great success in hardest battles – apparently they had some experience by surviving WWI in Russian empire army as cannon fodder, where they suffered great losses and imperial army was part of ethnic cleansing policy in Russian empire, where all the non-russians were sent to greatest dangers and were comanded by russian generals. Also are you aware, that latvians, just like other nonrussian foreigners(all the foreign communists, that escaped persecutions in their homelands), jews and many other nonrussian functionary wen’t extinct(I will correct me there – they were all massacred) in USSR during the Great Purge? After Great Purge there were left mostly russians in top positions, so don’t make selection of facts on the similar basis, as russians were doing, by answering “А у вас негров линчуют”.
      However, are you aware of the fact, that USSR after Great purges with great quantity used jewish comissars in repressions against occupied Baltic states, West Belorussia, West Ukraine and Romanian Moldavia as well and I currently do not see that there are many people, who has noticed this common fact. And all that came very handy for advancing germans. What a luck and happy coincidence(for germans!), that USSR used ethnic jewish low rank commisars to do dirty jobs in borderlands with Third Reich, after Kristallnacht and anti-semithic propaganda…

      And you do not see where you do not differ from Third Reich/Third Rome(Первые два Рима погибли, третий не погибнет, а четвёртому не бывать.) ideology – you are actually accusing ALL latvians, because of Eduards Bērziņs! Just the same way as Stalin was sending in exile Caucasian nations, all alike – old and youth, while their sons or parents were fighting within Red Army against nazis… this marked some of modern ethnic conflicts in our days, like – ingush-ossetian, where they had to accept loss of their property(not counting many lives – even when soviets decided not to gather people from some village in mountains, because it eas too hard to reach but rather bomb it…) when they were allowed to return to their homes and also changes of administrative borders(including previous ingush capital under name of Zaur, that is now known as Vladikavkaz – what a coincidence, it comes from old slavic name, with meaning “rule”+Caucasus,or I must note, that it is closer to shifted form of latvian word – valdīt) in favour of alans, who weren’t sent out… As a matter of fact I know, that there are stories, that latvian riflemens in Bolshevik revolution were sent to subjugate fiercest caucasian nations(like chechens) – could be myth, because I’ve read about that in book of USSR propaganda about latvian red riflemens, so my common sense demands more than one source in these matters, because totalitarian propaganda is not a source of information – it can be used as an addition, but not truth, because it drags some other lies undertow.

      And Eduards Bērziņs and alike latvians and other russians and non-russians – all they were doing, was serving next metastasis of Russian Empire in the form of USSR. You also are painting picture, that russians were not masters of the situation, which is not true, because USSR newer had any other official language than russian. And so called republics were obligied to implement russian language in use and that is main difference, because USSR in this had really great results, that USA can’t achieve nowadays with migrant spanish speaking latin americans and even with chinese in China town, which has common lack of proper english knowledge. If Stalin would be alive, all the chinese would speak completelly perfect russian, because they would need to cite Complete Works of Lenin… (sigh)

      This is such a shame, that you are enjoying libertarian country and praise different values. You clearly do not have any intention to look into a problem and you really think, that I’m avoiding some awful facts of history. There are many white pages about this period of history, and not because latvians are hiding something, but because all they do know is snippets of real history and the only reason is that all the information in USSR was top secret and even today there are problems, accessing archives, because Russia have different values and views of history, even the ones that was created as lies and I feel that even you will harvest the fruits of this “new” Russian ideology in near future. I’m sure you can write about Dalstroy only because of simple reason – there just was such great altruistic Russian organizations as Мемориал, who wanted to uncover the ALL TRUTH and facts without being selective about Gulag victims of USSR be they russian or nonrussian. If USSR would existed till this day, you and anybody else wouldn’t know about Dalstroy at all! And not because someone was latvian, but because it was communist ideology!

      I sense, that you have some preconceptions as jew with russian heritage against latvians and can’t be very objective on topic – that comes only from lack of knowledge and personal experience. You can’t judge anything without inquiring into the heart of the matter only by mere fact, that you have jewish heritage, and project yourselves as modern Torkvemada… I find amusing, that biggest mnodern nazi hunters and so called avengers are the ones, that did not have any relation to Holocaust and they and their direct ancestors weren’t suffering in this and they did not need to experience personal tragedies of parents or grandparents of losing their parents or grandparents. My jewish ancestor after escaping from neighbouring Lithuania initially was hiding in the woods in the property of latvian friend and he was hiding there for quite a long time, because he had build a hut for cover. Latvian frind son killed him, because he couldn’t yield pressure, after nazis succesfull advances on russians in Russia territory, nearly occupying all Russia, and I can not condemn him(the rest of family survived, because his wife was lithuanian and didn’t looked as jewish, by telling that documents burned), because hiding was greater risk than you can imagine, because if somebody would find out about the fact of hiding, the whole family of latvian would be killed along with hiding jew – and you would think, that germans valued latvian lives and didn’t shoot them for lesser reasons, like giving food for ghetto jews…

      And if you want to continue the same chain of accusations, as russians were doing in Latvia, then you probably want to blame latvians not only for all USSR sins, but also for german crimes – also gainst jews… Latvians were clearly not more or less anti-semithic towards jews, as other nations. Actually, latvians were more tolerant toward jews, as any other nations, because latvians were released from serfdom only in late 19th century and New latvians movement members urged to take example from jews in economical activities. The people were so tolerant to jews, that when there were jewish pogroms in southern regions of Russian empire, they found a safety in Latvian territory and there hasn’t been pogroms from latvians at all, unless organized by nazi germans and few collaborators – and  you can’t blame only latvians for that they didn’t have collaborators, because this then would really make latvians as saints on the whole Earth among all nations…
      In 1905 latvian and jew revolutioners were organized and made pacts together against Russian empire and they together organized daring escapede from central prison in Riga. Actually at around the same time the mixed revolutionary group, that was in exile in London had some attempts to rob bank and are famous for long stand till the last ammunition against british coppers. Daugavpils and Riga latvian, russian and jew revolutionars fought together against attempt of black-hundredists attempts to make pogroms there. During the WWI there were also deportations of 40 000 jews from Kurland to inland of Russia by Imperial Russian army, because they were blamed without reason for military setback in front. The first Latvian foreign minister Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics(Anna is female name and this was clearly jewish custom to put his grandmother name as one of his his own, because I am not aware of such latvian customs) was mixed jewish-latvian and despite the fact that after WWI Europe had growing anti-semithic feelings toward jews as race among germans, including germans, that live in Latvia(actually they had anti-semithic views long before last century), latvians weren’t anti-semithic, because it would be really problematic for jews to gain any positions in government. However there were some german-minded people and that is rather great exception from latvians and all the similar people like you are doing right now, is associate and accustom latvians, who clearly do not know about their past(and past of Latvian minorities), that they are ALL like that, which is complete crime with feeding such mantras to people who are not aware of their past.

      Also, you seem to be proSoviet person(which I just find plain stupid), but Latvian jews had setbacks with soviets at least twice. First – they supported Bolsheviks in 1919 and paid for that, not only because bolsheviks closed all cionist and autonomous jewish religional and national organisations, but also they experienced losing lives in red terror, not mentioning, that they were not alloved in normal economical activities, and started to really “enjoy” the “true freedom” in USSR, comparing to Latvia. Second time was with occupation of USSR, when jews were among the repressed people of Latvia as well, only because they had a property or business or just had some position in society – this applied to russians as well, however greatest numbers were latvian deportees . There is also worth to mention, that USSR closed all palestinian or cionist organisations, as well as jewish newspapers and schools.

      Now, after Latvia ceased to exist as independent country, you can’t blame latvians, that someone waved red-white-red flag, because it did happened with permission of occupants – russians or germans. Also you have to review with great deal of scepticism, that was printed during these times(as well as filmed), because it was organised by occupants, not by Latvians!  So blame germans or russians for what they did in that time, by using brainwashing methods and forcing to collaborate(by taking them in Red Army or when forming SS, where saying no was choice, but did not agreed with choice to live), because you are really out of your mind, if you think, that local population was all joyously running around and fulfilled first russian, then german and then again russian propaganded actions and completelly had blackout to do so, WHEN THEY ACTUALLY HAD THEIR OWN STATE and when they really didn’t need to ask permission to kill jews…

      All the desecrations of jewish memorials in modern times(with very precise timing for some events) were later found out, that was dessecrated by sovjetized russians… I must note this difference from so called russians, because in latvian customs of burials it is not considered a good sign to tamper with dead – I believe, that slavic has/had similar customs, but it seems, that they have given up this religious trend and when I mean religion, then this is true, that this is the only religion that latvians have left after cristianity erased everything else. They must stay where they are – we are not obligated to take care of other non-related peoples graves, but I would find outrageous if someone would want to dessecrate any of those graves, even the german soldier place of burial only couple of steps from my small family cemetary.

      I think, I’m doing too much work here for a single person.  Why don’t you just visit Latvia by yourselves and take a tour to Occupational museum and museum “Ebreji latvijā” and at least for a different source purpose find someone latvian who could shed different light on problem before you are going to write about this topic again…

      I think, this applies to everything else. Nobody can really forbid to continue doing what you are doing(and change way of thinking), because there are really no risks of getting some attention of angry latvian and be afraid of him, and this really doesn’t take bravery, like your lingustic/historical cherkessian professor in Karachay-Cherkessia took liberty of saying that religions come and go but nation stays… he was killed by neophite muslim(I do believe, that you can search for those accidents/3 in total at the time of article/ in around 2010 -/+ 1 year or so, though might be Kabardinian, but for sure he was from circassian stock because I really rely only on my memory and don’t save links for such rare occasions). If my assumption about the reasons why you even “dare” to write about “mighty” latvians are correct(because of involvement of russian majority – they really are not minority, where they are mainly settled – Daugavpils has latvian minority, and in Latvian capital Riga I still think that it is hard there to tell who is real minority… and Russia is involved in those troubles as well with money and coordinations), you would never dwell into criticising any islamistic factor on linguistics(and I don’t mean urdu here)… so, good luck and bye!

  • Anonymous

    it is a good problem for school arithmetics: what is a proportion of Russian speaking Latvians who is not a citizen of Latvia

  • I agree very much with glj and nanobot5000 here; making Russian an official language in Latvia would be a massive mistake. We’ve seen what Russification has done to Siberia, Manchuria, and many other areas of historic culture flourishing (especially Koenigsberg). I am of Tatar heritage myself, and all Russians that I have talked to about Russification seem to be completely unable to understand the issue from a minority perspective. 

    I don’t want Latvian to go the way of Ubykh, or Karelian, or Evenk, or Ainu, or any other language that Russian administration (or misadministration) has worked tirelessly to eradicate. My girlfriend is Kazakh and she speaks better Russian than she does Kazakh, which is just sad to me. 

    • I agree that eradicating minority languages is a bad thing, but very often such languages die without any purposeful doing on a part of the majority/official language. What I disagree with is that adopting Russian as a co-official language in Latvia would: (1) eradicate Latvian as a language, or (2) change the situation on the ground in any way. However, it would give a MINORITY the same rights that other minorities request anywhere.

      • Ivan A Derzhanski

        Indeed.  It is especially strange to see Siberia mentioned in this context: all (or nearly all) languages there were unwritten in pre-Russian times, which means that without the `tireless efforts of the Russian administration (or misadministration) to eradicate them’ they would be doomed to disappear without any trace.  Seems a difficult point
        for some people to acknowledge.

      • glj

        What are the minorities you are talking about? Latvia has many of them and russian is only one of them and why do minorities need to learn another language for communication other than official language? Can’t you understand, that for example Daugavpils has many minorities, that coexist at the same place, like quite large polish and belorussian minority? I wouldn’t go there proposing only russian as minority language, but all three of them! And another thing – many people do not want to be a citizens of Latvia – why do you jump out of frame of context and treat non-citizens as minorities – this absolutelly doesn’t work anywhere else! If they do not wish to tolerate Latvian state, why do you think they should enjoy gift of minority rights from state they do not recognize?

        • Adopting too many official languages may not be practical, although South Africa manages with 11. I am not against an offical minority status for other languages as well. What I am against is the idea of residents who are not citizens or imposing a citizenship exam, in Latvia or elsewhere.

          • It might be better if they adopt co-officials depending on the city or district/region. India, being the country with the most number of official, does it fine with their scheduled languages.

          • That’s an interesting suggestion, for sure! But Latvia is nowhere as big as India…

          • But it’s far more feasible for them to do so given a relatively smaller population and less languages to deal with

          • That’s very true!

  • TimUpham

    Actually, Latvia should make Livonian into the second official language.  Ireland did it with Irish, and when I was in Ireland, everybody spoke English.  There was only one Irish language station on television.  But everybody learns Irish in school, and everybody in Ireland helped me in my learning Irish.  Behind every language is a culture, and the reason why it is mandatorily taught in schools in Ireland, is to keep the Irish culture alive.  Latvia can keep its culture alive by mandatorily teaching Livonian.  After all, the language was there before the Teutonic Knights and the Czars.

    • It’s an interesting idea, but since Livonian is nearly extict, it won’t be feasible or very practical.

  • Igor Fazlyev

    Finland has a 5% Swedish speaking minority and yet if you go to Helsinki all the signs and all the announcements on the metro are in two languages: Finnish and Swedish.

    • Indeed. Swedish is recognized as an official language in Finland. But it doesn’t mean that “all is well in the kingdom of Denmark” (or Finland in this case) and the Finnish-Swedish official coexistence has been characterized as a “volatile equation”. I will have more on this in a forthcoming post so stay tuned.

      • Igor Fazlyev

        I guess my point was that Latvia’s not the only multilingual country in the world. They all have problems and issues and what not but at least in places like Finland, Canada, Belgium etc. they try and find some sort of an accommodation, like in Canada, the Federal government is officially bilingual with all documents being issued in both English and French and citizens getting to choose which language they want to use when conducting ‘official business’ with the government while at the provincial level, every Canadian province gets to decide which language to use for official purposes at the local level, some provinces are officially bilingual as well.

        Btw, supposedly google translate is so good at translating between English and French and supposedly better than it is at translating between any other two languages because they fed all the bilingual official documents produced by the Canadian federal government into their translation engine.

        • “that Latvia’s not the only multilingual country in the world” — far from it. But still, there’s a different history and different attitudes in different countries, and simply copying experience from one into another is liable to be an “epic fail”. Nor am I convinced that language laws and language policing are effective or in fact change anything “on the ground”. I’ve lived in Quebec for 4 years and saw a “bilingual” Canadian system in action.

          • Igor Fazlyev

            I don’t see why copying an approach to handling multiple languages in a single country that works elsewhere should be ‘liable’ to fail. It depends on how you go about implementing it on the ground and on what the realities are. What is likely to fail miserably, imho, is when a de-facto multilingual country tries to build its national identity on one of its languages by forcing that one language on everyone.

          • The conditions are different from one country to the next, so simply copying policies isn’t going to work.

            As for whether it’s better to have bilingual/multilingual language laws forced on everyone or a single-language laws forced on everyone, I don’t think that such laws are ever really efficient in changing the situation on the ground, in and of themselves.

            See also here:

            and here:

          • Igor Fazlyev

            true conditions are different but as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun, you don’t want to copy things ‘as is’ but then again, few solutions are brand new and completely original, normally you study what’s already been done elsewhere, pick a solution that seems to be the best fit for your situation and then tweak it to make it work even better.

            Thanks for the links to the articles about Belgium and Quebec. Language laws are an interesting issue, because on the one hand there’s people that are eager to preserve a particular language and culture but on the other hand language laws clearly violate some basic human rights, so I guess at the end of the day it’s a question of priorities: are you willing to sacrifice human rights to preserve a specific language and culture?

            Reminds me of this sign I saw in a picture that I believe must have been taken in Montreal. It was some kind of a protest or something and one guy was holding up a sign that said ‘English is a language and not a crime’

          • A good one! That tells you just how bilingual Quebec is…