Latvia to vote on Russian language
LATVIA has opened a referendum on whether Russian should become its second national language, a poll that is likely to fail and widen the rift in an already divided society.
About one-third of the Baltic country’s 2.1 million people consider Russian as their mother tongue. Many of them say that according official status to the Russian language in the nation’s constitution will reverse what they claim has been 20 years of discrimination.
“For me and many Russians in Latvia, this is a kind of gesture to show our dissatisfaction with the political system here, with how society is divided into two classes – one half has full rights, and the other half’s rights are violated,” said Aleksejs Yevdokimovs, 36.
“The Latvian half always employs a presumption of guilt toward the Russian half, so that we have to prove things that shouldn’t need to be proven,” he said.
But for ethnic Latvians, the referendum is a brazen attempt to encroach on Latvia’s independence, which was restored two decades ago after half a century of occupation by the Soviet Union following the Second World War.
Many consider Russian – the lingua franca of the Soviet Union – as the language of the former occupiers. They also harbour deep mistrust towards Russia, and worry that Moscow attempts to wield influence in Latvia through the Russian-speaking minority.
“Latvia is the only place throughout the world where Latvian is spoken, so we have to protect it,” said Martins Dzerve, 37. “But Russian is everywhere.”
The Russians and other minorities who organised the referendum admit they have virtually no chance at winning, which would require half of registered voters – or some 770,000 people – to vote in favour.
They hope, however, that a strong show of support for Russian will force Latvia’s centre-right government to begin a dialogue with minorities, who in 20 years have been unable to get one of their parties in government.
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