Commission OKs signature drive for amendment on school language

A signature campaign is set to begin May 11 that could lead to a constitutional amendment making Latvian the only language to be used in government-sponsored schools in the country, the Central Election Commission has announced in Rīga.

The campaign follows confirmation April 11 by the election commission that a petition drive organized by the conservative National Alliance had garnered at least 10,000 signatures, setting into motion the process that could result in the constitutional amendment.

If approved, the constitutional amendment would require that beginning with the 2012 school year, instruction from the first grade up in state- and municipal-sponsored schools could only occur in the state language. Under the constitution, the state language is Latvian.

The National Alliance (Nacionālā apvienība “Visu Latvijai!” – “Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK”) started the petition drive last year, gathering 10,140 signatures.

Now at least 10 percent of the number of voters in the last parliamentary election, a total 153,232 persons, have to sign a new petition organized by the election commission. If that number is reached by June 9, the proposed amendment will have to be considered by the Saeima.

If the Saeima rejects or amends a citizen-backed amendment, then a national referendum would be organized.

It will be up to local governments to determine where the signature drive will take place. Under the law, local governments must guarantee that at least one location is designated for each 10,000 persons in their jurisdiction.

For Latvian citizens abroad, it is expected that locations will be announced to include embassies and consulates, election commission spokeswoman Kristīne Bērziņa told Latvians Online in an email. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will determine where those locations will be.

While the National Alliance’s effort has moved ahead, another petition drive run by the “Dzimtā valoda” organization seeks to recognize Russian as a second state language. The organization was formed by Vladimirs Lindermans, head of the Jan. 13 Movement (13. janvāra kustība), and Osipov Party leader Jevgēņijs Osipovs, according to media reports.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

8 thoughts on “Commission OKs signature drive for amendment on school language

  1. The problem is not that Russophone students do not know Latvian. All students in Russian schools must take 60% of courses in Latvian during the last two years of secondary school. Rather, the problem for many lies in their attitude to the use of Latvian, which is mostly negative. The new attempt to quash publicly funded Russian language schools will only exacerbate this linguistic one-upmanship and almost guarantee permanent linguistic warring camps. Inspired by the Latvian actions, Russophone activists are already collecting signatures to have a referendum on making Russian the second official language in Latvia. My guess is that neither initiative will pass, but group relations will suffer for years to come.

  2. Juris Dreifelds: What is your suggestion to improve the climate for the Latvian language in Latvia? I agree with you that “the problem for many lies in their attitude to the use of Latvian” but what other methods and means are being employed to change this? Should the future of the use of the Latvian language in Latvia be left to time and fate and the will of God? What has been done so far to improve the attitude, if anything, with any measure of success? You speak of “Russophones” but this only masks the larger problem beyond language use in Latvia of the ongoing two-world existence of “Lettophones” and “Russophones.” Can the attitude toward the Latvian language really improve if the separate worlds the “Latvians” and “Russians” live in in Latvia is not also faced? I would say that the Latvians need more “attitude” about themselves, their country, and their language. It is easier to change one’s own “attitude” and behavior, and by attitude and example, serve as the model for others by firmly conveying one’s – and the Latvian nation’s – unequivocal expectation for the use of Latvian. “Group” relations have been suffering for years and they won’t get better if “Lettophones” don’t make themselves clear in the Latvian language to the “Russophones” – who do understand both the language and the attitude.

  3. Why should taxpayer’s money be spent for schools where children receive education in another language than the official language of the country?

  4. Probably because so very many of the taxpayers are, in fact, ethnic Russians. As others have noted, even the Russian schools are not taught in 100% Russian, by law a certain percentage has to be taught in Latvian.

  5. There are schools where lessons are taught in English or where bilingual education including a minority language is possible from kindergarten on. Multilingualism is a benefit for economic reasons and for many other reasons. At the same time that Latvian language instruction must be required to ensure that Latvian citizens of Russian or other descent are able to speak and understand the language, bilingual schools should not be forbidden but rather encouraged. How many Latvian business owners doing business internationally regret that they can speak Russian? How many employees regret that they can communicate with their Russian customers/suppliers?

  6. Ramsey, who said that knowing another language or a multitude of languages is bad. Of course, to know more then one helps a person in busines or politics to communicate. A 5yr. old would know that. Even in the U.S. 5&6 yr. olds are finally taught foreigne languages, rather then waiting by the age of 10 as in the good old days. That my friend is not the question. Since you have already read the history books, the Baltic countries which occupy this land has always been considered as Russia by the Slavs and whoever else.
    Since from the days of the Romanovs the Balts were never allowed to speak their own native tongue on city streets, only Russian. Plus our ancesters were slaves for the Russians. Now that the political geografy has changed, what, we have to speak this foreign Baltic language in schools? Of course forget about the government, since most of them speak Russian when amongst Russians who make up part of the Latvian government. Lets take Germany. In this country there is approx. 3 million Muslims. So now lets make the Muslim language the second language of Germany. How would the Germans would respond? In fact Muslims ‘sprechen deutch’, in that country. So why has Latvian
    always been an issue? It’s ego. We have occupied you for so many centuries, there are more of us then you so you will therefor comply to our desires.

  7. It seems that Latvia is facing a problem that is similar to what we have here in America with the Mexican people. As an American, who is partly of Latvian ancestry I have been shocked, when visiting Latvia, to discover that many people either refuse to speak or cannot speak Latvian. I noticed that when talking with several different Russian speakers, I was very surprised to learn that some of them long for the old soviet system and a few even had praise for Stalin. All of which makes me wonder just why they chose to remain in Latvia. While I take pride in speaking three languages along with some basic Latvian and Russian, I believe that you must be able to fluently speak the language of the country where you live. If I were a resident of Latvia then I would insist that my children would speak Latvian as their first language and that they would use English and possibly German as their second and third languages. It has been my observation that countries that have two distinctly different languages usually end up with a society that is both hostile and divided. In America many of our schools teach hispanic students in their native language which then makes it almost impossible for these children to assimilate into our society. Moreover, young hispanics quickly discover, by not being fluent in speaking English, when they enter the workforce, that only menial and low paying jobs are available to them. This situation inevitably leads to frustration and hostility. If the government of Latvia declares that the country will have only one official language there will clearly be some difficulty and resistance in making this transition. In the long run the positive benefits will outweigh the negative aspects of making this change. By having everyone speaking the same language, this will allow Russian speakers to assimilate into the culture and society of their adopted country. However, if the present conditions are allowed to persist, then it is highly unlikely that people will ever be able to live in harmony. Latvia has the potential once again to a great and prosperous nation but this will never occur as long as she is divided by having two distinctly different languages and cultures.

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