The Feb. 18 referendum on granting official status to the Russian language will be a test of Latvian unity, leaders of Latvian central organizations abroad say in a Jan. 16 open letter.
The referendum, which if approved would amend five paragraphs of the constitution, is a conscious attempt to knock out the main cornerstone on which the Latvian state was founded, according to the letter signed by Jānis Kukainis, head of the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA), and five other diaspora leaders.
The letter invites Latvians around the world to vote against the proposed constitutional amendments.
“Among those who asked for the referendum are ordinary people who are searching for a more comfortable life,” the text of the Latvian-language letter reads. “However, among them are a group of people who are disloyal to the Latvian state, including more than one who have supported renewing Russia’s power in its former imperial borders. This referendum is nothing more than a frightful step toward such a goal.”
The constitutional amendments have been pushed by the ethnic Russian organization Dzimtā valoda (Native Language), led by the controversial Vladimirs Lindermans. Under current wording, Latvian is the only official language of the country.
The letter from diaspora leaders also criticizes Latvia’s leaders for failing to stop the referendum in time.
Thirty members of the Latvian parliament, led by the right-wing National Alliance (Nacionālā apvienība “Visu Latvijai!” – “Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK”), on Jan. 12 asked the Constitutional Court to look into the legality of the referendum. Media reports suggest the court might suspend the referendum while it considers the case.
Lindermanis, according to a LETA news report, has said that to stop the referendum would be a crime against the constitution.
Regardless, the letter from the diaspora leaders continues, Latvians must participate in the referendum to the maximum, voting against the proposed amendments to show that they want to live in an independent, Latvian Latvia.
“Here alone, by the Baltic Sea, is the only place where we are enough so that our nation and our language can exist,” according to the letter. “We have to show that we are the majority and determiners in our land!”
Others who signed the letter are Juris Mežinskis, chair of the American Latvian Association (Amerikas latviešu apvienība); Daina Gūtmane, chair of the Latvian Association of South America and the Caribbean (Dienvidamerikas un Karību latviešu apvienība); Lauma Vlasova, chair of the Latvian Congress of Russia (Krievijas latviešu kongress); Pēteris Strazds, chair of the Latvian Association of Australia and New Zealand (Latviešu apvienība Austrālijā un Jaunzēlandē); and
Andris Ķesteris, chair of the Latvian National Federation in Canada (Latviešu nacionālās apvienība Kanadā).
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