Dueling petitions in Latvia draw battles lines over language issue

Public schools should only teach in Latvian, the official language of Latvia. Or Latvia should just have two state languages, the other being Russian. Whichever you choose, there’s a petition to sign.

The nationalist alliance Visu Latvijai – Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK and an organization called “Sargi valodu un Latviju” used the website www.sargivalodu.lv to get out the word about its petition drive. The petition demands that the constitution be amended to guarantee that elementary and secondary public education is guaranteed by the state, but only in the official language—Latvian.

A total of 10,000 signatures were collected by the end of February and now will be presented to the Central Election Commission (Centrāla vēlēšanu komisija). If all the signatures are legitimate, then the commission will have to organize another petition drive, this time seeking a tenth of all voters, to force the Saeima to consider the amendment.

Meanwhile, Vladimirs Lindermans, head of the Jan. 13 Movement (13. janvāra kustība), and Osipov Party leader Jevgēņijs Osipovs announced March 4 that they will be collecting signatures to recognize Russian as a second state language, according to TVNET and other media. They have formed an organization called “Dzimtā valoda” to push for changes in Latvia’s constitution.

Similar to the petition on Latvian in public education, the effort to recognize Russian could result in forcing the Saeima to take up the question.

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

9 thoughts on “Dueling petitions in Latvia draw battles lines over language issue

  1. It would be just as ridiculous as the USA public schools and administrations arguing about teaching English or Spanish in public schools. Why does a country have a national language, if its not used?

  2. In the Russian Federation there are more than 3 million people of Ukrainian descent [ethnicity]. Yet, as far as I know there are no state sponsored Ukrainian language schools.

  3. I haven’t read such sarcastic demands in my life (but then I probably have). Not only does President Vladamir Lindermans along with party leader Eugene Osipova of the “Mother Tongue” party want Russian to be considered as the second national language of Latvia but they want to change the Latvian flag to red with white stipes. I guess since America has so many different cultures with different languages it’s flag should be of different colors with pink and shades of gray. Since life has become more difficult for the Russians when forced to speak Latvian in schools and in government gatherings then their next demand will be to translate all street names and cities into Russian. Remindes me of the Soviet days. Anyway, why do so many Russians come to the U.S. since there are no public schools that teach in Russian. Or maybe the hell with English. In California there are only 675,000 plus Russians. Just like sarcastic kids. I think salt and pepper on “THE TONGUE” would do the trick.

  4. As a state language there can only be one… Latvian. Russian can be taught as a secondary language; like english, french, etc… but not as a state language… never.

  5. You guys have no idea what you are talking about. Make yourself a favor, read some history books… Dear Juris Dreifelds, as I see you are from Canada which is governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II (if it makes any sense for you, which I doubt). Why would such a great country use two official languages: English and French? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada. Again, you would need to read some history books in order to answer the question. And last but not least, if Latvians are so damn proud of their language, why would they move to USA, Ireland etc…? Come on, stay in Latvia and protect your culture and language.

  6. It is ridiculous to even think of teaching Russian in Latvia. Last time I checked, the only reason that there are so many Russian speakers in the country is because the Soviet Union occupied Latvia and forced the relocation of lots of people in order to try to decrease and dilute the Latvian population. Latvian should be the only official language in Latvia–period.

  7. Dear Marchello, Isn’t there enough hatred, and anger in the world, that you feel you need to add more? Latvians do have some firsthand knowledge of their history, culture and language; and the perils, and even achievements which have shaped these. Latvia was an independent country illegally occupied by the Soviets for fifty years. Russia did not cede “its” states; it collapsed. The Latvians fought for and regained their freedom and once again became an independent European country. Canada was not illegally occupied by the French, although the French and the British had, in fact, colonized much of what we know to be present day Canada. Not all information you read, dear Marchello, whether it be from textbooks, Wikipedia or Nazi handbooks boasts the truth. One must take care to understand the facts, parties, and people whose lives have become history. Those who have abused and been abused by power. Yes, languages are keys to understanding cultures, and they can also be tools of oppression. Dear Marchello, we don’t “make” favors, we “do” favors, and I am sorry to report that some of what you say is only confusing because your thoughts are incomplete. Perhaps, you meant to sound intelligent?

  8. Complicated question. The people are always the hostage of the policies of Big Government. The Russian speakers who Stalin sent to Latvia are not guilty of having been sent there — they were simply part of a project to ‘build the USSR’ that had been planned and was being executed totally independently from them. They simply went where they were told to go, and stayed. It’s not their fault. So now that the tides of history have ebbed, we have a new situation — and they’re there, stranded, not reallly guilty of being there (since moving them to Latvia was a Soviet idea, not their own)… and also being told they’re “occupiers” and that their language is “offensive” to Latvian independence. I can understand the viewpoint of the Latvians. And I can understand the viewpoint of the Russians. (At least that of the moderates in both camps.) Both have real grievances, real problems to complain about. And the best solution is, as always, difficult. I hope there’ll be harmony between these groups at some point in the future — and that some day battles about languages will be a thing of the past. Call me a dreamer if you will.

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