Initiative favoring Russian tops goal; referendum on amendments inevitable

Proponents of making Russian the second state language in Latvia have apparently succeeded in getting enough signatures to bring proposed constitutional amendments before the Saeima and to force a national referendum, according to provisional results compiled by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.

A total of 183,046 eligible voters—almost 30,000 more than required—added their signatures to the citizen initiative during November, according to the election commission. Of those, 1,050 did so abroad at Latvian embassies and consulates.

That means legislation proposing changes to five paragraphs in Latvia’s constitution will be submitted in a few weeks. If media reports and political observers are correct, the Saeima is more than likely to reject the legislation, which would then lead to a national referendum on the language issue sometime in early 2012.

However, even if the Saeima approves the amendments, a national referendum is inescapable. One of the amendments would change Paragraph 4, which according to the constitution may only be changed through a referendum. Paragraph 4 stipulates that Latvian is the state language and that the national flag is red with a white stripe.

A pro-Russian group, “Dzimtā valoda,” gathered signatures earlier this year and in September submitted a petition with 12,533 names supporting the initiative. At least 10,000 were needed to trigger the month-long signature campaign.

According to Latvian law, at least 10 percent of eligible voters in the last parliamentary election—a total of 154,379—had to support the initiative to bring the legislation to the Saeima.

The Central Election Commission must now review the signatures, a process that could take three to four weeks, according to spokesperson Kristīne Bērziņa.

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

11 thoughts on “Initiative favoring Russian tops goal; referendum on amendments inevitable

  1. So if this amendment goes ahead making Russian a second official language it’s another dent in Latvia sovereignty. Are you going to have a situation in the Saeima where the Latvian politician are speaking Latvian and the Russian politicians speaking Russian back at them? Since English is widely spoken in Latvia why not make English an official language as well. What next Latvia joins the Russian Federation? Latvian Ex-pats who were chased out of there own country by the Soviet/Russians cant believe this debate is even seeing the light of day.

  2. Why in the hell did we even bother to fight for Latvia’s independence in the west? It is so sad to see that the Latvian government has never had the intestinal fortitude to push the Russians out… the same way they forced Latvians out of their own country in World War II. They have allowed themselves to be plowed under by the Russians from the first day. It all started when the Latvians didn’t destroy the Soviet “Victory” monument in Riga. What is even crazier is that Latvia’s poorest excuse for a president, Berzins, openly said in a visit to the New York Latvian community that he would never allow Russian to become a second language. What a bunch of two-faced pansies.

  3. Why the uproar dear Lettish friends? In Israel there are three official languages Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Furthermore, they live in a more dangerous neighborhood than Latvia.

  4. Gday Elmars. I think using the country of Israel/Palestine as a shining example of harmony because they have three official languages is stretching it just a bit. You would know even the Israeli Arabs are treated as second class citizens. Here in Australia we dont have a official Language at all. Even England hasn’t a official Language. So why bother at all in the case of Latvia. On saying that considering Latvia’s History it is rubbing salt into Latvia’s Sovereignty.

  5. Dear “overseas Latvians”, your statements sound utterly deranged even by the standards of Visu Latvijai and similar marginalised fellows. “Intestinal fortitude to push the Russians out”? Ivars, I don’t know what business your parents (presumably?) were in before they hastily emigrated to West (though one could make some guesses) but ethnic cleansing is frowned upon these days. The referendum is the logical consequence of 20 years of apartheid, exclusion and discrimination.

  6. Shame on you all nazis, really disgusting to see your hatred towards not only russians. BTW – India, a former British colony, has embrased English as the official language of the government, and Latvia? Never been a separate entity, always been only a suburb of Russia over the centuries, got “independence” on a platter from Lenin himself, couldn’t cope with it, got it again and again selling their own Motherland piece by piece – 20 years of getting the best bargains for a bunch of latvian nazis. 40% russian speaking population of Latvia getting fullfledged apartheid and that also after supporting latvians in their fight for this so called independence. Shame on you all! And no surprise latvians are running from their beloved Latvia to better pastures, leaving russians to support the falling appart THEIR Motherland with their taxes and hard work. In the last 20 years we have seen and learnt the true latvian attitude – “cut the hand, that feeds you”. BTW, all the former latvian communists are sitting now in the Saema, crying buckets about the dangers surrounding their poor Latvian language and doing really nothing to preserve it, but trying to make both the communities fight and hate each other, and make them be too preoccupied to notice what politicians do in reality. Yeah, the best way to hide behind it all and steal, steal, steal, leaving the population fight, fight, fight.

  7. Gday alex-the-great. People are entitled to their opinion with out the insults. There are no comments made on this topic/page that are anti semitic. Calling people Nazis is childish. I do agree with you that the government of the day are using this debate as a smoke screen to cover up far more important issues such as the economy. OH Ivans The Baltic states have been occupied by every Tom, Dick and Harry throughout history. You can understand peoples passion when it comes to language and culture. When you think about it the Baltic’s have only had a hand full of years of independence since the Baltic people’s existence. The Baltic states are entitled to their language and culture. They have paid a heavy price to exist.

  8. alex-the-great – you are shameful and bright example of Russian chauvinistic and imperial thinking. 1) Latvia has been under Russia only about 200 years – as long as Russia were under Mongols-Tatars. 2) Lenin didn’t gave independence on “platter” to Latvia – he was forced to do so because Latvians together with Estonians and Poles fought the independence with their blood in 1918-1920 Independece War. Soviet Russia was military so weak back then, that Latvians could have intrude it, if they would want it. Learn some history before speak your rubbish.

  9. What is so puzzling to me about this whole situation is this: all the people who signed the petition want Russian to be an official language – why? because it’s THEIR language. Why is it then, that these same people cannot understand why Latvians are fighting so much to preserve Latvian as the only official language of Latvia? Latvian is our language! I have nothing against Russians, but seriously, if you want to speak only Russian, go to Russia. My parents came to the United States at the end of WWII to escape the Communists; did they expect people here to speak Latvian? No, they learned English and still preserved Latvian by teaching it to me and speaking it within our Latvian community. Why can’t Russian-speaking people in Latvia understand this same concept and oblige? During Soviet times, Latvians were forced to speak Russian, and now that Latvia is its own independent country, Latvians want to speak their own language. This makes perfect sense to me. If you’re a Russian-speaker living in Latvia, by all means, speak it with your family and friends, but learn Latvian, since it IS the official language of Latvia!

  10. I really want to apologise to those I offended by my statements. But I must disagree with your interpretations of History. Latvia had never been independent country before 1918, do you agree? Or are there some historical facts the world is unaware of? There was not any country named Latvia before 1918 and there wasn’t any “freedom fighters” then, but, on the contrary, Latvian Bolshevicks as Lenin’s personal guards! Please, do not twist the facts at your will just to prove your point. BTW, your examples are out of tune – the russian population of Latvia is around 40%, and they speak Latvian quite well, especially the young. It is not a question of diminishing Latvian language or culture, but the genocide of non-latvians in the country they have been born in. I am not russian by blood, but I feel all the hatred from Latvians all the same. You simply forget that these are people, not just some nationalities. BTW, during Soviets the Latvian population was growing, and now? Just 50 years of existence left for the culture and the language, destroyed by the nationalistic powers and thieves – all latvian thieves in the government. What a pity!

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