Initiative for Russian as Latvia’s second state language moves forward

More than 39,000 registered voters so far have signed on to an initiative to make Russian the second official language of Latvia, according to results released by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.

Through Nov. 14, a total of 39,258 voters in Latvia had given their support to the proposed constitutional amendment. At least 103 more had signed on to the initiative abroad, although data were not available from six of 39 embassies or consulates, election commission spokeswoman Kristīne Bērziņa told Latvians Online.

That brings the total number of signatures to at least 51,894, a figure that includes 12,533 signatures from the petition that started the initiative. Supporters of the constitutional amendment need at least 10 percent of the eligible voters in the last parliamentary election—a total of 154,379 persons—to sign on by Nov. 30. With two weeks to go, they are more than 33 percent of the way to their goal.

Latvian media reports suggest the initiative received a boost when popular Rīga mayor and ethnic Russian Nils Ušakovs added his name to the list of signatures, although he and other leaders of the center-left political party Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) say they continue to back Latvian as the only state language.

“I personally and my party back the idea that in Latvia there is just one state language—Latvian—and as a pragmatic politician I understand that the referendum likely will not be successful,” Ušakovs wrote on the Harmony Centre website. However, Ušakovs said he signed in favor of the amendment to join with the hundreds of thousands of Latvian residents who wish to maintain their self-respect.

Some of Ušakovs’ opponents are now calling for the mayor to step down.

The proposed amendment would change five paragraphs in the constitution, giving Russian equal status to Latvian. The initiative was kicked off when the Russian-oriented “Dzimtā valoda” (Native Language) group submitted a petition to the election commission with 12,533 signatures asking for the constitutional amendment.

Under the constitution, the petition began a process that includes the initiative’s signature campaign running from Nov. 1-30. If enough voters sign on, the amendment will be presented to the Saeima for approval. If MPs were to change the proposed legislation or reject it, the issue would be decided by national referendum.

Of the 39 embassies and consulates where voters abroad can sign the initiative, 16 have seen activity so far, according to election commission data. Most active has been the Latvian embassy in Dublin, Ireland, where 37 had signed by Nov. 14. The embassy in London was next with 33 signatures, followed by the embassy in Moscow with 10.

A list of the locations abroad is available from the Central Election Commission’s website,

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

5 thoughts on “Initiative for Russian as Latvia’s second state language moves forward

  1. Sounds like Usakovs is cutting his cake both ways… that way his can claim allegiance to both sides ie. whichever side is winning he supports them… or they support him.
    Seeing that only 59% of Latvia took part in the last elections, it seems more than an appropriate occassion for ethnic Latvians to move their butts and vote this item down.
    It is ruSSification by stealth. Latvia for Latvians. RuSSia for russians. If the ruSSians don’t like the Latvian language, then they should go back to ruSSia; from whence they came.

  2. What next! I notice now that on many news media that russian folkdancing and costumes have now replaced latvia’s own traditional folkdancing and costumes.
    I was particularly surprises to see latvia’s female representative, in the Miss World 2011 competition in london, wearing a non-latviancostume and doing russian dance steps, typical of the time of latvia’s rule under communism.

  3. Well since the country is Latvia and they fly the Latvian Flag one would think Latvian would be the official language. I think the Russians have to get over there days of empire and get on with life. This may surprise some people. You would think here in Australia English is the official language. It’s not. Australia does not have a official language. It just happens most people speak English and the country rolls along nicely. So is it really that important that Russian has to be recognized as a official language? I think Latvia has had it’s fair share of Russian influence to last many life times.

  4. Why is anyone surprised at this? Latvia has entered the world of Capitalism at possibly the worst time! now life under the Russians doesn’t look so bad (and for those of you who dont know the truth about the past it wasnt all misery as we were led to believe by our governments) so it’s natural that they want to keep links with their past. Don’t get me wrong I’m not agreeing with the Latvian governments/ministers views. Just saying we don’t have all the information we think we have. And ,Yes I am speaking from experience.

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