Russian language initiative now has more than half of required signatures

An initiative that could make Russian an official language in Latvia now has more than half the signatures needed to get the parliament to consider amending the country’s constitution, according to figures compiled by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.

However, supporters have just one more week to get the total of 154,379 voters—10 percent of all those eligible—they need to get proposed legislation before the Saeima. The deadline for gathering signatures is Nov. 30.

From Nov. 1-21, according to the election commission, a total of 78,279 eligible voters had signed on to the initiative. Combined with the 12,533 who put their names on a petition to begin the process, supporters now have nearly 59 percent of the total required.

Under the constitution, Latvian is the country’s only official language. The “Dzimtā valoda” (Native Language) group is pushing to change five sections of the constitution to give Russian equal status. An estimated 27.4 percent of Latvia’s population is ethnic Russian, according to the Central Statistical Bureau, while ethnic Latvians account for 59.5 percent.

The initiative got a boost when Rīga Mayor Nils Ušakovs, who is an ethnic Russian, announced that he had signed the initiative. He has said that his political party, the center-left Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) maintains its support for Latvian as the only state language. However, during a party congress on Nov. 17 he encouraged members to also sign the initiative, according to media reports.

If the initiative succeeds, the Saeima will have to consider the proposed changes to the constitution. However, it is expected the legislation would be defeated, which would then lead to a national referendum.

Outside of Latvia, voters interested in adding their signature to the initiative may do so at one of 39 embassies and consulates. 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.

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