Signature campaign begins Nov. 1 to make Russian 2nd state language

An official signature campaign that could lead to Russian becoming an official language in Latvia gets underway Nov. 1, the Central Election Commission in Rīga has announced.

The month-long campaign seeks support for amending the Latvian constitution to allow Russian to have equal status with the Latvian language.

Under current wording, Latvian is the only official language in the country. However, some members of the country’s Russian-speaking community have been pushing to give their native language official status as well.

On Sept. 9, the Central Election Commision received a petition with 12,533 signatures, marking the first step in an initiative to change the constitution. The petition was submitted by the Russian-oriented “Dzimtā valoda” (Native Language) group.

If at least 10 percent of the eligible voters in the last parliamntary election—a total of 154,379 persons—sign on by Nov. 30, then the constitutional amendments will be presented to the Saeima for approval. If the Saeima approves the amendments, then Russian would become the second official language. If MPs amend or reject the constitutional changes, then the legislation would be presented to voters in a national referendum.

The signatures gathered on the “Dzimtā valoda” petition will count toward the total needed.

The proposed constitutional amendments would change:

  • Paragraph 4, which states that Latvian is the state language.
  • Paragraph 18, which stipulates the oath made by members of parliament. Under current language, they promise to strengthen Latvian as the only state language.
  • Paragraph 21, which makes Latvian the language of the Saeima.
  • Paragraph 101, which makes Latvian the official language of local governments.
  • Paragraph 104, which guarantees people the right to address government bodies and to receive an answer in Latvian.

Outside of Latvia, citizens who wish to sign on to the campaign may do so at one of 39 designated embassies or consulates. A list of the sites 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.

21 thoughts on “Signature campaign begins Nov. 1 to make Russian 2nd state language

  1. I usually don’t comment on politics in Latvia since I don’t live there but this just doesn’t seem right. I am a progeny from Latvian roots, on both my fathers and mothers side. I speak, read, and write the language and am trying my best to expose my children and grandchildren to their heritage. My wife also has her roots in Latvia. If this second language comes to pass then it is just a matter of time before the Latvian language dies. Don’t let it happen. Viena tauta, viena mele, lai dzivo Latvija.

  2. Making Russian a second official language would be a continuation of former policies of Russification during the Soviet era and the late 19th century. Imagine political debate occurring in Russian. Although it may seem insignificant to some, Latvians who lived or grew up in exile, escaping death or deportation at the hands of the Soviets, would be precluded from active participation in politics. Stucka would be proud of this movement, but Rainis would be appalled.

  3. This baby has to be strangled in the cradle. It will be the end of the Latvian language. Russia is huge. If they want to speak Russian, go back there.

  4. I think this a horrible idea. Latvija only needs one language and that is Latvian. Russia is huge and has enough people talking Russian. Leave Latvija alone.

  5. “The signatures gathered on the “Dzimtā valoda” petition will count toward the total needed.” Wouldn’t that mean some people would be able to vote twice? Changing “Paragraph 104, which guarantees people the right to address government bodies and to receive an answer in Latvian.” Would mean that Latvians living in town such as Daugavpils would be forced to speak Russian in public offices where they choose not to speak Latvian. Recognizing Russian as a minority language is one thing, but changing the constitution should not even be negotiable. Mobilize Latvians to vote against this, even if it is probably just being used to gain support for pro-Russian politicians.

  6. It’s funny that Latvias’ language laws were supposed to be drafted off of Quebec’s, except the English-speaking minority in Quebec has all the right (including English public schools, businesses and universities) and Russians in latvia have nothing!!!! Yeah and by the way, English speaking “occupnats” make just 8% of Quebec’s population and lived there since the 18th century whereas Russians make up 40% and have been living in Latvia since the 12th century.

  7. As a non-Latvian it can be hard to comprehend how suddently it seems as if we might be getting one more official language in the European Union. As a student of the Russian language it pleases me to get more possibilities in EU, but I share the concerns of the native speakers who fear for their small language, as I come from a small language myself. Bilingualism is a gift, but only if shared equally. So, I see no way out: the Russian-speakers still have to learn Latvian.

  8. The 40% Ivan refers to actually came into Latvia after WW2 as colonisers to Russify the country. They have had 60 years to learn the language. If they dont want to learn it there is a huge country of their own kind to the East they can go to. Latvia is for Latvians. Ruski nyet !!!

  9. To Ivan: If I’m not mistaken there were Russian speaking people who were citizens of Latvia before Stalin took over the Baltic countries in 1940 and they all spoke Latvian. No one as much as I know protested against the Latvian government at the time, demanding that Russian should be Latvias second language. Maybe our language is too tough to learn? If so then why live in that counry? Another subject that bafles me. Why do so many Russians move from their homeland to the United Statws? Here there is no Russian school (high school, college, university) that teaches in the Russian language. In fact California has over 650,000 Russians. Are you going to send demands to Sacramento that Russian be considered as a secondery language in California? Before I forget California is so prejudice that it doesn’t even have elementry schools that teach Russian kids in their native language. So why come, besides jobes and money. Ivan I have this funny feeling that the Russians don’t want to learn our language. Somehow there are those that think that why should I bend myself down to your level when I who became the egotistical by winning against you on the eastern front should waist my time learning your language when you should only speak mine. Ivan, I would never have thought that you would be so against learning something knew. Ignorance is bliss but I would never have thought that you would keep it so close to yourself.

  10. At last, world will see, that we have big trouble with language politics in Latvia. We can’t ignore russian-speaking citizens and “aliens” (non-citizens).

  11. …and is this not, perhaps, merely an attempt to divide the population and politicians in Latvia in order to sabotage future progress?

  12. In reponse to Ivan – the French as well as the English are occupiers in Canada. Russian were also occupiers in Latvia 100s of years ago. You could call them the ruling class, or the aristocracy, but either way they occupied Latvia. The only language that has a right to claim a “minority language” in Latvian would be Livonian, as earlier settlers of the territory. If you research the use of the term “minority” in the USA, you’ll find that Asian-Americans are generally not considered minorities, because they are not disadvantaged in society. They attend Ivy League and other elite universities in high percentages, hold high paying jobs, learn English, etc. Ex-patriot Americans, like Russian speakers in Latvia often fail to learn the language of the settled country, but they don’t attempt to declare English as an official language. Russian speakers living in other countries are very good at learning languages. Here in Austria, where I live, almost all Russian speakers speak excellent German and often quite good English or other languages.
    From my understanding it is mostly the older generation (40+) that refuse to learn Latvian now. In 20 years many of them will die and their children and grandchildren will happily learn Latvian, and teach their children Russian without imposing it on Latvians.

  13. I sincerely hope this does not pass the petition gathering stage. If it does, I’ll be the first to sign another petition against this idea. As research has shown, language, culture, and identity cannot be separated. I hate to see Latvia as a country and Latvian as a culture being chipped away, bit by bit.

  14. During Soviet years of occupation it was impossible to get a good job as a Latvian if you did not know Russian. All good positions and “bosses” were Russian; decent living conditions were reserved for the imported Russians; official language was Russian. Russians are not seeking equality rights, but want to worm their way to the top again in a country Soviets occupied at the expense of Latvians. Should ad that the language movement is generated by a few radicals who are sympathetic to Moscow and now many others join the bandwagon. Remeber 1991, if the resident Russians had not voted in favor of independence, there would not be a free Latvia today!

  15. Yep indeed, Kaspars, and then those Russians who voted for the Independence of Latvia got betrayed in the same year. The Latvian government stripped them off their right of citizenship and called them “colonizers”. It was a thanks giving to all of those Russians who supported Latvian independence, so now don’t be surprised why they are mad.

  16. Dear misguided KF – Those Russian speakers who weren’t given Latvian citizenship made a decision not to learn the language. It takes no more than 1 year of concentrated effort to learn a foreign language enough to pass a basic test. This is also true for older people. After years of living in Latvia, many cannot even tell you in Latvian when or where a certain event takes place. Those are basic language skills learned in level 1. After 2 months of living in Latvia I spoke better Latvian than several locals I spoke with. One young Russian speaker in Ventspils who had worked in Spain actually preferred to speak to me in Spanish rather than Latvian. His attitude was, “Why should I learn Latvian if so few people speak it?” Every language is valid and important in the country it is spoken and to its speakers. If you live in their country you should learn their language. If you are given the choice to learn the language to become a citizen and you refuse you cannot claim it is a violation of your human rights. Please list all countries in the E.U. where you can become a citizen without learning the language. (then send this list to the stubborn Russian speakers in Latvia and tell them to go there instead)

  17. what if all non-latvians leave latvia? will that tiny country with overly inflated currency survive?? how will their businesses profit if the majority of the traders are russian speakers? how much remittances they will get from aliens who are working abroad? and in war, can you count on your allies? alot of things to think about…

  18. Well Latvia should make Russian into an official language, because 40% of its population is Russian-speaking, and many of them do not know Latvian. But what Latvia should do, is make Livonian into an official language. In Ireland, Irish is an official language next to English, and it was simply nationalistic pride that it was done. Have Latvia show its pride, by making this language that pre-dates the Teutonic Knights and Russian Czars into an official language.

  19. KF … I don’t think it’s the ‘independence’ russians that are making the noise, but those that were shipped in after WW2 and the red military who decided to stay. But the answer is ‘NYET’.

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