Vote on language issue set Feb. 18

A national referendum on whether Russian should become Latvia’s second official language is set for Feb. 18, the Central Election Commission announced Jan. 3 in Rīga.

The referendum will decide whether proposed legislation to amend the constitution will be adopted. The legislation would change five sections in the constitution, including Paragraph 4, which sets Latvian as the sole official language.

At least half of all eligible voters, or nearly 772,000 citizens, would need to vote in favor of the referendum question for it to pass, according to Latvian law.

Many political observers have commented that the referendum has little chance of passing, but the fact that the language issue has come this far has sharpened discord between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians in Latvia. Both President Andris Bērziņš and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis in their New Year’s messages to the nation reiterated the centrality of the Latvian language.

“No matter what your decision will be about participating in the referendum and your vote in it, know that a vote in favor of changing the status of the official language will be a vote against Latvia as a state,” Bērziņš said.

The issue of Russian as a second state language was propelled by the pro-Russian Dzimtā valoda (Native Language) organization. It gathered enough signatures on a petition to spark a citizen initiative, which in turn garnered more than 183,000 signatures to bring the proposed legislation before the Saeima. The parliament, as expected, on Dec. 22 rejected the bill on its first reading.

Under Latvian law, that normally would force a national referendum. However, taking the issue to the voters was inevitable because of the proposal to change Paragraph 4 of the constitution, which is possible only through a referendum.

Polling stations will be set up across Latvia and abroad, according to the Central Election Commission, and voting by absentee ballot also will be available.

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

6 thoughts on “Vote on language issue set Feb. 18

  1. After 40+ years of russification (communism), Latvia stepped out from that as an independent nation, politically, culturally, and independently, …. free of Russia. Why would any Latvian now want to step backward by giving back even an ounce of hard fought-for sovereignty? Latvia, go the course now. Remain 100 % free. No, to Russian as a second language.

  2. How can I vote in this referendum from United States? At the Embassy or Consulate I assume, but would it be February the 18th only? No extended time for those abroad? I really want to stand up for my language but it’ s a bit complicated here in U.S.

  3. Visvaldis I agree with your comment. I’m sure most Latvians dont want to see this law pass. The problem is half of Latvia’s population is ethnic Russian who dont see themselves as Latvians and have no intention of being Latvian. They are now in positions of political power and influence.I hate to say it but in another generation Latvians will be the minority in there own country. The ethnic Russians wont be happy until Latvia has returned to what they think is the Motherland (Russia).

  4. Robbie… all the more reason for dual citizenship for Latvians. And ‘alien’ status for the krievs who refuse to become citizens, but wallow in better state provided conditions than their homeland does.

  5. Greetings to my comrades in Lettland. I offer my opinion on the American language issue. The main languages in use here are English or Spanish with vast multitude of others considered. Yet there is no official language but in reality English is overwhelmingly dominant. In the multi-ethnic Republic of Latvia is not the lingua franca Russian? This leads to another question why have an official legal language? The folk by their circumstances will decide the tongue of communication depending on the situation.

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