Voters slam Russian as state language; referendum turnout sets records

Preliminary results show voters in Latvia and abroad turned out in record numbers to resoundingly reject a Feb. 18 referendum that would have made Russian the country’s second official language.

With balloting results reported in all but 21 voting districts abroad, 74.8 percent of Latvian citizens were pret, or against, the constitutional amendments.

The amendments, proposed by the Russian-oriented Dzimtā valoda (Native Language) organization, would have changed five paragraphs of the constitution that specify Latvian is the sole official language.

More than 1.09 million people—70.73 percent of all those eligible—voted in the referendum, according to provisional results compiled by the Central Election Commission in Rīga. That’s the highest turnout for any national referendum so far.

Voters abroad also turned in great numbers. All together, 39,763 citizens participated in the referendum in 85 voting districts abroad, according to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That’s more than double the previous record turnout set in 1993, when 18,413 citizens abroad voted in the 5th Saeima election.

The nine voting districts set up in the United Kingdom drew 40 percent of the total vote abroad—a turnout of 16,040. Voters in London alone numbered 5,086, with many standing in line after the official close of polling.

Voters in Ireland totaled 4,864, of whom 3,527 participated in the referendum in Dublin, which was the second-busiest voting district abroad.

Polls in Latvia and abroad were open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.

UPDATED: 19 Feb 2012

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

12 thoughts on “Voters slam Russian as state language; referendum turnout sets records

  1. Thank God for that. Hopefully this issue is now dead. I wonder what trick the Russians will try next, especially when arch thug Putin comes to power.

  2. Some of the arguments put forward by the russians for the referendum lacked credence. I am a latvian refugee born in Germany, now living in Australian. Thanks to my now deceased parents I still have maintained my latvian culture and language despite my integration into the Ozzy psyche.Some of the Russian arguments for recognizing russian so as to preserve their culture in latvia is akin to every immigrant who fled europe asking their new host countries to also recognise their europe language as an offical langauge of that country. All immigrants and residents must respect and abide by the sovereign rule and constitution of their host country. Just imagine the reaction if such demands where made upon some of the middle east and asian countries who have no tolerance for foreign customs or alternative religious beliefs.

  3. It was a strange election. A ‘record’ number of people voted with hand written paper ballots but they knew the results within 2 hours after the polls closed here. Even Russian areas of Latvia voted overwhelmingly against Russian becoming a second language. Personally I am disappointed in this. The Russian referendum would probably have lost anyway. The need to commit fraud by the Election Commission was not necessary. But the fraud was so obvious that it made the voting a joke. Now 50% of the Latvian population feels even more marginalized. The only way Latvia is going to be a successful country is to bring everyone together. Not to divide people. Everyone who lives in Latvia and loves this country is a Latvian. Dividing people is just a distraction created by corrupt politicians so that they can do what they want. The majority of Latvians live in poverty with poor infrastructure while corrupt politicians steal with impunity and send their money to Swiss bank accounts.

  4. Just a reminder. Latvia has not yet ratified the EU Convention on the minority languages. The most significant end result of the referendum is that the region of Latgalia voted for the support of the Russian language, so now there is going to be pressure to allow using Russian on municipal level in Latgalia. For the Europeans it would make sense, they will likely support the Russian minorities in this case and will also pressure the Latvian government to adjust its language policies to the EU convention. So the results of the referendum is not the end of the issue but the beginning of the long battle, prepare for another possible referendums coming… they will come in waves. That’s horrible, but that is the reality of today’s country, whose people is split in two autonomous communities.

  5. Common sense prevails. I see some people are banging on about ethnic Russians human rights. Where were these people when the Baltic states was under the heel of a oppressive regime who couldn’t give two hoots about other peoples Human Rights, Cultures and language. I hope now this issue is dead and the real issues of the day can be addressed.

  6. Until the people of Latvia set aside all of this divisiveness and begin working together for the betterment of Latvia then nothing is going to get better here in Latvia. While ethnic Latvians argue with ethnic Russians the Scandinavian banks are buying up all of Latvia. Soon Latvia will become only a place where Scandinavian countries raise their trees and their pigs and have access to cheap labour. Everyone who lives here and loves Latvia is a Latvian. It is time to leave the past behind and to focus on the future of Latvia.

  7. As an American the sadness I feel that a multi-ethnic country as the Republic of Latvia should deny language rights to minority citizens hearkens back to the days of Stalinist and Nazi oppression. Let all the folk unite. In diversity there is strength.

  8. Janis Blums hit the nail on the head. I was born in Latvija, and like Blums, now live in the USA. No one is denying the ethnic Russians of Latvija the right to speak Russian. This is simply a matter of maintaining the Latvijan language as the official one. Just like English is the only official language in the USA. To the best of my knowledge no other ethnic minorities are asking to have their language as a second offial language… they would be laughed at and ushered out of the door.

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