18 de febrero de 2012

Latvia: Second [official] language Referendum

The language/ethnic issue in Latvia has caught my attention since the first time I visited the country in December 2010. A Russian ethnic minority (almost 27%) live in this Baltic country of just 2.1 million inhabitants (and declining, it must be said).

A large proportion of Russian native speakers have failed to fully integrated to the country by refusing to adopt Latvian as language, with the consequence of having a noncitizen status. However, they claim is legitimate that the Latvian state recognises officially their language as official.

The issue is complex (as any other social conflict). There is a considerable percentage of Russian speaking population that lived in Latvia for many generations, others even for centuries, but also a number of Russians who migrated under the rule of the Soviet Union and settled perfectly as the lingua franca was Russian.

In fact, in a way Russian still plays that role. Officially, everything runs under Latvian language, however you can hear Russian everywhere, even in public institutions there is information displayed and customer service is provided in Russian (unofficially, of course).

The 18th of February 2011 a referendum on second official language was held in Latvia (strongly recommend this article on The Economist). Some may argue that Latvian language must be preserved and they may have a strong point on it, nevertheless, there are political motivations within and outside the country. The language issue is a great matter of political division and plays important role destabilising a political project in the country but also there are claims of Moscow backing pro-Russian campaigning.

As recently settled in the country I am not yet able to comment further, although I see nationalist sentiments that undercover the language issue widening the schism in society and undermining the chances of integration.

I share some photos taken at poll centre right next to the Old Town in Riga (look at the whole album here):

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