Latvia votes against Russian as second language


LATVIA HAS rejected a proposal to make Russian its second official state language, prompting criticism from Moscow.

“An overwhelming majority of Latvian citizens have expressed their unequivocal support for one of the core constitutional values – the national language,” said Latvia’s president Andris Berzins, after 75 per cent of people voted No in a vote on Saturday.

“The referendum is neither the beginning nor the end of the line. This was a serious challenge and a lesson to us all,” he said, while joining other senior officials in calling for greater dialogue and cooperation among the Baltic state’s communities.

About 600,000 of Latvia’s two million residents are Russian-speakers, and about half of them could not vote in the referendum because they are not Latvian citizens, having failed to pass the language test required for a passport.

They came to Latvia from other parts of the Soviet Union when it was under Kremlin control and Moscow sought to water down local resentment to its rule through population transfers.

That history of brutality and oppression, and Russia’s refusal to apologise for crimes committed against the Latvian people, continues to poison interethnic relations in the EU member state.

Moscow regularly criticises what it calls discrimination against Russian-speakers in Latvia and urges Brussels to take Riga to task over the issue.

A spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry said the high turnout at the referendum among Latvia’s Russian-speakers showed how strongly they “do not agree with the course of building a mono-ethnic society. What’s more, the results of referendum do not by a long chalk reflect the true mood in the country [because] 319,000 so-called non-citizens were denied the right to express their opinion.”