18 January 2012, 14:00

Russian language passion gaining momentum in Latvia

Russian language passion gaining momentum in Latvia
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The forthcoming referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia is in danger. Latvian MPs started to dispute its legitimacy in the Constitutional Court a month before the nationwide voting. The Court has been asked to decide whether or not the referendum will be held before the 20th of February.

The forthcoming referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia is in danger. Latvian MPs started to dispute its legitimacy in the Constitutional Court a month before the nationwide voting. The Court has been asked to decide whether or not the referendum will be held before the 20th of February.

In theory, it is impossible to cancel a referendum but Constitutional Court decisions cannot be contested either. The situation with the Russian language has become absurd: MPs are trying to challenge the legitimacy of nationwide voting using very dubious methods, Latvian political scientist Boris Tsilevich told The Voice of Russia.

“It is not allowed to appeal the decisions of the Central Elections Commission in court. It would be complete nonsense in terms of legal procedure. In fact, it would mean ignoring all Constitutional rules, demonstrating a flat denial of the law and showing a disregard for the legal basis of the state.”

Opponents of the Russian language are convinced that the collection of signatures in autumn last year was an attempt at a coup d’etat. Andrey Yudin from the Unity party says that the second official language is certain to oust the Latvian language and the entire country will change as a result.

“This is an attempt to quietly change the existing system in the country. For this reason the referendum will not do the country good. On the other hand, from the legal viewpoint, all procedures have been observed and there are no grounds to cancel the voting. MPs from two factions have appealed to the Constitutional Court so as to get an answer if the situation is legitimate or not.”

It is extremely difficult to cancel the referendum but the Constitutional Court has the right to postpone it for five months. After that the case may be considered again and the day of the voting postponed for another five months. This can continue endlessly. Meanwhile, the Russian language which almost half of Latvia’s population speaks will be considered the language of a national minority and under a ban because officially it is only allowed to speak Latvian in Latvia. Apart from that, if the referendum is postponed, almost 190,000 signatures in its support (almost 10% of the country’s population) will be wasted, political scientist Miroslav Mitrofanov says.

“The worst thing is uncertainty which may give rise to a national conflict. If the voting took place on the 18th of February it would be clear how many citizens of Latvia are in favour of the official status of the Russian language. Later it would be possible to look for a compromise and find an interim version of the official status of the Russian language.”

Meanwhile, supporters of the Russian language do not despair. The very fact of the referendum will attract world public attention. This means that Russian-speaking people whose rights are violated by the Latvian language policy may still cherish the hope of speaking their native language in their native country one day. The more so, that EU countries, and Latvia is one of them, have an experience of settling such conflicts. For example, Finland where Swedish is the second official language, even though only a little over 5% of the population speak it.

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