News / Europe

Latvians Vote to Make Russian an Official Language

A Latvian woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a language referendum in Riga, Latvia, February 18, 2012.
A Latvian woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a language referendum in Riga, Latvia, February 18, 2012.

Citizens in the European nation of Latvia are voting in a referendum Saturday to decide whether to make Russian the country’s official second language.

Although the second-language referendum is seen as having little chance of passing, the question has triggered a heated debate between the country's large ethnic Russian and Latvian populations.

When the former Soviet Union broke apart in 1991 and Latvia regained independence, most of its Russian-speaking citizens chose to remain in the country.

And even though the government in Riga offered them citizenship, some Russian speakers, such as swimming instructor Viktor Saltikov, say their voices are not being heard.  

Saltikov says Russians would feel better if their language was made official.  He says Russians are not going to vanish from Latvia, no matter how much some people would like them to.

But ethnic Latvians say that the Moscow-backed attempt to integrate the Russian language into the government is an attempt to weaken Latvia’s sovereignty and drag the former Soviet republic back into Russia’s sphere of influence.  Andrejs Salaks, an accountant, says it is a question of civic duty.

Salaks says if there are still people in Latvia who do not know the official language, it means they have not tried to learn it.  Even the prospect of obtaining citizenship has not urged them, he says, and this means they are not loyal to the country they live in.  If the second state language is introduced, they would be left without any reason or motivation to learn Latvian.

Latvia is one of three small Baltic states that was part of the former Soviet Union for most of the 20th century. Many Russians moved into Latvia during that time, and about one-third of Latvia's people now speak Russian.  The Russian and Latvian languages will be equally acceptable in matters of government if half of all eligible voters, more than 771,000 people, vote "yes" on the constitutional referendum.

Final results are expected in a couple of days.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid