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Thursday, 10.23.2014

74.8% of Latvian voters reject Russian as second official language

20/02/2012

With a turnout of 71%, the result confirms Latvian as the sole official language in the Baltic country · President Berzins calls for a discussion on the “strengthening of the Latvian state” · A majority of voters in the eastern region of Latgale support an official status for Russian · Moscow says the referendum was “unfair” because of the exclusion of ethnic Russians

74.8% of voters in a Latvian Constitutional referendum rejected on Saturday to introduce Russian as the second official language of the country. The referendum was called in late 2011 after a successful collection of signatures headed by pro-Russian Dzimtā valoda (Native Language) organization forced the Latvian institutions to do so. Thus, according to the results of the vote, Russian will not retake the status it had during the Soviet period and Latvian will continue to be the sole official language in the Baltic country.

The turnout of the referendum almost reached 71%. The figure clearly shows the widespread interest that the issue of the status of Russian sparked among Latvian society. Out of five regions, only in one (Latgale, the easternmost one) the majority of voters supported the introduction of Russian as the second official language (official results here).

Moscow criticizes "unfairness" of the referendum

Although the result has been quite clear, the Russian government is not satisfied with the way the referendum has been held. According to The Voice of Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that the referendum was "unfair", because 320,000 ethnic Russians in Latvia are not full citizens, and thus are not able to take part in referendums. Anyway, the figures put forward by Lukashevich are not consistent with the most recent official data: the 2011 census of Latvia puts the total population of non-citizens in Latvia at 290,000.

Ethnic Russians account now for about 27% of the total population of Latvia, with a total figure of 556.000 people. This means that more than a half of ethnic Russians living in the Baltic country have been granted citizenship. Some 62% of the population are ethnic Latvians, while 11% belong to other ethnicities.

President Berzins: Latvia only country where Latvian can exist

Meanwhile, Andris Berzins, the president of Latvia, has thanked the voters for having prevented Russian of becoming again an official language: "Latvia [is] the only country in the world in which the Latvian language [...] can exist [and] develop", he said in a public statement in his official website. He pointed that the vote "endangered one of the most sacred foundations of the Constitution - the state language" and that the time had come "for a serious discussion about strengthening the foundations of the Constitution and a change in the model of power with the single goal of strengthening the Latvian state and protecting it as much as possible against any threats against its foundations in future".

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