The Latvian Government plans to pass a law next week to restrict the use of Russian in the public and private sectors and in commerce, in the context of growing antagonism towards Russia and the Russian for the invasion of Ukraine.
The draft of the law, which will be presented this Monday to the coalition partners of the center-right Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, aims to apply in practice the result of the 2012 referendum on the use of Russian.
Then, 74.8% of Latvians spoke out against recognizing Russian as an official language, which according to 2019 data from the Latvian Central Statistical Office (CSB) is the native language of 37.5% of citizens. , many of them descendants of workers installed in the Baltic country by the Soviet authorities.
The bill aims to “mitigate the long-term effects of Russification and eradicate the daily practice of using both Latvian and Russian in daily communication in the work environment and in services.”
The de facto ban on the use of Russian will extend not only to public bodies, but also, among others, to communication with customers of companies such as banks and telecommunications companies, public transport, infrastructure such as airports and stations, and even to the garbage collection service.
On the contrary, the law would not prevent the use of Russian in individual conversations in a business or the use of interpreters to interact with the public administration; In addition, an exception will be made for emergencies or risk situations.
Regarding the work environment, the law states that “the employer will be prohibited from demanding that the employee know or use a language that is not an official language of the European Union”, which is intended to prevent the employee from Russian is a requirement to access certain positions.
The law is scheduled to enter into force on July 1, 2023 and those who violate it may be subject to administrative sanctions that have yet to be specified.
One of the promoters of the project has been the writer Liana Langa, who for weeks has campaigned on Twitter for the “derussification” of the linguistic sphere and for the exclusive use of Latvian.
In her account, the author highlights job offers that require knowledge of Russian, restaurant menus in Russian, and institutional and company web pages or customer service with Russian versions.
Langa maintains that 31 years after the Baltic country regained its independence from the Soviet Union, in which Russian was the main language of communication between the various ethnic groups, Latvian is still under threat.
However, the Latvian Language Agency (LVA) is less alarmist, finding in a 2021 study that a positive trend in recent years has led to, at least in state-regulated areas, Latvian being the priority language.
According to the LVA, in 1989 only 23% of minorities – that is, of people of non-Latvian ethnicity – knew how to speak the language of the country, while in 2019 this percentage has risen to 90% and the study highlights that Russophones Younger students have a better level of Latvian than older ones.
According to a survey, 92% of Russophones used Latvian in their workplace in the last year and 90% did the same in educational institutions, an area where the existing dual system will be replaced from 2025 for teaching exclusively in Latvian.
In discussions on social networks, Langa denies that she wants to expel Russian-speakers from Latvia and says that she only wants to correct the linguistic imbalance.
However, in the context of the removal of Soviet monuments and calls to restrict visas and residence permits for Russians in the context of the war in Ukraine, some Latvians of Russian origin believe that the bill threatens their future in the country.
Elizabete Krivcova, a lawyer and activist for the rights of Russophones, told Efe that “it is clear that the objective of all this is to expel all Russians, native or immigrant, from the country,” something that has become an “end in itself” unrelated to the war in Ukraine.
Krivcova is not planning to leave and she will be a candidate for parliament for the social democratic “Harmony” party in the elections next October, but she says that more and more Russian-speakers are considering leaving Latvia.