The Latvian referendum on Russian as a second state language, February 2012
On 18 February 2012 Latvian citizens participated in a referendum on making Russian a second official (“state”) language. The proposal was rejected by three-quarters of voters. There is a complex background to language policy in Latvia, where since regaining independence in 1991 the country has promoted Latvian as the only state language, though Russian and other languages are widely used at a societal level. The language law and associated citizenship law in Latvia (as in Estonia) have received considerable commentary, with recent significant writings disagreeing strongly regarding their interpretation. These laws have also very often been criticized by both European institutions and by Russia, yet are tenaciously clung to as a basis of Latvian sovereignty. Proficiency in Latvian among previous non-speakers of this language has improved markedly since regained independence, and generally there has been little interpersonal or community confict over language. The move for a referendum, promoted by Russian groups of a highly political character, and with a particular discourse about Latvia and language, brings a new phase to an ongoing language policy issue. Subsequent events both in Latvia (in the form of a constitutional amendment) and in Ukraine (in the form of both language law and armed conflict) show language policy being increasingly influenced by wider political forces.
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