Two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Baltic republic of Latvia is voting on a referendum on whether Russian should be an official language of the state.
Of the small nation’s 2-million population, about 30 percent are estimated to be ethnic Russians and they have long complained of second-class treatment by the majority Latvians.
The referendum is expected to fail.
BBC reported that some ethnic Latvians think the vote represents an effort to compromise the nation’s independence from its former overlords, the Russians.
This referendum is a test for traitors to the state, popular theatre director and Latvian nationalist Alvis Hermanis said on public television, according to Reuters.
The Latvian president Andris Berzins has condemned the referendum as “absurd” and a waste of time, given that the nation is in the throes of a deep economic crisis.
There's no need for a second language. Whoever wants, can use their language at home or in school, he said.
After Latvia gained independence from Moscow, Riga declared that knowing the Latvian language was required for citizenship. Many Russians refused and, consequently, remain stateless.
Associated Press reported that perhaps as many as 300,000 ethnic Russians in the country do not have citizenship (which, of course, means they cannot vote in any elections or hold government posts).
The referendum was started by a Russian movement called “Native Tongue,” which somehow got enough signatures to force a ballot on the language issue.
Vladimir Linderman, co-chairman of the movement, told AP: I think that over the past 20 years Russian residents of Latvia have been humiliated by authorities, by endless attempts either to assimilate or make them second-class citizen. So this is our answer.
He added: The referendum is a stage in the fight of Latvia's Russian residents for their rights.