The President of Latvia, Egil Levits, made an address to the nation, in which he urged in every possible way to preserve and multiply the main national treasure – the Latvian language. For this, according to Levits, it is necessary to fight with another language – Russian, which is spoken by up to 35% of the population of Latvia. The widespread use of the Russian language in Latvia, according to the politician, is a “legacy of the occupation” that should be eradicated. Details – in the material “Izvestia”.
Take care of your tongue from a young age
Before the Saeima left for the summer holidays, President of Latvia Egil Levits made a speech in parliament in which he summed up what had been done recently and outlined the tasks for the future. A significant part of the speech of the head of state was devoted to the linguistic situation in the country. In particular, Levits complained that he recently had to ask the cabinet of ministers to postpone the approval of the document developed by the government on the status of the state language. “The reason was that the state language was considered there as one of the elements of multilingualism. And this means that the understanding of the special constitutional role of the state language in our country is insufficient, ”the president explained. Levits urged to “put an end to this Soviet legacy” as soon as possible.
Otherwise, from his point of view, Latvia will not even be able to think about the return of numerous young Latvians who have moved to work in Western Europe in recent years. According to the president, if young people need to know a foreign language, it should be English.
President of Latvia Egils Levits (second from left)
Photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Melkonov
Levits’ speech caused a mixed reaction in the Latvian society. “The poor president had to ask the government to postpone the approval of the guidelines for the state language. There – oh, horror! – the state language was considered as an element of multilingualism, which is unacceptable (I do not know for sure, but I suspect that even ministers in their hearts are aware of the need to liberalize language legislation – there is a shortage of labor in the country), ”political analyst Danuta Dembovskaya sneers on Facebook. Indeed, the head of state regularly bursts out loud speeches, full of official pathos, on the need to “form a cohesive society based on the Latvian language, as the only state language.”
Where to go?
Ten years ago, the deputies of the Latvian parties in the Seimas expressed their concern with statistical data, according to which the absolute self-sufficiency of the Russian language was observed in the largest cities of the republic – especially in private business. It is not surprising: only 40% of their inhabitants were Latvians at that time. Employers tended to accept Russian speakers – since most of their clients and business partners also spoke Russian. In this situation, the majority of those who did not know the Russian language found themselves uncompetitive on the labor market.
This state of affairs has become possible as a result of the internal politics of the last 30 years, when the state tried to distance itself as much as possible from everything Russian. As a result, representatives of the younger generations grew up firmly convinced that they would not need the “language of the occupation army” in their lives. However, reality has made its own adjustments. The service sector makes up the lion’s share of the Latvian economic sector. To work in this sector, knowledge of Russian is vital – given the number of Russian speakers in the state. In addition, as practice shows, fluency in Russian often increases the chances of finding a job in Western European countries, where they are interested in Russian tourists and consumers.
The authorities decided to cut this Gordian knot with one blow. In the fall of 2018, the Seim of Latvia adopted by a majority vote amendments to labor legislation. Among other things, these amendments provide that the employer cannot oblige the employee to know a foreign (read: Russian) language “if its use is not part of his work duties.” When the amendments were pending, the Council of Europe harshly criticized the language policy of Latvia, which prescribed that “Latvian is the only language that is allowed to be used when communicating with government structures, in topographic designations and other inscriptions, as well as in identity documents” … European human rights activists advised Latvia to promote the integration of society as a “two-way process”. In response, officials referred to the “grave consequences of the Soviet occupation.” But in the final version, the amendments to the labor law were softened.
Vigilance and caution
Recently, fighters against the Russian language in the labor market have even paid attention to ads on social networks. At the end of April, Olga Konoplova from Riga, the owner of a recruiting agency who regularly posts advertisements about the selection of people for a particular position, received an official warning. She was accused of the fact that she published a job advertisement on her personal Facebook page in Russian, “not complying with the norms of the Labor Law, which are mandatory for such announcements.”
This year, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CMCE) demanded that the Latvian authorities fight against xenophobia in the country and soften restrictions on the use of languages of national minorities in the field of education. The Committee states that “more and more stringent requirements for knowledge of the Latvian language” are applied in Latvia to almost all professions. Even the leadership of non-profit organizations is required to know the language at the highest level. By the way, such strict requirements, coupled with the ban in the country of education in Russian, alienated the workers of Belarusian IT companies from Latvia – although Riga was actively inviting “IT specialists” from the neighboring republic.
Photo: Global Look Press / Victor Lisitsyn
As for the recommendations of the CMCE, the Latvian authorities immediately made it clear that they would not carry them out. “I think the government is not deliberately changing our policy. Our country is open to all nationalities and ethnic groups. But the basis of our country will remain the use of our language and the development of our culture, ”said Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins. In this regard, the co-chairman of the opposition Union of Russians of Latvia, Miroslav Mitrofanov, was indignant: “There is such a well-known picture – it depicts three monkeys. One closes her eyes, the other her ears, the third her mouth. In Latvia, these three monkeys are replaced by the whole Ministry of Foreign Affairs and one prime minister. ” According to Mitrofanov, the Latvian authorities ignore the recommendations of European human rights activists, because they know in advance that they will not get anything for it – the state will not be kicked out of the EU and NATO.