Latvian vs Russian: Just to get political up in here

To start out here’s the article that inspired this base thought:

Now I think most of us agree with Steve’s sentiment that one should learn the culture’s language, the country’s native language. I know that we’ll be able to equate the Canadian English - French question to the Latvian - Russian question but I’d prefer to keep it in Eastern/Baltic Europe rather than return to Quebec. They have their own concern’s and history.

After you read the article what do you think? Of course the Soviet intervention is wrong in past, but like many foreign policy questions the question boils down to: What to do about it now?

Russian even though it’s a minority language at the moment in Latvia, can easily be overtaken andLatvian can be in danger of being lost if Russian is given national status. Many monolingual Russian speakers in the country wouldn’t ever bother to learn Latvian if they can function on an countrywide and international level with Russian. Perhaps monolingual Latvian speakers will be inclined to learn and develop only Russian because of this… ? What would be the reason to learn Latvian aside from ethnicity?

Is it worth is to lose Latvian? Does it matter?

I’d like to make a personal request to Vera to respond to this… she normally avoids the political discussions but I’d like to know her opinion too. The rest of you are welcome to answer too of course…

I’ll show my thoughts if the thread catches any traction…

English is not an official language in Quebec, where at least 15% of the population of 7.5 million is English speaking. Signage is controlled so that all stores have to have larger French signs than English signs. Obviously this bothers the anglophone community which has been established there for over 200 years. Is it necessary to protect the survival of French, where 6 million French speakers are surrounded by over 300 million English speakers in North America? Maybe.

Are language politics in Quebec in your face and provocative? On the surface, yes. Below the surface there is a lot of accommodation, and most people accept the status quo.

Latvia. I was surprised by the absence of Russian signs in Riga, although the city is 50% Russian speaking. The Russian language is cleansed out of view, like in Montreal, as an inconvenient fact. I remember a Quebec Minister of Culture once said that Montreal, a truly bilingual city, was in fact no more bilingual than Rome!!

But there are only one and a half million Latvian speakers in the world. Many Latvians that I met for business, speak Russian and are not anti-Russian. On the other hand the Russians I have met there were more resentful of Latvians, didn’t understand why they should learn the language, felt that Latvians didn’t appreciate all the great things the Russians did for them, and would prefer to have remained citizens of the Soviet Union, in other words do not participate in the Latvian national project. This is not representative perhaps, but it was the view that I heard most often.

In my view, pressure on the Russians to use Latvian is legitimate, and the Latvians can even take a page from the Quebecois. Those Russians that don’t like it may have to move back to Russia, just as hundreds of thousands of English Canadians abandoned Quebec over the last 30-40 years.

On the other hand, Latvia needs Russia, and the Russian language is an asset. Riga could market itself as a city with quite a Russian past, not just the Soviet period, but before, and would only benefit. I guess a compromise has to be found, based on an effort to understand the point of view of the other person, something that is usually lacking in language disputes, which tend to be more of the “us” versus “them” style.

I read an interesting article on this topic on this week’s issue of “Courrier international” (a French magazine that gathers articles from all over the world and translates them to French).
A woman living in Daugavpils (Latvia’s second biggest city, where everybody speaks Russian) was reported to say that, if Russian becomes an official language, Latvian may be marginalized as it happened to Irish in Ireland.
If anyone would like to read the article, tell me and I can send you a copy of it, since I doubt it can be read for free.

Hi Chris, is this addressed to me or is there another Vera?

Is there another Vera who listed things that she would or would not do in the LingQ forum?

No I was curious as what you thought Vera :slight_smile:

I think what happens is it does become us vs them, which is unfortunate, because that then leads to a power struggle. The truth of the matter is that in their situation perhaps it should just be understood that Latvia is a bilingual nation. If I were Latvian though I would be afraid of my language being marginalized and as an outsider I prefer that languages don’t die, although it’s inevitable.

The worst part is that these situations over language really do create riffs in a country’s culture and breed an obnoxious nationalism that overshadows other issues.

In the broader context, the present government in Russia and many Russians think that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a national disaster, and the independence of the “ungrateful” Latvians is an affront. The scary scenario is that there will be tension between Russian speakers and Latvian speakers in Latvia, and Russia will start issuing Russian passports to Russian speaking Latvians, the way they did in Georgia, and once that happens, things could get very nasty, in a hurry.

In theory I would favour making Russian an official language in Latvia. However, if most Russians there won’t bother learning Latvian after 20 years of independence, with Russian in an unfavoured position, once Russian is official, who will bother. Tough decision, and one that only Latvians can decide.

I think I would vote “no” if I were a Latvian.

After Lukashenko became President of Belarus’, Russian became the second official language there and now hardly anyone speak Belarussian.

Ukrainian President Yanukovich also wants to make Russian official in Ukraine and tensions between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers have been increasing in the latest years.

I doubt Latvia could ever become like Belarus’ or Ukraine, but I think many Latvian speakers fear that scenario. Maybe they could give more autonomy to the Russian-speaking cities/provinces, as it already happens in Italy or Spain.

And Russia would have to think twice before doing in Latvia what they did in Georgia, because Latvia is a member of NATO, which Georgia unfortunately isn’t.

Anyway, Latvians should now be mature enough to decide for themselves. :slight_smile:

Just changing the subject for a moment:

I believe it is true that, besides his native Russian, Putin is also fluent in English and German? Unfortunately you would have to look quite hard to find any major Western leader who is trilingual…

(off topic, onto Putin’s language skills): I’ve seen clips of Putin, where he gives a long speech in German. It was scripted/from notes, but given the length and nature of the speech that seems normal. I think his KGB work was in the GDR, so at a guess, I think he’s pretty fluent. I’ve only heard short unscripted english from him (at the Judo championships?) and I’m pretty sure he has a translator for discussions.

Mikheil Saakashvili, president of georgia speaks georgian (of course), pretty flawless russian and ukrainian, excellent english, and can hold his political discussions in french, with bits of spanish and ossetian on the side.

I’m not sure if he counts as a major western leader though : )

Ok Chris, you’re right. In general I avoid this kind of discussions not because I dislike them or because I think they are not important. The reason is simply that I found them really time consuming on the one hand and an the other hand I think I’m a bit handicapped in these kind of discussions because English is not my native language. But you’ve asked me for my opinion and I do my best to answer.
I’m really biased and I can understand both positions. There are countries with more than one official language (for example Switzerland, Belgium) but in these countries the languages exists in special regions and have a long tradition. In Latvia the situation is different. Russian speakers and Latvian speakers live in the same area.
Also you have to consider the history of the country. I guess Latvians were not always happy about the relationship with Russia.
I’m sure, if I would live in a foreign country, I would do my best to learn its language. It seems natural to me to do this. You need the language not only in daily life, you need it at the job too, and you increase your chances to get a better job if you speak the country’s language. And why should I live in another country if I’m not willing to learn the language and to accept their culture?
About one year ago I met a family from Luxembourg. The man explained to me that a lot of foreigners live and work there speaking no Luxembourgian at all. On TV they watch a lot of programs in German, Dutch, and French etc. because the country is so small and they have not many Luxembourgian programs. The daughter for example watches always the German children channel. I heard them speaking Luxembourgian and I think it would be a pity if this language dies out. And I guess Latvian’s are concerned about this too.
All over all I think this referendum includes a lot of political explosive. And I think it was brought on the way to suit political interests. I guess if I were Latvian I would not want to have Russian supported as an official language. But it is difficult to decide if you are not involved directly.
I hope that I was able to express my thoughts understandable in English.

The outcome of the referendum was very clear: 69% of voters went to the polling station and 80% of them said no to Russian becoming an official language.

The neglect of learning Latvian dates back to the times when we all were citizens of the united Soviet Union.
It’s a shame to see that this problem exists in modern Russia as well. For instance, a large part of Tatarstan’s population almost principled refuses to learn Tatar and even protests against the Tatar language as a discipline, their children have at school.
In my opinion, curriculum of every Russian school (not just those in cultural autonomies) should require compulsory study of at least one language of Russia’s major minorities, such as Tatar, Chechen and Chuvash. It’s as important for national integrity as their knowledge of Russian.
Having this said, lots of Latvians already have a good command of the minority’s language, which is a reason the Russian minority should be even more in shame of not knowing Latvian.
I know that there is another side of the problem with this humiliating “non-citizen” status, which is not really in compliance with international law, but the only reason most of Russians can’t get a normal Latvian citizenship is just their lack of knowledge of the national language, so…

And Russia would have to think twice before doing in Latvia what they did in Georgia

Don’t want to make an excursus into the history of Ossetia here, which became a part of Georgia in the course of Stalin’s petty tyranny and don’t really want to tell about why there was something to fear of, that made Russia (in compliance with a peacemaking treaty) help to resist the Georgian military operation in South Ossetia, after four genocides of ossetians in the course of the 20th century, but applying anything from that conflict to Russian-Latvian relationships is quite an assaulting and crazy charge, Mike!

I didn’t even think about comparing the Russo-Georgian conflict to the Russo-Latvian relationships, Evgeniy! :slight_smile: I was just commenting this part of Steve’s post:

" The scary scenario is that there will be tension between Russian speakers and Latvian speakers in Latvia, and Russia will start issuing Russian passports to Russian speaking Latvians, the way they did in Georgia, and once that happens, things could get very nasty, in a hurry."

I don’t believe anything comparable to the 2008 war with Georgia will happen in Latvia. :slight_smile:

It is unfortunate that there is so much tension among some of the countries of the former Soviet Union, caused in part by the attitude of the present Russian government, as well as the bitter memories, and radical nationalism, of some of these smaller nations.

Putin has stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest political disaster of the 20t century. The implication, and the expectation of some of the electorate in Russia, seems to be that this is a wrong that should be righted at some point.

This does not make Russia’s small neighbours feel easy. If instead Moscow accepted that the Empire is over, just like the British Empire was over after WW2, then the former Soviet/Russian Empire would have a better chance of growing as a Russian speaking “commonwealth”. I think the Russian presence in Latvia is a great asset for the country, not only in its dealings with Russia, but also vis a vis the outside world.

As I said, the Latvians I have dealt with for business in Latvia were happy to speak Russian, and while anti-Soviet, were not, in my view anti-Russian. I could be wrong.

The attitude of many in Russia towards minority languages is normal. It seems that people get quite chauvinistic on the subject of language. Canada is a good example, where despite official policy and the more “tolerant” view of some elites, there is a lot of popular antagonism towards the “French fact”. Of course, the political importance of Quebec has enabled that province to dictate its own language laws, which , in turn, are quite intolerant. Belgium, Spain, and the “English only” movement in the US are more examples of language squabbling. Just human nature I guess.

I agree with you eugrus and would like to see native languages in Canada taught in our schools, even though the number of speakers is very small. We should respect this part of our heritage.

Thanks for your post, Steve!

Well. Putin said that it was a geopolitical disaster being a man with intelligence service thinking. His American colleges would probably agree to some extant. The bipolar world was safer in a way (on a geopolitical level) and more stable, than it is now with new Islamistic and other players: at that times you could just be a Western or an Eastern Islamist and play for one of the teams with no room left for radicalization. Now everyone has to do with what he was going to raise against another.

Even though there are some pro-Soviet sentiments, if you would ask an average citizen or politic here, if he would like a merger with any post-Soviet country (maybe, except of Belarus and the Ukraine) he would certainly not like the idea.

Imperialistic thinking probably exists in some way: it’s just a slow thing to get rid of. This one is also spured by finding ourselves out of the European integration.

Several years ago, I read that the majority of the Russian people interviewed in a survey said they would like Russia to join the EU. I would LOVE to see that happen before I die, even if it looks almost impossible now (but who would have imagined in the 1980s that so many Socialist countries would join it in 2004-7?).
I think Russia would still play an important role within the EU, if just its authorities gave up the idea of rebuilding some sort of new USSR.

Not being European myself
The problem I see with Russia in the EU is that it wouldn’t be a good balance. If history has been one big game, then the Russians were the “winners”. (When I use this in my debates I say Britain won, but in a sense they both won in different ways). Physical size and population size far greater than any other European nation, it maintains what it earned though its empire.
In a sense it’s too big, the seats it’d have in European parliament and it’s influence would be nothing but a threat to the British-German-French trio and all that the EU tries to do. So why would they ever want them to be in? Both they and Russia have a lot they’d be giving up, especially Russia.

A similar problem with Turkey. but not as extreme.

When it comes to Latvia, I say that Russia is so big, and adding Russian as an official language would only harm Latvian culture and language as an independent people. And that threat is very real. Like Quebec, sometimes you can’t be nice about it, you have to get tough if you really wanna protect your culture. Or else you’ll end up like Irish.

I have one Latvian friend on Facebook, I should ask him what he voted for.