In less than a decade, Latvia could take its place among the top tier of European nations, its president has claimed, arguing that its language and culture will become dominant despite much of the country speaking Russian at home.
Egils Levits made the remarks in a discussion on parliamentary democracy on Friday, insisting that, by 2030, “we could become one of the most modern European countries.” This, he claimed, is not because the nation would accept every innovation, but because it would accept only the most important ones, and can discern what really matters.
However, he added, Latvia will “also become a Latvian state” during the same period, inextricably linked to “the elements of Latvianism – language and culture – which distinguish us from other countries.”
Despite this bold claim, ethnic Russians make up around a quarter of the Baltic nation’s population, and around half of those live in its capital, Riga. Ethnic Latvians also frequently speak Russian, with 71 percent estimated to have a command of the language, which is an official language in 11 nations and claims more than a quarter of a billion speakers. Latvian, by contrast, is spoken by only 1.75 million people, and almost exclusively within the country.
However, Latvian is the only official language approved by Riga and, in 2012, a referendum blocked proposals to also afford that same status to Russian. Then-president Andris Berzins called the idea “absurd,” arguing that “there’s no need for a second language. Whoever wants can use their language at home or in school.”
However, educational institutions have since become a battleground in the culture clash, with a number of schools transitioning to education in Latvian, and Russian schools left with an uncertain future.
In October last year, Levits said that the country’s young people must “become custodians of the Latvian language,” using it “every day and over time modernizing and improving it.”
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