RIGA — Campaigners aiming to make Russian the second official language of EU member state Latvia suffered a crushing defeat in a referendum Saturday which spotlighted ethnic divisions in the ex-Soviet republic. Official figures from four-fifths of the country’s polling stations showed that almost 76 percent of voters had opposed the plan to change the constitution to give Russian equal status with Latvian.
The campaign organised by members of Latvia’s ethnic-Russian minority mustered just under 24 percent of the vote in favour. Turnout topped 69 percent, one of the highest levels in a vote since Latvia regained its independence in 1991 after five decades of rule by Moscow…
But the campaign raised hackles among many majority ethnic-Latvians for whom their language is a symbol of freedom. After Latvia was seized by the Soviets during World War II, tens of thousands of ethnic Latvians were deported to Siberia and Russian-speakers were sent in, while Russian also dominated Soviet public life.
While Moscow called the vote an internal affair, its past vocal backing for the Russian cause has often sparked Latvian accusations of Kremlin meddling.
“If people really want to speak Russian 24 hours per day there is a great place for them. It is called Russia,” voter Pauls Pukitis told AFP.
Casting his ballot Saturday, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said voting against the plan meant “strengthening the very foundations of the country” — before fielding questions in both languages…
Good for him – on both counts.
It’s the right result.