Is Latvian language going extinct?

brīvības piemineklis

It is difficult for younger generations of Latvians to imagine their daily lives without English. Movies, music, scientific and other information on the internet are mostly available only in English. At the same time, the rest of society uses the Russian language both for everyday and international needs. In Latvia, we also often meet local residents who feel offended if they do not receive an answer in Russian. 

According to statistics  in 2020, 1,192,333 people spoke the Latvian language in Latvia

which is 195,424 less less than 30 years ago. In 2017, only 38.6% of the population in Latgale and 42.7% in Riga used Latvian among their families. 

Tens of thousands of people have emigrated from Latvia. They can use their native language abroad in the family, in contact with friends, or at individual compatriot events. Meanwhile, in 30 years, the number of Latvians in Latvia has decreased by more than 16%.

Statistical data do not show that the entire other half speaks primarily Russian. Even though the Russian language makes the majority of foreign language speakers, there are also speakers of other foreign languages, such as Polish, Lithuanian and others, living in Latvia. Also, as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an increasing number of Ukrainian speakers are entering Latvia as refugees, which further diversifies the set of foreign languages represented in Latvia.

In 2012, a referendum was held on amendments to the Constitution, which would provide for the recognition of the Russian language as the second official state language in Latvia. How would Latvia have changed if this had happened?

The Russian language is already in demand in almost all customer service sectors in Latvia. Recognition of official status would also require its use at a governmental level. It is enough to imagine the different temperaments of Latvians and Russians to imagine how the Russian language takes precedence in almost any everyday situation, leaving the Latvian language only for use at home and in educational institutions. The widespread use of the Russian language would allow many more Russian-speaking foreigners to immigrate to Latvia, increasing the percentage of Russian-speaking people even more. 

Almost every Latvian at least once in his life has faced criticism for not knowing or not using the Russian language, because of which he was called a fascist. Accordingly, a counter-question arises - why should a Latvian in Latvia be required to use the Russian language? Why do Russians living in Latvia require Latvians to speak Russian and do not want to know or use the Latvian language?

The arguments of the Russians regarding the recognition of their language are based on the fact that they have been using this language since birth, as well as due to various historical circumstances while living on the territory of Latvia. Latvians' resistance to it comes from unhealed scars of the invasions of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Murders, deportations and other wrongdoings, which were done more than once and even in recent history by the power coming from the Russian side even strengthens the resistance. It does not matter whether it was communism, socialism or imperialism - Latvians have been brutally murdered and subjected to misery by all these regimes. For this, the aggressor is in no hurry to admit their guilt, and only sticks to their demands - down with russophobia.

Who is right and who is wrong?

Looking from the perspective of Russian speakers, these residents have lived in Latvia in large numbers since the days of the Russian Empire, which can be compared with, for example, Turks in Germany or Irish in the United States. The difference is that Turks do not insist that Germans speak Turkish, although many of them already do because of being born and raised in Germany in generations 

When comparing the relatively small number of Russian speakers in Latvia before the USSR and since the occupation of the USSR, only the occupation increased their number to such a large extent that it can be taken into account when looking at the national composition. 

Conclusion - before the time of the USSR, the number of Russian speakers was not so large that there was a need to use the Russian language widely. The brutal occupation of the USSR increased the number of Russian speakers to such an extent that the issue of bilingualism has been raised. 

Yes, the Soviet power expelled the German Nazis, but it also destroyed a large part of the Latvian population and land, separated families, deported the intelligentsia and other political opponents. Each of the powers that came from Russia has fought for Russian national interests, or the expansion of the Russian world, by destroying small nations that have hindered this goal. Which is practically equivalent to Nazism or fascism. Blaming one's victim for one's own actions is a characteristic of a sociopath/narcissist.

An apt comparison of the situation was made on the social portal Twitter: 

A bandit broke into your apartment and threatens you with a knife. Another bandit comes and throws the first one out the window. But then he moves in with you, builds a statue of himself in the kitchen and demands eternal gratitude from you.

Andrey, the bottom line is - there is still a bandit in your apartment.

In search for common grounds

Living in an environment where you have to interact and live with others, you have to find a common middle ground to be able to move forward together - instead of warring and destroying. A fair solution is found when each party tries to understand each other selflessly and empathetically. 

The Russian language is widespread in the world and is used in several countries - its extinction does not seem possible, which cannot be said about the Latvian language. After enduring several battles, losses and occupying powers, Latvians have their own country, albeit a small one, where they can use, nurture and honor their language and values.

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