The 1992 Language Law was quite similar
to most language laws throughout the world. The most essential postulates were as follows:
1) Latvian should
be the only language of government and state administration;
2) proficiency in
the state language should be required for the holders of certain jobs and there should be
a system of language proficiency certification.
3) the state
language is given priority in higher education.
4) ensuring the
priority of the state language in public radio and television braodcasting.
5) ensuring the
priority of the state language in the sphere of public information.
In 1995 new Laws
on State Language were adopted in Lithuania and Estonia and in 1999 in Latvia. These laws
are much more liberal than 1989 and 1992 laws. The Baltic states now are members of the
Council of Europe; they have applied for membership in the European Union and NATO, and
legally binding European standards (Framework Convention for Protection of National
Minorities1994; European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages1992) have been
observed. However, the implementation of some Western-European standards was quite
problematic in Latvia (Druviete 1999, 2000; Ozolins 1999). The language laws of the Baltic
states have sometimes been criticized for deciding the role of competing languages and for
too much official intervention in language use in society. In most Western European
countries it is taken for granted that minorities are, or at least tend to be, bilingual
in their mother tongue and the official language. It is not the case of Latvia yet.
3. The 1999 Law
The Law on State
Language adopted on 9 December 1999 is in force now. The purposes of the present Law are:
the preservation, protection and development of the Latvian language, the integration of
national minorities in the society of Latvia while observing their rights to use their
mother tongue or any other language.
processes are taking place now in Latvia: the integration of the society in Latvia (the
linguistic integration against the background of the Latvian language skills) and
integration of Latvia into the European Union (involving individual plurilingualism).
Therefore the language planning strategy proceeds from the following principles: 1) an
official language is both the symbol of the state and an instrument for integration of
society. Learning and usage of Latvian is one of the main factors, which ensures the
stability of a multilingual state, 2) ensuring all inhabitants of Latvia the possibility
to study and to use the Latvian language in order to promote the integration of the
society; 3) supporting the learning and use of the minority languages in Latvia; 4)
ensuring the possibility to study foreign languages in order to stimulate readiness for
communication in a foreign language and integration into European structures.
4. Language skills and language
ethnodemographic composition of Latvia is as follows: Latvians 57.6%, Russians 29,6%,
Belarusans 4,1%, Ukrainians 2.7%, Poles 2.5%, Lithuanians 1.4%, Jews 0.4%, Roma 0.3%,
Germans 0.2%, Livs (177 people, 8 persons declared Livonian as their first language) (2000
Census). Because of the high level of linguistic assimilation (Russification) among
speakers of languages other than Latvian and Russian the notions of national (ethnic)
minority and linguistic minority do not coincide in Latvia. For example, only 2.1%
Belarusans, 3.7% Ukrainians, 9.5% Poles declared the respective languages as their native
languages (2000 Census). The population census in 2000 shows that Latvian as native
language have indicated 62% of Latvias inhabitants, although Latvians are only 57,6%
of population. Russian as native tongue have indicated 36,1% inhabitants of Latvia,
although Russians are 29,6% of all inhabitants of Latvia. In Latvia representatives of
minorities have more desire to identify themselves with Russian minority (Baltaiskalna
During ten years
of independence there was a considerable progress in Latvian language skills among
minorities. During 1989 census the Latvian language skills were declared by 18-20% of
minority representatives. According to the 2000 Census 59% Russians, 55% Belarusans, 54%
Ukrainians, 65% Poles declared Latvian language skills. The number of minority
representatives having no Latvian language skills at all is diminishing 78-80% in
1989, 22% in 1996, 9% in 2000 (Baltic Data House, 2000). The renewal of minority languages
takes place quite slowly. E.g. there are 1095 general education schools in Latvia in the
school year 2000/2001: 66.3% with Latvian, 33.3% with Russian as language of instruction.
Only 0.4% of schools teach in any other language. In general, the population of Latvia is
bilingual or even multilingual. In 2000 about 75% of the representatives of Latvias
minorities declared Latvian language skills. Approximately the same percentage of Latvians
declared Russian language skills. Thus, about 75-80% inhabitants of Latvia are at least
bilingual in comparison to 44% in the EU Member States. Latvian is studied in all
schools, and 23.65% of Latvian pupils study Russian.
The State ensures
the right of every resident to master Latvian. However, high level skills of the State
language is still a problem in Latvia although the general attitude is mainly positive. To
the question "Must the inhabitants of Latvia know Latvian?" most of respondents
gave a positive answer: 91% citizens of Latvian, 79.6% non-citizens, 87.5% men, 91.1%
women (LLI, 1999). 95,8% Russian speakers with higher education, 93,2% with secondary
education and 91,8% with special secondary education expressed a wish that their children
could speak Latvian. However, at the same time more than 70% of minority representatives
would want Russian to be proclaimed the second official language in Latvia in a hope that
the Russian-speakers could remain monolingual (Baltic Data House 1998).