• 2000-07-20
Again we are reminded how far the Baltics have come in shaking off constraints to public debate with a peaceful gathering in Esplanade Park last week in Riga where about 500 came to celebrate leftist beliefs along with objections to impending language law regulations.

Folks were orderly and police kept their mitts off the event. So far, the Latvian government, as is its wont, hasn't tried to discredit or invalidate the gathering by declaring the meeting illegal on technical violations (i.e. the number of people who showed up over the permit limit). Except for an utterance from Latvia's foreign minister, essentially: Don't encourage bilingualism.

Opponents of the regulations which divide the proficiency in Latvian, the state language, into six groups as concerns the ability to make a living in certain jobs, plan to meet several more times before the regulations are scheduled to become effective in September.

Good. We need more meetings on this issue for people of all points of view. The language law is serious business and needs to be debated publicly. One point that could be considered is how stringently the nation needs to preserve a "national" language that was organized and written down by Germans 150 years ago, and like English and many other languages, has words to reflect the ethnicities of former residents of Latvia - Polish, Swedish, German and Russian. Still, that Latvian is the national ethnic language of Latvia is for Latvia to decide as it is the right of any other sovereign nation. Concommitant with the privilege goes the cost.

We need to consider that six classes of language regulations divide the population more solidly into two classes. Six equals two in a step further into the historical divisiveness advanced for good or bad by citizenship laws.

Better heads than ours have noted that the language law and the citizenship issue have set Latvia on a path where a trend is that one group will dominate government and the other will dominate business activities.

Of greater concern is the native Russian-speaking population's perception of a defeat of expectations and disillusionment with the proceeds of independence. Feelings that hopes have not been met, that one group is now simply on the down side of the see saw make both sides of the question ripe for manipulation from within the country and without.

Again, many nations have language laws and are happy with them. Perhaps Latvia needs to try harder to find the elusive, defensible degree of enforcement and regulation that a forward-thinking majority can swallow and then chant in unity, Latvija! Uzvara!