Nyet! Latvian voters overwhelmingly refuse to make Russian a national language


Voters in the Baltic state of Latvia today overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have made Russian the country’s second official language, according to The Associated Press.

With half of the votes counted, the result was already clear: nearly 78 percent had opposed amending Latvia’s Constitution to bestow national status on the Russian language.

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The AP said voter turnout had been unusually heavy, with about two thirds of registered voters participating, but that a rejection would likely sharpen divisions in Latvian society.

About a third of Latvia's 2.1 million people say Russian is their first language and many believe that giving their language national status would help reverse the discrimination they face.

"For me and many Russians in Latvia this is a kind of gesture to show our dissatisfaction with the political system here, with how society is divided into two classes — one half has full rights, and the other half's rights are violated," Aleksejs Yevdokimovs, 36, was quoted as saying by the AP.

More from GlobalPost: Latvia election results: pro-Russia party wins most votes, say exit polls

But the AP said the ethnic majority see the ballot measure as a potential encroachment on national sovereignty, which was only restored 20 years ago after decades of Soviet occupation.

According to Reuters, popular theatre director Alvis Hermanis said on public television this week that the referendum was “a test for traitors to the state.”

The number of ballots needed for a successful vote, about 770,000, was greater than the number of Russian-speakers with voting rights, according to Reuters.

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