Latvia, a former member of the Soviet Union that borders Russia, may in the near future restrict Russian language in the workplace, according to the country’s deputy prime minister, in a potential blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Janis Bordans, who also serves as Latvia’s justice minister, told news site Delfi in an article published on Saturday that the justice ministry is working on the law restricting bilingualism. He said that “the long-term consequences of Russification are such that the practice of using Latvian and Russian simultaneously in everyday communications, duty stations and workplaces has become entrenched,” according to an English translation of his comments.
The ongoing legislation signals Latvia could further distance itself from Russia and its past as part of the vast USSR, whose demise has left more than 25 million ethnic Russians living outside their homeland, according to the Washington, DC-based agency at the Wilson Center . Such distancing could be a loss for Putin after news reports from Belarus’ state news agency BelTA in April suggested that Putin and a top ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, were interested in taking relations between their two countries to a more cooperative level in a move reminiscent of the former USSR and wanted to attract more former Soviet countries to join them.
The Law Restricting Bilingualism would reduce the presence of the Russian language in Latvia’s public space. Bordans told Delfi that “society needs to know that the Latvian language should be used both for business relationships and for communication in the workplace”.
Latvia’s Justice Minister Janis Bordans takes part in a demonstration April 3 in support of Ukraine in Daugavpils, a city in southeastern Latvia with a predominantly Russian-speaking population. Latvia, a former member of the Soviet Union that borders Russia, may restrict the Russian language in the near future, according to Bordans, in a potential blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Gints Ivuskans/AFP via Getty Images
The law could exclude the Russian language from phone and bank messages, as well as affect job postings that require knowledge of Russian or give Russian-speaking candidates an advantage, he said.
“It is necessary to establish a ban on the use of a language other than the language of the European Union, in addition to the state language, when selling goods or providing services. Russian may also be banned from telephone and banking embassies,” Bordans said.
This is not the first time Latvia has been confronted with the importance of the Russian language in its society. In February 2012, 75 percent of Latvians voted against the introduction of Russian as a second official language in a nationwide referendum, the BBC reported.
Despite this overwhelming opposition, restrictions on the Russian language could affect a large part of the country. About 25 percent of Latvia’s population is predominantly Russian-speaking, Politico reported.
Latvia, which, unlike Russia, is both a member of the European Union and NATO, has been a vehement critic of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Latvia’s President Egils Levits has strongly condemned Russia’s ongoing war and remains a vocal supporter of Ukraine.
Levites written down tweeted on Saturday that Latvia had stopped issuing visas to Russian citizens after Russia invaded Ukraine, saying it was “politically and morally unacceptable” for other European countries to continue doing so.
Days before Bordans spoke to Delfi about the possible restrictions on the Russian language, the Latvian parliament called Saeima passed a statement recognizing Russia’s alleged violence against Ukrainian civilians as “terrorism” and calling Russia a state that supports terrorism.
The Saeima also called on other EU countries to immediately stop issuing tourist and entry visas to Russian and Belarusian citizens.
Newsweek has reached out to Bordans and the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.