'We cannot give in to bullying' from Russia says Latvia deputy
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The Baltic state, one of Kyiv’s most vociferous supporters, has already stopped issuing tourist visas to Russians. With a general election looming, Riga is now contemplating whether to go further by deporting any Latvians who obtain Russian passports and revoking the rights of roughly 50,000 Russian citizens to live in the country.
Relative to its size, Latvia has the largest Russian-speaking diaspora in Europe, accounting for just over a third of its 1.9million people.
Many regard Russia favourably, though only 12 percent say they support Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Latvia has also banned several Russian state broadcasters and ordered the demolition of up to 300 Soviet war memorials.
The justice ministry is drawing up a bill which could restrict the use of Russian in workplaces and other public spaces.
Meanwhile, Janis Bordans, who serves as Latvia’s Justice Minister, told the Delfi news site he was working on the Bilingualism Restriction Law.
According to an English translation of his comments, Mr Bordans said that the “the long-term consequences of Russification are such that the practice of simultaneous use of Latvian and Russian in everyday communication, places of service and workplaces has become entrenched”.
The in-progress legislation signals that Latvia could be distancing itself further from Russia and its past as part of the vast USSR.
After the fall of the USSR, more than 25million ethnic Russians lived outside of their home country, according to the Washington-based Wilson Center.
However, Riga’s decision to distance itself from Moscow could be a loss for Putin after reports from Belarus’ state-owned BelTA news agency in April indicated that the Russian President and his top ally Alexander Lukashenko were interested in taking the relationship between their two countries to a more cooperative level in a move reminiscent of the former USSR.
They were also reportedly hoping to attract more ex-Soviet countries to join them.
The Bilingualism Restriction Law would lessen the presence of the Russian language in Latvia’s public sphere.
Mr Bordans told Delfi that “society needs to know that the Latvian language should be used for business relations, as well as for communication in the workplace”.
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This is not the first time Latvia has confronted the standing of the Russian language in its society.
A nationwide referendum in Feburary 2012 saw 75 percent of Latvians vote against making Russian a second official language, according to the BBC.
Last weekend President Levits echoed a call by Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics for Latvians who take Russian citizenship to be kicked out of the country.
It is not permitted to hold Latvian and Russian passports at the same time.
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