Breaking the Language Barriers

Communications technology has shrunk the globe, but there remains one large boundary to all this togetherness: language.” You can read the full article here.

Throughout the world and even here at home, the language debate heats up all the time. For those of us who are English-speaking in the United States, there can be resentment from some who are asked to “Press One” for English.

Latvia is another country on this globe where the language debate has heated up recently.

To understand the Latvian loyalty, I read an interesting article from the Baltic Reports titled, “What Being Latvian Means to Me” by Ojārs Kalniņš. One sentence in particular struck me,

“We are all looking at the same sea, but we are seeing it through our national filters. We each take from that sea, and give to it, and together, we are responsible for its future.”

According to the CIA database, the independence of Latvia was established in 1991 and the Soviet troops left in 1994 but 30% of the population of Latvia remains Russian. For a small country whose population is slightly over 2 million people, that equates to 650,000 Latvians.

This little country has undergone tremendous transitions in the years following the Soviet exodus. There were many immigrants who were drawn by the heavy industrialization of the nation. Many of those immigrants were from parts of the USSR and mainly Russia. But when the worldwide economic downturn struck, Latvia whose economic growth soared by 50% during the mid-2000’s was suddenly experiencing one of the worst recessions within the European Community.

There were many government reforms introduced in 2004 to restrict the use of the Russian language even though a large segment of the population is Russian. These legislations on gaining Latvian citizenship were tightened in 2006 and many candidates who applied for Latvian citizenship were denied if they failed the Latvian language test three times.

“We are all looking at the same sea, but we are seeing it through our national filters.”

How true those words are no matter which language you speak. Truer still, we must learn to live together peacefully on this planet. There is a need to understand that it is not the language that is spoken and oftentimes, that which is unspoken is often far more meaningful.


What being Latvian means to me

Linderman: two official languages – only way to dialogue between Latvians and Russians

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