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Latvian report Latvian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-02-25 10:11:00
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Latvians reject Russian as second language

Voters in Latvia on Saturday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to adopt Russian as a second official language, defeating a constitutional referendum measure that underscored the ethnic and political tensions that remain more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “The vote on a second state language endangered one of the most sacred foundations of the Constitution — the state language,” the Latvian president, Andris Berzins, said in a statement after the vote. “I would also like to thank everyone who, despite the emotions and impassioned atmosphere which were conjured up by the referendum, maintained a cool head and tolerance without yielding before provocations and attempts to foment hatred.”

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who actively opposed the referendum, said he was grateful to Latvian voters for resoundingly rejecting it, but he said some conciliatory steps would be needed. “What we need to think now is what additional measures could be done on integration and naturalization policies, including more opportunities to study Latvian,” Mr. Dombrovskis said in a telephone interview. He added, “It is clear that we need to look at what more we can do.” Supporters of the referendum, however, said the bid for official status for Russian was not the cause of fissures in Latvia but an outgrowth of longstanding divisions and historically unequal treatment for the country’s large minority of native Russian speakers. Tensions escalated after a pro-Russia party, Harmony Centre, won the most seats in Parliament in a snap election in September but was excluded from the governing coalition by the ruling Unity Party, which instead cut a deal with a Latvian nationalist group.

“I believe people wouldn’t really support this referendum if representatives of the Russian-speaking minority would have been part of the coalition,” said Nils Usakovs, who is a leader of the Harmony Centre party and the mayor of Riga, Latvia’s capital and largest city. “This referendum is not creating problems,” Mr. Usakovs said in a telephone interview. “It is a reflection of existing problems.” Latvia, like its Baltic neighbours Lithuania and Estonia and many other former Soviet republics, has de-emphasized the Russian language since becoming independent in 1991. Although Russian is the native language for more than a quarter of Latvia’s 2 million people — percentage-wise, one of the largest linguistic minorities in the world — Latvian is the only state language and would-be citizens must pass a test in the Latvian language and the country’s history.


Dombrovskis optimistic about achieving better conditions for Latvian farmers

Dombrovskis told LETA that the officials discussed a wide range of matters, including fairer direct payments to Latvian farmers. This issue was also emphasized during a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, since Ireland will assume EU presidency after Denmark. The prime minister is optimistic after these talks, noting that Merkel and Kenny were comprehending of Latvia's concerns, and he is convinced that there will be better results.

Dombrovskis also informed that he did not receive any particular requests for Latvia within the context of Europe's financial crisis. Latvia is a positive example in overcoming the crisis and returning to growth. European countries are currently discussing how to reduce their budget deficits, since it is not possible to live with huge budget deficits when times are hard, emphasized the prime minister.
These talks were rather like political consultations to become acquainted with the member states' stances on overcoming the crisis and the bloc's fiscal treaty, which will be supported by Latvia as well.

Latvian regulator fines airport

Latvia’s Competition Council fined the Riga International Airport 50,000 lati ($95,111) for giving a discount for services to Ryanair Holdings Plc (RYA), it said in a statement.

Ryanair received a lower price for use of the airport’s services than for state-owned airline AirBaltic AS for “no objective reason” from November 2009 until the end of 2010, the competition council said in a statement.

AirBaltic paid about 82 percent more for services including baggage handling, stairs for entering and exiting airplanes, and the towing of airplanes on the runway, compared with Ryanair, the statement said. Ryanair was also exempt from paying for administration costs at the airport, according to the competition council.

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