How did Russian become popular in Latvia?

How did Russian become popular in Latvia?
14 August 2023

The coexistence of various languages in Latvia has shaped the nation’s history. One language that has experienced a surge in popularity is Russian, widely spoken by a large segment of the population. The amount of people speaking Russian instead of Latvian shocked me when I first arrived to Latvia. When walking the streets, it is almost impossible not to hear a спасибо or хорошо. Most signs have a translation into Russian, and when walking into shops, I am usually greeted with a cheerful здравствуйте. Today I will examine the factors that contributed to the rise of Russian’s prominence in Latvia and how it became the country’s second most popular language. Alongside this, I will delve into the social, political, and historical dimensions behind this linguistic transformation.

Historical Context:

The deeply intertwined historical connection between Latvia and Russia dates back centuries. Latvia was under Soviet rule from 1940 to 1991. During this time, Russian became the dominant language in the public, education, and administration sphere. The prolonged Soviet presence led to a significant influx of Russian-speaking settlers into Latvia. This was primarily in urban areas, creating a linguistic and demographic impact that endures to this day.

Socioeconomic Influence:

Economic factors played a pivotal role in the popularization of the Russian language in Latvia. As Latvia transitioned to a market economy after gaining independence, many sought better job and business prospects in neighbouring Russia. Consequently, learning Russian became a practical necessity for economic advancement, especially in industries with strong ties to Russia.

Education and Media:

During the Soviet era, it was compulsory to learn Russian in schools. Despite efforts to promote Latvian as the national language after independence, Russian retained its position as the second most widely spoken language. Additionally, Russian-language media, including television, newspapers, and online content, continued to serve the sizable Russian-speaking population, preserving the language’s relevance.

Cultural Ties and Identity:

Latvia’s multicultural society fosters a sense of shared history and cultural heritage between Latvians and Russians. Many Latvians have Russian-speaking relatives or friends, and the appreciation for Russian arts has further strengthened cultural ties. This includes Russian music and classical Russian literature. This mutual understanding and respect for each other’s languages and traditions have contributed to the widespread acceptance of Russian within the Latvian society.

Political and Social Dynamics:

Language can be a sensitive and politically charged issue, and Latvia is no exception. Debates on language policy have arisen periodically, with concerns about linguistic assimilation and the protection of minority rights. Despite efforts to promote Latvian as the official language, Russian is still used extensively in public spaces, leading to debates over language legislation and bilingual education. 

Russian language becoming increasingly popular in Latvia is a complex phenomenon influenced by historical, economic, cultural, and political factors. The legacy of the Soviet era, economic ties with Russia, educational policies, media influence, and cultural connections have all played a role in shaping the linguistic landscape of the country. However, I think all the students at Liden and Denz can agree on one thing, this certainly does make the beautiful city of Latvia a fantastic hub to practice one’s Russian, enabling us to купить кофе whilst practicing our Russian skills!

Спасибо, что читаете!

This blog was brought to you by Emily Gray, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz in Riga

This image was taken from Pexels

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