Russians and the Russian language in Latvia

31 July 2013

As you may have heard, Liden & Denz is opening a new Russian language centre in Riga, Latvia. In all three Baltic States, Russian is to some extent spoken by people without any ethnic connection with Russia, as a result of the Soviet occupation, during which citizens of these countries were forced to learn Russian. But the fact is that there are also many ethnic Russians living in the Baltic States, and Latvia has the highest percentage out of the three countries – approximately a third of the population consists of Russians. Furthermore, Riga is one of the places in Latvia where the amount of people with Russian heritage is particularly high.

The large Russian minority in Latvia first began to develop about 300 years ago, when hundreds of Old Believers settled there because of the ongoing persecution of them in the Russian Empire. Other factors that have contributed to the growth of the Latvian Russian population include a high natural birth rate among Russians compared to other ethnic groups and immigration during the Civil War in Russia. However, the majority of ethic Russians in Latvia are immigrants who arrived during the Soviet occupation after 1945 and their descendents.

As almost a third of the population is Russian, a considerable number of people speak Russian as their first language. Though the status of the Russian language in Latvia is a disputed question, largely due to the fact that it is still seen by many as the language of the former occupiers, it is still widely used both by Russian descendents and native Latvian speakers. In 2012, 75 percent voted against making Russian an official language, but offical or not, Russian continues to play an important role in Latvia, especially since not all Russian immigrants have learnt Latvian.

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