This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Latvian Linguistics

    Moscow-based New York Times reporter David M. Herszenhorn writes that Latvian voters rejected efforts to establish Russian as a second official language in recognition of Latvia's large Russian ethnic minority community.  Latvia, a small Baltic nation, became independent along with Estonia and Lithuania in 1991 -- along with their Russian populations.  In Latvia, Russians make up over 25% of the population (about 500,000) -- as many as 40% of the Russian minority have not yet received full citizenship, which Herszenhorn indicates is dependent on passing a test on Latvian language and history in Latvian.  
    About 70% of eligible voters participated in the referendum, which failed overwhelmingly, Russian language rights gaining only about 25% of the vote (less than 14% of the total population).

    Herszenhorn indicates the two sides of the debate through Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who commended the referendum's "resounding" rejection, and Russian Parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachyov, who felt that the large turn-out indicated the necessity of resolving minority language rights.
    He quotes Dombrovski as saying that while Latvia respected its minorities, the referendum backers were playing politics with the nation's basic identity. 
    Kosachyov however, spoke watchfully regarding the Russian minority and non-citizen Russian-language speakers whom he claimed would continue to press for their basic human and political rights.
    What Herszenhorn fails to bring up is recent Russian intervention in other former Soviet Republics -- most notably sending in troops to occupy Georgia's break-away region of South Ossetia and granting the Ossetians passports in 2008 -- moves that were roundly criticized in North America and Western Europe as a form of aggression against Georgia's sovereignty and which remain unresolved in 2012.
    While Latvia is both a member of the European Union (EU) and NATO, the Georgian precedent should remain be a bit discomfiting.
    Similarly, Ukraine has also suffered political disruptions relating to the status of its large Russian minority (about 17%), especially in the heavily Russian Crimea and in former "Little Russia" area of southeastern Ukraine -- the area in which many of the former Mennonite colonies were located.
    On the other hand, Kosachyov has a point about basic human rights, and the need to resolve the status of Russian minorities in the former Soviet Union (FSU). 
    Herszenhorn indicates that the Russian minority in Latvia is one of the world's largest linguistic minorities proportionately.  The Baltics have also been extremely wary of Russian interference in their sovereignty and internal affairs.  This is indeed a complicated issue.
    Dombrovskis is quoted, "What we need to think now is what additional measures could be done on integration and naturalization policies, including more opportunities to study Latvian ... It is clear that we need to look at what more we can do," (Herszenhorn).
    President Andris Berzins reflected on the vote, "The referendum did not bring anything to an end... All of those who wish to live in this country under an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding must immediately begin a discussion and dialogue on how to overcome suspicions, offenses or misunderstandings," (Herszenhorn).
    Similar to the minority Russian experience, German-speaking Mennonites and Hutterites faced huge pressures to assimilate culturally and linguistically into America's dominant English-speaking Anglo-American ethnic and social culture -- losing much of their minority ethnic cultural integrity.  (Historically, American politicians, educators and culturalists have often leveraged professional and political fears to enforce an almost Borg-like mentality of "You will be assimilated" towards America's numerous ethnic minority immigrant groups).
    Similar pressures were exerted on Mennonite immigrants in Canada.
    How would German-speaking American Mennonites have voted in Latvia's referendum?
    The Latvians have good reason to both protect their majority ethnic culture, including the Latvian language.  There are only some 1.5 million ethnic Latvians to maintain their culture.  Recent cultural, political and military aggression by Russia in support of Russian minorities in outlying former Soviet Republics indicates that Latvia has good cause to be concerned about the future for both their small nation and their cultural longevity.  Many ethnic Tibetans seemingly feel that they would face similar cultural, population and sovereignty issues -- so Latvia's fears are not entirely unreasonable.
     In the 1950s, many American educators and politicians similarly felt that German-speaking Mennonites would need to learn and utilize English in order to be materially and intellectually successful, to be able to contribute efficiently to the national economy and to be good citizens with a strong sense of cultural and political belonging.  
    Even today, many American politicians would seemingly continue to agree.  In this tradition, the Latvian decision to maintain a single official language would also seem quite reasonable.
    Yet, it seems that the majority of Latvia's Russian minority were already living in Latvia at the time of Latvia's independence in 1991.  This need not be a problem -- Ukraine's significant Russian minority was also inherited from the former Soviet Empire.
    This is where Latvia might have a larger moral consideration.  Regardless of any other concerns, Kosachyov is correct that Latvian citizenship and language requirements might in fact jeopardize or even deprive basic human rights of the ethnic Russians (not only can they not obtain citizenship, but they cannot vote or find government employment).  While it would seem reasonable that all Latvians learn the Latvian language, it would seem a bit disturbing if ethnic Russians were not granted full citizenship when Latvia became independent and the ethnic Russians in question determined to stay and identify as Latvian Russians.
    Dombrovskis and Berzins could seem to come across as a bit aggressive and antagonistic towards a legal ethnic minority.
    When the Mennonites were forced to give up their language rights and to function in English, the cultural, religious and educational toll was devastating and irreversible.  Mennonites might recommend that Latvian officials should take real steps towards compromising with their Russian speakers -- fine, everyone has to learn Latvian, but all legal permanent residents should receive legal citizenship based on international law rather than on ethnic and linguistic identity.  Ethnic Russian speakers should also be enabled to maintain schools, a press, cultural events and institutions and formal language training in Russian.  All persons should have a right maintain their culture and heritage -- the Mennonite experience has been that this becomes difficult if not impossible when basic language rights are violated.
    I am not sure that Mennonites, with their general suspicion of the former Soviet Union, would vote to make Russian a second official language either, but they would probably support formal state-sponsorship of efforts to maintain the cultural, ethnic and language identity of Latvia's minorities -- and a more flexible citizenship process -- especially for those minorities in residence prior to 1991.  Politics tends to be utopian while history tends to require a more measured, pragmatic approach.  
    Most importantly, the Mennonites would probably remind the Latvians that one need not speak the majority language in order to be a good citizen, nor should it be necessary to give up one's minority ethnic culture.  But then again, the Russians themselves ignored that very same lesson when they attempted to force ethnic minorities -- including the Russlander colonists of Molotschnaya, Chortitza, Halbstadt and Borosenko to assimilate in 1874.  There must be better ways to handle this.


Herszenhorn, David M.,  "Latvian Voters Reject Russian as a Second Language," The New York Times, New York, NY, 20 Feb 2012, p A4.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Mennonite Culture

606 agriculture AIMM Alcohol Alt-Oldenburger Amish Amish Prayer Amish voyeurism Anniversary of Russian Mennonites Architecture Archives Athletes Baptism Bess und Bettag Bible Study Bluffton College BMC Bob Jones University Bruderthaler Burial Customs Camp Funston Canadian Government Catherine the Great CCC Chaco Civil Rights Colonist Horse Congo Inland Mission Conscientious Objectors Consensus Cultural Criticism Death decals Definitions Dialogue diaspora Discipline Discrimination Divorce Drama Drugs Easter Emergent Church Movement ethnic violence Ethnicity Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Evangelical Mennonites Evangelicals exile Famine Fastpa folk art Footwashing Frente Menonita Front for the Defense of the Mennonite Colonies Furor mennoniticus Gardens gay Gay Marriage Gelassenheit Gemeinshaft Gender Studies General Conference German German Bible Gnadenfelde Goshen School Grace School grief Halodomar hate crimes Heirloom Seeds HMS Titanic Holocaust Holy Kiss Horses Hymns Identity Formation identity politics Immigration Immigration Song Inquisition Inter-faith Mennonites Jewish Diaspora Kairos Kleine Gemeinde Krimmer Mennonites Language LGBT Lustre Synthesis Lutheran and Mennonite Relations Magistracy Marriage Martyrs' Mirror MC-USA MCC Kits Mennonite Brethren Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Mennonite Decals Mennonite Diaspora Mennonite farming innovations Mennonite Flag Mennonite Heritage Plants Mennonite Horse Mennonite Identity Mennonite Literature Mennonite Refugees Mennonite Women Missions Molotschna Cattle Breed Movies Music Non-resistance Pacifism photography Pietism Plautdietsch Flag Plautdietsche Poetry Politics Postmodernism quilts Radio refugees Rites Roman Catholic and Mennonite Relations Roman Catholicism Russian Mennonite Flag Russian Mennonites Russian Orthodox Church secularism Shunning Southern Baptists Taxation Television Ten Thousand Villages Terms Viki-leaks Water Dowsing Wenger Mennonites Women's Studies World War 2 World War I


A. F. Wiens (1) A. H. Leahman (1) A. J. Wall (1) Abraham Gerber (1) Abram Groening (1) Adam Carroll (2) AIMM (3) Albert Wall (7) Allison Mack (1) Anne-Marie Goertzen Wall (1) Annie C. Funk (1) Aron Wall (1) B. F. Hamilton (1) Benjamin Mubenga (1) Benjamin Sprunger (1) Bernhard Dueck Kornelssen (1) Berry Friesen (1) Bitter Poets (3) Bob Jones University (2) Brandon Beachy (1) Brendan Fehr (1) Bruce Hiebert (1) C. Henry Niebuhr (1) C. R. Voth (1) Calvin Redekop (3) Carolyn Fauth (3) CBC News (1) Charles King (1) Chris Goertzen (1) Connie Mack (1) Corrie ten Boom (1) Dale Suderman (2) Daniel Friesen (1) Danny Klassen (1) David Classen (1) Dennis Wideman (1) Diane Driedger (3) Dick Lehman (1) Donald Kraybill (1) Donald Plett (1) Dora Dueck (1) Dustin Penner (1) Dwaine and Nancy Wall (1) Edna Ruth Byler (1) Eduard Wust (1) Elliott Tapaha (1) Elvina Martens (1) Eric Fehr (1) Esther K. Augsburger (1) Ethel Wall (1) Frente Menonita (1) Fritz and Alice Wall Unger (1) Gbowee (1) Georg Hansen (1) George P. Schultz (3) George S. Rempel (1) George Schultz (1) Gordon C. Eby (1) Goshen College (4) Gus Stoews (1) H. C. Wenger (1) H. F. Epp (1) Harold S. Bender (1) Heidi Wall Burns (2) Helen Wells Quintela (1) Henry Epp (1) Henry Toews (1) Ian Buruna (1) Isaac Peters (6) J. C. Wall (3) J. T. Neufeld (2) Jakob Stucky (1) James Duerksen (1) James Reimer (1) Jason Behr (1) Jeff Wall (1) Jim Kuebelbeck (1) Joetta Schlabach (2) Johann F. Kroeker (1) John Howard Yoder (1) John Jacob Wall (1) John R. Dick (1) John Rempel (1) John Roth (1) Jonathan Groff (1) Jonathan Toews (2) Jordi Ruiz Cirera (1) Kathleen Norris (4) Kelly Hofer (3) Kevin Goertzen (1) Keystone Pipeline (3) Leymah Gbowee (1) Linda May Shirley (1) Lionel Shriver (1) Lorraine Kathleen Fehr (2) Margarita Teichroeb (1) Marlys Wiens (2) Martin Fast (1) Matt Groening (2) Melvin D. Epp (1) Menno Simons (3) Micah Rauch (1) Michael Funk (1) Moody Bible Institute (2) Nancy Wall (4) Norma Jost Voth (1) O. J. Wall (2) Orlando J. Wall (3) Patrick Friesen (4) Peter Wall (1) Philip Landis (1) Phillip Jakob Spener (1) Rachael Traeholt (2) Randy Smart (3) Rhoda Janzen (1) Rob Nicholson (2) Robin Martins (1) Robyn Regehr (1) Roger Williams (1) Rosella Toews (1) Ruth Lederach (1) Sam Mullet (3) Sam Schmidt (1) Scot McKnight (1) Stacey Loewen (2) Stanley Hauerwas (2) Steven Wall (6) Susan Mark Landis (1) Taylor Kinney (1) Tom Airey (2) Victor Toews (4)