Saturday, November 17, 2007

Latvian Language and Citizenship

Latvia’s current citizenship law was enacted in 1998 after pressure from and debate with both Russia and the European Union. Latvian citizens are defined as those persons who had Latvian citizenship prior to June 17, 1940, and their descendants.

Those who settled in Latvia during the Soviet period can obtain Latvian citizenship via naturalization.
Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, an oath of loyalty, renunciation of former citizenship, a 5-year residency requirement, and a knowledge of the Latvian constitution.

Latvia allows those who were forced to leave Latvia for political reasons and who adopted another citizenship while away from Latvia to hold dual citizenship. The deadline for filing a claim for citizenship under these circumstances was July 1, 1995.

Latvian is the sole state language in Latvia, and it is inextricably tied to Latvia’s strong oral tradition, which includes over a million folksongs.

Several factions have requested official status for Russian (the mother tongue for 37,5 % of inhabitants, according to 2000 census).
Since 1999, Latvia’s education law forbids public universities from using languages other than Latvian for instruction (there are made exclusions for linguistics, some international projects and nonprofit groups).

The law originally included a provision mandating Latvian as the sole language of instruction in high schools. After protests in 2003 and 2004, this law was changed so that Latvian is only required for 60% of instruction.

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