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“Latvian culture and language are in the happy position of having a state which protects 'Latvianness' and helps it to survive” - said Ints Dālderis, Latvia’s former Minister of Culture in an interview with E&M. On 18th of February, 2012, 74.8% of Latvian voters rejected Russian as a second official language. Christian brought together four young Latvians to discuss the result.

Kristina, Beāte and Laura agree that there should only be one official language in a country. Kristina says to her personally speaking Russian or Latvian does not mean a difference, Beāte deems it important to preserve the independence Latvia has finally achieved, and Laura, who has lived in Germany for almost nine years, states that she is proud of the majority in the referendum.

Marija, Russian by nationality and a Latvian citizen, also says "no": she appreciates Russian language and culture as well as Latvian, but she thinks that the lack of integration of the Russian population cannot be simply reversed by making Russian the second official language. Instead, she proposes establishing Russian as an administrative language on the municipal level, and to embark on a long-overdue integration policy.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012 06:14

A matter of language, a matter of conflict

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In February 2011 former Latvian minister of culture, Ints Dālderis, talked with E&M about the importance of protecting the Latvian language. One year later, on the 18th of February 2012, a referendum was initiated to make Russian the second official language in Latvia. Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This article, the first in a two-part series, investigates the Latvian language question and asks whether language is a matter of identity – and a matter of conflict.

The facts and figures seem to speak a clear language: the referendum to make Russian the second official language in Latvia, initiated by the Russian movement "Native Tongue" on the 18th of February 2012, raised a high participation level of 69% and was "resoundingly" rejected by a majority of 74.8%. 

Yet after the referendum it has become even more obvious that the unambiguous result is not in fact a sign of a nationwide consensus but of a strand going through Latvia's population. Many of the 62.1% ethnic Latvians in the population consider the referendum an encroachment on their country's freshly won independence, endangering "one of the most sacred foundations of the Constitution – the state language" (Latvian president Andris Bērziņš). And within the ethnically Russian part of the population, complaints about discrimination can be heard. "Over the past 20 years Russian residents of Latvia have been humiliated by the authorities, by endless attempts either to assimilate or make them second-class citizens," claims Vladimir Linderman, co-chairman of "Native Tongue." "So this is our answer."

"After Fukushima nobody can simply carry on as usual" and claim that our nuclear plants are safe, said German chancellor Angela Merkel on 14th of March 2011, to explain the adventurous shift of her nuclear policy as a consequence of the Japan earthquake. 

This sentence also matches in a way the assessment of a catastrophe 256 years older. "After Lisbon nobody can simply carry on as before and claim that we live in the 'best of all possible worlds' " – that was, in other words, what many European intellectuals felt after the Portuguese capital had been devastated by a fatal earthquake and tsunami on 1st of November 1755.

The "best of all possible worlds" theory had been formulated by Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz in his Essai de Théodicée (1710). It was paradigmatic for the unbroken optimism the early enlightenment had embraced. Yet 39 years after Leibniz's death it was the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon that undermined a central idea of his philosophy. 

But Merkel's adversaries would now object: whoever said nuclear technology was safe (before Fukushima) must have been either ignorant or a lobbyist! Just as Leibniz' posthumous opponents sneered in 1755: whoever said that we lived in the best of all possible words (before Lisbon) must have been either an idiot or a cynic! 

Saturday, 02 April 2011 05:00

The best of all possible worlds?

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An earthquake of magnitude 9, a tsunami of 15 metres, conflagration for days. 85 percent of a blossoming metropolis is devastated, 235,000 people killed. A mental shake-up makes the foundations of age-old world views crumble, and when the initial distress dies away the world finds itself undergoing a process of deep rethinking hitherto unseen. 

This is not Fukushima, this is not the "end of the nuclear era" (Der Spiegel). This is Lisbon on the 1st of November 1755, some will later call it the "end of the optimistic enlightenment era" (Ulrich Löffler). But what the historic disaster causes is both a setback and boost of enlightenment thinking. Some of its shock-waves have shaped modern intellectual Europe – and this is mostly for its good. How could that happen?

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