Latvians Vote ‘Da’ or ‘Nyet’ on Russian

Posted February 18th, 2012 at 8:35 am (UTC-5)
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Latvians are heading to the polls and are expected to reject a referendum that would make Russian the country's second official language.

The question has triggered a heated debate between the small Baltic state's large ethnic Russian and Latvian populations. Many ethnic Latvians say that the Moscow-backed referendum is an attempt to weaken Latvia's sovereignty and drag the former Soviet republic back into Russia's sphere of influence.

Mara Putnina is one of the many voters casting a “no” ballot. She says, “the Latvian language should be the state one. And this is without a doubt.”

But Livija Baumane says she does not understand what the fuss is about. She says, “Both languages are functional, there are newspapers in both languages. I don't understand what has made the question so important. ”

When the former Soviet Union broke apart in 1991 and Latvia regained independence, most of its Russian-speaking citizens chose to remain in the country. About one-third of Latvia's people now speak Russian.

Half of all eligible voters – more than 771,000 people – must vote “yes” for the referendum to pass. Final results are expected in a couple of days.