A language test in Latvian must be passed by the end of the summer for Russian citizens to maintain their opportunity to stay permanently. Moscow retaliated as expected, but this time the Russian population in Latvia has chosen to remain loyal to their homeland rather than the “Motherland.”
Of the nation’s nearly 1,900,000 people, about a third are of ethnic Russian descent. Around 50,000 of them are residents of Latvia who are Russian citizens.
Only Russian citizens, and even then, not all of them, will be subject to the exam requirement. It’s required of people who have previously renounced their citizenship or “non-citizens,” or people who were never naturalized in the first place.
According to the Latvian news portal LSM, many persons who gave up their Latvian citizenship in favor of a Russian one did so in order to retire earlier because Russia still maintains a retirement age of 55 for women and 60 for men, but Latvia has been steadily extending its retirement age to 65.
In 2018, Russia did raise its retirement age a little bit, but the decision was met with intense public opposition and the increase was smaller than anticipated.
According to LSM, some people who have chosen to change their citizenship now feel like they are being “punished”. However, the language law also permits exemptions based on old age or illness.
In total, 18,000 persons will be affected by this rule, and by the end of March, almost half of them had already registered for the examinations. The tests went live in April.
For those that cared to at least try learning Latvian, the exam won’t be all that challenging either. The exam must be passed at the A2 level, one of two levels that define a beginner’s level of language proficiency.
An individual must be able to communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters, “understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance,” “describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need,” and “communicate in simple and routine tasks.”
COULD YOU FAIL THE TEST?
Russian nationals must provide evidence of language proficiency by early September to keep their permanent residency status; otherwise, they will have to leave the country after December 2 unless they are granted temporary residency.
The head of the parliamentary commission on immigration, Ingmrs Ldaka, expressed the hope that it would not be required to deport individuals who do not pass the test, but he also made an appeal to those who possess Russian citizenship to comply with Latvian state standards.
Former deputy defense minister Veiko Spoltis was less polite and dejected, saying that “issues pertaining to Russian citizens are a matter of Russia” and that the Latvian state should look out for its citizens.
Spoltis remarked that citizenship was “not underwear you can take off and put on a different pair,” and that individuals who choose to renounce it should deal with the repercussions of their decision and “learn the language, and if they don’t, they should go to Russia.”
LATVIAN HOMELAND OVER RUSSIANS “MOTHERLAND”
A statement “on the inadmissibility of the repressive policy of the leadership of the Baltic States towards the Russian-speaking population” was released by the State Duma of the Russian Federation.
However, following the “liberation” of the Russophones in eastern and southern Ukraine following the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion, numerous Russian-speaking citizens of Latvia held a rally on April 29 in front of the Russian embassy in Riga, asking Russia “not to protect” them.
The organization’s leader, Martins Levukans (Martin Levushkan in Russian), outlined their goal as presenting the viewpoint of Russian-speaking Latvians who disagree with Moscow’s approach to the Baltic States and are outraged that the Kremlin is attempting to use them for its own political ends and causing division in Latvian society.
We don’t need to be protected; in The Hague, protect yourself. Our country of origin is Latvia,” Levukns stated.
According to surveys, Russian speakers in Latvia now favor the country’s foreign policy orientation toward the West above that toward the East for the first time since polling on the subject began.
Photo by Sergejs Kaļiņins