Author: Ilvija Bruģe .
The referendum that will be held in Latvia this February brings up one of the most nationalism saturated issues (that has been such since Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union) – question whether Russian should be introduced as the second official language due to the large Russian speaking minority. There is also a referendum in Scotland scheduled for the autumn of 2014 aiming to lead to Scotland’s independence from UK. The sensitivity of this issue and Scottish strive for independence dates back to early 18th century when the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established. These referendums however similarly in both cases, although to a different extent, threaten to complicate the political process and social stability, as well as to cause economic consequences.
As the Scottish government does not have a mandate to declare independence unilaterally, positive outcome (meaning Scottish voting for independence) would result in lengthy and complicated political bargaining between Scottish and UK governments. Maybe it would increase unity of Scottish society, but that does not seem to be something of necessity, for it already is united on terms of its Scottish-ness and uniqueness. The resulting independence would obviously give more power to Scottish parliament, but it’s hard to predict economic and political consequences of creating a new, independent country. The negative result however wouldn’t change much on a general scale, but would leave the sense of unnecessary political complications and probably would result in a considerable decline in support for the Scottish Nationalist Party.
Among the majority of the Latvian electorate (or should I say among ethnic Latvians?) the referendum about introducing Russian as the second official language, just like in 1990s, is perceived as a threat to the country’s independence. It is clearly an unnecessary political, economic and social burden put on Latvian society. It derives from mere political ambitions of the political forces that are traditionally supported by Russian speaking electorate. Ironically that this referendum simultaneously increases the support to Latvian nationalist political forces, which quite clearly was not the aim of proposing it and quite unlikely to be in the best interests of the Latvian society. The most painful therefore is to see how a society that has gone through a lengthy and costly integration process, which finally started to pay off as some mutual understanding between to ethnically and linguistically distinct parts of society, is now thrown back for at least 5 years in its integration process by the actions of a political force attempting to gain a short term increase in its political support. Neither Russian nor Latvian part of society will win in this referendum whatever the outcome is. It’s a referendum based on political ambitions and careless abuse of national feelings.
I would like to shortly describe what I see as the main similarities and differences between these two referendums. They are both obviously based on national issues and are obvious results of the political marketing. Scottish Nationalist Party entered the parliament in 2011 with a slogan of proposing referendum on Scottish independence. ‘Saskanas centrs’ seeking to secure the support of the electorate has once again brought up the sensitive issue of the national language. In the both cases the ‘yes’ outcome will result in costly political and economic reforms. The main difference though is that the Scottish society’s decision to be independent would not necessarily mean the actual independence, but would only give Scottish government a mandate to negotiate such possibility with UK government. Also the Scottish Nationalist Party has a developed plan of action in case it moves closer to its independence. In Latvia’s case nobody has a plan on what reforms will be necessary in the educational, administrative or political system neither any estimations on how much these will cost if the society decides to have Russian language as the second official language. In all fairness such outcome is quite unlikely, which makes this referendum even more pointless.