Latvia’s new president, a non-party folklorist raised in Canada, vetoed legislation requiring public and most private organizations to do business in the Latvian language. The language requirements are strict and sweeping. In a remarkable extension of state power, the law reaches into private businesses, which must not only keep records in Latvian but also must provide interpretation into Latvian of deliberations at internal meetings if any participant so requests. That is a requirement that will be difficult to enforce in a country where 40 percent of the residents speak Russian. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga’s veto followed strong protests by Russia of course, and also by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The bill passed on July 8 with 73 votes in favor, 16 against, and 8 abstentions, a strong showing in a parliament that is sharply divided on most issues. Under Latvia’s constitution a simple majority is sufficient to override the president’s veto, so the bill, perhaps with minor changes, is likely to become law. If enacted, the language law could impede Latvia’s drive toward membership in the European Union (EU). Estonia has enacted similar legislation, also over EU protests.