State Language Law Adoption
On December 9, 1999 the Saeima (Parliament) of Latvia adopted the new State Language Law (with 52 voices for versus 26 against). The new law came into force on September 1, 2000. On July 14, 1999, the law was returned to the Saeima by the President of Latvia Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, under pressure of international organizations.
The most essential amendments introduced by comparison with the “July version” are the following:
1. Now the law regulates the use of language in providing information and reports in the private sector only to the extent that this information is related to legitimate public interest (public safety, health, moral, healthcare, consumer rights and employee rights, workplace safety, supervision by public administration).
2. Public events organized by private persons and private organizations can be held in other than the State language, however, the Cabinet of Ministers is to adopt regulations, which will establish exceptions to this general rule (i.e. those cases where translation to Latvian will be mandatory).
3. It will not be obligatory to dub or provide Latvian language voice-over for films intended for children of pre-school age. These can be shown with the original sound track, subtitled in Latvian.
4. The Cabinet of Ministers by its regulations can permit the use of foreign languages, along with the Latvian language, in the texts of stamps, seals and letterheads of state and local authorities, courts and other judicial institutions, as well as private organizations. In that case the text in the Latvian language shall be in the foreground, and should not be smaller or narrower in size and content than foreign language text.
5. On the other hand, all state and municipal institutions, as well as enterprises in which state or local self-governments own the biggest share, can accept applications, complaints and other documents from private persons only where these documents are in the State language, or provided with a notarized translation, or according to other procedures to be established by the Cabinet of Ministers’ regulations. (According to the Language Law currently in force, applications in English, German or Russian must also be accepted).
6. Providing any information to the public by the state, the municipalities, as well as by State- and municipally- controlled enterprises and institutions in other than the State language is explicitly prohibited. Also in this respect the Cabinet of Ministers must adopt special regulations, which envisage some special cases where other languages can be used with Latvian. (The version of the Language Law currently in force stipulates that written answers to applications can be either in the State language or in the language of application, whilst oral language is not regulated at all).
It is revealing that the most crucial issues are not established by the law itself but left for the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers.
The same evening the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel issued the following Statement regarding the adoption of the State Language Law by the Latvian Parliament: “I welcome the adoption of the State Language Law by the Saeima. Analysis of the revised text of the State Language Law adopted by the Saeima today leads me to the conclusion that the law is now essentially in conformity with Latvia’s international obligations and commitments. I trust that the Cabinet of Ministers will follow the letter and spirit of the Law in elaborating implementing regulations, as foreseen in certain provisions of the Law, and in supervising public administration of the Law.”