May 15, 2003 by AK
Repeating my reply to Alex Tapinsh (whose name I negligently and ruthlessly misspelled in the original version of the post). I’m not implying that Russian kids should not learn Latvian or that all subjects should be taught in Russian. My question was, what level of proficiency should be required from them, and how much time and effort they should spend learning Latvian. After all, they need it to communicate effectively with ethnic Latvian citizens; a thorough knowledge, e.g., of Latvian literature is not a prerequisite for that.
Much of the debate boils down to the issue of identity. Most educated Russians are not particularly worried about losing there identity. Surely it doesn’t exactly warm up a parent’s heart to hear her child adress her in English or in broken, accented Russian, but, well, c’est la vie; so long as the kid is doing fine in America, is smarter than most of his class and poised for a good college and a good job, it’s a fair price to pay for his declining Russian. After all, there is still a Russia over there, where people speak the language properly and keep the great literary tradition alive. However, a native of a small country may feel very differently about this; there is no other Latvia in the world; if Latvians switch to English or Russian, Latvian will soon be dead. Ethnic identity is a painful spot for smaller and/or oppressed nations; perhaps that’s why there are strong Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian communities in the US and Canada — but not much of a Russian community.