What is Latgalian?
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What is Latgalian? Political institutions , C ivil S ociety and C ultural Awareness in their C ontinuing S truggle. Heiko F. Marten Tallinn University. 1 Point of Departure. Conference Title: Cultural education and C ivil society H ow can languages c ontribute ?

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Heiko f marten tallinn university

What is Latgalian? Political institutions,Civil Society and Cultural Awareness in their Continuing Struggle

Heiko F. Marten

Tallinn University

1 point of departure
1 Point of Departure

  • Conference Title:

    • Cultural education and

    • Civil society

    • How can languages contribute?

  • Cultural awareness linked to language

  • In other words:

    • How do civil society and (cultural) education BENEFIT from the fact that Latgalian exists?

    • How does awareness of a distinct Latgalian identity depend on Latgalian?

Heiko f marten tallinn university

1 Point of Departure







What does that mean in the case of latgalian in latvia
What does that mean in the case of Latgalian in Latvia?

  • In the case of a (still) disputed variety such as Latgalian, the questions might therefore be

    • How much does Latgale as a cultural region DEPEND on Latgalian?

    • How does Latgalian BENEFIT from (cultural) education and from civil society?

    • Where is a PLACE for Latgalian in education?

    • Is there any place for Latgalian OUTSIDE civil society?

    • How does “Official Latvia” REACT to such demands?


1 Point of Departure

2 Latgale and Latgalian

3 Recent Societal and Political Developments

4 Conclusion: Latgalian in the Light of Cultural Awareness, Civil Society, “Official Latvia” and Education

2 latgale and latgalian
2 Latgale and Latgalian

  • Latgale – a historical and cultural region

  • Latgalian as one of the most important markers of identity and awareness of “being different” (research 2010)

  • Generally more multilingual than the rest of Latvia – traditionally and today

  • Higher percentages of Russian speakers

  • As a border region, traditional presence of Polish, Belarusian, Lithuanian

2 latgale and latgalian1
2 Latgale and Latgalian

  • In official terms Latgale only exists as a region of economic planning and as a constituency in the Latvian elections

  • NO administrative or political unit (only counties and parishes)

  • Let alone any notion of federalism, autonomy or similar

2 latgale and latgalian what is latgalian
2 Latgale and Latgalian: What is Latgalian?

  • A Baltic variety related to Latvian, “between” Latvian and Lithuanian

  • Several distinct grammatical features

  • By far more traditional Baltic and Slavonic lexemes than Latvian, by far less influence from German

  • A separate writing tradition, determined by centuries of separate political development

  • Ethnicity: Most speakers would see themselves as “Latvians of Latgale”, Latgalian is thereby a sub-ethnicity of Latvianness

  • There is a strong awareness of Latgale as a distinct area of culture and heritage

2 latgale and latgalian what is latgalian1
2 Latgale and Latgalian: What is Latgalian?

  • Recognition as a second written variety of Latvian between 1918-1934 (similar to Bokmål/Nynorsk) on a regional basis

  • Suppression of Latgalian started in 1934 (Ulmanis dictatorship) and continued during the Soviet occupation – prohibition of printing Latgalian, oral use only in the homes and the Catholic Church (and in exile)

  • Today in many respects comparable to “regional languages” such as Low German, Scots, Kashubian

  • Not always possible to determine the boundary between Latvian and Latgalian

2 latgale and latgalian demography
2 Latgale and Latgalian: Demography

  • Traditional numbers often quoted speak of 150,000 – 200,000 speakers

  • Number of inhabitants in Latgale ca. 380,000 (16% of Latvia) in 2001

  • Data from the research “Languages in the Eastern Part of Latvia” (Lazdiņa/ Šuplinska 2009)

  • Data seems to confirm these estimates regarding the number of active users

2 latgale and latgalian3
2 Latgale and Latgalian

  • Legal Status:

    The Latvian language law:

  • Latvian is the State Language

  • Livonian is protected as a minority language

  • Latgalian as a “historical written variety” of Latvian which is protected by the state

  • All other languages are “foreign languages”

    > What does this mean for Latgalian in practice?

3 societal and political developments successes for latgalian since 1991
3 Societal and Political Developments: Successes for Latgalian since 1991

  • Latgalian activists after 1991 fought hard for a re-introducing Latgalian to the cultural and political agenda

  • Events such as competitions in Latgalian for school children or Latgalian summer camps

  • Books

  • Afternoon classes in Latgalian

  • Academic programmes which include courses in Latgalian language and literature, publication of scientific works including the journal “Via Latgalica” since 2008

  • Official recognition of Latgalian orthography in 2007 by the State language centre

3 societal and political developments successes
3 Societal and Political Developments: Successes

  • Establishment of LatBLUL in 2009 including Latgalian

  • Official assignment of the ISO language code (ltg) in 2010

  • Lobbying by LatBLUL ensured to include Latgalian in the 2011 national census.

    • Original suggestion: „Which language do you use at home?“, offering only the options Latvian, Russian, Belarusian and others (please name which),

    • Changed to: Do you use Latgalian, subtype of the Latvian language, on a daily basis?

3 societal and political developments setbacks
3 Societal and Political Developments: Setbacks

  • Latvian Supreme Court Decision in August 2009 relating to official documents in Latgalian

  • „A document in the Latgalian written language is to be considered a document in a foreign language“, based on the legal provisions that all official documents in Latvia have to be in Latvian.

  • It thereby became apparent that, in spite of the tolerance of cultural activism, any political recognition remained out of question.

  • As a consequence, the Register of Enterprises ruled in March 2011 the application to include a company which had handed in the relevant documents in Latgalian to be unlawful.

3 societal and political developments setbacks1
3 Societal and Political Developments: Setbacks

  • Petition by the 2nd scientific conference on Latgalistics (Rēzekne, October 2009) to recognise Latgalian as a regional official language

  • Two letters in response by the government reinforced the tradition of seeing Latgalian as a dialect of Latvian:

    • Ministry of Justice:“Also the ECRML does not provide the possibility for dialects of official languages to be eligible as regional languages”, thereby denying Latgalian the status as a regional language.

    • Ministry of Education and Science:“Latvian laws do not create the ground for providing official status to any variety other than Latvian” – instead of considering that it might be time to create such legal grounds. The Ministry only referred to the possibility of safeguarding Latgalian traditions, including the Latgalian language, under the UNESCO Convention on Non-material Cultural Heritage.

3 societal and political developments setbacks2
3 Societal and Political Developments: Setbacks

Latgalian is not mentioned at all in the Guidelies of the State Language Policy for 2005-2014

  • Activists demand to „develop a state-financed programme for maintaining and developing the Latgalian written language“

  • E.g. Dundure calls for a guarantee to study Latgalian at school, to create an institution responsible for Latgalian and to finance at least one periodical in Latgalian, in order to overcome „the Soviet heritage in the educational system with regard to Latgalian“ (Dundure 2010).

3 societal and political developments government work group on latgalian
3 Societal and Political Developments: Government work-group on Latgalian

  • Yet, the uproar among Latgalian activists in the aftermath of the petition led the government to understand that Latgalian has become an important topic in parts of Latgalian society

  • In the light of the general elections in Latvia in September 2010, a work-group on Latgalian was established in summer 2010.

  • So far the work-group has created a list of fields in which policy steps should be developed. The chapters in this list according to the suggestion by activists from December 2010 sound promising and point into the direction of holistic, coherent language planning: Legal questions, financial questions, education, teaching materials, communication and mass media.

3 societal and political developments government work group on latgalian1
3 Societal and Political Developments: Government work-group on Latgalian

Many core issues were taken off the agenda right from the start – most notably in the section on legal questions.

  • Comment on the demand to „render more precisely the status of the Latgalian language in the Latvian state“: „Since there is no normative document in which the term „Latgalian language“ is used/explained, it is not necessary to make the terminology more precise.“

  • Comment on the demand to „secure the possibility guaranteed by the state to use the Latgalian standard language in business communication in the region of Latgale“: „the state language law regulates that in record keeping the Latvian language according to its standard norms is used.“

  • Comment on the request to ensure that all schools in Latgale have at least one specialist on Latgalian language, literature and culture: „it is every school director’s responsibility to decide on the pedagogical staff in their schools“.

  • Also demands to establish an institution for the coordination of Latgalian issues or the right to Latgalian classes at schools were rejected

3 societal and political developments government work group on latgalian2
3 Societal and Political Developments: Government work-group on Latgalian

  • What remained in the list are a few issues which by itself are worth discussing – but which in no sense respond to the quest for a more equal state of Latgalian in Latvia.

    • Inclusion of language-related aims into the strategic aims of regional development, the preparation of Latgalian study programmes and teachers’ training, financial support for Latgalian media and projects relating to culture and history.

    • These aims are vague and create no legally binding framework.

    • In addition, the responsibility for reaching these aims is assigned to educational institutions and activist organisations in Latgale – many of which are already fulfilling these tasks without being officially assigned to do so by the government.

3 societal and political developments government work group on latgalian3
3 Societal and Political Developments: Government work-group on Latgalian

  • Statements by some work group members such as „nobody stops your activism“ reflect that according to the government, Latgalians should be happy that they can enjoy the freedom of researching what they wish and of conducting cultural events.

  • One of the remaining points in the list refers to „regularly informing the Ministry of activities with regard to Latgalian“ – a notion which among activists immediately created memories of Soviet-times state control.

4 conclusion political and societal developments
4 Conclusion: on LatgalianPolitical and societal developments

  • The steps of the last months and years superficially point to a more coherent policy by the Latvian state towards Latgalian.

  • These have only been possible by regular and continuous activism.

  • The driving force of activism is the awareness that Latgale is different – even if it is not always clear how to define it

  • Yet, the reaction to stronger activists’ demands show that no serious recognition or language planning which might safeguard or even promote Latgalian is on the agenda.

  • The lack of a clear conceptualisation of what Latgalian is – language, dialect or second standard – is detrimental to a clearer policy on Latgalian.

4 conclusion civil society
4 Conclusion: Civil Society on Latgalian

  • In total, Latgalian is only on the agenda because of coherent efforts by civil society.

  • On the other hand, in a country with a still weak tradition of civil society, the Latgalian awareness of being different has helped to develop civil society, to create activists groups, to build a platform on which discussions take place without being facilitated by the government. Activism at the same time strengthens cultural awareness.

  • Activism reaches clear borders where the use of Latgalian in any official functions is demanded

  • This is in spite of the work-group on Latgalian – which has so far only given very unsatisfying results

  • Thereby, Civil Society and Latgalian support each other in a reciprocal way. Yet, for the time being, official steps for Latgalian entirely depend on Civil Society, wheras Civil Society could (in other forms) also exist without Latgalian

4 conclusion cultural education
4 Conclusion: (Cultural) Education on Latgalian

  • The relationship between Education and Latgalian is much weaker

  • The influence of Latgalian on (primary and secondary) education is very low – Latgalian classes are too scarce

  • The influence of (primary and secondary) education on Latgalian is limited – Latgalian is still almost entirely a language of the home domain

  • Cultural education is generally stronger than language classes – as part of regional studies, Latgalian issues contribute to the curriculum, and at the same time cultural awareness and the development of a regional identity are supported rather through cultural/historic classes than through language classes. In total, however, also this relationship is rather weak

  • In higher education and scientific research, Latgalian is present as a niche subject and a unique selling point of researchers from Latgale

  • The influence of scientists is stronger – there is a regular exchange of opinions and experience between scientists and activists, which has helped to support Latgalian also in activism

4 conclusion
4 Conclusion on Latgalian

  • (Awareness of differences of) Latgalian contributes to Civil Society

  • Civil Society to a much higher degree contributes to the development of Latgalian

  • Education and Latgalian influence each other, but in total not at a high level. In this, cultural education is stronger than language education

  • Attitudes by “Official Latvia” still determine the difficult role of Latgalian, whereas anything “official” is hardly influenced by Latgalian

Heiko f marten tallinn university

4 Conclusion on Latgalian







Heiko f marten tallinn university

  • Pa on Latgalianļdis.

  • Tankewol.

  • Thank you.