Words could cost you dear in Latvia

Latvia is preparing to double the so-called “language fine” for using a non-state language in the workplace. Offenders caught speaking a foreign tongue in any office or business will soon have to pay the equivalent of $100.

While the rules would appear to be aimed at reducing the use of Russian in Latvia, they could in theory be used against people using English, French, German or any other foreign language.

Amendments to the legislation were passed on December 9 with final voting on the bill scheduled for later this month.

At the moment, language violators can escape with just a warning. But when the new regulations come into force, a fine will be the only option.

The current fine of 25 lats ($50) is rising to 50 lats ($100)

Meanwhile, the penalty for speaking a non-state language without proper translation at public events is rising from 100 to 200 lats ($200 to $400).

The Latvian Employers Confederation and the country's Human Rights Bureau oppose the amendments. They say the new rules will result in imposing penalties, for example, on people giving human rights advice in Russian.

Only two languages – Latvian and Livonian – are recognised as state languages.

According to the 2000 census, 94 per cent of the Latvian population can speak Russian. Almost 40 per cent consider Russian their native tongue.