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Page last updated at 20:14 GMT, Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Latvia grapples with EU over euro

Skyline of Riga, 2005
Latvia is proud of its cultural heritage

The Baltic state of Latvia has stuck its mother tongue out at the European Union by refusing to call the single currency by its official name.

Despite pleas from the European Central Bank to stick to the official "euro" name, Latvia prefers to call the currency the "eiro" instead.

This is because euro is a non-existent word in Latvian.

"The 'eu' dipthong is alien to the Latvian language," says Latvia's education minister Ina Druviete.

National pride is also behind the country's refusal to budge on the matter.

Latvia has fought to re-establish its linguistic identity after the end of the Soviet occupation during which the Russian language was forced upon its citizens.

Latvian is now spoken by around two-thirds of the population of 2.3 million and is the official state language.

Spelling it out

Eiro is a part of the Latvian word for Europe, or Eiropa, so its claims for linguistic independence were justified, Latvia's language commission said.

It is a very important issue which threatens the fundamental values of the EU, such as equality and identity
Ina Druviete, education minister

But naming the currency by the masculine Latvian noun goes against the EU's policy that euro should be spelt the same way by all its member states.

This exception, so far, has been Greece which has a different alphabet.

Latvia is not the only new EU member state that has fought to spell the single currency's name in its own way.

Last month, Malta said it would spell the currency's name "ewro", while Lithuania and Hungary have agreed to use their own spelling in domestic life and the euro spelling in official texts.

But Latvia is determined not to back down and has vowed to defend its rights if necessary at the European Court of Justice.

"This is not caprice on the part of Latvians. It is a very important issue which threatens the fundamental values of the EU, such as equality and identity," said Ina Druviete.

"Even if all other countries were to use euro, we will never give up and will continue to use eiro."


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