Latvia bans Russian language in universities

Allowing students of state universities to take courses in Russian would jeopardize “the state language policy,” believes Latvian deputy Ina Druviete
The Latvian parliament has rejected amendments allowing the Russian-speaking population to study in their own language in the state institutions of higher education.

­Russian speakers make up over 30 per cent of the population. The main opposition movement, the Harmony Center, had urged the parliament to allow students to choose subjects in the Russian language or other languages of minorities, but most deputies declined the initiative on Thursday.

Igor Pimenov, a deputy from the Harmony Center faction, said the move could have made it possible to attract more students from other countries to Latvia and to increase “the export of Latvian education.”

The deputy stressed that foreign students currently may take courses in Latvian universities in official languages of the European Union, according to the law on higher education institutions. That means that even foreigners cannot study in Latvia in the Russian language, he noted. Private Latvian universities offer Russian-speaking educational programs.

Allowing students of state universities to take courses in Russian would jeopardize “the state language policy,” argued deputy Ina Druviete, who worked as the Minister of Education and Science from 2004-2006. In 2004, the authorities started the reform of the school education, increasing the number of subjects taught in the state language in Russian-speaking schools.

In another development, an initiative group has been trying to gather signatures for a referendum to fully switch to Latvian as the language of instruction in all state schools. The count of the signatures already gathered shows that the organizers of the movement are falling short of the required number of voters. If such a referendum is set by the parliament, it could amend the constitution to guarantee education at the primary and secondary levels only in Latvian.

Meanwhile, the new Latvian president, former banker Andris Berzins, who was elected by the parliament last week, stressed that he would speak in Russian on the Russian-language TV and radio channels. The deputies recently cut the number of programs broadcast by state channels in Russian. Berzins also voiced his intention to improve relations with Russia.