Russian speakers protest ‘language genocide’ in Latvia
Members of Latvia’s Russian-speaking community staged a peaceful protest in the country’s capital of Riga on Wednesday evening against a looming ban on teaching in Russian in educational institutions.
Last month, the Education, Culture and Science Commission of the Latvian parliament, called the Saeima, supported amendments to education laws that would provide for a phased three-year transition to teaching only in Latvian, the state language, in kindergartens and schools. The transition period would commence next September. On Thursday, the bill is expected to be considered by the Saeima in its second reading. If it passes, it will progress for a third reading in both the commission and the parliament. Russian is officially considered a foreign language in Latvia despite the fact that, according to official statistics obtained by Sputnik, about 40% of the population identifies it as their native language.
“In the context of the senseless fight against everything Russian declared by the government, the survival of the Russian language and culture in Latvia depends only on you and me. Therefore, today we will all say ‘NO’ to the destruction of the Russian language in schools!” the Latvian Russian Union political party, the organizer of the protest, said in a Facebook post.
According to the news agency Leta, about 100 people took part in the protest, which was held in front of the parliament building. The demonstrators were seen holding posters with calls to end the “language genocide.” The speakers broached not only the country’s language policies but also the destruction of Soviet memorials, as well as the severing of ties between the Latvian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate.
Commenting in June on the proposed legislation in Latvia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned the country’s authorities that such a policy might turn out badly for them. In her view, “mocking common sense, historical memory and everything that is sacred to their own citizens” signals inevitable “crisis changes.”