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About 1,000 in central Riga rally against reform of Russian-language schools

February 24, 2018, 15:00 UTC+3 RIGA

The Latvian ruling coalition earlier backed the education reform, according to which ethnic minorities’ schools will have to switch to teaching nearly all subjects in the official language

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© Maria Ivanova/TASS

RIGA, February 24. /TASS/. More than 1,000 people in central Riga on Saturday protest against the reform, under which schools for national minorities will use only the Latvian language.

The rally is organized on the 229th anniversary of the first Russian-language school in Latvia, a TASS correspondent reported from the site.

The protesters carry posters, reading "Russian schools to Russian children," "The reform is forced assimilation," "I want to study in native language."

"Our event’s slogan is ‘Russian school to be!’ - this is what Catherine the Great said 229 years ago," co-chair of the Russian Union of Latvia Miroslav Mitrofanov said. "We now not only demand from the Latvian authorities thinking better of the decision and stopping the reform, we also address the international community, which has expressed interest to what happens in the republic."

"We announce collecting signatures under the Latvians’ address to international organizations, which we shall forward to the European Commission, UNESCO, PACE and UN, asking them to influence Latvia’s observing human rights of national minorities," he added.

According to him, the event’s objective is to protest against the decision, taken by the ruling party and the government, to curb the Russian-language education in Latvia.

Latvia’s drive to do away with Russian schools

The Latvian ruling coalition earlier backed the education reform proposed by the Ministry of Education and Science, according to which ethnic minorities’ schools will have to switch to teaching nearly all subjects in the official language within the next few years. Students will only be able to learn in their mother tongue - Russian - literature and subjects related to culture and history. The gradual implementation of this reform is set begin as early as September 1, 2019. For the reform to come into force, it has to be approved by the country’s parliament after consideration in the profile committee. Then the bill will be submitted to the President for signing.

These plans have sparked a wave of indignation among the Russian-speaking residents of Latvia who make up about 40% of the country’s population. Opponents of this reform have already held a rally against this initiative, which brought together more than 1,000 people, and 2 mass marches in defense of ethnic minority schools in Latvia. Various websites of public initiatives launched a signature campaign against these plans.

Latvian is the only official language in the country, while Russian is considered to be foreign. In September 2004, Latvia embarked on a reform campaign in national minorities’ schools. However, following mass protests, the country introduced a bilingual education system. Only 40% of subjects can be taught in Russian in Russian-language high schools.

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