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3,000 protesters rally to support Russian schools in Latvia

February 24, 2018, 18:58 UTC+3 RIGA

The rally was timed to coincide with the 229th anniversary since Russian Empress Catherine II signed a decree establishing a first Russian school in Latvia

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© Maria Ivanova/TASS

RIGA, February 24. /TASS/. A rally against transition of schools for ethnic minorities to instructing in the Latvian language brought together about 3,000 protesters in a downtown park of the capital Riga on Saturday, Tajana Zhdanok, a Latvian politician and Member of the European Parliament, told TASS.

"According to our estimates, at least 3,000 people have come to the rally. The number is confirmed by police data," said Zhdanok, a member of the headquarters for protection of Russian schools.

"That is a very good result. It is a success. They are a lot for Latvia, especially taking into consideration that today is a very frosty day," she said.

The rally was timed to coincide with the 229th anniversary since Russian Empress Catherine II signed a decree establishing a first Russian school in Latvia.

"Our slogan is ‘Russian is native, Latvian is second’," she added. "This must be a formula for us - Russian-speaking residents in Latvia, so as not to forget own native language but also have a quite good command of the Latvian language."

"Our children must be educated in the native language and preserve traditions of the Russian people," Zhdanok said.

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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