RIGA, December 14. /TASS/. More than 5,000 protesters hit the streets in the Latvian capital of Riga protesting against teaching in Latvian instead of Russian at ethnic minority schools, a representative of the Russian School Protection Headquarters movement told TASS on Thursday.
"Today’s rally gathered as many people as the first one held on November 16, about 5,000 people," Andrey Tolmachev said. "Our goal is to protect Russian schools and to defend the right to speak and learn in a native tongue. It is neither the first nor the last protest. We will be staging the rallies until the authorities hear us."
"We will make them pay attention to the fact that the Russian-speaking community, which makes up nearly 40% of the country’s population, lives in Latvia. Regardless of the fact we are Russians, Belarussians, Jews, Kazakhs or Tatars, we are united by the Russian language and our objective is to defend our children’s right to be taught in Russian," Tolmachev said. "Nobody is against studying Latvian, but we are against our children’s forced assimilation."
Miroslav Mitrofanov, the co-chairman of the Russian Union of Latvia party that was among organizers of the event, told TASS that the next step against mandatory transfer of ethnic minority schools over to instruction in the Latvian language would be a nationwide referendum on teaching in a native tongue.
"A referendum will be initiated to get back to the cradle of Latvian statehood, to restore principles of the law on minority education of 1919," he said. "We will file appeals with the Central Electoral Commission. There will be a referendum aimed to restore Russian school autonomy and autonomy of other ethnic groups’ schools. We want to ensure the right of voters, of the country’s residents to influence directly on the contents and determination of the language of instruction at minority schools."
Latvia’s ruling coalition supported plans for the forthcoming reform in the sphere of education drafted by the Ministry of Education and Science, in line with which all the ethnic minority schools should change to the Latvian language in teaching almost all disciplines in three years’ time.
The students of Russian schools will be able to study only the Russian language, literature and the subjects related to culture and history in their native tongue.
These plans have triggered a wave of indignation among the Russian-speaking residents of Latvia who make up about 40% of the country’s population.
In spite of the impressive size of the community that speaks Russian as a native tongue, it is considered a foreign language in Latvia, with Latvian being the only state language. The first reform of school education in Latvia took place thirteen years ago when the Russian schools had to slash the amount to teaching in Russian in high school to only 40% of the subjects.
After that the nationalists have made a number of attempts to switch the instruction process at all the state and municipal schools over to the Latvian language only.