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Rights activist criticizes court’s decision on language reform in Latvia’s Russian schools

Acording to the reform, minority schools will teach most subjects in Latvian, just a few subjects (Russian language, literature) and "subjects linked to culture and history" will be studied in Russian

RIGA, April 23. /TASS/. The decision made by Latvia’s Constitutional Court, which called for transferring minority schools to education in the Latvian language as compliant with the republic’s constitution, shows that the state may not hold responsibility for the quality of education and carry out any reforms. Yelizaveta Krivtsova, human rights activist, lawyer and member of the Harmony social-democratic party, which represents the interests of the country’s Russian-speaking population, said about it on Tuesday.

"The decision made by the Constitutional Court today, which fully dismissed the claim on the language reform in public schools, shows that now the state may not hold responsibility for the quality of education and carry out any reforms in any form. The formal approach outstripped the educational one. The lack of Latvian language teachers, the forecasted lack of subject teachers, the absence of the monitoring of the quality of education may be solved with a mere pen stroke, by issuing the order that the teachers should work well and the students should study well," she wrote on Facebook.

The court regards the right of Latvia’s minorities to preserve their language and culture as a problem, not as a right. "It was decided to reduce the importance of school education in this issue to the study of language and literature. Then the language goes into private space and should not be part of public and democratic processes," she noted. "The international experts’ opinion was declared to be groundless and not competent enough when compared to the opinion of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ombudsman," the lawyer added.

Krivtsova noted that she regards the consequences of the Constitutional Court’s decision chiefly in terms of the possible actions of parents who are interested in good education for their children. "The long absence of subject teachers will become a common thing in bilingual schools. So, parents will have to unite to solve this problem through study circles, additional courses and the Internet. Thus, a parallel education system will be created that will compensate for the drawbacks in the public education system," she said.

The demand for education in Latvian schools will grow, she said. "Unofficial quotas may appear regarding the number of Russian-speaking children that any school may enroll. Private schools may probably continue education in Russian - the court will study this issue in isolation; the issue will be solved in the autumn. Emigration as a solution becomes more attractive, as it becomes easier to create a municipal bilingual school in Germany, for example, than in Latvia," she stressed.

"I am confident as a lawyer that education is chiefly freedom, and the goal of the education is a free person, the academic freedom is a condition for high-quality education, and the parents’ free choice is a key to success of the educational system. If the state refuses to perform this function, it falls on the shoulders of the parents and the society," Krivtsova noted.

The disputable reform

The Latvian Ministry of Education and Science earlier developed, the government approved, the parliament adopted at the third reading, and the president signed the reform according to which minority schools will teach most subjects in Latvian. Just a few subjects (Russian language, Russian literature) and "subjects linked to culture and history" will be studied in Russian. The gradual implementation of the reform will start at the beginning of the new school year and will end by September 1, 2021.

This move drew a wave of discontent from the Russian-speaking residents of Latvia who constitute about 40% of the country’s population. Defenders of Russian schools already carried out several mass rallies, marches and actions in protest against the reform. The Harmony Social Democratic Party, which expresses the interests of Latvia’s Russian-speaking residents, challenged the legitimacy of this reform in the Constitutional Court. The complainants believe that the amendments to the law on education adopted by the country’s authorities contradict a number of sections in the constitution and the republic’s international obligations.

Latvia’s Constitutional Court recognized on Tuesday the reform to transfer minority schools to education in the Latvian language as compliant with the republic’s constitution.