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Rally to uphold Russian language at Latvian schools draws 5,000 supporters

The procession was held in downtown Riga

RIGA, November 17. /TASS/. More than 5,000 people joined a Thursday rally against a planned mandatory changeover to conduct educational instruction completely in Latvian at ethnic Russian minority schools.

The procession headed off from downtown Riga by the Ministry of Education and Science to the government mansion, Miroslav Mitrofanov, co-chairman of the Russian Union of Latvia party, which was among the event’s organizers, told TASS.

"We’re very pleased with the public’s responsiveness," he said. "According to our estimates, from 5,000 to 7,000 people took part in the rally and this was way above our expectations. There were residents of Riga here and people from other towns - Daugavpils, Rezekne, Aizkraukle, and Ventspils - joined them."

"As early as tomorrow we’ll submit a report to Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis where we’ll state that tens of thousands of people, not just several hundred, are discontent with the imminent reform [of the education system] package," Mitrofanov stressed.

Defenders of Russian schools in Latvia are gearing up for new protest rallies against the authorities’ plans to switch over all instruction to the Latvian language.

"This is not the last action on our part," Mitrofanov promised. "We’ll force Karlis Sadurskis [Education Minister] and Kucinskis to backtrack on their plans."

"Our next initiative will be a proposal on the autonomy of Russian schools in Latvia," he vowed. "We’ll demand setting up a separate institute that will be in charge of developing and introducing curriculums and models envisioning an instruction process mostly in our native tongue."

"All future actions will be timed for explicit moves that the Latvian government will be making," Mitrofanov assured.

"We are also considering international action to support school tuition in our native tongue, but I’d refrain from disclosing the details for the time being so as to avoid hindrances in organizing it," he said.

Somewhat earlier, Latvia’s ruling coalition supported an education reform plan wherein the Education Ministry suggests all the public schools will change almost all the subjects in their curriculums to the state language in three years’ time. The residents’ native language will be used at Russian schools only in native language classes, literature and those disciplines linked to culture and history.

These plans triggered a wave of discontent among the Russian-speaking residents of Latvia who make up about 40% of the country’s population. Advocates drumming up support for Russian schools held an initial protest against the proposal at the end of October, which drew more than a thousand participants.

A petition drive is also underway at the portals of various public initiatives.
Latvian is the only state language in this country while Russian has the status of a foreign language.