Russian schools already have to give 60 percent of their instruction in Latvian -- now the last 3 years of high school will have to be ENTIRELY in Latvian
- So much for minority rights in the EU -- for comparison's sake, in the USSR Latvians could be schooled entirely in Latvian
Excerpted from a (propaganda-laden) NPR report:
When Latvia regained its independence in 1991, it inherited a bilingual educational system from the Soviet Union, with instruction in Latvian and Russian. The country took a first step at dismantling that system in 2004 by requiring at least 60 percent of school instruction to be in Latvian.
The new law will now put an even greater emphasis on Latvian, so that by 2021, the last three years of high school will be taught entirely in the country's official language.
"Latvian will lose in natural competition with English or Russian," said Kudors. "We have a duty to preserve it as part of the cultural heritage of the whole world."
Opponents of the law, largely members of the Russian-speaking community, counter that the new legislation unfairly discriminates against them, since instruction in languages of the European Union — like at the German and French schools in Riga --can continue.
"De facto, Russian is not a foreign language in Latvia, it's been used here for ages," said Degi Karayev, an activist who has organized protests against the change. "The problem with this new education law is that the Russian language is being wiped out of our society."
Karayev, a computer programmer, fears his two children will be at a disadvantage because the quality of education they receive will be poorer than if they get instruction in Russian, as not all Russian-speaking teachers have mastered Latvian.
Like many countries that emerged from the Soviet Union, Latvia's ethnic composition is a patchwork: Latvians make up just over 60 percent of the population, Russians about a quarter, followed by Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians. Given that mix, Russian often serves as a linguistic common denominator, especially in Riga, where more than a third of the population is Russian.
In the Riga suburb of Imanta, with rows of identical Soviet-era apartment blocks, it's hard to find anyone who supports the new restrictions.
Language isn't an issue in daily life, says Erik Darznieks, a driver out for a walk on Imanta's main street.
"It's pure politics. If there weren't such bans, there would be a lot less problems in our society," said Darznieks. "Those ethnic Russians who live here are taxpayers — why shouldn't their kids be able to study in their native language?"
Darznieks is an ethnic Latvian, but says he feels more comfortable speaking Russian. The main threat to the Latvian language, he says, is that its speakers are leaving Latvia in droves to work in Western Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Latvian citizens moved away after Latvia joined the EU in 2004.
Darznieks laughs out loud at accusations that critics of the language law are helpers of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has frequently said Latvia violates the rights of its Russian minority.
"I've never considered myself a Putin helper or part of any 'fifth column,'" he said. "I couldn't care less what some politicians think about me."