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Russia Threatens Sanctions Over Latvia’s Education Reforms

Riga makes Latvian the only language of instruction in high schools, triggering accusations of violating minority rights from the Russian parliament.

4 April 2018

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Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis (pictured) approved on Monday amendments to an education law stipulating that Latvian should be the only language of instruction in all of the country’s high schools by 2021, including in ethnic minority schools.


In response, the Russian State Duma adopted a resolution “on the inadmissibility of eliminating education in the languages of national minorities of Latvia.”


State Duma member Sergei Zheleznyak called the educational reforms a “language genocide” that he compared to the “open Nazism toward the Russian population” that he says is taking place in Ukraine, The Telegraph reports.


Over a quarter of Latvia’s 2.2 million inhabitants are ethnic Russians, most of whom moved to Latvia when it was part of the Soviet Union. According to 2016 data from the Latvian government, cited by the BBC, 811 Latvian schools are state-funded, a number that includes 94 schools where the teaching is in Russian or is bilingual.


The reforms stipulate a phased transition to Latvian as the only language of instruction in all high schools for grades 10 to 12. In lower grades, schools with ethnic minorities will still be allowed to conduct some subjects in other languages, The Baltic Times explains.


Vejonis said that the reforms would “form a more cohesive society and a stronger state,” as cited by The Telegraph.


The president also said that “the children will always have the opportunity to learn ethnic minority, identity, and culture-related subjects, to cultivate their roots and comprehensively develop their personalities,” as quoted by The Baltic Times.


Nevertheless, the Russian State Duma maintains in its resolution that the Latvian education reforms run counter to a number of international human rights treaties and to “the principles that are observed in most civilized countries.” Saying the move warrants economic sanctions against Latvia, the statement calls the reforms a “violation of fundamental human rights” and proposes “to unite the efforts of the parliaments of democratic states to protect the national minorities of Latvia from forced assimilation.”



  • In Ukraine’s primarily Russophone Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists are fighting the central government in a bloody war, one of the causes of resentment against Kyiv was the fear that it would clamp down on the rights of Russian speakers.


  • Russian speakers in Latvia have staged protests against the language reforms, which have also been opposed by Harmony, the country’s most popular political party. In its resolution, the Russian State Duma expressed solidarity with the protesters.


  • Yesterday, Latvian President Vejonis, together with his counterparts from Estonia and Lithuania, met with U.S. President Donald Trump in the context of a U.S.-Baltic Summit. The Baltic presidents urged Trump to scale up American military presence in the region in the face of Russia’s increasingly threatening foreign policy. However, Trump made no concrete promises, RFE/RL reports.

Compiled by Wasse Jonkhans

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