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UN experts blame Latvia for repressing Russian-speaking minorities – POLITICO

Efforts by Latvian authorities to make Latvian the only language used in schools discriminate against other ethnic groups in the country, which has a large number of Russian speakers, UN experts said on Wednesday.

Last September, Riga passed a law to make Latvian the only language used in schools across the country by September 2025, starting with kindergartens and some primary grades.

“The Latvian government has an obligation under international law and regional instruments to protect and uphold the linguistic rights of the country’s minority communities, without discrimination,” the UN experts said.

“The Latvian authorities must clarify the severe restrictions on the teaching of minority languages, which amounts to its virtual elimination, and the process of consultation with the minority communities concerned,” they added.

In its response to the UN, the Latvian government said the new bill does not violate international law, saying countries are free to choose “the most appropriate measures to ensure appropriate and effective protection” of minority rights.

“Latvia has acted in good faith by gradually increasing the proportion of the Latvian language as the language of instruction in education and by setting a sufficient transition period for the amendments to take effect,” wrote the Latvian foreign minister. , Edgars Rinkevičs.

Although it is no longer possible to follow a bilingual program taught in Latvian and another language, “children and pupils will have the right to study the minority language and cultural history (in the minority language)”, added Rinkēvičs.

Latvia, once part of the Soviet Union, is home to hundreds of thousands of Russian speakers, who make up about a quarter of the country’s 1.8 million people.

When the country was under Soviet rule, communist authorities adopted “Russification” policies, establishing Russian as the main institutional language and establishing Russian language schools.

According to the Latvian authorities, the new draft education law is part of a wider de-Russification effort, aimed at “ensuring, maintaining and developing the Latvian language as an official state language and a common language. in the society”.

Like the other two Baltic countries, the Latvian government has taken a tough stance against Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine, with measures ranging from the dismantling of Soviet-era war memorials to the dismissal of some Russian diplomats.

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