Efforts by authorities in Latvia to make Latvian the only language used in schools are discriminatory to other ethnic groups in the country, which is home to a large number of Russian speakers, U.N. experts said Wednesday.
Last September, Riga adopted a law that aims to make Latvian the only language used in the country’s schools by September 2025, starting with preschools and certain primary-level classes.
“The government of Latvia has an obligation under international law and regional instruments to protect and uphold the language rights of the country’s minority communities, without discrimination,” the U.N. experts said.
“Latvian authorities must clarify the harsh restrictions on minority language education amounting to its virtual elimination, and the consultation process with the minority communities concerned,” they added.
In its answer to the U.N., the Latvian government said the new bill did not break international law, arguing that countries were free to choose “the most appropriate measures to ensure appropriate and effective protection” of minorities’ rights.
“Latvia has acted in good faith by increasing the proportion of the Latvian language as the language of instruction in education gradually, and in setting a sufficient transitional period for the amendments to take effect,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs wrote.
Although it will no longer be possible to follow a bilingual curriculum taught in Latvian and another language, “children and pupils will have the right to study minority language and cultural history (in the minority language),” Rinkēvičs added.
Latvia, formerly 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 inhabitants.
When the country was under Soviet rule, the communist authorities enacted “Russification” policies, establishing Russian as the main institutional language, and creating Russian-language schools.
According to the Latvian authorities, the new education bill is part of a wider de-Russification effort, to “to ensure, maintain, and develop the Latvian language as the official state language and the common language in the society.”
Like the other two Baltic countries, the Latvian government has taken a firm stance against Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, with measures ranging from the dismantling of Soviet-era war monuments to the removal of some Russian diplomats.
The post UN experts slam Latvia for clamping down on Russian-language minorities appeared first on Politico.