RIGA - After months of heated discussions and infighting, the anti-education reform NGO Lashor saw some of its members break off to form a new group after the leadership prevented new members with alleged ties to a more radical organization from entering a Lashor meeting.
The new organization, to be called For Russian Schools, Culture and Language, said it would support Shtab, an unregistered outfit that has taken a largely radical stance in the school reform debate.
The split comes at a time when Lashor, which is made up of more moderate elements of the ethnic Russian community, has been in talks with the Education Ministry over a new track in addition to the four offered by the government to implement the education reform at the primary school level, set for implementation next month.
It also points to differences of opinion as to what should be the common stance among anti-reform elements now that the new school year is four weeks away.
But Lashor officials and educational experts said that the split did not underscore a weakness in the NGO but rather a move by the more aggressive Shtab to take over Lashor.
"Some activists from Shtab tried to join Lashor and destroy it from the inside," Boris Cilevics, an MP from the left of center National Harmony Party told The Baltic Times.
"Shtab is unhappy with the dialogue that Lashor has with the government, and the way the government is using it for propaganda purposes when no real change has been made, since the discussions only focus on primary schools," Cilevics added.
Both Lashor and Shtab (Headquarters for the Defense of Russian Schools) have been battling for the right to represent the views of Latvia's Russophone community. The battle for control has often been virulent, as Shtab has often attacked Lashor, which is largely made up of teachers and parents, in the media.
"The purpose is to show that Lashor does not represent a majority of the Russophone population," Indra Dedze, an education expert, said. "They are trying to discredit Lashor."
Tensions within the ethnic Russian community have increased since Lashor has engaged the government of Prime Minister Indulis Emsis in talks. The specter of a Lashor success could only mean less influence for Shtab.
Indeed, the competition for the hearts of minds of Latvia's minorities has made it impossible for Shtab to achieve its stated goal: unity of the Russophone community.
Members of For Russian Schools, Culture and Language - the new breakaway organization, have even referred to Lashor as "fake Russians" working with the government.
"It's an attempt by Shtab to weaken our organization and to prevent Lashor from continued cooperation with the government," Igor Pimenov, former head and current spokesman of Lashor, told The Baltic Times.
Since these individuals left the NGO, "it will give us some space to work with the government," Pimenov added.
Shtab was unavailable for comment, according to a spokeswoman, since its leaders were busy traveling around Latvia.
Pimenov was not the only one who saw a silver lining in the loss of some of Lashor's membership.
"It will make our job easier," Special Task Minister for Integration Nils Muiznieks said, adding that the exodus was a "logical outcome" since it will be increasingly difficult for radicals and moderates to work together.
Official state policy has been to deal with each group separately on the issue of education reform.
The start of the school year on Sept. 1 is expected to see nationwide protests by minority schoolchildren.