Language remains topic of conversation

  • 2011-09-14
  • From wire reports

RIGA - The Harmony Center political party says it does not support the signature drive for making Russian a second state language in Latvia, Harmony Center’s parliament group leader and one of the party’s candidates for prime minister, Janis Urbanovics, said during an interview on Latvian Radio on Sept. 12, reports LETA. Urbanovics emphasized that Harmony Center’s members are not involved in the signature drive and denied any rumors about Aleksandrs Gaponenko’s connection with the party.

Commenting on the initiative, Urbanovics explained that, initially, Harmony Center supported it, since it was a response to “nationalists’ intentions to destroy Russian schools in Latvia.” Now, however, when there are no threats to education in the Russian language anymore, the referendum on the status of the Russian language is “out of place.”
“We want peace,” he exclaimed.

Latvia should not stick to its current bilingual education system, which should be phased out in ten or a little more than ten years, For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK board chairman Roberts Zile said in an interview last month, reports LETA. Instead, Latvia should place emphasis on the learning of the official European Union languages, said Zile, adding that the current situation in Latvia was inherited from the Soviet Union.

“Minority schools must be protected - Ukrainian, Belarusian, Jewish and other schools, also Russian. But the Russian language should not be opposed to Latvian; it is what maintains the ‘Soviet space’ in Latvia,” believes Zile.
He mentioned Estonia’s example, where the situation is very different from that in Latvia: “Estonia already has a hundred programs in English, while Latvia does not. Furthermore, the debate still continues if Russian should be approved as the instruction language in Latvian universities and colleges, which is a wrong path. English has a different status in science and education when compared to Russian.”

Asked if the signature drive for calling a referendum on making Latvian the only instruction language at all state-funded schools suggests that the nation is against the initiative of nationalist politicians, Zile says this is not so. Very little funding was allotted for the signature drive, while voter activity was significant. He believes that people were not against the idea, and the fact that not enough signatures were collected in the end rather suggests inertia, not opposition to the proposal.

Zile believes that referendums should not be held too often. “Every four years, the nation makes its choice in favor of politicians who must do their job. If politicians do not work well enough and cannot take the decisions they have to take, but ask the nation to express its opinion in a referendum, then the system is not right. The people go to referendums in very exceptional cases - in my opinion, there has not been such a case as yet,” stressed Zile.

Less than 113,000 signatures were gathered for staging a referendum, while at least 153,000 signatures were to be collected to call a referendum.