RIGA - Local members of the Russia-based extremist group the National Bolshevik Party set fire to the front door of the Ministry of Education in what organizers said was a form of protest against Latvia's upcoming educational reform.
The fire was set on the outer door on the morning of Jan. 11, and fire fighters said that they received the alarm call at 4:43 a.m. The fire, which covered a 0.5-square-meter surface area, was extinguished immediately.
A spokesman for the ministry said that the Russian National Bolshevik Party sent an e-mail saying the arson was organized to protest the educational reform that will begin in September and will require high-school age students to study 60 percent of their courses in Latvian.
"We demand that this discriminatory reform should be canceled. Russian children won't learn Latvian," read the message.
The extremists warned the Latvian government that the Jan. 9 incident was "just the beginning of a battle that could end very badly for you."
A more chilling response came from Moscow, where the National Bolsheviks confirmed the fact that their representatives in Latvia were behind the act.
"We are surprise that they did it only now, that ministry should have been burned down long ago. The Russian language is needed in schools. What the Latvian government is doing and the Education Ministry is genocide against the Russian population," the Moscow National Bolsheviks were quoted as saying by the Baltic News Service.
Police said they have opened a criminal case on the incident and that several suspects have been detained for questioning.
Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis said in a statement that he believed the incident was "a gross manifestation of political extremism in Latvia" and a direct result of the campaign by ethnic Russians against the educational reform.
"Various public organizations like the Latvian Association for the Protection of Russian Schools and the Headquarters for the Protection of Russian Schools have been continuously instigating representatives of ethnic minorities to destructive action, causing ethnic discord," Sadurskis said.
Jurijs Petropavlovskis, an activist from the Russian School Protection Headquarters organization, called the attack on the ministry a "stupid and cheap political advertisement."
"I cannot say 'thanks' to them. God protect us from such friends," said Petropavlovskis, adding that he had initially believed that the act was aimed at provoking suspicions toward the Russian School Protection Headquarters.
Head of the Latvian Russian School Protection Association Igors Pimenovs said that such acts only troubled those trying to resist the reform. "They compromise our efforts and only worsen relations between peoples in our country," he said.