RIGA - While an estimated 60,000 people celebrated accession into the European Union on May 1 in the area where Riga's Old Town meets the Daugava River, in a park just kilometers beyond the river's opposite shore, some 20,000 people gathered around the Victory Monument to protest against the education reform.
Posters built on a small stage near the monument read both in Russian and English: "Russian language is more than language," "Latvia is a shame to Europe," "Russian schools are our future" and "No to reform."
The defenders of minority schools commenced the rally with their controversial version of the renowned Pink Floyd song "Another Brick in the Wall," chastising Latvians for the language reform.
A large part of the protesters wore T-shirts with "Alien" and "Hands Off Russian Schools" printed across.
The agitated participants shouted "No to Reform," "Death to reform" and "Russian schools must be" and waved EU flags with black ribbons symbolizing mourning.
Although the number of protesters varies from sources - the Baltic News Service reported 15,000 - 20,000, AP cited more than 20,000 and the organizers themselves estimated 60,000 - 65,000 - it was by far the largest rally yet against the reform.
Most of the protesters were school-aged youths, joined by their parents and a significant number of elderly people.
Tatjana Zdanoka, leader of the Equality Party, encouraged students not to give up and prove to Europe that "we will not give away Russian schools." She underscored that the rally was a decisive battle in the fight against the education reform's introduction.
The protesters later handed an appeal to Education and Research Minister Juris Radzevics to suspend the reform and hold consultations with representatives - elected by the congress defending Russian schools - on the reform's further course of introduction.
The last reform protest took place in mid-April.