Russian Language Community in Latvia Divided

A look into the divisions within Latvia’s Russian community’s fight for Russian language schools

(Source: Mixnews.lv)

On November 16, parents and Russian language children in Latvia mobilized by “Protectors of Russian schools,” wildly known as LASHOR, took to the streets of Riga to protest against the Latvian government’s decision to have Russian schools start teaching in Latvian. The new reform proposed 80 percent of the schools’ curriculum must be taught in Latvian. The Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) currently advises Russian language schools to teach 60 percent in Latvian and 40 percent in Russian, but schools retain the ability to choose the language split between subjects. LASHOR announced the latest protest to follow demonstrations on October 23, which @DFRLab reported on.

The first protest gathered about 500 people, but this time organizers managed to mobilize about 1,500 people, local Russian media outlet Mixnews reported.

Mixnews provided a live feed of the protest.

(Source: Facebook / Mixnews.lv)

The previous protest gathered mostly Russian language parents and grandparents most affected by the reform. This time organizers called specifically for the younger Russian language community in Latvia.

(Source: Facebook / Штаб-XXI)

The above Facebook post by LASHOR garnered 242 impressions, 126 shares, and 20 comments.

A solidarity protest was orchestrated by some of the Russian language community in Estonia. A video shared by Facebook user Elina Esakova showed over ten people protesting.

(Source: Facebook / Elina Esakova)

Though this protest demonstrated unity and solidarity among the Russian community in the Baltic States, open source evidence published before the protest suggests that the Russian language community in Latvia is, in fact, divided.

One goal, three teams

The first protest that took place on October 23 was not organized by LASHOR. Instead, it was organized by Degi Karayev, a former editor-in-chief of IT magazine “Digital Times.” Together with Europen Parliament MP Andrey Mamikin and 19 other parents of Russian language schoolkids, Degi Karayev also launched an online petition on the platform Change.org calling to save the Russian language in Latvia’s education system. At the time of this report, the petition raised over five thousand signatures.

Translated title from Russian: “Let’s save the Russian language in Latvian education.” (Source: Change.org)

Karaev and Mamikin also tried to participate in the National Minority Council’s meeting with Latvian Minister of Education Karlis Shadurskis on November 10. Both were kicked out. Andrey Mamikin posted about the incident on Facebook. He said that although he had the right to participate in the meeting, a communications officer called a guard who removed him. The post garnered 374 impressions, 88 shares, and 112 comments.

(Source: Facebook / Andrejs Mamikins)

The same day Latvian online news outlet TVnet published an article on the National Minority Council’s approval of the proposal to change education in Russian minority schools to Latvian. The Minister of Education later commented that it is hard to find an agreement with those who try to politicize the reform. On November 14, the “parents group” asked Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kuchinskis to lay Shadurskis off.

Meanwhile on October 27, as @DFRLab previously reported, activist Deniss Barteckis launched an online initiative on citizen participation platform Manabalss.lv to keep the current model of education in Russian language schools. In two weeks it raised over 10 thousand signatures — enough to make the initiative eligible for consideration in the Latvian parliament. The collection of signatures continues, as the organizers of the initiative believed most of the supporters of the initiative were not Latvian citizens, and thus their votes do not count.

Translated title from Russian: “To keep bilingual education.” (Source: Manabalss.lv)

The third online petition was launched on November 8 by LASHOR. It called for the schools to be allowed to select the language of education freely. The organizers managed to raise just 634 signatures before it was removed by Manabalss.lv.

Translated title from Russian: ”For freedom to choose the language of education.” (Source: Manabalss.lv)

The reason for the petition’s removal was the anti-constitutional nature of the initiative.

The explanation for removal from the portal read:

We inform that after additional evaluation of the initiative, there is a well-founded suspicion that the submitted initiative contradicts the Constitution of Latvia. We stopped collecting signatures, began additional consultations with lawyers, and provided recommendations to the author to improve and restart the initiative.

The Latvian constitution states that the only official language in Latvia is Latvian.

LASHOR previously organized protests to resist the transition to Latvian-only education back in 2004. They remain active as they organized the latest protest on November 16.

In sum, there are three interest groups fighting to save Russian language in Latvian schools. First, the parents of the Russian language schoolkids that include people who organized the first protest. Second is the activist Deniss Barteckis connected with the organization “Dzimta valoda,” the same organization that initiated a referendum in 2012 to make Russian the second official language in Latvia. Third is LASHOR, the group which organized protests in 2004 and now.

Same goal, conflicting opinions

On November 12, LASHOR posted on its Facebook page a call to join the protest.

(Source: Facebook / Штаб-XXI)

The introduction of the post reads:

Petitions are canceled.
Only protests remain.
In one of our previous publications, we called our supporters to support with their signatures any petitions that are more or less aimed at saving Russian schools.
[link]
The situation has changed. The events of recent days have shown that the ruling parties do not intend to give us the opportunity to express our opinion.

The post continued with an explanation of what happened with each petition. Then it ends with a call to action.

(Source: Facebook / Штаб-XXI)

The end of the post read:

Thus, polite games by the rules no longer makes sense as our opponents change the rules whenever they need.
We have only one legitimate way to effectively express our opinion — mass protests. And we should use it as much as we can.
On November 16 at 4:00 pm a rally-procession from the Ministry of Education (Powder Tower) to the Cabinet of Ministers will start. We will dress warm and take smartphones and flashlights, spare batteries and power banks with us. We will make our way in the darkness not with village torches, polluting the air — but with ecologically clean modern gadgets.
Let the rallies and processions become our petitions in support of Russian education. And everyone who comes will leave a signature. Let’s go out in the thousands to achieve everything that we require.

The same day Deniss Barteckis shared his opinion on what is happening with the campaign to prevent the language regulation in Latvian schools.

(Source: Facebook / Antonio Bandera)

The beginning of his post read:

But I’m not going to any protest about education.
Excuse me, but where and with whom should I go? There are no colorful personalities. There is not a single real leader with whom I could agree on some issues, who could drive this whole movement. All they can do is stand with outstretched hands. They lack the resources and skills to fight with legal methods, but in order to fight with other methods, they just don’t have the guts. Both look painfully ridiculous. It’s a carnival. Unfortunately.

A later post on his Facebook profile suggested that he did not attend.

(Source: Facebook/Antonio Bandera)

The post reads:

I’m watching Mixnews.lv broadcast from the rally. Populism is alive. They demand “Russian school autonomy.”

In his previous post, he criticized the actions of Karayev, Mamikin, and LASHOR.

Regarding Karayev he wrote:

If Karaev himself publishes all this, not understanding how it looks from the outside, it’s sad. If I was Shadurskis, I would pay Karaev. However, I am sure that Karaev is doing everything sincerely. By stupidity. Sometimes you don’t need enemies with friends like that. Unfortunately.

Karayev replied in the comment section.

(Source: Facebook / Antonio Bandera)

He wrote:

Too harsh, even impolite. But not without a reason. I too won’t go to the protest on November 16 — I will go bowling.

Nevertheless, he did attend the protest and broadcast it live.

(Source: Facebook / Degi Karayev)

Barteckis also wrote about Mamikin:

Let’s move on to sisiboys. MEP Andrey Mamikin. When a person in good health writes, they say to me, as the European parliamentarian by law, the doors of the meetings are open, and then the “guard in the sneakers” kicks him out — this is symptomatic. He wasn’t even kicked out, but asked to leave. And the European deputy, who just a moment ago was arrogant and told that his voters had delegated him, is leaving. Tell me, please, what is the value of such a servant of the people? What public initiative can he defend, if you see how he gets pushed by the guards?

Mamikin did not respond to the post.

Finally, Barteckis criticized LASHOR:

The second initiative on the Manabalss. For the free choice of languages ​​of education. I will say it right away, I did not even read it — I just do not like science fiction. Even if it is almost scientific. But I skim read the initiative. At the moment, the initiative is suspended, as “there is a well-founded suspicion that the submitted initiative contradicts with the Constitution.” As far as I know, LASHOR initiated it. According to LASHOR, they developed proposals for education, carefully for a long, long time. And then they submit the initiative, which the guys banned. Yeah, guys from LASHOR are so competent. I believe if it wasn’t for the first initiative, they would have been measuring how to write the best proposals for education for another hundred years. And then an ordinary philistine would be buried in their bureaucracy, tons of papers and wording. It is not clear what will happen with the current initiative. I do not believe that they can quickly fit the initiative under the Constitution and publish it.

No publicly known spokesperson from LASHOR replied to the post. Nevertheless, Barteckis’ actions were criticized by a representative of an organization “Russkaya Shkola Estonii” (Russian School in Estonia) Oleg Nazmutdinov.

(Source: Facebook / Antonio Bandera)

He commented:

Please explain why the text of the petition was not coordinated with the organizations that understand the aspects of protection of Russian language education? Now it looks like you аre defending in the petition a vicious and stupid system of education in Russian schools — bilingual. This is a very BAD petition.

Barteckis replied that it was his personal decision to launch the initiative, and he does not think that one should coordinate his views and lawful actions with others.

Nazmutdinov replied:

I am very sad to read your answer. This suggests that you are trying to do a good job for people, and this is the right thing, but you do not understand the extent of responsibility of your actions. And your petition turned out to be extremely harmful for the rights to receive education in Russian. It was the first and eventually scored 11 thousand. But the next two petitions were more professional and consistent. And your opinion that the second petition is a science fiction says that you do not understand the logic of the formation of society.

On November 15, Sputnik Estonia published an article about a solidarity protest in Estonia. The article used another source — an organization Russkaya Shkola Estonii (Russian School in Estonia). It is the same organization Nazmutdinov mentions in his Facebook profile.

(Source: Facebook / Oleg Nazmutdinov)

A photo posted by Elina Esakova suggest that Nazmutdinov participated in the solidarity protest too.

(Source: Facebook / Elina Esakova)

The social media conversations described above suggest connections between Russian language communities in the Baltic states. However, it appears there is little coordination between the groups that fight for Russian language schools in Latvia.

Conclusion

This latest protest to keep the Russian language in Latvian schools saw three times more people than the previous one @DFRLab reported on. The protest also managed to mobilize not only parents but also Russian language schoolkids.

Nevertheless, open-source evidence indicated a lack of coordination between at least three groups fighting for the same goal. The fact that some Russian speakers in Estonia showed public support for the protest in Latvia indicates clear connections between the leaders of the Russian language communities in the Baltic states.

@DFRLab will continue to follow developments with regard to the Kremlin’s interests in the Baltic states, as the status of the Russian language in Latvia was previously used to mobilize the Russian language community against the Latvian government.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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