RIGA, March 7 (RIA Novosti) – Latvian Culture Minister Zaneta Jaunzeme-Grende has warned citizens against speaking Russian when talking to the media, in order to protect their national language.
“We should be strong and consistent in everyday life, let’s speak Latvian. This is our country, of which we are proud. We should have single schools and single kindergartens. We should communicate only in Latvian with the media,” the minister told journalists on Thursday.
“We should not bend or cheat. We should firmly protect the language, culture and state,” she said.
Russian speakers make up 44 percent of Latvia’s 2 million population. Latvian is the official state language and Russian is treated as a foreign language. At schools and kindergartens, children are taught both in the Russian and Latvian languages.
Jaunzeme-Grende is a member of the right-wing National Alliance – All for Latvia party, which advocates the idea of making Latvian the sole language in Latvia’s schools and kindergartens.
Russian was rejected as an official second state language at an unprecedented referendum in Latvia held last February. Some 75 percent of Latvians said they were against the proposal.
Moscow has repeatedly accused the former-Soviet Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia of discrimination against their Russian-speaking minorities.
Many people from the large ethnic-Russian population in Latvia and Estonia have been assigned “non-citizen” status, which denies them a national passport and other rights, and prevents them from voting.
In 2012, more than 1,000 people were fined in Latvia for breaking “language norms,” with 53 percent of them fined for failing to speak Latvian at work, said Anton Kursitis of the State Language Center.