Public initiative portal halts minority language school proposal

A signature drive on the Manabalss.lv portal, which proposed that Russian schools in Latvia may choose their instructional language themselves, has been halted.

The portal told LETA on November 10 it had reason to suspect that the initiative was not in line with the Constitution. That is why the signature drive has been halted for now and the portal is consulting lawyers to offer the organizers of the signature drive the chance to make the necessary changes and restart the signature drive.

Igors Pimenovs, head of the Harmony party's Saeima group, told LETA that, as far as he knew, Manabalss.lv had received two complaints - one from the European Court of Justice judge Egils Levits and the other from Riga City Council member Janis Bordans (New Conservative Party).

Both complaints refered to the Constitution's Article 112, "Everyone has the right to education. The State shall ensure that everyone may acquire primary and secondary education without charge. Primary education shall be compulsory," and Article 114: "Persons belonging to ethnic minorities have the right to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity."

Pimenovs said he was baffled that these two articles of the Constitution were mentioned as a pretext to halt the signature drive, as they actually formed the basis of the initiative.

The initiative on Manabalss.lv suggested that minorities' schools could themselves decide how many subjects would be taught in Latvian and how many in the respective minority's language.

At the moment, the proportion of classes taught in Latvian is 60 percent in ethnic minorities' schools, and the ruling coalition is planning to make Latvian the only instruction language in all high schools in the near future, said the authors of the petition, though in fact the government has talked about a three-year transition process.

Manabalss.lv is a public initiative portal that allows people to sign, using their real identities, for initiatives to be put up for consideration at the Latvian parliament once 10,000 signatures have been collected.

Initiatives appearing on the portal include everything from decriminalizing marijuana use to changing Latvia's partnership laws.

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