Latvians were expected to vote in parliamentary elections on Saturday (1 October). Polls predict that the centre-right New Unity party of Prime Minister Krisjanis Karains will win the most votes. This will allow him to keep his alliance with the conservative National Alliance.
A victory for Karins may widen the gap between Latvia’s majority and Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority regarding their place in society.
Karins, the first Latvian head-of-government to survive a full 4-year term, is gaining from driving the country’s hawkish stance towards Russia amid widespread national anger about Moscow’s invasion in Ukraine.
While national identity and security issues dominated the election campaign, urgent issues like high energy prices and high inflation were mostly ignored.
On Tuesday (27 September), Karins said that he believes that the war in Ukraine has consolidated NATO and European Union nations of 1.9 million. He also said that if he was reelected, he would integrate Russia’s quarter of the population by having Latvia educate its children in Latvian.
He said: “We are focusing all our attention on the youth to ensure that, regardless of whether a language is spoken at the home, the child grows up knowing our language and our culture.”
Before Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, in what it calls a “specially military operation”, thousands of Russian speakers from Latvia used to gather around a monument in Riga every May 9 to remember the Soviet victory during World War Two.
After the invasion, their gatherings were prohibited and the structure measuring 84m in height was destroyed by a bulldozer. This was on orders of the government. The government is dominated ethnic Latvians who would rather forget about being part of the Soviet Union until 1991.
Russian-language broadcasts on TV have been banned. The state language board proposed that a street in central Riga be renamed to honor Alexander Pushkin, a Russian poet. Karins government plans to change all education to Latvian, and then to rapidly phase out Russian instruction.
Social democrat Harmony, historically supported by Latvia’s Russian-speaking minorities, won 19.8% of the votes in 2018 elections, becoming the largest opposition party in parliament. The latest survey shows that Harmony has 7.3% support.
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