Prevalence of Russian language in Latvia causing some unease
Julia Chapman in Riga

The conflict in Ukraine has made some of Russia's other neighbors nervous, particularly those with large Russian-speaking populations.

Latvia is one of Russia's fiercest critics.

On nearly every corner of its capital Riga, Ukrainian flags fly alongside Latvian ones.

The city is keen to demonstrate its support for Ukraine.

More than 24,000 Ukrainian refugees have come to Latvia since the outbreak of the conflict.

Almost half of those in Riga speaks Russian as their first language. /CGTN

Almost half of those in Riga speaks Russian as their first language. /CGTN

The country already has a large Russian-speaking minority.

Over a third of the population speaks Russian as their first language. In Riga, it's closer to half.

Most are descended from Russians who were sent to the country during its 47-year period as a Soviet republic.

Speakers of the two languages co-exist peacefully, if somewhat separately.

But the war in Ukraine has exposed some divisions.

Support for Russia's action in Ukraine is higher among Russophones in Latvia.

Recent polling suggests that 40 percent of Russian speakers in the country condemn the conflict, compared to 73 percent of the overall population.

Since February 24, Latvia's government has taken measures to reduce the prominence of the Russian language.

Anna Muhka is a Latvian who grew up outside of the country. Her family returned after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

She never learned Russian, although she says she's pleased her son speaks it.

For a long time, Russian has been the language of business in Latvia, a country that was often seen as a bridge between Russia and the rest of the world.

But Moscow's recent actions have hit a nerve in Latvia.

"Until a couple of weeks or months ago it was very comfortable just to watch Russian media," said Muhka. "Russian media were translating Hollywood films, good soap operas. So you watch this and then comes news and you take the news automatically and you continue to watch the movie. As a wise person said, propaganda is like radioactivity. You can't avoid it."

Russian language imperiled in Latvia due to the conflict in Ukraine. /CGTN

Russian language imperiled in Latvia due to the conflict in Ukraine. /CGTN


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A European Union directive banned the broadcast of Russia's major state channels.

Latvia has gone even further, outlawing the broadcast of any network based in Russia.

Politicians in Riga fear Moscow will manipulate viewers.

The country has, however, welcomed Russia's independent journalists fleeing a crackdown at home.

Despite the prevalence of Russian, it isn't one of Latvia's official languages.

Soon, it will be phased out of schools.

By 2025, all pupils under the age of 15 will be educated in Latvian, with Russian reserved for extracurricular study.

The government says this will allow all citizens equal opportunities in public life, as Latvian is a requirement for any government employee.

Moscow has called the change an act of discrimination.

Many Russians living in Riga are sympathetic to the move, but call for a distinction to be drawn between the language and the government.

"I can understand that Latvia really needs kind of a boost to their national self-identification," says Nadezhda Lyubich, the Academic Director of Liden and Denz, a language school in Riga.

"I, myself, think it would be better if they promote Latvian more instead of banning Russian, she says. "Russian is a complicated and beautiful language and it has so much more to it than the sad pages of history and the current history, of course, as well."

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