VILNIUS, Oct 1 (Reuters) – Latvians will vote in parliamentary elections on Saturday, with polls predicting Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ centre-right New Unity party will win the most votes, allowing him to continue his coalition with the National Alliance conservative.
A victory for Karins could lead to a growing rift between the Latvian majority and the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia over their place in society.
The first Latvian head of government to survive a full four-year term, Karins is taking advantage of the country’s hawkish stance against Russia, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The election campaign was dominated by questions of national identity and security concerns, while pressing issues such as soaring energy costs and high inflation were largely sidelined.
Karins told Reuters on Tuesday he believed the war in Ukraine had cemented his NATO and European Union nation of 1.9 million people, and said if re-elected he would join the Russian minority – a quarter of the population – by having the country educate its children in the Latvian language.
“We put all our attention on the young people, to make sure that whatever language is spoken at home, the child grows up with all the advantages of knowing our language, knowing our culture,” he said. .
Before Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it calls a “special military operation”, tens of thousands of Russian-speakers in Latvia gathered each May 9 around a monument in Riga to commemorate the Soviet victory during WWII.
Their gatherings were banned after the invasion and the 84-metre structure in the center of the capital was bulldozed by order of the government – which is dominated by ethnic Latvians and would rather bury memories of being part of the former Soviet Union until 1991.
Popular television broadcasts from Russia have been banned, and the state language board has proposed renaming a central Riga street in commemoration of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Karins’ government has presented plans to switch all education to Latvian and to rapidly abolish teaching in Russian.
The social-democratic Harmony party, traditionally supported by Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, won 19.8% of the vote in the 2018 elections and became the largest opposition party in parliament. However, the latest survey indicates 7.3% support for Harmony.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)