Russian Language in Latvia

In Soviet times, the Russian language was studied and used throughout the Warsaw Pact countries. A sign of the new times is evident as ethnic Russians protest Latvia's education reform. Thousands of ethnic Russian students marched through the streets of the Latvian capital, Riga, protesting secondary education reforms that plan to curtail the use of Russian in schools. Alexander Kazakov, an activist with the Task Group in Defense of Russian Schools, told Itar-Tass that the protest - codenamed "empty schools" - hoped to close down all secondary schools until the reform bill was withdrawn. "The fact that thousands of school children took to the streets is not the most important thing. It is even more important that as many children stayed away from classes to express their protest," he said. Wearing T-shirts - emblazoned with "Hands off our school!" - an estimated 4'000 ethnic Russian students boycotted classes and took to the streets, while several hundred protesters attempted to storm the parliament building, but were held back by police. According to Russian news agencies, the protest was the biggest in Latvia's modern history. In January, the Latvian parliament adopted a resolution reducing the subjects taught in Russian language in the senior forms of Russian secondary schools to 40 per cent. The resolution has sparked widespread protest in Latvia, where 40 per cent of the population is ethnic Russian. The government has remained firm in its stance.

Alberto Gutiérrez comments on the posting about Russian-speaking Latvian students protesting against government plans to reduce the use of Russian in schools; "During the long period that the three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, were under czarist rule, the natives were not allowed to learn their own languages in school. For many years Lithuanians had books printed abroad and smuggled across the border. From 1918 until 1940 , when the three countries were independent, each revived its mother tongue. But after their occupation by the Red Army , following the defeat of Germany in 1945, Russian became the second language and all nationalist trends were discouraged. For instance, some streets signs displayed both the native tongue and Russian. I remember a park in Klaipeda extolling the "liberation " by the Red Army".

Alberto Gutiérrez described how the czars and the Soviet government tried to suppress the Latvian language. Latvia is now diminishing the role of the Russian language in schools. From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer says: "What Alberto says is very true. How do you say "backlash" in Latvian? Too bad, however, that the Baltic people could not resist taking their revenge on the hapless Russian residents of those countries, who were not personally responsible for the mistreatment of those countries by Stalin after the war, nor for the tsarist policy of Russification. They are creating suffering and social tension to no good purpose. A better model would be Finland, where as we've discussed, both Finnish and Swedish are recognized as official languages".

Vyborg, Vodka, and Finns

Randy Black disapproved of the appeal for a commission to investigate the deaths of journalists in Iraq:. From the UK, John Heelan comments: " Randy Black is right. "Assuring the safety of journalists in a war zone" is particularly impossible in an area where the US military has a tendency to shoot and bomb American and other Coalition forces by mistake. How many reports of those friendly-fire incidents were promised at the time: how many have actually been produced more than a year later?"

Finns no longer go to Vyborg, Russia, to get drunk on vodka because vodka is now cheaper in Finland. Why?, I asked. From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer says: "Have a look at the original article:

The whole point of the article, edited out of the extract posted, is that Finland cut its high alcohol taxes ahead of Estonia's joining the EU. According to the article, this rendered unnecessary the Finnish habit of flocking to Vyborg on weekends to get drunk on the cheap". RH: One advantage of joining the EU.


Pantalogue (February 2004) is devoted to "Putin--A Technological Profile, Part II". In Vladimir Putin. The History of his Life (Moscow 2002), Oleg Blotsky described how at school Putin defended him against a bully. Putin was completely fearless, even though he was not the strongest boy. Blotsky quotes Putin's judo trainer. In Russia in the 21st Century. Where to?, Leonid Ratkin a close friend of Putin, described how subservient to him all the organs of government have become. Aleksey Arbatov, now a member of the central council of the Yabloko Party, says Putin takes military force very seriously. TV commentator Sergey Dorenko is less flattering: he calls Putin a chameleon. Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov says he has no program. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky says he relies on the Special Forces, the military and a small group of intellectuals, whom Yavlinsky clearly detests. The most startling report is a letter from a Russian, Vladimir Kondratyev, which is quoted in its entirety. He was a member of the top-secret department, K-20. Its task was to discredit Chechnya, He boasts "I blew up Moscow!" . Knowing that now he would be killed to cover up the operation, he escaped to a small, unnamed country thousands of miles from Russia, became a citizen under an assumed name and now runs a small business. He sincerely repents that he participated in the crimes of K 20, and he asks God for forgiveness. RH: The authenticity of this letter is not discussed. It may have been the invention of enemies of Putin. The KGB is now called the FSB (Federal Security Service). It is charged that it is behind the terrorist acts in Russia. These charges should not be accepted uncritically.

History textbooks

The issue of Russian history textbooks is back, this time as "Estonia struggles with legacy of Soviet-era crimes against its citizens, Russia is blocking Estonia's push for justice in Soviet-era crimes", the title of an article by Anna Badkhen (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3/04). The precise issue is the deportation of 261 people from Estonia's Hilumaa Island to Siberian labor camps. In all under Soviet rule more than 100,000 Estonians were arrested and deported. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent lawyers to defend the Russians being tried in Estonia. Leo Oispuu, the head of Memento, is compiling books with the names and brief histories of th Estonians who suffered at the hands of the Soviets. In response, President Putin appears to be trying to expunge the unpleasant past. The Kremlin ordered all history books revised to present a more positive viewpoint and create "a certain sense of pride" in Russian teenagers. Moscow historian Igor Dolutsky,, whose History of the Fatherland. Twentieth Century criticized the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and was banned after Putin's appeal, accused the government of depriving the Russian people of their historical memory.


From Moscow, CAmeron Sawyer reports; "Vodka is a Russian word, the diminutive of “voda” or water. So it means “little water” or “waterlet” or maybe “waterkins” would give the right feeling. I think it is made from potatoes only in Poland; it was originally made from rye in Russia and is now made from any kind of grain. Homemade vodka (“samogon” or “self-brew”) is even made from sugar; sugar shortages during the late Gorbachev era are attributed to tons of sugar diverted to samogon production.

Post-Communist Russians consume much less vodka than they did under Communism; sales have fallen sharply over the last ten years. They are working too hard, I suppose. Beer is the drink of choice among Russians these days. In “Pravda” recently it was even written that “Russia has lost its taste for vodka and is gradually switching to beer.”

Nevertheless, vodka has an important place in Russian traditions, particularly those concerning the dead. At a Russian “pominka” – kind of a wake, but after the burial – a little shrine is set up to the deceased, consisting of his photograph with a black ribbon draped around it, a candle and a glass of vodka set in front of it with a piece of black bread on top.

Some people claim to distinguish the taste different vodkas; I cannot. Vodka is simply pure ethanol diluted with water, which is exactly what it tastes like to me, whether it is 50 ruble (about $2) “Prazdnichnaya” or 800 ruble (about $30) “Russky Standart”. I do not drink it unless it is socially unavoidable; however, I do admit that it is delicious with black caviar and thin Russian pancakes".

RH: Ethanol? That is ethyl alcohol, CH2 CH2CH, which is an antifreeze. Presumably it is drunk as protection against Russian winters, which beer is not. The Muslim band around the world iis to the south of the Christian band and is generally much warmer. Islam bans alcohol. Is there a relationship between temperature and the consumption of alcohol? The legend goes that Mohammed became sick after drinking alcohol and then decided to ban it. He should have tried a gin tonic, which is a hot country drink. Apparently he drank wine, which Muslims will drink in paradise without unpleasant after effects. Drinks of the world, a topic worthy of WAISdom.

There is an old sea chanty, "What shall we do with a drunken sailor?" Alberto Gutiérrez reports;-"Cameron Sawyer is correct . Vodka and caviar match very well. And as far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with a moderate consumption of vodka. However, once I met some "professional" drinkers and we ended up mixing vodka and Russian champagne. Back to my ship I had no problem climbing the gangway, but hours later I suffered a tremendous headache. Since then I avoided the champagne". RH: As I understand it, vodka is increasingly used in mixed drinks. There must be different combinations, champagne being one. Russian champagne presumably comes from Georgia.

Ronald Hilton -