RIGA — Latvia’s transport minister walked out of the TV5 studio after insisting on speaking Latvian during a planned interview for a Russian-language news program.
The incident immediately created a storm of controversy along Latvia’s well-trod language fault line, which in recent days underwent a sizable quake after Moscow’s mayor suggested that eventually Russian will become the second state language during a visit to Riga.
Transport minister Kaspars Gerhards had been invited Tuesday evening to give an interview for the “Bez Cenzury” (“Without Censure?) news program. However, when show host Andrei Mamykin informed the minister that the interview would be in Russian, Gerhards said he would only speak in Latvia. Once it became clear that the two sides couldn’t agree, the minister walked out the studio.
Inga Spriņķe, an adviser to Gerhards, was quoted in media reports Wednesday saying that the minister condemned TV5’s refusal to let him speak in the state language and that he intended to file complaints with the National Radio and Television Council and the State Language Center.
For his part, Mamykin reiterated that Gerhards had no problem speaking Russian on air in the past and that his refusal to do so on Tuesday came as a surprise.
“Of course the minister will coming out saying he didn’t know that TV5 airs in Russia in accordance to its license … but I wrote the minister in a letter on Aug. 25 that the program’s language is Russian, and I registered this letter with the ministry’s secretariat,” Mamykin told the Delfi news portal.
Spriņķe, however, said that Mamykin had been informed in advance that Gerhards would only speak Latvian.
Whom exactly Latvia’s ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians will ultimately believe is not difficult to guess. Regardless, given Gerhards’ willingness to speak Russian on TV in the past, one can’t help see the incident in light on next month’s national election and last week’s commentary by Yury Luzhkov, the Moscow mayor.
Gerhards is a member of the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party, so for him to speak Russian on national television during the middle of an election campaign would likely irk his supporters.
Further, just one week after Luzhkov opined in front of the microphones that Russian would eventually become a state language in Latvia — a statement that roundly won criticism from the president, prime minister and numerous other officials — politicians are extremely wary of speaking Russian in public. In this sense, Gerhards’ demonstrative refusal certainly won’t be the last over the next five weeks.
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