MYPLACE researcher Liga Rudzite from our Latvian team on the recent protests against reforms proposed by the Minister of Education.
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On Friday, November 23rd, around 100 students and staff from Association of Graduate Schools of Arts of Latvia (Art Academy of Latvia, Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, Latvian Academy of Culture) organized and went on a walk to Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament of Latvia to hand in a common statement of distrust of the Minister of Education of Republic of Latvia Roberts Ķīlis.
Announcement which invited people to join what was called to become the biggest arts performance of the year “A Walk 2012″
questioned the ability of the Minister of Education of Republic of Latvia to propose and implement reforms that develop education. The announcement also mentioned that the Minister’s current plans are aimed to destroy the independence of universities and students and close some of the universities based on unclear criteria.
Protesters started their walk from the Academy of Arts, visited the Cabinet of Ministers, then the Monument of Freedom and finally the Parliament of Latvia, where they were met by the Speaker of Parliament, who promised to sit around a table with the Minister and look for solutions. She also commented that she found this to be a brave initiative, but suggested this energy to be chanelled into studies and self-development of students.
Students and teaching staff were carrying many colorful and witty posters all aimed at expressing their lack of support for the Minister. Some of the slogans read: “Rape a doll, not us!”, “For Reforms, not Deforms’, “Universities closed, students gone, Latvia – empty”, “Why do we need a minister, if there is no education” and others more clearly called for the Minister’s resignation.
Shortly before the walk protesters were joined by the president of Student Association of the Riga Graduate School of Law who had put around his head several scarfs, ironically pretending to be a student of arts, carrying a poster calling for state-sponsored booze, muses and parties. After complaints to the police by the organizers of the protest walk, the fake protester was asked to take down his poster. When he refused to do so, he was arrested by the Police. Another two “fake” protesters asked for 500 billion Lats of extra-funding for the Academy of Arts and to free all of Internet. These posters and protesters were not arrested and could participate in the protest walk.
This protest walk is part of an active and on-going discussion on the type of reforms that are proposed and necessary in the education system in Latvia. The current protests are fueled by the critique expressed by the Minister of the current structure and funding schemes for higher education programmes in Latvia and the lack of clearness and transparancy of his proposed changes. The reform-minded minister is both supported and opposed in his endevours and those that are pro and contra reforms are forming two strong opposing sides that are visible both in public discussions on TV, conversations in social media and even protests on the street. Though a student march was organized this time by those opposing reforms of the Minister, a support group has been organizing around a platform http://www.gudratauta.lv (smart nation), which has in the past week gained nearly 3000 supporters.
Students and young people have been put in the center of this discussion – student associations, professors and other teaching staff on both sides of it explain their points with a reference to what the students think, though the actual student involvement on either side can be questioned. And perhaps the necessity for students to be involved is a bit exaggerated – once or if the reforms are set into motion, those at school today along with the rest of the population will be most influenced by them.