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Latvia: 3-9 October 2016

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A pro-Kremlin TV channel sees Latvia’s initiative to fire disloyal teachers as a political move to target Russian-language schools.

Event: On 8 October, the Russian state-owned channel NTV reported on the amendments in Latvia’s Education Law that propose dismissing teachers and heads of educational institutions who show “disloyalty” towards Latvia and its constitution.

The false fact or narrative: The story, claiming that Latvia “will get rid of useless teachers,” alleged that in February, the government revoked the license of a private school, Innova, because its teachers participated in the Immortal Regiment march in memory of relatives who fought in World War II. The NTV reporter argued that “it turns out Latvian institutions are afraid of those who liberated Europe from fascism in 1945.” The story also included film footage of the so-called Russian Schools’ Protests in Riga in 2004 against the government’s decision to increase the proportion of subjects that should be taught in the Latvian language (see video starting from 01:41). NTV interviewed Elizaveta Krivcova, a pro-Kremlin advocate of Russian speakers’ rights, who appealed the decision to Innova’s accreditation. The network also aired the views of fellow pro-Kremlin activist Alexander Gaponenko, who claimed that Latvia’s minister of education and other officials changed the Education Law, “in order to exacerbate the situation in the Baltics.” He insisted that the measure was ordered by U.S. “friends” who hope to spark a conflict “that could entitle them to interfere in the domestic affairs of the Baltic states.”

Reality on the ground: The proposed changes to Latvia’s Education Law have indeed triggered controversy among Russian and Latvian speakers. However, lawmakers haven’t approved them, and it is uncertain the bill has enough support to pass. Supporters say it would strengthen national security; opponents claim the bill discriminates against schools that teach in Russian. There is no evidence Innova lost its accreditation because teachers took part in any protests. However, in its ruling, the State Education Quality Service considered several sources, including information from Latvia’s Secret Police; this suggests that Innova is closely linked with pro-Kremlin activists and groups hoping to strengthen ties between the Russian Federation and ethnic Russians abroad. The story also contains several glaring factual mistakes. For example, footage of the 2004 protest is actually from a demonstration that occurred 6 March 2016. Also, Krivcova is not a member of parliament as NTV claims—and Gaponenko bases his charges on an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory which suggests that Washington is behind efforts to foment social conflict in the Baltics.

Technique: No proof, conspiracy theory, false visuals, card stacking.

Audience: Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority.

Analysis: This disinformation case seeks to frame Latvia as non-democratic. NTV strengthens this narrative by including the Immortal regiment issue—tapping into World War II’s sacrosanct role in Russian society, where it serves as an instrument of collective suffering and triumph, and a means of legitimating the Putin regime. Thus, all Latvian politicians or institutions that counter this popular symbol or pursues pro-Western policies are framed as attackers of the experiences of the Russian people.