A senior politician in Latvia labelled Russian “the language of international Zionism,”
Alexander Kirshtejns, Deputy Speaker of the Latvian parliament, or Saeima, from the bloc of the National Association, made the statement on Thursday. He said Russian in this regard was the same as Yiddish and Hebrew.

Kirshtejns, a nationalist who has lobbied for the removal of street signs and monuments for Russian-speakers, said this during a debate on opposition to a government plan to switch all schools and educational institutions in Latvia to Latvian. Approximately a quarter of Latvia’s population of 2 million people are ethnic Russian, according to estimates.

To prove his point about Zionism, he cited Jewish-sounding last names of people he said were involved in protests against the plan to phase out the instruction in Russian in the country’s schools: Zhdanok, Gilman and Pliner.

Valery Engel, a Russian Jew with dual Israeli citizenship who has monitored and written about expressions of antisemitism in Latvia, on Thursday wrote on Facebook about Kirshtejns’ remarks, saying that they are reminiscent of antisemitism during communism. “The symbiosis of former communists that have taken to populist national radicalism is mainstream by now, so there’s no surprise here,” he wrote.

Nationalist and anti-Russian sentiment has been increasing in recent years Latvia, which has a border with Russia and where many have bitter memories of Russia’s domination of that Baltic country before 1991. Russia’s expansionist policies under President Vladimir Putin have increased the popularity of nationalism in the population, along with nostalgia for war criminals who sided with Nazi Germany against Russia during World War II.