Baltic Conference Showcases Russian Nationalism
Ethnic Russian inhabitants of all three Baltic countries rallied in Tallinn last week to further filthy the murky (is that blood?) waters of relations between the Baltic nations and Russia, their former oppressor. Anyone who's been following these news pages (anyone?) knows that this is a delicate issue, particularly in Estonia, where violence between ethnic Russians and Estonians broke out in April. That ugly incident drew international attention to the fact that Russia is still trying to bully and even upset the sovereignty of its former satellites, and that ethnic Russians living in Estonia are getting the short end of the societal stick. While most of the international press rushed to propagate poor Estonia's plight - the victim of cyber-assault and a riot encouraged by the very top of the Kremlin command - ethnic Russians are now trying to steal back the spotlight to get some attention on their own woes as second-class citizens with unequal rights.
Too bad they're doing it so tactlessly. In an appeal to European institutions to defend the rights of Russians living within EU borders, Russian minorities compromised themselves by boldly making the following threat: "Disregard of these liberties and rights will bring local crises of civic society such as the April events in Estonia." Are you listening Moscow? They say they're still ready to go to battle and are just waiting for your sign...
The appeal also asked EU institutions to monitor the spread of neo-Nazi sympathies throughout the Baltic states, a card which Russia has continually played to great propagandic success. The Russian concept that anyone who criticises the Soviets is by the same token complimenting the Nazis is pretty absurd if you ask us. Somebody trying to vilify you? Just accuse them of supporting the greatest villains in the history of mankind! Observe:
E: 'Hey, you occupied and oppressed us for fifty years! You exiled half our population and sent your own people here to Russify us!'
R: 'Stop crying, Nazi. You're just upset because we stopped you from killing Jews!'
E: 'The Nazis killed our people! We don't want to be occupied by anyone!'
R: 'So you can kill Jews!'
E: 'This has nothing to do with the Holocaust!'
R: 'Just what a Nazi would say!'
And so on and so forth. Pretty immature, huh?
Granted, these appeals from ethnic Russians living in the Baltics are not unfounded. Ethnic Russians rarely have the same privileges as Baltic natives in their respective countries. There is distinct discrimination, particularly with regard to Russian language education. For instance, in Estonia new rules will soon go into effect making Estonian the only official language of primary school education.
To make sure this dead horse is thoroughly beaten, we'll sum it up for you one last time:
So you have a group of individuals relocated into a foreign country for the express purpose of destroying that country's own culture and replacing it with that of the interlopers. After fifty years, said country gets its sovereignty back and its culture starts to flourish again. Political exiles return to their homeland. The ethnic minority (the Russians), whose government oppressed the native majority for fifty years, are asked by the newly formed government of the country they are living in to assimilate or leave. The ethnic minority refuses to assimilate, saying they want to be 'integrated.' As in, they want to speak Russian and only Russian and they want to be represented in Russian in the Estonian government. Then Moscow says to itself, 'We shouldn't take these people back; in fact, we should convince them it's their national duty not to want to come back, but to continue to proliferate Russian language, culture and interests in the Baltics. Then we'll have little militias all throughout the Baltics, ready to fight for their Mother Russia!' Then you have psychically wounded Estonians trying to erase the insulting memory of back-to-back occupations by cleaning the communist propaganda from its streets. In response, Russia inspires and organises its ethnic militias to go to Tallinn and try to burn the city down. They wreak havoc and throw Estonian-Russian relations into the spotlight. Now ethnic Russians in Estonia suddenly have a leg to stand on. Amnesty International condemns Estonia, calling Estonia's refusal to recognise Russian - spoken by 30% of Estonia's population - as an official national language a human rights abuse. The 2 million ethnic Russians in the Baltics rally together in Tallinn to get organised and try to find a solution (which brings us to the present moment).
And that's where they screw up. Instead of appealling to the EU, asking them to take a serious look at their situation, their resolution comes off as if it were directed at their native country, Russia. Their threats to take similar action as they did in Tallinn if their rights are not upheld blatantly seek to curry further favor and support from Russia. Their claim that (and we quote) "The solution of real integration problems and putting a stop to discrimination against our compatriots is the basis for the normalisation of international relations with Russia," takes a similarly idiotic tone, brashly telling the EU that Russia is presumably ready to destroy its relations with the EU over this issue. But it's not the EU they're really talking to. All the while they are looking over their shoulders to Russia as if to say, 'Look at us! Aren't you proud? We pledge allegiance! We are ready! We are ready to fight for Russia!'
Ethnic Russian delegates from the conference even asked the Russian government and businesses to directly take into account the attitude of the Baltic states toward Russians when considering trade deals. Now the Baltic states will have to come up with a solution. If ethnic Russians won't leave (and they cannot force them - they have been there for two generations, after all (but still never learned that local tongue, did they?!)), how can they be integrated without giving them the chance to undermine the sovereignty that they say they are eager to disrupt at the drop of a hat?
Chances are last week's conference will do nothing to hasten a resolution to these complex matters. But the attention of the EU and other western countries has now been gotten. How they respond remains to be seen...
The next conference of Russian compatriots residing in the Baltic countries will take place in Riga next year.
Click here for more info on Estonian-Russian relations.
An Estonian from Estonia Reply
Let's get this right, please. Estonian language reform went into effect on the first day of school this year--September 3rd, 2007. What this means is that in Russian cities like Narva, where all classes were formerly conducted in Russian, one (only one!) class will now be taught in Estonian. Estonian literature, for instance, will be read and taught in Estonian. Everything else will be taught in Russian, as before. This is to encourage and help Russian students learn Estonian. Estonian language skills are required to have Estonian citizenship (not to mention extremely helpful if you want to work in Estonia!). What sense does it make to have schools that only teach in Russian (as there currently are in predominantly Russian areas) when Estonian is needed for citizenship. If you want to live in Estonia, learn Estonian! It's common courtesy to learn the language of the country you are living in! The Estonian government is not trying to stamp out Russian (no one is trying to take Russian out of these schools), but make ethnic Russians bilingual so they have some sort of a chance at 'integrating' successfully. Ethnic Russians' stubborn refusal to learn Estonian is offensive and their belligerent accusations of civic abuse (not to mention the fascist accusations) are getting absurd. We are not going to give a part of our tiny country back to Russia just because the people there refuse to speak Estonian and Amnesty International says they shouldn't have to. If you want to 'integrate,' please, be our guest. Teach your children Russian and Estonian. Maybe then they will learn both sides of history as well, instead of becoming CCCP t-shirt wearing teens that glorify the Soviet Union, gobble Russian propaganda for breakfast and commit violent acts of civil disobedience like the current young generation of ethnic Russians in Estonia did in Tallinn in April...