Thursday, August 28, 2008

Daily Mail

[I am back from my holidays. And though I am much refreshed, I am both gloomy and furious. The piece that follows is just an opening salvo]



Like any bully, Russia can be faced down. Let's do it sooner rather than later

By Edward Lucas 28th August 2008

David Miliband is hardly the kind of man to set the hard nuts of the old KGB trembling.

The ruthless ex-spooks and spivs who run Russia believe that nothing can now stop their restoration of the old Soviet empire.

And the tragic, even terrifying truth is that they could well be right. Indeed, we are close to losing the new cold war before our politicians even admit that it has started.

By staging their brutal and audacious attack on Georgia at a time when most Western leaders were either on holiday or at the Olympic Games, Russia caught us napping.

And even when we did belatedly respond, we said nothing to bother them.

The message from the Kremlin comes cold and clear: if Russia is expelled from Western clubs, no matter.

With a massive U.S.$600billion in the bank, and politics firmly stitched up at home, Russia is ready to roll - and roll westwards.

In short, post-Soviet politics is now a triumph of mind over matter - they don't mind and we don't matter.

The past weeks have seen a stunning series of defeats for Britain and its allies. It is not just that Georgia, the only country in the vital Caucasus region that believes in our values, has been dismembered and humiliated. The map of Europe has been redrawn, and in darker colours.

Putinism - a mixture of Soviet nostalgia and nationalism - is now wildly popular in Russia. Hopes that the heady mix of liberty and justice that once toppled the Iron Curtain would take widespread root in the former Soviet empire have been dashed.

Worse, at any moment, on any pretext, Russia's so-called peace-keepers (cynics call them piece-keepers) can seize or destroy the vital oil and gas pipelines crossing Georgia.

These are our only escape from the Kremlin's stranglehold on energy supplies from the east.


Had it met a really tough response from the West, the Kremlin might possibly have pulled back in Georgia. Now it is pressing ahead. The next target is Ukraine, by far the biggest and most important of the ex-Soviet republics.

Ukraine is a free country with a lively media where nobody lives in fear of the midnight knock on the door, forcible incarceration in psychiatric hospitals or the arbitrary confiscation of property. Such things are the hallmarks of the ex-KGB regime in Russia.

But that does not mean Ukraine can defend itself. It is divided on ethnic lines, with a heavily Russified east that sees plenty to admire in Russia's resurgence, and finds the Western orientation of the country's quarrelsome and incompetent leadership mystifying and unappealing.

The most explosive mix is in Crimea, the balmy Black Sea peninsula, where Britain fought its last full-scale war with Russia.

Stalin deported Crimea's indigenous population of Tatars in 1944. They were replaced with settlers, who proudly hold Russian passports and detest their nominal Ukrainian rulers.

As it did in South Ossetia, Russia can all too easily say that it needs to intervene to protect their interests.

One of Russia's biggest naval bases, Sevastopol, is in Crimea. Ukraine wants Russia to pull out as agreed when the lease expires in 2017.

Russia shows no sign of wanting to leave a naval citadel that holds a place in Russian hearts, similar to that of Plymouth or Portsmouth in ours.

It is precisely this nationalist sentiment that the Kremlin has found so easy to manipulate. Russians feel they were badly treated by the West in the 1990s.

The billions we squandered in vain attempts to prop up the ramshackle Russian economy have long been forgotten. So, too, have our attempts to befriend them.

Russians complain bitterly that Nato expanded eastwards. But thank goodness it did. Georgia's fate is a warning of what happens to those countries that failed to get in.

It is in the Baltic that this geopolitical drama will reach its crux. Unlike Georgia and Ukraine, the Baltic states are unquestioned successes. The story of their recovery after a ruinous 50-year foreign occupation is inspirational.

Twenty years ago, I watched these three small, proud countries leap to freedom as the Soviet Union collapsed. Now I fear dreadfully that their independence will prove shortlived.

I fear for Estonia and Latvia, which have tens of thousands of Russian passport holders - a legacy of the cynical migration policies pursued by the Soviet Union.

Russia has been complaining for years about the language and citizenship policies of these two states, which it regards, preposterously, as racist.

In truth, the restrictions are mild - especially given that these countries have just emerged from decades of forced Russification.
stalin

Soviet shadow: The Georgian flag flies at half mast in downtown Gori, behind a statue of Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin

Public business must be conducted in the local language: those wanting to become citizens must learn it, and pass a simple history exam.

But the Russian propaganda machine is all too capable of whipping up an artificial scandal.

Lithuania, meanwhile, has only a small Russian minority but is vulnerable for a different reason: voters are exhausted and disillusioned with what they see as a corrupt and incompetent government.

The great danger is that they turn to populist pro-Russian politicians in elections in October.

But our politicians are no better. Blinkered, browbeaten, bribed or brainwashed - they seem, pitifully, ill-fitted to the challenge now facing them.

The callow and ignorant administration of George Bush has ripped up nuclear arms agreements with Russia, the world's second-largest nuclear power, without providing any alternative.

It failed to hold back the impetuous, adventurist Georgian leadership. But it is ridiculous to blame America. Europe's security is our business.

Let us not forget our own guilty men: Tony Blair snuggling up to Vladimir Putin for nights at the opera in St Petersburg, safely distant from the howls echoing from the torture chambers of Chechnya.

Nor our pinstriped fifth column: businessmen whose salivating pursuit of profits blinded them to the looming menace of Russia's authoritarian crony capitalism.

And let us also blame the European leaders in Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere, crass and craven by turns, who have divided the continent and endangered our security.

But we can still fight back. We should scrutinise the way in which Kremlin cronies use our banks to launder the billions they have stolen from the long-suffering people of Russia.
miliband

We can tighten our visa rules so that Ukrainians find a warmer welcome, and Russians a colder one.

We should remember that when we act together, we are far richer and more powerful than ill-governed Russia.

Europe's population is three times bigger, its economy ten times larger than that of its new foe.

We can protect what is left of Georgia by spending money to rebuild what the Russian forces and their freebooters have looted and destroyed.

And, most vitally, we can send Nato warships and soldiers to emphasise our support for the Baltic states, our loyal little allies now shivering on the front line.

Because for all the swinish swagger of the ex-KGB men as they toast their destruction of a country one-thirtieth their size, they have no appetite for a real confrontation.

Like any bully, Russia can be faced down. So let us do it sooner rather than later.

30 comments:

JP said...

I think you should be ashamed to write

"their (Russia's) brutal and audacious attack on Georgia at a time when most Western leaders were either on holiday or at the Olympic Games, Russia caught us napping" when the facts are clear: Georgia attacked following declaration of a ceasefire. Georgian troops killed Russian troops (and many others)first. Please explain.

webber said...

jp, what facts? can you present them with links to articles? not the pravda ones please, thanks

Colleen said...

i agree with jp. even the western press overwhelmingly agrees that russia's actions were a retaliation to georgia's invasion (and that saakashvili "miscalculated"). this is just a fact that will be written in encyclopedias no matter how hard russophobes will try to revise history.

as far as ELu's suggestions:

- investigating money laundering
- Visa restrictions
- and an arms build-up in the Baltics.

well, i think that Russia will just say "bring it on," because it knows that the west will just be hurting itself more with any of these moves.

russia has europe by the rope and the more europe struggles, the worse situation it'll be in.

the only solution, and i'm serious, is begging russia to cooperate and caving in on all of its demands (which are pretty logical - stop meddling in russia's internal affairs, extraditing wanted oligarchs, military build-down, etc.).

JP said...

Hiwebber

What makes you think I read Pravda? Here is what the BBC says (and they are not alone, and don't get paid by Moscow): "Georgian forces and separatists in South Ossetia agree to observe a ceasefire and hold Russian-mediated talks to end their long-simmering conflict. Hours later, Georgian forces launch a surprise attack, sending a large force against the breakaway province and reaching the capital Tskhinvali."

Giustino said...

Putin is actually in a tight spot. He needs to provide bread and circus for his people and yet his millions (billions?) sit in European banks and potential trade deals.

He wants Saakashvili gone, but a sizable chunk of the world want him gone. Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm -- nobody is buying it anymore. When the Swedes compare you to the Third Reich, you have officially lost the information war.

In American television terms, Putin has officially jumped the shark. How long until his program is canceled and replaced by the Medvedev show?

JP said...

I haven't recovered from reading that the restrictions on Russian speakers in Estonia are mild. The issue of the stateless persons is a very real concern. I suggest looking at Amnesty International for background. Stateless means denial of benefits, including pensions and healthcare. That's criminal. And many of these Russians are only there because they went there for work. Goodness me, Edward, you are a cruel, uncharitable man. I know an elderly Russian in Tallinn dying of cancer. Put yourself in his shoes.

mpechter said...

@JP: Last I checked, the stateless persons do get pensions and healthcare (it is dependant on the former employment record, not citizenship). Still, nice shot.

Oh, and do check Amnesty International record for Russia. It's about 32,5 times worse.

But hey, it's an autocracy run by a clique of former secret police we are talking about. You can't really expect it to measure up.

And this Colleen guy is either trolling or just hilarious.

ALL SHALL YIELD TO THE MIGHTY SWORD OF RUSSIA!!!1

JP said...

mpechter

I was taking issue with Edward's assertion that "In truth, the restrictions [on the Russian-speakers]are mild" , when they are not. I wasn't commenting on the Russian situation. Estonia's 1995 Law on Citizenship created a problem that is still not adequately resolved. It led to the exclusion of a large minority (there are 120 000 stateless people in Estonia), and alienated these people. It was a guaranteed way of creating a disaffected minority, and very shortsighted. Contrast this with Lithuanian legislation. The fact that the European Parliament "Calls on the Estonian Government to pursue more inclusive integration policies and to overcome the alienation of a substantial part of its population" says a lot (that's from 2007). Edward is wrong to say these are mild restrictions. They do affect pensions, healthcare, employment, ownership and political participation. Any country is right to raise this as an issue. A German academic warned: "a lack of attention to these people’s rights increases the danger of social destabilisation, which, in turn, can adversely affect international relations". So why blame the Russians all the time? The policies of Russia's neighbours are also at fault, however difficult that is to digest (or understand from Edward's morality play).

Giustino said...

It's mild depending on your view of the situation that led to the presence of up to 500,000 people who entered Estonia between 1944 and 1991, 100,000 of whom, by the way, were Soviet military personnel.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls Georgia's actions in South Ossetia "ethnic cleansing." I wonder what he would call the situation in Narva, a city that was 64 percent ethnic Estonian in 1934, yet is only 3 percent ethnic Estonian today. What is that called, if not ethnic cleansing? Because, believe me, Narva was cleansed.

There was an inclusive citizenship bill under consideration when independence was restored, but it did not pass.

Why did it not pass as it did in Lithuania?

1. Unlike in Lithuania, the majority of Estonians felt that they had been colonized. They believed correctly that Moscow was not sympathetic to their desire for independence. They did not feel, therefore, especially after what happened in Vilnius in January 1991, that those 100,000 military personnel deserved passports; they did not feel that those who had moved to Estonia as little as 5 years before, who knew not a word of the national language and were foreign born, deserved them immediately either.

2. They somewhat naively thought that naturalization would be much easier. Surely learning enough of a language to pass a citizenship exam couldn't be so hard! Perhaps it would take a decade at most.

3. They underestimated the legacy of Soviet infrastructure, of segregated communities of newcomers who lived apart from the mainstream, who worked in factories only with one another, who consumed only state-controlled media produced in Moscow.

4. The '92-'94 government thought that by temporarily excluding this hypothetically pro-Moscow group they could pass the needed reforms to steer the country out of its deep economic crisis and into the Euroatlantic institutions of the EU and NATO. By the time they naturalized, Estonia's the job of enhancing security and economic recovery would be well underway.

So why is it that in 2008, 17 years later, 8 percent of the population still do not have citizenship? Why does Estonia continue this policy, even if it wouldn't cost much to enfranchise those voters at this stage in the game?

1. There's no longer an opportunity for total enfranchisement. More than half of those non-citizens have naturalized. Over the past five years, the number of stateless persons has been reduced by a third. It would be unfair to those 150,000+ people who studied and took the exam to suddenly wave requirements for citizenship.

2. Citizenship is the third rail of Estonian politics. Nobody wants to touch it because they are afraid they'll fail the patriotism sniff test. Some parties -- social democrats, center party -- have offered amendments to ease the requirements for certain categories of people -- the young, the elderly -- but they have failed.

3. Estonian Russians are a political football that are cynically used domestically and bilaterally with Russia.

Estonian parties use them to scare voters about a "fifth column" that is just waiting for the Soviet, excuse me, Russian tanks to roll in so they can continue the job of cleansing Estonia of ethnic Estonians. I mean they did a great job with Narva. Why not continue the work with the rest of the country?

The Russian government supervises constant anti-Estonian propaganda through its state-owned media outlets.

Estonia has developed well over the past 17 years. Visit any city center, and it's brimming with new buildings and shopping centers, new roads, and, most of all, new jobs. Estonian Russians have a lot of opportunities, especially because the younger generation is often trilingual.

Things are pretty good here. When I first visited the port of Tallinn in 2002, it was filled with crumbling, blackened warehouses. Today, they've all been replaced by restaurants and office buildings and transport centers.

So things are good. But what do you hear from the Russian state-sponsored TV? The evil, fascist Estonians are "rewriting history" and practicing "apartheid" against Russophones.

And anytime you mention Russia's abysmal human rights record, Russians get to distract everyone by bringing up issues in a country that is not part of Russia.

But here's a snippet of Amnesty's report on how minorities are treated in Russia:

Violent racist attacks occurred with alarming regularity, mostly concentrated in big cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhnii Novgorod, where the majority of foreigners and ethnic minorities lived.

While exact figures for numbers of attacks and racist incidents were hard to verify, the non-governmental SOVA Information and Analytical Centre reported that at least 61 people were killed and at least 369 were injured in racially motivated attacks, an increase on 2006.

Anti-Semitic attacks and desecration of Jewish cemeteries were also reported. The real level of such violence remained hidden due to chronic under-reporting.


http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/regions/europe-and-central-asia/russian-federation

People say they are glad they are not Russians in Estonia. Well I am glad I am not a foreigner in Russia!

mpechter said...

@JP (on a more serious note)

The reason I brought up a comparison is that Amnesty International has issued complaints towards almost every country in the world, including Finland, Sweden and Denmark (which, if I'm not mistaken, are usually considered the paragons of human rights).

I am not saying that the alienation factor does not excist - but then again, it's the same with Turks in Germany, Nigerians in the UK and Algerians in France. Also, actions for integration are constantly being taken. The only non-negotiable item on the list is that a citizen must command a certain level of the official language of the state.

Sure, any country (and any independant observer, such as yourself) is entitled to raise this as an issue - but the means of solving the problem are to be decided solely by the state itself.

The restrictions on stateless persons are no different from restrictions on non-citizens in general. As I have mentioned, pensions and healthcare are dependant on the employment record (former employment, for the retired) and thus equal for all residents, whether citizens or not.

The only employment restrictions for non-citizens are those concerning the public service - and even those are absolute only in some fields (such as those dealing with secrets or critical interests of the state).

As far as the political participation goes, non-citizens have the right to vote in local elections after being a local resident for a number of years. Non-citizens don't have a right to vote in parliamentary elections, though (and you would be hard-pressed to find a country allowing that).

So, Edward Lucas is indeed right by saying that the restrictions on the non-citizens are mild, because they are a lot less strict than in a number of other European countries.

mpechter said...

@ Giustino

Damn you for being faster and more articulate than me :rage:

JP said...

Giustino

Thanks, I'm not taking issue with the rights situation in Russia, I'm taking issue with Edward's statement that Estonia treated its Russian-speaking minority with mildness. It did not. It does not. It has alienated this group. These are ordinary people. We can argue about why they came, and we probably will. But they are there, and to curtail their rights and threaten their freedoms is not what the EU is about. You sound like a Serb nationalist preaching against the Albanians. If you look at how the EU directed Macedonia to settle with its Albanian minority, there you will see that it intervened and put in place a plan for inter-ethnic harmony. Estonia could have done with that (let us look at political parties, for instance). Or do we act only when armed conflict breaks out (as in Macedonia)? It is a problem that needs dealing with, for the greater good of Estonia and so the country can benefit from its true potential. I'm not supporting a Soviet point of view, or a Russian one, I'm just looking for a humanitarian solution.

Retired Russian military personnel in Estonia have their national insurance contributions paid for by the Russian Federation, I'm not talking about them.

You don't do yourself any favours by saying that Narva was ethnically cleansed. Should I say that about Bradford? Or Peterborough? Populations change when there is work, or the lack of it. Governments encourage migration, always have.

And the area around the port of Tallinn is still run down, perhaps all that Chinese (can we call them Communist?) investment will make a difference?

JP said...

mpechter

You make some good points, but the issue is that these people were made non-citizens. A deliberate choice. And these non-citizens do not enjoy the same rights as citizens. Had they been made citizens, I would not be arguing. These people were dumped. Put yourself in their shoes. It is discrimination, and it comes from the State. That will have consequences for generations.

Giustino said...

JP,

Being a Russophone and being stateless are two separate things. 85 percent of Estonian residents have Estonian citizenship, yet only 69 percent of its residents are ethnic Estonians.

If the various groups of Russian-speakers living in Estonia wish to lobby for more "rights," more power to them. At least half have the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Yet they don't vote for ethnic parties nor do they vote for parties that specifically promise them an extension of any "rights."

The most popular parties for Russophones are the populist Center Party and the liberal Reform Party (though this support has obviously sagged with Mr. Ansip, but it will most likely return in the future).

Neither party promises them, as a minority, anything special. But that's who they chose to vote for. It's their prerogative. I am not a Russian. Who I am I to critique their politics?

And for what should they lobby? Estonia meets most of the criteria of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Is minority language education provided in Estonia? Yes, 20 percent of primary schools have Russian as their main language of instruction.

Does the Estonian state provide civil and court proceedings in minority languages? Yes, it does.

Does the Estonian state facilitate access to minority media? The largest newspaper in Estonia has a Russian edition. Russian language programming is included on ETV, Russian cultural periodicals are supported with state money.

Does the Estonian state require authorities to provide services in the minority languages? Ha. The problem here is having the local authorities provide services in the Estonian language, which is why there is a Language Inspectorate.

And what of that controversial body, does anyone get out and march for its abolition? Do the Russophones who support the Center Party or the Reform Party or whomever organize with clear goals? No. The most controversial thing in Estonia recently wasn't citizenship exams or the language inspectorate -- it was the location of a war memorial!

Ask yourself, would the location of a war memorial give your kid access to better education? Would it give your friend access to better health care? Would it give you the right to have that state job? No, it wouldn't. Does the location of a war memorial put food on your plate? Nope.

Until Russophones in this country a) define themselves to be a common group with a common interest [which they haven't]; b) establish democratic institutions to support that common interest; and c) speak rationally to their Estonian colleagues about what can be done to meet those interests, nothing will change.

If all your average Estonian voter sees on TV is Russian kids burning flags and chanting "Rossija", he'll have no sympathy for the plight of the unemployed, stateless Russophone. It's unfair, and I don't agree with it all, but that's the dynamic of the situation.

I will conclude by saying that I do have faith in the young. Young people are confident and, across the board, believe in a European future. They, in some ways unlike their parents, feel secure, and this security breeds tolerance. This country will continue to become more European, not less. The best thing is to continue to foster more dialog.

JP said...

Giustino

Thanks for your comment, but I still can't agree. I note your conclusion, however, that the situation is unfair. The Russian State agrees with you.

The Estonians had a choice in the 1990s. They created the problem by creating the stateless (vast majority are Russian-speaking, plus some Ukrainian) by legislation. A deliberate choice. It is no small matter (the equivalent of denying two million people living in Germany their rights). It is a cause for shame. Estonia was made independent, and celebrated becoming free and democratic. One of its first acts was to enforce a policy of discrimination. Talking the talk about freedom and civil rights, whilst denying freedoms to people who live in the borders of the state, does not send out a good signal. And it makes it more difficult to preach to the rest of the world about your democratic values.

And to conclude, stateless does not mean mild restrictions. It means denial of rights.

The chance was there to do it right, follow a Canadian way of doing things in regard to language and ethnicity. But no.

As for the Russians in Estonia being some kind of Soviet Trojan Horse, that's absurd. They went there to work. Every teacher, policeman, civil servant in Estonia before the 1990s worked for the Soviet Union. Come political change, Estonia chose to discriminate only against those who spoke Russian. What about accepting that one third of your population speaks another language? What about using that opportunity to demonstrate humane and democratic principles. No, it was a chance to pay the Russians back. It caused generations of damage, and it affected Estonia's right to speak up about freedom and human rights.

Discrimination on a large scale by a EU member and member of Nato, organisations that constantly preach about such things. People should not wonder why the Russian State might have issues with that.

Goodness me.

J

Giustino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Giustino said...

Thanks for your comment, but I still can't agree. I note your conclusion, however, that the situation is unfair. The Russian State agrees with you.

The Russian state treats its ethnic and linguistic minorities with far less respect. They are so morally and ethically bankrupt that they have no right to criticize anyone.

The Estonians had a choice in the 1990s. They created the problem by creating the stateless (vast majority are Russian-speaking, plus some Ukrainian) by legislation. A deliberate choice.

I already explained the thinking behind that decision.

It is no small matter (the equivalent of denying two million people living in Germany their rights).

To this day the average Estonian does not have access to the rights you claim are denied to Russophones.

How many Estonians exercise their right to use the Estonian language in a city like Narva? Only 6 out of 31 city councilors can speak Estonian to their constituents.

I am told the only place you can find Estonian-language periodicals is in the library.

Who protects their rights?

Talking the talk about freedom and civil rights, whilst denying freedoms to people who live in the borders of the state, does not send out a good signal. And it makes it more difficult to preach to the rest of the world about your democratic values.

I agree that the citizenship policy has created issues for Estonia since it was passed. I wish I wouldn't have to spend all this time debating people about it.

But what you ignore is that naturalization has worked. Statelessness is a not a permanent condition. In 1992, 32 percent were stateless. In 2008, 8 percent are stateless.

Not to mention some people don't even want passports because Russia gives them visa free travel and they don't have to serve in the army. Do you want Estonia to force them to take Estonian citizenship?
Then we'll hear about how the evil Estonian state is forcing its citizenship on Russians who don't want it. Oh dear me.

But you are essentially having a 1992 argument in the year 2008. If you want to talk about 2008, that's fine. But it's not 1992 anymore. And none of the parties that Estonian Russians support seek to reverse that decision. As I said previously, I can't dictate their politics.

Besides, I wasn't paying that much attention in 1992. I was 13 years old. I was just happy the Grateful Dead bought the Lithuanians their Olympic basketball uniforms back then. Next.

The chance was there to do it right, follow a Canadian way of doing things in regard to language and ethnicity. But no.

Estonia didn't do it the Canadian way, but they did it the Quebecois way. They realized that "dual official state language" was absurd in itself when you have 920,000 speakers of one tongue up against 340,00+ of another along with 140 million of them right next door.

How much media is produced in Russia? Do you think that Estonia could ever compete with that? Do you think this language would have much of a long-term chance if we put Cyrillic on every sign and made our kids learn Russian in schools as they make Finns, including Russian Finns, learn Swedish?

It would be like making English the official language of Quebec, with th exception that most of the Anglophones have been there for centuries while most of the Russophones have been here since the 1950s and they weren't exactly invited. What purpose would that serve? None.

Why does everyone respect the Quebecois' right to preserve their language in a sea of Anglophones, while people continually treat Estonia as if it is lucky to exist at all. And yet these same people are the greatest supporters of the Abkhaz and South Ossetians?

Somewhere, someplace, a bullshit detector is going off.

It is quite frankly the least creative idea ever circulated with regards to Estonia. And its not fair to other linguistic minorities, who Russia's mouthpieces conveniently ignore.

There are 11,000 Finns in Estonia. Where are their special rights? Where is their official language policy? Who protects them? Why isn't Finland criticizing the Estonians for not protecting its "compatriots"? Why isn't Ukraine protecting its 28,000 Ukrainian "compatriots" in Estonia?

I'll tell you why. Because during the Soviet era, Estonian Finns and Swedes and Ukrainians couldn't receive education in their native language. They had no community newspapers or TV programs. Now they do. Today, they can preserve their cultures. I was just invited to "Rootsi Päev" celebrating 20 years since Estonian Swedes have had the right to organize their own community. Believe me, they are really happy with Estonian minority policies.

But, if the Finns don't care if their compatriots have to take a test, and the Ukrainians don't care, then why do the Russians care? Could it all be that this is just a cynical excuse for the Russian kleptocracy to meddle in their neighbors affairs?

As for the Russians in Estonia being some kind of Soviet Trojan Horse, that's absurd.

Intermovement was absurd, but very real.

What about accepting that one third of your population speaks another language? What about using that opportunity to demonstrate humane and democratic principles.

Who doesn't accept that? Most government websites are trilingual. Why do you think that is? Do you think they are unaware that ~30 percent of their constituents are Russophones?

This country constantly goes through agony about how to best "reach" the disaffected members of its Russophone population.

It puts forward program after program to help them acclimate, to make it so that a kid born in Narva can grow up and go to the Riigikogu if he should choose to do so.

It's already working. Look at the younger members of all political parties and you'll see a much more representative demographic mix.

And yet the Estonians are such terrible people for trying to change the status quo -- of Russophones graduating to menial, service jobs.

They don't want that. People don't want an quasi-apartheid system. They want a situation where they can have a foreign minister like Finland's Alexander Stubb, who speaks Swedish to his folks and Finnish to his constituents.

This country isn't there yet, but it's getting there. Russian criticism and meddling does not help. It only hurts. So when Estonia finally gets its Estonian Russian foreign minister one day, I am sure he will be dismissed as "not real enough" because he does not agree 100 percent with what Moscow is saying.

No, it was a chance to pay the Russians back. It caused generations of damage, and it affected Estonia's right to speak up about freedom and human rights.

I already addressed the motivations. Let me just say that I cannot wait for the day when the last person naturalizes/ is naturalized so I don't have to talk about it anymore.

Discrimination on a large scale by a EU member and member of Nato, organisations that constantly preach about such things. People should not wonder why the Russian State might have issues with that.

As I previously addressed, discrimination goes both ways. If an Estonian can't find work in Narva because they don't speak Russian, it's not considered discrimination by Amnesty International.

But if a Russian can't find work in Tartu because they don't speak Estonian, why that's discrimination!

Talk about double standards. If the Russian state is so keen to look out for its Russophone "compatriots" then who would you expect to look out for the Estonians? Because, clearly, Amnesty International doesn't care.

JP said...

Giustino

I'm not stuck in the 1990s. decisions taken in the 1990s have a tremendous impact on 2008 (look at Georgia). The frankly absurd policies of the Estonian government in the 1990s has had a tremendous impact on Estonian life, and how Estonia is perceived abroad. The creation of the problem stems from the 1990s, it plays out today with the (amongst others) continued issue of the stateless.

My argument was with Edward, that the stripping of rights from an individual in a vulnerable position is not a mild restriction.

You say the policy is working, but deplore the fact that it created issues. So it isn't really working. My argument is that Estonia never should have placed itself into such a position, then you really wouldn't have 'had' to defend Estonia on internet discussion fora.

I'm not being hostile to Estonia; I just wish the government had handled the situation in a statesman like way, actually acting on those values it so loudly trumpeted. As it you sound in danger of seeming like people who walk round towns with banners "Estonia for the Estonians".

There is a difference between discrimination and state-sponsored discrimination. Discrimination (for example against Jews or the Irish) is one thing, state-sponsored discrimination is something else (open the history books). When you ask "Talk about double standards. If the Russian state is so keen to look out for its Russophone "compatriots" then who would you expect to look out for the Estonians? Because, clearly, Amnesty International doesn't care." the answer is that the people in power should be looking out for both (Russophones and Estonians), all in the same land, all living their lives. That ideal was put back generations by the very poor choices made in the 1990s, and the reality of creating an alienated (and, from what you say, barely tolerated) minority, a situation which will hamper Estonia's international reputation and her society for years to come.

mpechter said...

@JP

I would like to add one more point.

It's a fine line to draw, but people weren't made non-citizens by the Republic of Estonia. People were made non-citizens by the collapse of Soviet Union, which affected everyone equally.

You have also to keep in mind that the Republic of Estonia was restored, not created. As such, the state was obliged only in restoring the citizenship of the former citizens of the Republic and their descendants.

The observation of ius sanguinis is actually the norm, rather than the exception in the continental Europe.

Giustino already went in depth into the points concerning some of the fears that also undoubtedly contributed to this decision. The only thing I have to add is that if you think that those fears were unfounded, you are very much mistaken.

Simply put: Estonia wouldn't be where it is now, if such decisions hadn't been made.

JP said...

mpechter

"Estonia wouldn't be where it is now, if such decisions hadn't been made."

That's true, and it is especially true when it comes to shortsighted policies.

The Republic of Estonia created non-citizens with its legislation. It had choices. Other states made better decisions, Estonia is stuck with its choice and the resultant pains and stresses.

"You have also to keep in mind that the Republic of Estonia was restored, not created. As such, the state was obliged only in restoring the citizenship of the former citizens of the Republic and their descendants." This is a non-argument in modern Europe. The Estonian State promoted the values of freedom, democracy and liberty. It was obliged to put them into action. There was an opportunity to be inclusive towards the people living in the state when it became independent again. That opportunity was turned down. It would have been a bold and admirable move. Or it could have been less harsh. But the policy decided upon was a knee-jerk reaction that stores up trouble!

I'm pleased enough to admit the failings of my own country, and of Russia, the Sudan or anywhere else. But I think some countries do pass legislation with good intentions, and seek to be flexible about a difficult issue. I don't think the Estonian authorities were, and that is to the detriment of their country.

mpechter said...

@JP

Well, at this point I think we will have to agree to disagree.

Hard decisions were made, but I believe that the reasons for that were more than adequate and the results so far have been satisfactory.

By that I mean that Estonia is the success story of post-Soviet countries because of those decisions, not in spite of them.

JP said...

mechter

I think we will not end up agreeing.

Estonia might be judged a success story in some areas, but it is certainly a woeful failure if judged on this issue. It leads many to think it Estonia is some kind of nationalistic, right-wing state in some frozen conflict.

Besides, it is success and social success for some, alienation and misery for others.

Italy could be seen as a success story too, and yet it has a German-speaking minority in Bolzano-Bolzen. They weren't made stateless because they could not speak Italian. Five communes out of a total of 116 have a majority of people who speak Italian as first language; 103 have a majority of German speakers. It can be done.

I haven't seen one good argument as to why it was done. I have seen a lot of excuses, and that says a lot.

Anyway, I appreciated reading your point of view, Mr Unconvertable.

Giustino said...

Estonia might be judged a success story in some areas, but it is certainly a woeful failure if judged on this issue.

Not really. The country has managed to reduce the number of stateless persons by a third over the past five years, and it has dropped from 32 percent to 8 percent over the past 16.

The people were asked to naturalize because they had no citizenship. They were citizens of a country that ceased to exist on Dec. 25, 1991.

The Estonian citizens, including Estonian Russians who were 10 percent of the population prior to the occupation of the country, were citizens of a country that had existed since 1918.

Technically, all stateless persons are prospective citizens of the RF, as that is the successor to the country to which they previously owed their allegiance.

It leads many to think it Estonia is some kind of nationalistic, right-wing state in some frozen conflict.

It's not frozen, because statelessness is not a permanent condition. See above.

Besides, it is success and social success for some, alienation and misery for others.

Of all ethnic backgrounds. There are wealthy Estonian Russian businessmen and poor ethnic Estonian grannies. It really irks me to hear whining from people inside Russia about their poor compatriots when the Estonian countryside is riddled with alcoholism and social problems. It's as if, to Russians, only Russians matter.

Italy could be seen as a success story too, and yet it has a German-speaking minority in Bolzano-Bolzen. They weren't made stateless because they could not speak Italian.

But JP, there is a Russian speaking minority that lives all along the coast of Lake Peipsi. They have been here since the 18th century. They weren't made stateless because they speak Russian as a native language.

I haven't seen one good argument as to why it was done. I have seen a lot of excuses, and that says a lot.

The question is whether settlers of a country that occupies another country have an inherent right to the citizenship of that country when the occupation ends.

The United States has occupied Iraq. Once this occupation hypothetically ends, does the Iraqi government have the right to ask Americans who have tied themselves to Iraq and who wish to vote in national elections in Iraq to take a test on the Iraqi constitution and prove themselves to have a basic knowledge of Arabic?

That's the question. Just because you think people who speak the same language as you deserved amnesty in this situation doesn't mean it is the correct answer. I am not sure how I would feel about those Americans in that hypothetical situation.

Fundamentally, I would think they should know Arabic and their constitution to function as true citizens in Iraqi society. And just because the Americans liberated them from their oppressive former government, does not necessarily mean that those same hypothetical American settlers are deserving of special treatment, or should have different rules compared to, say, an Iranian who wishes to naturalize.

JP said...

Giustino

Interesting, but morally wrong.

Are you Estonian? I note from another post that your father was in the US Army?

"The question is whether settlers of a country that occupies another country have an inherent right to the citizenship of that country when the occupation ends."

They were living and working within the borders of the state. Estonia could have done the decent thing and extended that right to them. That's what respecting human rights is. That would have helped demographically, socially and economically, as well as earn Estonia plaudits for its humanity.

These people were living and working within the borders of Estonia. They were contributing, they had a contribution to make to the Estonian State. They had as much right to expect decent treatment from the new rulers (who talked the talk about human rights), and had a better knowledge of life in Estonia than many exiles.

But my final point has to be this. You say

"The country has managed to reduce the number of stateless persons by a third over the past five years, and it has dropped from 32 percent to 8 percent over the past 16."

I say, well done. The country is reducing a problem it created (but could have avoided)in the beginning!

And the statistics won't take away the fact that Russian-speakers, even if they speak Estonian and hold that nationality, were treated badly as a group.

I'm sorry that everything you say makes it clear you don't really want these people to be within the borders of Estonia. Even if they speak Estonian, they'll still be unwanted baggage from the past.

Giustino said...

Are you Estonian? I note from another post that your father was in the US Army?

I am an American, though, technically I am entitled to Italian citizenship on the jus sanguinis principle.

My grandfather, you see, was born to two Italian citizens who had not yet naturalized. I, therefore, might have a stronger case for Italian citizenship than an Albanian living illegally in Italy.

Such is the craziness of citizenship laws.

They were living and working within the borders of the state. Estonia could have done the decent thing and extended that right to them.

No matter how it would have been done, it would have been arbitrary, because there was no single "them" of which to speak.

There were people born in Russia, people born in Estonia, people who were pre-war republic citizens, people who had lived there since the 1950s, people who had moved there the month prior.

There were civilians and then there were thousands upon thousands of military personnel. And not only "Russians" but Uzbeks and Armenians and Tajiks and Georgians and Tatars and Poles.

Today, there is a "them" -- the stateless people, most of whom cannot or will not naturalize because they are old or isolated or not motivated enough to fulfill the requirements. But among those who have citizenship today are those who used to not have it. So the "them" in Estonia diminishes at a snail's pace.

I'm sorry that everything you say makes it clear you don't really want these people to be within the borders of Estonia. Even if they speak Estonian, they'll still be unwanted baggage from the past.

I am not just a pundit or Internet "talking head." I explain things to explain them, not solely because I believe in them or do not believe in them.

I explained the rationales behind the decision taken in 1992 because I am familiar with them. I have also tried to correct some misleading ideas.

In all honesty, I come from the left side of the spectrum. Among my favorite Estonians are men and women like Marju Lauristin and Jaan Kaplinksi. I am not sure if they would make the best leaders, but I sure like reading their articles in the newspaper! To try and paint me, a guy who is a social democrat at heart and used to drink with people who wrote Marxist poetry, as some sort of right-wing sympathizer is hilarious!!!

In reality, Mr. Medvedev's new doctrine of intervening violently whenever a Russian passport holder anywhere is deemed to be under attack might behoove some of the politicians in Estonia to think up new and creative ways of enfranchising those remaining stateless people. Maybe they will, maybe they won't; it's not up to me. Though I speak the language to some extent and live here, I cannot vote in national elections unless I naturalize.

JP said...

Giustino

Well, neither of us is Estonian, and neither of us is Russian. We could be neutral.

"To try and paint me, a guy who is a social democrat at heart and used to drink with people who wrote Marxist poetry, as some sort of right-wing sympathizer is hilarious!!!"

It isn't hilarious when you say that Narva has been ethnically cleansed by the Russians. That paints a very different picture to the one you perhaps hope to project.

But, we won't agreee.

At least you have said the situation is unfair. It still stays unfair if people like Edward (who should know better) go around pretending there is no problem or that everything "his side" does is brilliant and in the interests of freedom.

Such writing is sloppy. The world is more complicated than that and we should be prepared to criticise our own for doing wrong in our name. It isn't like supporting a football team, after all. There's so much more at stake.

Giustino said...

It isn't hilarious when you say that Narva has been ethnically cleansed by the Russians. That paints a very different picture to the one you perhaps hope to project.

I was asking an honest question, which is -- what do you call it when one ethnic group is removed from a particular territory?

"Population transfer"? "Forced removal"? "Systematic expulsion?" I ask these questions, because I do not know the answer.

JP said...

Giustino

It isn't ethnic cleansing and you know it.

Restitution would mean that property in Narva would revert to those who held the property before the Soviet takeover.

Besides denying rights to the people in Narva does not solve the problem, does it?

Fact is, Estonia has been criticised by all kinds of international bodies for mishandling its Russian-speaking minority (even the European Parliament).

Put yourself in the shoes in the stateless. Look at it from their point of view.

Giustino said...

It isn't ethnic cleansing and you know it.

No, I don't. The definition of ethnic cleansing is vague. In 1934, the population of Narva was 23,834. 64 percent of Narva's population was ethnic Estonian, or around 15,200 people.

During the war, the population of Narva was evacuated and most of Narva was destroyed. The population of Narva was not allowed to immediately return to their home and was replaced by a Soviet Russian population.

Today, 66,000 people live in Narva. 53,400 of them are Russians. 2,630 of them are Estonians.

I am just asking, when the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is running around calling Georgian actions in South Ossetia "genocide" how he would refer to what happened in Narva. That's my question.

Restitution would mean that property in Narva would revert to those who held the property before the Soviet takeover.

Luckily, for those living there, there wasn't a lot of property leftover in Narva after the war.

But how you got from the question of what to call what happened in Narva to restitution is known only to you.

Besides denying rights to the people in Narva does not solve the problem, does it?

Most people in Narva are Estonian citizens. Of that 66,000, 29,967, or nearly half are Estonian citizens.

22,600 are Russian citizens. 13,400 residents of Narva are stateless.
Read for yourself.

Fact is, Estonia has been criticised by all kinds of international bodies for mishandling its Russian-speaking minority (even the European Parliament).

Put yourself in the shoes in the stateless. Look at it from their point of view.


Again you infer that being Russian and being stateless are the same thing.

I just showed you the figures from Narva, where 93 percent of residents use Russian as a native language, and less than 20 percent have undetermined citizenship.

It seems evident to me, from these figures, that being Russophone and being stateless in Estonia are two different issues. For some people they overlap. But it is disingenuous to lump the two issues together.

JP said...

Giustino

I generally do not use Sergei Lavrov's definitions as a rule. I'm asking about your definition. You called it ethnic cleansing. If you and Mr Lavrov go round exaggerating, that's your business. To me, it seems hysterical. Don't backtrack by saying the definition is vague. Narva was not ethnically cleansed. It makes you seem silly to say so.

Who are the stateless? I know plenty of Russian-speakers who are Estonian citizens. But who are the stateless? What language do they speak?

Estonia had a population of 1 340 602 as recorded in January 2008. Population has declined by 200 000 since 1990 and population growth is currently stagnant (perhaps the solution would have been to grant citizenship to more people). The Russian minority was 26% in 2006. The number of stateless consists of 116 237 people. That is a very large minority, and, as you know, these are predominantly Russian-speakers. So, being Russian-speaking and stateless are not the same thing, but being stateless and Russian-speaking pretty much is! It ain't that complicated.

Nice article. Narva seems to be getting on quite nicely (having been rebuilt by its people), but it is a concern that 35 000 out of 66 000 were not welcomed into the Estonian State. The politicians of Estonia created a big problem that divided the country, rendered all their talk about democratic values and principles meaningless and sent a big signal to many European countries that Estonia is a country which tolerates discriminatory legislation (when the EU is constantly passing legislation to reduce discrimination). That's an Estonian problem of course.

Look, Giustino, I'm not a lonely voice. Monitoring reports and committee reports which study Estonia's compliance on international conventions constantly come back to this issue of the stateless. If the government's committees can see it as a problem, and international bodies can, why can't you? Why can't Edward?

The policies that led to the creation of the stateless were wickedly narrow-minded, and the continued existence of the stateless (13 400 in Narva!), fuels resentments and creates a real practical problem.

There were choices. Lithiuania made the right one, Estonia was led astray by its politicians.