Friday, December 15, 2006

Estonia and Amnesty


An excess of conscience

Dec 14th 2006

Estonia is right and Amnesty is wrong

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AMNESTY International used to be an impartial and apolitical outfit, focused on the single burning issue of political prisoners. Your correspondent remembers its admirable letter-writing campaigns during the cold war on behalf of Soviet prisoners of conscience such as Jüri Kukk, an Estonian chemistry professor. He died in jail 25 years ago with the hope—then not widely shared—that his country’s foreign occupation would eventually end.

It did. Since regaining independence in 1991 Estonia has become the reform star of the post-communist world. Its booming economy, law-based state and robust democracy are all the more impressive given their starting point: a country struggling with the huge forced migration of the Soviet era. The collapse of the evil empire left Estonia with hundreds of thousands of resentful, stranded ex-colonists, citizens of a country that no longer existed.

Some countries might have deported them. That was the remedy adopted in much of eastern Europe after the second world war. Germans and Hungarians—regardless of their citizenship or politics—were sent “home” in conditions of great brutality.

Instead, Estonia, like Latvia next door, decided to give these uninvited guests a free choice. They could go back to Russia. They could stay but adopt Russian citizenship. They could take local citizenship (assuming they were prepared to learn the language). Or they could stay on as non-citizens, able to work but not to vote.

Put like that, it may sound fair. But initially it prompted howls of protest against “discrimination”, not only from Russia but from Western human-rights bodies. The Estonians didn’t flinch. A “zero option”—giving citizenship to all comers—would be a disaster, they argued, ending any chance of restoring the Estonian language in public life, and of recreating a strong, confident national identity.

They were right. More than 100,000 of the Soviet-era migrants have learnt Estonian and gained citizenship. In 1992, 32% of the population had no citizenship. Now the figure is 10%.

In 1990, before the final Soviet collapse, your correspondent tried to buy postage stamps in Tallinn using halting Estonian. The clerk replied brusquely, in Russian, “govorite po chelovecheski” (speak a human language). That was real discrimination. Estonians were unable to use their own language in their capital city. Now that’s changed too.

Reasonable people can disagree about the details of the language law, about the right level of subsidies for language courses, and about the rules for gaining citizenship. Nowhere’s perfect. But Estonia’s system is visibly working. It is extraordinarily hard to term it a burning issue for an international human-rights organisation.

Yet that is what Amnesty International has tried to make of it. It has produced a lengthy report, “Linguistic minorities in Estonia: Discrimination must end”, demanding radical changes in Estonia’s laws on both language and citizenship.

Amnesty's report echoes Kremlin propaganda in a way that Estonians find sinister and offensive

The report is puzzling for several reasons. It is a bad piece of work, ahistorical and unbalanced. It echoes Kremlin propaganda in a way that Estonians find sinister and offensive. But most puzzling of all, it is a bizarre use of Amnesty’s limited resources. Just a short drive from Estonia, in Belarus and in Russia, there are real human rights abuses, including two classic Amnesty themes: misuse of psychiatry against dissidents, and multiple prisoners of conscience. Yet the coverage of these issues on the Amnesty website is feeble, dated, or non-existent.

Amnesty seems to have become just another left-wing pressure group, banging on about globalisation, the arms trade, Israel and domestic violence. Regardless of the merits of their views—which look pretty stale and predictable—it seems odd to move to what is already a crowded corner of the political spectrum. To save Jüri Kukk and other inmates of the gulag, people of all political views and none joined Amnesty’s campaigns. That wouldn’t happen now.


rayc said...

A fair and insightful response to a ridiculous report from Amnesty

dmitriy said...

Edward, your denial of Estonian discriminational policies is very shortsighted. You just refuse to accept that the discrimination of Russian minority exists and this totally contradicts the reality .

Finnish policy towards Swedish minority can be a good example for Estonia.

La Russophobe said...

DMITRIY: You unfairly characterize Edward's analysis. He doesn't deny that there is some discrimination against people in Estonia who insistently reject the nation. He's just saying that it doesn't rise to the level of human rights abuses and, I might add, it's perfectly normal and the Russians are doing nothing to assuage Estonian fears about their desire for conquest, which are more than normal they are essential.

Russians are literally killing people who behave in Russia the way these Russians are behaving in Estonia, yet Amnesty is fiddling while a neo-Soviet Union arises in the East. As Edward correctly states, that's just plain crazy.

roobit said...

Edward Lucas is really a piece of work. First of all, the Germans colonists lived in places they were deported from for centuries. The act of deportation was one of the worst injustices and war crimes committed in Europe's history. In the case of Estonia , then it was not a country for two hundred years, as it stands now it is an ethnnic satrapy that emerged in the large part due to the rise of Bolshevism. Never in my life did I think that a piece so inflammatory and racist would appear anywhere in mainstream press. Edward Lucas is scum, but even more disgusting that he is the fact that Economist keeps publishing offensive crap which, like today's ethnofascist satrapy of Estonia, would make old Alfred Rosenberg's ideology department (another Reval native though far more moderate than Edward Lucas) blush with shame and disgust.

Edward Lucas said...

Hmm. Interesting response from Roobit. Is he arguing that Estonia exists only because of the "rise of Bolshevism". That is the classic "white" Russian argument, that these places were much better off in the Czarist empire.
Just to clarify, I was not in the least defending the Benes decrees, and I agree that many of the Germans who were deported had lived there for centuries (although some were Nazi-era settlers).


dmitriy said...

Edward, German minority in independent Estonia was persecuted much earlier then Benes decrees appeared. As early as 1919 German minority was stripped of it's land in a so-called "land reform" very similar to Bolshevik policies. Many Baltic Germans had to emigrate to Germany.

During WW2 Estonia was first region of Europe which was made Judenfrei by Nazis largely due to the help of their Estonian collaborators.

Estonia has short but very significant history of ethnic hatred and intolerance.

Anonymous said...

Very good writing. Thanks. Pravda readers don't agree ofcourse...

Anonymous said...

Dmitriy, answer me a few questions - how many jews were exactly killed in Estonia?

I know georgians are not very popular in Russia these days. They were sent back home, weren't they? Should we do something similar with local russians or is it too racist? Or should we ban them from selling stuff on our markets, because you know, estonians would like to sell cheap chinese stuff there and I don't like the way they look - their taste is very cheap.
Help us to understand how to treat you better, our big, loved brothers, russians?

Edward Lucas said...

I agree that Estonian land reform policies after 1919 were rather unfair, and I think subsequent generations of Estonians rather regret them. But they were mainly done legally and without violence, as far as I know.

I think that Estonia is not an anti-semitic country.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Mr Lucas, you need not to think about anti-semitism in Estonia. The Jewish state had to say following: "there's no anti-semitism in Estonia". The president of Israel, 2005, Tallinn.

Also, Mr Lucas, you don't have to assess the fairness of land reform in Estonia in 1919. It has already been assessed by the Weimarch (sp) Republic in early 1920s, which consequently signed agreement with Estonia in which stated on behalf of the Estonian Germans that the rights of ethnic Germans, including property rights, were safeguarded in Estonia, all land issues included. Estonian land reforms were similar, though maybe further reaching as land reform in Germany itself and they were not etchnic-based.

The Germans and the Jews were and continue to be happy with Estonia's policies and hardly need any help from FSB, FSB controlled media and common Derzhavnics.

Land reform work was carried out even in Germany. The es­tates of landed nobility (land and forest possessions as well as other property) were confiscated here in 1918. In the referendum of June 20, 1926, the majority spoke in favour of paying the nobility compen­sation, but without returning their property. Part of the land was later redistributed among the peasantry. But this was just an episode. The authorities sought to increase the population density of the eastern areas that were dominated by Junker farmsteads. The state bought up and put in order certain estates that afterwards were sold or passed to new settlers at a discount. The Junkers themselves were interested in selling part of their land, as they were heavily in debt. 79.300 new farmsteads were established in Germany between 1919 and 1940, 193.000 families obtained extra land (a total of 1.256.200 ha)[9].

on Israel:

dmitriy said...

I don't support Russian government harsh actions against Georgian illegal immigrants.

About 1000 Estonian Jews and much larger number of foreign Jews deported to Estonia were killed. Estonian police units served as a concentration camp guards and participated in shootings.

Considering that Estonia has such history of ethnic violence, it is regrettable that Estonian government imposes discriminational measures on Russian minority. I think it disrupts possible mutual tolerance and respect between Russian and Estonian citizens of Estonia.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Dmitry According to research performed by the Jewish history experts (See: "Murder Without Hatred: Estonians, the Holocaust, and the Problem of Collaboration"), news in Russian with reference to Guysen. Israel News Estonians have no special history of violence ( Please consider Moscow has not been appointed to represent the Jews. They have own representatives. Russians, on the other hand, are broadly represented by Russia.

Anonymous said...

Are you estonian-russian by the way? I would be surprised if you were, because speaking so good english, plus russian and I would think then estonian, would make you a highly-paid guy, and you wouldn't complain one bit.

Ethnic violence... Come on... this is nonsense.

La Russophobe said...

I wonder who ROOBIT thinks Edward is "racist" against. Surely not against Russians, since that is nationality not a race. Against Slavics? There's not a word about Slavics in this piece. That is unless ROOBIT think that "Slavic" and "Russian" are the same. But then, that would mean it's ROOBIT who's the racist.

Unknown said...

Please, find a copy of this article on a new publicistic, English-spoken website from Poland:

This is a news and articles aggregator focused on international politics from the Polish perspective.

Zbigniew P. Szczesny
Warsaw, Poland

La Russophobe said...

OULEMATU: Your point is a reasonable one in a vacuum, but Estonia isn't operating in a vacuum. It has been invaded and conquered by Russia and held as a slave state against its will, destroying several generations. I think it's perfectly reasonable for Estonians to ask for some sort of show of good faith from Russians who live there, and I think their attitude is a remarkably moderate one in the world context. After all, America chucked Japanese into concentration camps. The blame is squarely on the shoulders of the Russians, who clearly haven't shown their country that they will choose it over Russia if it comes to a fight. Political action by Russian-Estonians against Russian policies that harm Estonia might be remarkably effective, but I don't think we ever see it. Meanwhile, as you can see here, Russian pop stars are singing songs about how the Baltics are really part of Russia:

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

The land reform in Latvia, as radical and extensive as the reform in Estonia, did see a legal challenge at the League of Nations. The coalition of Baltic German, Polish, and Russian parliamentarians who brought the challenge lost -- Latvia won. Comparing the land reforms of the 1920s/30s to "Bolshevik policies" is darkly ludicrous.

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Oulematu wrote: "I don't believe in discriminating people because of the language they choose to speak. It doesn't sound very fair to require large numbers of Russians already resident in Estonia to learn Estonian as a condition for citizenship."

Well, I think it is more about the language they choose not to speak, don't you? I am all for fairness, but I think your phrases demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of the linguistic environment, both current and historical. I live in Daugavpils, Latvia, a city that is somewhat similar to Narva in Estonia, in that it is majority Russophone (there most of the similarities end...). I get to speak Russian every day -- that is not really my choice. It is just that I try to be polite and accomodate those around me. Fifteen years ago, less than one in five Russians in Latvia spoke Latvian. Today, about half claim an elementary Latvian ability (which is different from actually using the language). Fifteen years ago, almost every Latvian spoke Russian. Most Latvians are still quite fluent.

As to "conditions for citizenship" -- language wasn't a condition of citizenship for citizens, you see, regardless of ethnicity. In Daugavpils, for example, most Russians received citizenship without passing any tests. And that's Russians -- I'm not counting Poles, who until recently outnumbered Latvians -- many if not most were russified after their schools were closed when the Russian tanks rolled in.

Language is a condition of naturalization for colonists and their descendants. The distinction is important. The linguistic environment is important. We are talking about (a) a nation-state that was occupied and colonized by a totalitarian regime in which the lingua franca was Russian and (b) the language(s) we use in daily life. I can still go to a pharmacy and not be able to get a prescription filled in Latvian -- so who is being dicriminated against, the babushki needing meds, or the pharmacist?

The sad fact is that even fifteen years after the restoration of independence, you are more likely to be discriminated against as a Lettophone than you are as a Russophone. And colonists and their progeny, who cannot bother to sit down for a month or two to learn the basic vocabulary of the national language, the which nation and language they were instrumental in degrading, should be pitied to the point of handing out passports to people who despise the very existence of this nation and ask people to "speak human"? No, sorry.

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Dear Oulematu,

Strange parallel for you to choose, to my mind. Would you really like to compare the Volksdeutsche of the 1930s to the Russophones in the Baltics? And their Heimat? Really, really? Hmm.

As to the rest of this -- we don't show a "willingness to communicate in the 'world' languages," you think?

But Oulematu, that is precisely what I was trying to draw your attention to -- nearly all Latvians can communicate in Russian, whilst very few Russians could communicate in Latvian. This is called asymmetrical bilingualism. We show the willingness, and we show it with English and other languages now -- but you see, this is the only linguistic environment we have, and it is small. Compare that almost post-national hyper-democracy called Canada, where a "world" language called French defends itself in a certain province, though said province was not occupied by a totalitarian empire and has demographics infinitely more favorable to the "world" language that was placed upon the defensive...

Again -- it's not the Balts who have the problems with communication. Soon, it won't be the Russophones, either -- even here in Daugavpils, there are some Russians from some schools who score as well in the language exams as Latvians do.

This "indirect contribution" to Munich you suggest is simply insane, I think -- you are trying to justify Nazi aggression by the minority and language policies Eastern Europe pursued? Do you know anything about minority language and education policy at all, then or now?

The recent education reform in Latvia was actually about having 60% of classes from the 10th grade in Russian schools in Latvian -- prior to that, there are numerous tracks with more or less Russian-language education. Provided by the state, i.e., from our taxes -- can you get a basic education in Russian or Polish in London, free?

One would assume that a citizen of Latvia could speak Latvian, you see. We have Russian, Polish, Romany, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Hebrew, Lithuanian and, er, even Latvian schools -- in fact, the 1919 law guaranteeing education in the mother tongue was one of the earliest such laws in Europe.

What we can't guarantee (and I don't think we want to guarantee) is education in Russian only. The multicultural and multilingual approach was crushed by Russian, not Latvian, and by Stalinism -- the liberal policy is still pursued, modified to adapt to an unpleasant reality. Not always successfully.

To be really harsh, I will add this -- forgive me, but I don't think Latvia's or Estonia's policies drove very many people into Mother Russia's embrace. If we are to discuss the matter, you would first have to consider the fact that Russia assumed the baggage of the Soviet Union -- baggage many Russians in the Baltics refuse to accept (most don't even accept the fact of occupation). But there are very, very many Russians in Estonia and Latvia who are very much welcome -- they learn the local languages or have roots here, they are loyal to our states and not to Russia, and they do not buy into your type of demagogy. Just as in Estonia, more than 100 000 people have worked to naturalize -- they took the tests, and they are not Volksrussen any longer.

To bring this back to reality -- look, I have little sympathy for Russians who have refused to learn 2500 words or so in 15 years. Some of them abused people for half a century -- I really do not understand why people who did hard labor in Siberia cannot buy a loaf of bread in Latvian at the corner store. Yes, Latvian and Estonian are "minor" languages, as you say. In our minor countries, these are the national languages. Russian is not in danger. Russian in Estonia or Latvia is not in danger. French or English in Quebec is not in danger. These are our little linguistic environments, and they are quite multilingual. I know many old people from Daugavpils who spoke or speak four or five languages -- this is not a ghetto for monolingual homines sovietici. Russians here have more rights than they have in Russia, and may they flourish here. But not at the expense of Balts -- the lingua franca in Latvia shall be Latvian, and if that is a "mistake" -- well, sorry. I don't see any economic or other damage. I see a healing, and I see integration rather than the perpetuation of an alien community. You can look at stats from the fiercely opposed education reform, for example. It's over -- some integrate, many leave, some assimilate, etc. It's natural.

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Dear Oulematu,

As I guess you can guess, we appear to disagree on pretty much everything!

An ethnic minority and a linguistic minority are not the same thing, first of all. Learning another language does not subtract a language from the learner -- if the language of the majority is Latvian, and it is, then making a minority "comfortable" by making the majority uncomfortable is problematic. Last I checked, more people in Latvia spoke Russian as a first or second language than spoke Latvian (this stat is shifting rapidly) -- thus, Russian is not really a minority language in the "usual" sense (if there is such a thing), since it dominates in many an urban environment and many Russophones are not members of a traditional minority but the residue of a totalitarian empire. Most Russophones think they should know Latvian -- that figure rose to well over 80% in the last 15 years, and so we can assume that the stridently monolingual are a small minority, and I would suggest that they are mostly elderly. About half of the native Russophones in Latvia now speak some Latvian. That figure is much higher among younger people, as I've already said.

I don't think you're insane; I thought the comparison was, and I'm sorry for being so vociferous. I know many people who share your views. I don't think you understand the linguistic environment here, and I suspect that you don't really have a grasp of how important it is to people here.

I'm all for "working together and getting along," as are most people in Latvia -- we do work together and we get along very well, in fact, which is why Latvia does not resemble the former Yugoslavia. You might compare the rates of inter-ethnic marriage -- and consider the fact that most inter-ethnic couples now send their children to Latvian-language schools. Working together often entails "speaking the same language" -- I mean this both metaphorically and literally. Again -- most Latvians are fluent in Russian, and many Russians are fluent in Latvian. The latter is on the increase, and I think most people are delighted by that, Russophones included. It used to be that ten Latvians would switch to Russian if a Russian entered the room. That is no longer true, nor should it be.

Russian-speakers do have the right to free education in Russian -- the issue is primarily one of whether and how they learn Latvian. The protests against the education reform fizzled out rather quickly, and many if not most Russophones have accepted reality, especially younger people. We are thus hopefully on the way to a truly integrated society in which Latvian is the national language. No one has anything against Russians preserving Russian -- but most people here reject the concept of a "bicommunal" society, which we see as a Ruslatviya. Latvia already suffered half a century of faux bilingualism -- it was, in essence, the slow death of the language at the hands of Russian.

Not 10 or 20% but closer to 40% of the population is composed of Russophones. In urban areas, that percentage runs much higher -- in the capital, for example, the percentage of students studying in Latvian-language schools exceeded that of those studying in Russian-language schools, for the first time in decades, only in this academic year.

I think arguments about "nationalism" (vs. imperialism, and linguistic imperialism?) would lengthen this comment too much. When you use terms like "linguistic chauvinism," I can't help but sneer, sorry -- I think Edward made the point about where the linguistic chauvinism lies in his article, and he made it quite well. Russian is spoken from here to Vladivostok, and you keep emphasizing how major it is -- well, yes, and that is why we have the right to protect our little linguistic garden, in my view. In the face of globalization, this doesn't hamper us at all! The economist Balabkins (who uses the "s" despite his background, out of your dreaded "loyalty," I suppose) once commented to me that his growing up pentalingual in Daugavpils was a major asset in his career. Latvia has long been multilingual, and it has long pursued liberal language policies -- in fact, Latvia has been among the countries at the forefront of such policies. There is a big difference between such liberalism and permitting the establishment of a Russian ghetto, though -- the latter would not benefit the Russophones, either, you see.

If getting people to learn the national language of the country they are in is some suspect form of nationalism, I suppose we are guilty as sin. Even if your politics would say so, though, I'm afraid I'd have to ask you exactly what you expect the quotidian to be like -- I mean, a doctor shouldn't have to know Latvian? Latvians must know Russian to shop? An employer should hire a monolingual Russophone when most of his customers are Lettophones? Anybody working for the government must be fluent in Russian? We should trust to market forces in all things, perhaps?

Latvian nationalism created this nation-state, which is a Member State of the EU. The Satversme, our constitution, explicitly states that power is vested in the people of Latvia (rather than the Latvian people). In a rather dark history, pressure has been exerted on different groups, and death or departure has come to others (to the Jews and the Baltic Germans). Latvian democracy bears little or no responsibility for those tragedies, however -- the Satversme was written by extremely idealistic people, and minorities here are quite well off -- they were invited to help build this nation-state on the very night it was proclaimed, in fact.

There are certainly many valid and contrary views of language policy and citizenship policy in Latvia -- I have many a criticism I could offer, and I am often quite critical. The thing is, though, that not a few of my neighbors live in the USSR/Russia, setting off their firecrackers at Moscow time on New Year's Eve, never uttering a word of Latvian, mixing traditional Russian imperialism with Soviet nostalgia and petrodollars, and despising the land they live in. Would I ask them for "loyalty"? Not really, no. Wouldn't expect it. Do I think Latvia would get "loyalty" by catering to them? Nope. I would submit that most (not all) of the Russians who still can't smell the coffee never liked the coffee to begin with. This coffee is how we start our day, though! May they have their tea -- nobody's hindering that.

I would hope for better, sorry -- and not sorry, because I think there is reason for hope. Over 100 000 people have taken the supposedly heinous tests and naturalized in the last few years (in Latvia, that's a lot of people!). Shifting between languages is not so much of a problem for the young -- being swamped by Russian is. If you came down from the abstract, you might consider that many young Latvians would rather learn English, German, Swedish, Polish or Lithuanian, not Russian -- they want to get along, too, surely; but Russian is just not too prestigious these days. I think the reasons are rather obvious.

Fred Fry said...

but I think it is more reasonable to require Quebec residents to learn French, a major world language not entirely unlike English, than to require Russian-speaking residents of Latvia (Estonia) to learn and communicate in Latvian (Estonian).

This comment completely disregards a simple fact that Latvian and Estonian are VERY IMPORTANT languages in their own country.

i.e. Estonian is a very important language, in Estonia.

As for allowing the Russians to learn a 'world langaunge' instead, how many can converse in English or French or ANY language other than Russian, which is in no way a World language. I have been to Estonia many times and Estonians cleary can master multiple languages, Finnish, Swedish, English, German, etc. I lived in Finland for three years and I managed to learn Finnish, and I am an American. Surely, it is not unreasonable for Russians in the Baltics to learn the language of their new homeland.

Not for anything, but these people ended up in the Baltics as a result of Soviet Russia dictating rules and forcibly relocating people into and OUT OF the Baltics. They should in no way be blamed for now addressing an issue that never would have been a problem had the Soviets freed the countries they occupied after WWII.

No matter had badly these Russians think they are being treated, they clearly think they have a better future sitting where they are, then moving back to Russia.

n/a said...

Britannian faschist Edward Lucas is the best friend of any Estonian fascist. Did you commemorated the opening of monument of SS soldier, mr. Lucas?