BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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The Baltic States, Russia and the West
HITS: 2013 | 11-11-2005, 21:46 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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There seems little doubt that Latvia is pursuing a nationalities policy which, if adopted anywhere else, would be the object of universal condemnation. There is effectively no criticism at all of this full-frontal assault on the established rights of a sizeable and historic population. Instead, Latvia continues to receive support for its policies. Estonia is in a similar position. There, a similar version of the same law is being introduced, albeit with a longer transitional period. BHHRG interviewed a former director of the Russian Cultural Centre in Tallinn, Arkady Prisjazny. Married to an Estonian, Prisjazny said that there was simply no dialogue between the Estonians and the Russians in Estonia. He quoted examples of aggressive anti-Russian sentiment being expressed by government officials, such as when on 29th January 2002 the new head of the secret police said that the country’s primary goal was to get rid of the “Russian spectre”.
In some ways, the situation in Estonia is worse for the local Russians. They are a smaller minority than in Latvia. There is no exclusively Russian political party in Estonia, and no seats are reserved for them in the parliament. There are only three Russian deputies in the Estonian parliament, and no Estonian parties do anything for their Russian compatriots. This is in spite of the fact that about half of the population of Tallinn is Russian. Russians are excluded from all government jobs, as well as from many other professions. There is a feeling that they are forced to do the “dirty” jobs, or to remain unemployed. It is partly for this reason that crime and prostitution are so widespread among the Russians in the Baltic States. The better qualified Russians have already left Estonia, leaving only the less privileged sections of society. Moscow gives little help: there are ten Russian higher educational institutes, but the government wants to close them down. Help from Russia comes mainly in the form of pensions for army veterans. The European Union seems to have dashed the hopes of the Estonian Russians: whereas they had been positively disposed towards Brussels in 2002, their hopes for any help have been cruelly dashed. Prisjazny also claimed that all the media in Estonia, including the Russian language newspaper, was under government control. He and other people BHHRG met confirmed that there is no information at all about the EU and the implications of membership: BHHRG was able to ascertain, for instance, that Estonians did not know that they would receive a mere fraction of the agricultural subsidies paid to existing member states.
How can one explain the silence of the European institutions and the human rights establishment in the face of such an assault on a sizeable and historic minority? Many people BHHRG interviewed believed that geo-strategic considerations played a role. Because they were not sovereign states at the time of the signature and ratification of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) the Baltic States have never signed this agreement which limits the movement of conventional weapons. Consequently, they are legally able to move heavy NATO weaponry onto their territory, putting it within a few minutes (and 40 miles) of Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg.
Politically, the Balts are useful in the West’s resurgent anti-Russian stance. Here are some examples of this.
1. The foreign minister of Latvia was among the most aggressive EU ministers in blaming Russia’s policy in Chechnya for the massacre at Beslan in North Ossetia.
2. There are long-standing links between the Chechens and the Balts, as evidenced by the “Dudaev Street” in Riga or the “Dudaev Suite” in the Hotel Barclay in Tartu, named after the first leader of the Chechen rebellion.
3. Many Estonians believe that the $10 million dollars which disappeared from the Estonian Central Bank in 1992 under the stewardship of the new Estonian European Commissioner, Siim Kallas, were physically taken out of Estonia in a military plane flown somehow connected to Dudaev, the Chechen leader and former Soviet fighter pilot.
4. Lithuania recently reluctantly closed the virulenty anti-Russian and pro-Chechen website, www.kavkazcenter.com. Moscow had protested that it was inciting violence.
5. Generally, the Balts regard Chechnya as an “honorary Baltic state” and show considerable sympathy to its cause.[1]
Once you know that the Chechen cause is also supported by the most powerful geo-strategists in Washington, through the Committee for Peace in Chechnya, Western tolerance for the anti-Russian stance of the Baltic States becomes clear.[2] The American government has made its own position clear: in an interview with Reuters on 14th September, the US Secretary of State said that Russia was rolling back democracy, and that it ought to seek a political solution in Chechnya.[3] This position is the polar opposite of that taken with respect to America’s own response to terrorism and its backing of any refusal to compromise by favoured allies in the “war on terror.”. Like Chechnya, the Baltic States are a useful vehicle for reducing the power and presence of Russia in areas deemed to be of strategic importance to NATO, and it is surely this which explains the West’s tolerance of such blatant hostility by Latvia and Estonia to their large Russian-speaking national minority.


[1] http://www.ce-review.org/99/24/amber24.html,
[2] http://www.peaceinchechnya.org/; see especially the list of members: http://www.peaceinchechnya.org/about_members.htm,
[3] Interview with Reuters, 14th September 2004, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/36177.htm.

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