esmaspäev, jaanuar 05, 2009

if the glove does not fit

I promised that I would not post on the trial of the four Bronze Soldier "defenders" until there was a verdict in the case, and today there was a verdict: not guilty.

The four -- Dmitri Klenski, Mark Sirõk, Maksim Reva, and Dmitri Linter -- had been charged with conspiring to foment the two nights of unrest in Tallinn in April 2007 in response to the removal of that statue to a military cemetery.

While some Estonians may have authoritarian impulses, the truth is that this country is as permissive as its nordic neighbors, and the BS riots were no exception.

The government didn't rip the statue out of the ground and dump it in the Narva river in indignation at the execution of almost all their predecessors by the Soviet state in the 1940s. No, they invited Lutheran and Orthodox clergymen to purify the ground and did DNA testing on the soldiers' remains to return them to their families.

The stone platform for Mr. Bronze was carefully assembled brick by brick in his new home at the military cemetery, only lacking the hammer and sickle halo that adorned the monument at Tõnismägi. "Careful with those bricks," Minister of Defense Jaak Aaviksoo perhaps muttered to his subordinates during the removal. "We want to make Härra Pronks' new surroundings as comfortable as possible."

The violence and alcohol-fueled looting that followed the removal has inspired many fingers to be pointed in a variety of directions. Some blamed the stubborn Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and his eager helpers Rein Lang and Jüri Pihl for stirring Tallinn's beastly youth to burn flags and steal Sprite.

Others blamed the nauseating 24-hour coverage by state-owned Russian TV news programs for creating an intense atmosphere of unease where any hiccup or sneeze near the monument was repackaged into propaganda and broadcast to the hungry masses.

I personally blamed demographics. The more Estonian Tallinn gets (55 percent of Tallinn residents identify as Estonian today), the less the city's residents wanted to deal with a May 9 celebration in the town center for eternity. They didn't necessarily want to remove the statue, but they also didn't necessarily care if it was gone either.

The state prosecutor's office, though, blamed Sirõk, Linter, Klenski, and Reva for organizing what was an extremely unorganized event. They had to put someone on trial, didn't they? They couldn't put themselves, ITAR-TASS, or the Estonian Statistical Office on trial. The four activists' path to the court room was clear.

If anything, they could have tried them for poor decision making or lack of organizational skills. But, in the end, the effort to tie recorded phone conversations and e-mails with urban anarchy didn't wash with the judge. In some ways, I am pleased that Estonia has demonstrated that it has a functional judicial system, where a citizen put on trial, even one as disliked as Klenski, can walk out of the court room with a big, clown-like smile on his face.

I am also pleased that this event/circumstance/situation, barring any appeals, has run its course. Sirõk can go back to school; Klenski can go back on ETV to crow in his overdone Estonian; and Linter and Reva can go back to doing whatever it is they did before. Your 15 minutes are up for now fellas, but don't worry, if Deep Purple can still get gigs in Tallinn, so can you!

65 kommentaari:

ontark ütles ...

In my opinion, only the Estonian prosecutors are to blame for this case. Indeed, someone had to be put on trial, but they couldn't collect enough evidence for these four. It is quite clear that they aren't totally innocent, but with a fair judicial system, noone can be blamed without evidence. I personally (if evidence was found) would have given them some years of conditional discharge, but now I don't even mind seeing them walk their way free, only what bugs me is that they can now easily demand compensations from the state for the time spent behind bars.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Klenski said that Bronze Night was Russian version of Baltic Chain - a demonstration of Russian pride.

So onwards they gallantly march, stolen tampons in one hand, bottle of vodka in other.

Nicey-nice.

Andres ütles ...

Well, Klenski is a moron anyway. The only reason he gets so much press as "the saviour of the Russians" is that no one else cares enough to do it. Don't forget, the ones who settled here were mainly miners and officers and simple workers. Noone brought the intelligentsia here. And a regular Nadežda from behind the counter of the local store or a Vadim from the local factory will never be a politician. If Klenski talks about rights being denied, I ask where were the brilliant orators and minds who were denied? You can put a "Do not tresspass" sign in the middle of the Arctic, it doesn't effectively change anything.

Lingüista ütles ...

I actually exchanged e-mails with Klenski once -- he was interviewed by ETV for the Russian version of Aktuaalne kamera and spoke for half an hour about how Russians had a "slave mentality" and their rights were denied in Estonia. I wrote a comment in the ETV-novosti website, and Klenski answered me, basically with the same claims as always: Russians are not being treated according to European rules for dealing with national minorities, and the number of people without citizenship is a shame. He claimed that the only thing he wanted was to apply the EC rules, valid all over the EC, also to the situation of Estonian Russians. (Of course the recent arrival of Russians makes it harder to say that these rules are applicable; but Mr Klenski did not enter into further detail.)

It seems to me that the support, even among Russians, for people like Mr Klenski small, smaller than in Latvia (where FHRUL does get quite a lot of support). What do you think will happen with Estonian Russians -- will they integrate and become Estonians, will they form a stable Russian community that will continue to exist for the foreseeable future in good terms with the Estonian majority (ultimately becoming like the Swedes in Finland), or is there a powder keg somewhere waiting to explode, as Mr Klenski would like?

(My impression is that at least densely Russian areas like Narva or Kohtla-Järve will continue to be predominantly Russian in the foreseeable future.

(Another question--does anyone know how the Estonians who live on the Russian side of the border are doing? I hear there are several thousand Estonians in the Pskov oblast; are they being decently treated?)

Taavi ütles ...

I have to disagree with Andres. In Ida-Virumaa, there is a very high percentage of workers with university diplomas. (I would wager 5 EEK that I have more doctorate degrees working for me than the president of Tartu University has working for him)
With that being said, these worker "immigrants" are not all Russians. I have 32 different nations working in one company with the one common factor that they all speak Russian. Most of these intelligentsia are intelligent enough to keep their knowledge to themselves, unlike Mr. Klenski.

Giustino ütles ...

Lingüista,

My prediction is that the Estonian Russian community will get smaller, both because of emigration and because the bulk of their population here in Estonia is middle aged.

As for assimilation, it will happen in some circumstances. What I have seen more of at Tartu University is that there are a lot of people in between the communities in Estonia, who maybe have a Russian father or grew up on the border and speak both languages fluently.

They inhabit both worlds, but once you are functional in Estonian language and mores, you basically become a "regular Estonian" to other Estonians, even if you may have Russophone friends and a whole other Russophone life. I expect that this kind of phenomenon will increase in the future.

As for the maintenance of a Russophone community in Estonia, we need to make one point clear -- Russians have been in Estonia for centuries, not just since the Soviets took over.

Narva maybe 96 percent Russophone today, but in the 1920s and 30s -- a time much idealized today among the Estonian elite -- they still formed up to a third of the population of that city.

Tallinn has been, at least since the first Danes arrived, a multilingual city. I read an account of a Swedish minister getting off a train in Tallinn in the 1880s, where he was shouted at in Estonian, Russian, German, and English. See, even back then there were Anglophones in Tallinn.

So I imagine that people who identify as ethnic groups other than Estonian can continue to maintain their identity for quite some time, even without "official protection." I mean, there are Anglophones who have lived in Tallinn for nearly 20 years already. Have they assimilated?

Eventually, Estonians should probably give all their minorities, big and small, a basic bill of rights. The cultural autonomy act works well for smaller, localized groups, but they are having a hard time applying that law to 340,000 people.

This would be, of course, taboo for the ruling political elite. But I doubt a future political elite wouldn't support such a bill. And so, we wait.

Paul ütles ...

I have 32 different nations working in one company with the one common factor that they all speak Russian.

What are you running, a company or freaking Noah's Ark?

Wahur ütles ...

I don't think its a "taboo for political elite". At worst it's a taboo for part of the political elite (and a minor part at that). It's just that they don't care - Except for Edik, none of them has any reasonable hope to gather any reasonable amount of Russian votes, so why risk losing certain part of Estonian votes for no gain?
It will change if a) any significant amount of Russians stop voting on nationality principle (Kesk can be safely considered a Russian party) and thus becomes potential electorate for Estonian parties (not anytime soon, I guess), and/or share of nationalist-minded voters among Estonians significantly decreases (not anytime soon, I guess) or Estonian politicians stop worrying about losing votes (sunrise from my garbage can looks more probable).

plasma-jack ütles ...

I hear there are several thousand Estonians in the Pskov oblast; are they being decently treated?

Probably not worse than local Russians or any residents of other peripherial oblasts. Which means that the government doesn't give a damn about how they live. If you can read Estonian, try reading Jaanus Piirsalu's reports from Pskov or his excellent book on Russia, called "Kirjad Venemaalt". Or his blog.

Giustino ütles ...

I don't think its a "taboo for political elite". At worst it's a taboo for part of the political elite (and a minor part at that). It's just that they don't care -

I think some parts of the political elite do care, but the minute they speak up they are criticized by the right-wing parties.

It's a handful of mostly female European-minded professionals up against an army of Estonian nationalist historians. Any politician would avoid that doomsday scenario. It would be political suicide. Isamaa and Reform's position is more robust and the media is stacked in their favor.

Ironically, though, it was the Estonian Socialist Worker's Party that passed the Law on Autonomy for National Minorities back in 1925. Today, Estonian right-wing parties take credit for this law as evidence of the virtues of Estonian nationalism.

Except for Edik, none of them has any reasonable hope to gather any reasonable amount of Russian votes, so why risk losing certain part of Estonian votes for no gain?

Here, I agree. Like I pointed out, most Estonian Russians are middle aged. Like older Americans glued to FOX or CNN, they get their news from television. In that medium, Savisaar wins.

Gavin ütles ...

Today, Estonian right-wing parties take credit for this law as evidence of the virtues of Estonian nationalism.

A, what right-wing parties?

B, looking at what parties there are in Estonia -- two microns left and right of the centre -- there's no evidence that any party in Estonia is less pluralistic than any other. I haven't heard any party (even the ones with continuity) harking back to the interwar era, as in, our party had some legislative triumph way back then.

And if immigration ever became a real issue, I'm sure that Mr. Savisaar would find an excellent way to appeal to latent xenophobic feelings.

And I sincerely wonder what the Russophone population thinks of true ethnic diversity, such as if doctorates from overpopulated South Asia and Jordanian and Algerian energy engineers were to work in their communities, with a healthy number of asylum recipients. It would be very interesting.

Andres ütles ...

Taavi, I'm sure there are well-educated engineers in Sillamäe or Kohtla-Järve. But then again, engineers don't gather masses, they are not politicians. If you look at the political elite of a country, it's usually comprised of lawyers, economists, people who have studied politics. The only thing those engineers got in terms of policy was Lenin's thesis. They are not an "elite" in the traditional sense. They are just highly skilled workers. That was my point.

plasma-jack ütles ...

And I sincerely wonder what the Russophone population thinks of true ethnic diversity, such as if doctorates from overpopulated South Asia and Jordanian and Algerian energy engineers were to work in their communities, with a healthy number of asylum recipients. It would be very interesting.

Well, we know how they treat their Uzbek janitors and Azeri cabdrivers in Russia... The treatment usually involves knives.

Doris ütles ...

The problem of estonian "elite" is pointed out in Guistino's previous post. There are so few of us that those who have ambition enough or otherwise end up "on top" are rarely true experts on their fields simply because there are not enough experts to fill all the necessary posts. So the people do what they can, to the best of their abilities/ethics which almost always makes SOMEONE feel cheated.

not that that doesn't happen with true experts, actually.

Point being, Yes there is such a thing as Russian intellectual elite in Estonia. But same as with estonian elite, there are very many different points of view there from people like Antyx to people like Klenski with people like "engineers who keep their heads down" (by the way, I now wish I had some proper technical education, do you have any idea how much truly qualified engineers get PAID?) in the middleground.

Giustino ütles ...

Gavin,

I think history plays a big role in the official justification for various Estonian policies.

The cultural autonomy law was resurrected by the Laar government in 1993. It is one of the cornerstones of Estonian minority policies.

Three parties have led the Estonian government since 1999, Isamaa, Res Publica, (which has since merged with Isamaa), and Reform. All three of these parties were either conservative, liberal, or both -- in essence, right of center.

If any one of those PMs (Laar, Kallas, Parts, Ansip) had been asked about Estonian treatment of minorities, they would have referred to this law.

My point was that it is ironic that a policy that was created by the pre-war Estonian left has been salvaged and maintained by the post-1991 Estonian right. I do not think that any of these modern day politicians would associate with the beliefs of the Estonian Socialist Workers Party today.

The pre-war Estonian right supported Estonianization campaigns, like the adoption of Estonian names. These campaigns were successful among Estonians, but irked Estonia's minorities back then, from what I have read.

When Estonia declared its independence in 1918, it proclaimed that "all ethnic minorities, the Russians, Germans, Swedes, Jews, and others residing within the borders of the republic, shall be guaranteed the right to their cultural autonomy."

The original majority-minority relationship was governed by that policy.

There's no evidence that any party in Estonia is less pluralistic than any other. I haven't heard any party (even the ones with continuity) harking back to the interwar era, as in, our party had some legislative triumph way back then.

I think Estonians should remember that their founding fathers came from different political schools, and that there were agrarians and populists and social democrats and conservatives back then, too. The "more patriotic than you" card exists in Estonian politics as much as it exists in the politics of other countries.

And if immigration ever became a real issue, I'm sure that Mr. Savisaar would find an excellent way to appeal to latent xenophobic feelings.

Most definitely.

And I sincerely wonder what the Russophone population thinks of true ethnic diversity

Let me put it this way: they probably don't like being compared to the Turks of Germany or the Arabs of the Netherlands in various analogies for reasons other than post-Soviet exceptionalism.

deemoowoor ütles ...

Let me assure you, they don't.

They mostly didn't come to Estonia by will during Soviet times (they have been "assigned" to come here). Unlike Arab or Turkish, or Indian, of any African immigrants in Europe, Russians traveled in one country.

Being myself Russian, I know many Russians living here, that have been living and working in many, many different places during their lives in Soviet Union. I know a person, who was born somewhere in Northern Causasus, worked for 15 years somewhere in Kamchatka (Russian Far East) then came to Estonia, then Ukraine, then back to Estonia. All that was basically controlled by the state -- some official would assign you to go here and there, whereever the most pressing need arises. All this was controlled by a central political entity, a rather small group of people, where individuals had little say, if any.

Apart from that, most of Soviet people migrated as bona-fide gastarbeiters, to (at least ideologically) improve the inferior economical state of a region using their superior skills. Unlike the European emigrants, which (at least superficially, or as it is commonly viewed in Europe) came just as "economical refugees", to take advantage of an already developed economy.

And of course there is another point, no less important. It's the national pride of any Russian. Although not as easily determined and explained, as the previous point, it's still a valid one. But I guess, no person of any distinct nationality would like himself to be compared with any other nationality.

deemoowoor ütles ...

But then again, engineers don't gather masses, they are not politicians. If you look at the political elite of a country, it's usually comprised of lawyers, economists, people who have studied politics.

Very true. This is why I also believe that, unfortunately, Russians lack any meaningful political leadership here. This is why they almost exclusively vote for Keskerakond.

I can see, that Estonian political system, although being quite stable (which can be good sometimes, especially for smaller countries), is also lacking a major part of political responsibility of politics and parties, compared to other countries.

Politics can make major mistakes, but still get voted into Riigikogu and even Valitsus. The problem is exaggerated by the small size of the state and, as it has already been pointed, simple lack of experience.

On the other hand, I believe that the relatively small age of our country enables us to escape the sheer beaurocracy and legislative complexity, which is seen in other, much older, European states. This provides for some transparency, which I admire a lot.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Apart from that, most of Soviet people migrated as bona-fide gastarbeiters, to (at least ideologically) improve the inferior economical state of a region using their superior skills.

And although they were misled by the mainstream ideology, we bear no particular grudge against the gastarbeiters or their descendants. A person can not be blamed if the state appoints him to live and work in a certain location; however, refusing to learn local language and customs is completely his own fault. For instance, the Russian mother of Marina Kaljurand, née Rayevskaya, chose to see what land she was living in and took care that her daughter would know both Russian and Estonian culture. That's the recipe for success in any country. Call it conformism, if you like.

Lingüista ütles ...

Deemoowoor's interesting post reminds me of what I often hear from Russians (I am married to one): people in the Baltic countries do not realize how much we did for them (e.g. developing the local economy) and only think of us in as a group that threatens their own nationalities. How do Estonians feel about the possible good contributions of the Russian Gastarbeiter to their country? Could this help 'bridge the gap' between them?

I agree with plasma-jack that learning the local language and culture is something that migrants should do in order to be better adapted to the place where they live. I note, however, that this was most certainly not in the highest list of priorities of the Soviet government. The number of books and courses for learning Estonian was, if I'm informed correctly, small, and some people who might otherwise have wanted to learn the language were actually not able to do so for lack of materials (books like Мы говорим по-эстонски, which I myself am using, are from the late '70s, early '80s). Modern books like E nagu Eesti seem to be a recent phenomenon. In other words: there may be something to the claim that, even though Russians were not forbidden or prevented from learning Estonian, the task was not facilitated by Soviet authorities.

I also note that learning other languages and cultures is not a piece of cake for everybody; some (maybe most) people are terrible at that. Also, the fact that the Soviet government could send you to Kamchatka in a few years if they thought you were needed there probably also made people less enthusiastic about getting knowledge of a language and a culture that they might have to abandon after, say, ten years.

Juhan ütles ...

people in the Baltic countries do not realize how much we did for them (e.g. developing the local economy)

People here understand very well how much was done, they also see that it was not for them but for the Soviet Union and often in total disregard of the locals and the nature. Unfortunately there are also people who sport the very arrogant "you ungrateful barbarians, we brought you culture, you used to live in the holes in the ground.." attitude. So I'm really sorry but this doesn't work.

Andres ütles ...

Uhm. What is the actual historical truth? I don't know, I didn't live back then and I can't be bothered enough to go through history books. But were the immigrants "brought in"? I have read a lot of opinions that the Soviet regime just made jobs for them here and they came here voluntarily because they couldn't get a job anywhere else. Which would denote free will. There had to be some free will anyway, since I doubt all the Russians were deported to Lasnamäe in cattle wagons.

But how was it then actually? Were they appointed or were they given a free choice?

Rainer ütles ...

...I wonder, is there any way of telling how many Russians were actually brought here without asking them (even against their will), how many were encouraged to come and how many just moved in "za produktami", to take advantage of Estonias higher living standard?

Rainer ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Lingüista ütles ...

Juhan, I understand your attitude: some Russians do seem to think in a way similar to the British in Africa and China (!) about being Kulturträger, bearers of culture, for primitive peoples. I don't want to lend support to this argument as such. I am merely pointing out that there may have been good consequences also. The Russians were not brought in simply as a nuisance (and they were not the only ones brought in; other minorities came in as well). The ideology was that what was good for the Soviet Union would ultimately also be good for Estonia. This is simplistic to the point of caricature, but it is not entirely wrong either.

You know what I would like to see? An actual list of all things that could be claimed to have been benefits to Estonia made by the Soviet Union and the Russian Gastarbeiter, with an appraisal of whether or not they were really beneficial for Estonia. Only then could the question of how much the Baltic countries actually benefitted from Soviet initiatives (or how much they actually were harmed by them). A task for historians, maybe.

Andres, what I've read suggest that there were both things--both people who came in by choosing Estonia among other options, and people who came in because Soviet central planning decided they were needed there. (My mother-in-law, a metallurgic engineer from Kiev, was sent for a year and a half to Siberia to oversee the building of a metallurgic plant there; she wasn't asked, and she knew there might be consequences if she refused, so she left her three-year-old daughter with her husband and her aunt and went to Siberia.) That's the impression I have. Does anybody know more about that?

Inner monologue ütles ...

Better than convicting somebody in court is to have them totally discredited and lampooned. I'd call it the ultimate capital sentence. What has happened is just that. Tons of people basically self immolated themselves in the public eye in terms of respect and understanding. If I was Klenski or Linter, I'd beg to be sentenced in jail instead. At least there'd be some honor in it. Or commit the actual suicide like Linter threatened.

Juhan ütles ...

Lingüista, you are talking about incomparable things, Soviet Union nearly destroyed the Estonian nation (really, I'm not sure if it actually didn't do it and we just cannot see it yet). Do you think some factories are fair compensation for tens of Estonian writers and poets who were exiled or killed or just didn't create anything anymore? It took two decades for the new decent Estonian authors to rise again. As for economy, before the war Estonia was among the poorer half of European countries (I have no idea what the actual numbers were), equal to Finland and better off than Soviet Union, in 1989 it was still better off than rest of the Soviet Union but miles behind even the poorest non-soviet countries in Europe. Can you even talk about any meaningful economical development?

Those ex-Soviet people (mostly Russians) are yet to grasp that Soviet Union was just another one in a long line of invaders and being a result of this they can be tolerated but not loved. This Klenski gang clearly doesn't understand or chooses to deny this.

Katherine ütles ...

I have a vague recollection of being told that getting a Soviet passport acted as a motivation for quite a few people who migrated to Estonia (or to the Baltic States). Allegedly post WWII (up until the 1970ies?) large number of Soviet citizens in Russia did not have passports - mainly people living outside major cities, in rural areas. And I do not mean so called "foreign passports" that were given to those who were permitted to travel abroad. I mean the regular one. That Soviet regime kept people in a sort of serfdom that way - they were tied to certain location, forced to work for the sovhoz or kolhoz and unable to leave. (During Soviet era there were anyway strictly enforced regulations regarding where one could reside. Also when graduating from University, most people were "directed" to live and work in certain location for a set number of years and often they themselves did not have any say.) Ok, but back to the passports. So I was told that people wishing to leave their home villages, had to volunteer for going to work for some major construction projects, new plants and so on.
This does not apply to all of the immigrants. Just part of them.
Can anyone verify that passport thing? Sadly the people who told me about it are no longer among us, so I cannot inquire more precise information from them. :)

Juhan ütles ...

This summer I heard someone (it was Leelo Tungal probably) suggest creating a collection of elulood of the people who migrated here during the Soviet era. I think it would be a very intresting and necessery work. Maybe somebody is already doing it.

Giustino ütles ...

Society right now is going through an odd phase. In just a few years, a generation that cannot remember the Soviet Union at all, will begin reproducing en masse and will become adult members of society.

That is why these identity debates are getting slightly stronger, as the new socially acceptable definition of "normal" is ironed out.

The last time this happened was in the Ärkamisaeg. But when I heard people sang "Peatage Lasnamäe" last summer, it seemed extremely outdated. Nobody is building Lasnamäe anymore. If anything, there are probably a few buildings that need to be torn down.

Andres ütles ...

Nobody is building Lasnamäe anymore.

You haven't been to Lasnamägi lately, have you? There's at least one big housing project with many 5-storey houses being developed, tons of office buildings being constructed near Peterburi tee. Yeah, nobody's building tens of 12-storey blocks anymore, but it's very much still in development.

Giustino ütles ...

There's at least one big housing project with many 5-storey houses being developed,

There are a lot of Nordic McWorld type developments outside of both Tallinn and Tartu. Someone should write a song about them.

tons of office buildings being constructed near Peterburi tee. Yeah, nobody's building tens of 12-storey blocks anymore but it's very much still in development.

I meant the figurative Lasnamäe of the 1980s of more buildings and more migrant workers and more buildings and more migrant workers.

Tallinn is still losing people, despite the migration of Estonians from the countryside. 20 years ago, there were nearly 480,000 people in Tallinn. Today, it's slightly under 400,000.

Kristopher ütles ...

Soviet Union nearly destroyed the Estonian nation (really, I'm not sure if it actually didn't do it and we just cannot see it yet).

Estonia has been free for 40 of the last 100 years. I'm not even sure the Soviet occupation lasted for 40 years, if you consider some resistance and fighting continued in the countryside for years in the 1940s. Besides the fact that many foreign proletarians were regrettably stranded in Estonia when the Soviet-imposed dictatorship collapsed, I just don't see it as a very relevant narrative.Ten more years and we will be talking about how stupid we were to let everything get too Americanized and about how ugly the architecture (from all periods except the old ones) is, but no one will have any doubt in the resilience and vitality of the Estonian nation. I hope.

O.J. not-guilty verdict should have been appealed by prosecutors, I'm not sure about this one.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Lingüista wrote, inter alia:

It seems to me that the support, even among Russians, for people like Mr Klenski small, smaller than in Latvia (where FHRUL does get quite a lot of support).

Support for FHRUL (PCTVL, ZaPCHEL, "the Bees") has been in a nosedive for quite some time. In the most recent poll, for example, only 3,2% of those surveyed said they would vote PCTVL if elections were held today -- that's below the threshold, meaning that "the Bees" wouldn't even get into Parliament. By contrast, the "moderate" "Russian party" SC, Harmony Center, has been the most popular list in Latvia for a while, garnering 11,4% in the latest poll. (I'm putting quotes around "moderate" and "Russian party" because it is actually an alliance of parties and more diverse ethnically than other lists, despite being pro-Moscow [the Diena commentator Aivars Ozoliņš regularly refers to it as a "Kremlin project"]... and I cannot consider it "moderate" because one of the parties in it is the direct descendant of the hardline faction of the Communist Party; Alfrēds Rubiks, who led the "National Salvation Committee" that would have directed repression here had the coup against Gorbachev succeeded, is a Deputy Chair of SC despite being ineligible for election to Parliament due to his conviction for his actions then).

I agree with plasma-jack that learning the local language and culture is something that migrants should do in order to be better adapted to the place where they live. I note, however, that this was most certainly not in the highest list of priorities of the Soviet government.

The Soviet government in occupied Latvia also actively worked against integration of the colonists, purging the "national communists" when they attempted to gain a degree of control over migration and education, including language instruction for Russophone workers.

But it has been nearly 17 years since the first law on languages took effect -- a law that was adopted by the Supreme Soviet, elected by everybody (those who would become non-citizens and Russian soldiers included). Latvia has certainly made some mistakes in its language and integration policies, but it seems reprehensibly ludicrous that nurses still need to be fined for not speaking (refusing to speak, being unable to speak) Latvian, as happened last week. Free courses were available to them -- just as they were available to teachers, not a few of whom also failed to learn the language. It is even more pathetic that some still question the need to know and use Latvian -- it is and should be an integral qualification for a position in a hospital, a pharmacy, or a school (even a minority school, where students are naturally expected to acquire the national language). The excuses get extremely tiring -- it mostly boils down to individuals not taking the requirement seriously and not working at it.

You know what I would like to see? An actual list of all things that could be claimed to have been benefits to Estonia made by the Soviet Union and the Russian Gastarbeiter, with an appraisal of whether or not they were really beneficial for Estonia. Only then could the question of how much the Baltic countries actually benefitted from Soviet initiatives (or how much they actually were harmed by them). A task for historians, maybe.

I think such quantification could only be misleading. The "people in the Baltic countries do not realize how much we did for them (e.g. developing the local economy)" contention is almost always suffused with poison and reminds of a "but Hitler built the Autobahn" argument. There was development, of course, but there was no local control over it and much of it was unwanted, especially since it came with colonization. Much of the industry that the Soviets brought to occupied Latvia was ill-suited to local conditions -- thousands of people made bicycle chains for the entire USSR, for example. Most of those factories are stone cold. Conglomerates like VEF had been innovative and globally competitive -- they were Sovietized.

Of course, a worker tends to be proud of what he or she accomplished, and one can sympathize with him or her. But the development was often inextricably intertwined with the destruction of the nation. This is why some of the ground-breaking events of the Awakening in the 1980s were against development projects -- the proposed hydro-electric power station here in Daugavpils, the Rīga metro. Housing for the workers where the dam was to be constructed was already built -- the workers would have settled here and been righteously proud of their great contribution to the Soviet Latvian economy. For most Latvians, they would be another wave of oppressive Russophones who ruined one of the few remaining segments of our "river of fate" that hasn't been turned into a reservoir.

There are, of course, different pressures for and against development in this society, too. The Finnish conglomerate Metsäliitto tried to get its pulp plant built by the river. Despite supposed superlative economic advantages, the project was finally rejected. That is the difference between now and then.

It is true that "we were all in it together" -- people had no say whether Latvian, Russian, or Buryat (and I'm not saying that our democracy functions well even now -- it doesn't). In my experience, however, those Russophones who say "people in the Baltic countries do not realize how much we did for them" tend not to give especial weight to what they did to to the Balts -- that's illustrated by the survey in which the vast majority of Russians here denied that Latvia was occupied in 1940 (far higher of a percentage than in Russia itself). I think most people realize that very few of the Russophones who settled here in the Soviet period arrived with a burning determination to destroy the culture and language. But I also think that it should be clear to any rational person that most Latvians do not want to live in a Ruslatviya and that the burden of integration primarily lies upon them. Official "bilingualism," for instance -- which most Russians support -- is anathema to most Latvians. "Balancing" Soviet historiography with fact -- which doesn't imply that there's "one true history" -- is neither possible nor desirable.

Lingüista ütles ...

Juhan, Pēteris, I see your points. Of course the Soviet Union was bad for Estonia (and Latvia) in many ways, and I do not want to condone it in any way. But I do see some truth in the argument that it was bad to everybody except the Soviet elite, the nomenklatura.

Juhan, judging by what I've read, the deportation of Estonian (and Latvian, and Lithuanian) intellectuals and 'dangerous people' was not so much motivated by a desire to destroy the Estonian (or Latvian) people as such, but by a desire to guarantee that there would be no threats to Soviet power. Estonia (and Latvia) would have to become Soviet Republics, and anybody who could be a threat to that would have to go. Many Russian intellectuals, journalists, and potential 'trouble-makers' were also deported from the Baltic countries -- the Soviet authorities were quite egalitarian in how they persecuted people (unlike the German occupants, who had a very different agenda). In fact, if you consider the whole Soviet Union, millions of ethnic Russians were persecuted and imprisoned as well.

Which is why I end up feeling surprised that Russians in Russia apparently tend to glorify their Soviet past. Maybe because they never really looked at all the crimes and searched for the skulls of their own relatives in the Soviet archives (unlike the Germans about the Nazis), they can still (quite childishly) see the Soviet Union as a 'Russian Empire' that glorified Russians.

Maybe it would help the Baltic countries if Baltic Russians were made more aware of how much they themselves (and their previous generations) suffered because of Soviet control?

Pēteris, I think the Russians still need to know a lot about themselves. I sometimes guess that, to certain Russians, the end of the Soviet Union left a 'conceptual vacuum' in their nationality feelings. It's as if they don't know if they should feel proud of being Russians or not -- because of the frequent 'Russian=Soviet' equation. They fall for it, and see attacks on Sovietness as attacks on Russianness. If the two concepts could be more easily separated, then they could be proud of being Russians without feeling as if they had to defend the Soviet Union.

Lingüista ütles ...

Pēteris, I think there's a little conundrum in this discussion on "occupation" -- people seem to be talking about different things. Those who deny it stress the 'legal definition' of occupation and mention that the Baltic countries 'legally agreed' with the presence of the Soviet army and later wanted to enter the Soviet Union. Those who claim occupation stress the fact that all happened with strong pressure, threats and even ultimatums from the Soviet Union, so there was no 'free choice'.

So I guess the question is: do you mean occupation de jure or occupation de facto? Those who say 'no' probably use the de jure interpretation, those who say 'yes' the de facto one.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Those who deny it stress the 'legal definition' of occupation and mention that the Baltic countries 'legally agreed' with the presence of the Soviet army and later wanted to enter the Soviet Union. Those who claim occupation stress the fact that all happened with strong pressure, threats and even ultimatums from the Soviet Union, so there was no 'free choice'.

In European Union, the highest court instance is European Court of Human Rights, so there is no ambivalence there. Juridically, Baltic states were occupied.
link

plasma-jack ütles ...

Excuse my bad English. I wanted to say that by legal definition, there definitely was an occupation.

Lingüista ütles ...

plasma-jack, do you have a link to that decision that I could use? It would be interesting to argue with it in other places.

Judging by the Wikipedia article on the topic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_the_Baltic_States), there were countries that recognized de jure the status of the Baltic Socialist Republics (Austria, Argentina, Boliva, Japan, Sweden). The countries who did not -- and they were the majority -- of course talked of occupation; but the others did not. There seems to be some leeway for discussion here. According to the same article, the current official position of the Russian Federation is that "the USSR was not in a state of war and was not engaged in combat activities on the territories of the three Baltic states, therefore, the word "occupation" cannot be used". Apparently they don't consider the ECHR decision you mention as binding.

There is an interestin youtube video (at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFYfOfowEHk -- in Russian) in which Putin answers a question from an Estonian journalist about the "occupation" of Estonia. He says (my translation): "I understand that, in 1918, as a result of the peace of Brest, there was an understanding between Germany and Russia, and Russia gave a part of its territory to Germany; and so started the modern statehood of Estonia. In 1939, Germany returned these territories to the Soviet Union. Let us not discuss whether or not this was 'good'; this is a question for historians. I see this as a resolution of problems between states in which smaller states, smaller peoples were involved as barganing pieces ("монеты"). Unfotunately, this was the reality of life at that time. Just as the reality of the colonial past of European countries, or the use of slave labor in the United States; let us not now allow the dead to take us by the hand, direct our lives and prevent us from going ahead. Anyway, in my opinion, if in 1939 the Baltic countries were returned to the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union could not occupy them in 1941, because they were part of it. (...)". Of course he glaringly ignores the independent governments of the Baltic countries, and has a -- let's say -- cavalier approach to the rights of small countries.

But this suggests to me what I think is the biggest problem in the discussion -- that people worry about a terminological question (wheter or not what the Soviet Union did can be called an occupation) without saying that, no matter what you call it, it was a terrible event for the Baltic countries, for which apologies are due. It's an old phenomenon: discuss the least important part of a fact (say, what to call it) and forget the most important one (the fact itself, its consequences for the people it affected)... It reminds me of the eternal semantic discussions about whether the Turks carried out a genocide against the Armenians. Whatever you call it, the Turks did it and should apologize profusely for what they did.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

In the survey -- about three and a half years old now -- 14% of the ethnic Russians, 31% of those of other minority ethnicities, and 70% of ethnic Latvians in Latvia agreed that Latvia was invaded and occupied. I don't think it would make much sense to suggest that Russians are twice as legalistic as resident Poles or far more concerned with the de jure aspect than Letts (and, as plasma-jack pointed out -- de jure, the Baltic states were indeed occupied, Soviet and now Russian distortions aside). I do not think the question is confined to semantics, either -- many Turks not only do not want to accept the term "genocide" when applied to the Armenians; they also do not want to acknowledge Turkish responsibility. A friend of mine who lives in Istanbul does a great imitation of a typical Turk: "it was a terrible and confusing time -- many people died of sickness, Turks also."

Whether or not Latvia and Estonia were occupied is most certainly not the least important part of the fact; our statehood is based on the restoration of the pre-war states. Our citizenship policies, for example, reflect this.

The denial of the occupation is not merely terminological but rooted in Russian denial of history. It is frequently coupled with nightmarish but hilarious fantasies like this one. Choice excerpts: "Many historians argue that it only became a truly independent state with the structure of a republic as late as 1991. [...] So, despite the fact that in relation to Russia, Latvia calls itself a republic with a 90 year history, there are essentially no documented facts to prove this."

Juhan, judging by what I've read, the deportation of Estonian (and Latvian, and Lithuanian) intellectuals and 'dangerous people' was not so much motivated by a desire to destroy the Estonian (or Latvian) people as such...

Intent aside, Russification and the near destruction of our nations, as well as the destruction of the republics Russia would like to pretend didn't exist or were at best trivial, was part and parcel of the occupation and Sovietization and one of its most profound and enduring effects.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

P.S. plasma-jack did link to an article on the ECHR decisions that relate to the occupation, with further links -- here it is again.

Lingüista ütles ...

Pēteris, you make quite an important point, and I'd like to understand it better. Is it really true that, in order for Estonia or Latvia to claim continuity with their interbellum republics, it is necessary that the Soviet period be a de jure occupation? Why can't they claim to continue that statehood, even if what the Soviet Union did to them is called something else--an 'annexation' or 'incorporation'? Isn't the modern Austrian state also a continuation of interbellum Austria (not necessarily the Habsburg empire, but Austria as it was between the wars), despite the fact that the Anschluss never was--and never could be--called an occupation?

Now, I have to agree with you that most of those who don't like the word 'occupation' also want to deny Soviet responsibility for, inter alia, the deportation of so many people. I understand that they're fighting the semantic battle as part of the anti-responsibility fight. Now--wouldn't it be a good idea to actually then stress this fact? The important thing, in my view, is the responsibility. Russia must acknowledge the wrongdoings of the Soviet Union (it would actually be a good way to distance itself from the Soviet past); if calling the occupation an 'incorporation' or an 'annexation' or whatever else would sweeten the pill, maybe it would be worth it?

plasma-jack ütles ...

Russia must acknowledge the wrongdoings of the Soviet Union

If Russia would acknowledge that the empire will not be restored, it would be enough. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and if masturbating over a war that ended 60 years ago makes them feel better, let them do that. But hey, even we can't be sure of that they don't try it again, no matter if you call it annexation or occupation. And we know that they wouldn't mind this at all.

Giustino ütles ...

So I guess the question is: do you mean occupation de jure or occupation de facto? Those who say 'no' probably use the de jure interpretation, those who say 'yes' the de facto one.

From what I have read, most of the actions that were taken to "legally" bring Estonia into the Soviet Union by the puppet government were against the Constitution of 1938.

The elections were held illegally, and a national referendum should have been held on the vote to join the USSR. Basically, the puppet government, under the order of Zhdanov, changed the laws of the Constitution with simple cabinet votes. These actions were certainly involuntary and illegal. The European Court considers it to be an occupation.

The Russians were not brought in simply as a nuisance (and they were not the only ones brought in; other minorities came in as well). The ideology was that what was good for the Soviet Union would ultimately also be good for Estonia. This is simplistic to the point of caricature, but it is not entirely wrong either.

Lingüista, I think your point is that the Estonian or Latvian narratives have to have more room for the identity of these newcomers.

For the restorationists, one of the arguments was being colonized into extinction. But, we have to acknowledge that the restorationists won the debate, and here we are 18 years later with the results -- a nation state trudging forward along an uncertain path, like most nation states.

I think the best way to look at this issue, is that the Soviet-era settlers are not the first "guest workers" brought to Estonia under the order of a foreign power, and the deportations were not the first.

Catherine the Great deported all the Estonian Swedes of Hiiumaa to Ukraine. The Swedish empire resettled Finns in Virumaa county, the Russians placed settlers in Valgamaa. It's happened before on a smaller scale.

It was the sheer, terrifying, nation-threatening scale of Soviet population transfer that makes people so agitated about it, even today.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Bom dia, Lingüista!

Neither "annexation" nor "incorporation" -- which took place during the occupation -- are clear terms with regard to legality and force unless you modify them with "illegal" and/or "forcible". Re Austria, you are quite wrong -- the majority view was "occupationist" rather than "annexationist" when Austria was re-established; see Robert H. Keyserlingk in F. Parker's Conquering the Past, for example. There are voluminous studies written about the legal aspects of the Austrian case even now (I happened to go through some in another debate about occupation a while back).

I really do not see how changing the term -- using weasel wording, in effect -- might sweeten the pill. It is rather like asking that a murder be called manslaughter when the act meets the definition of murder. To experts in international law, the terminology is crucial. To historians... well, to offer some oblique comparisons, I get the willies when one writes about Ulmanis but studiously avoids the word "dictator," as many Latvian historiographers were (and once in a while still are) wont to do. Calling him an "authoritarian leader" makes some people feel better. But Ulmanis' rule was a dictatorship. Why sweeten the pill for Ulmanis apologists by employing euphemisms? Their resistance to the term goes far deeper than semantics. I suppose you might argue that agreeing not to call him a dictator might help them face up to the mechanics of dictatorship -- but does that make sense? I completely disagree with you re the Armenian genocide also -- to avoid the term is like trying to get a Holocaust denier to face facts about the Holocaust by calling it "a terrible tragedy" or a "misfortune." Does agreeing with a thief that he "borrowed" your car help him understand theft?

Re: Now, I have to agree with you that most of those who don't like the word 'occupation' also want to deny Soviet responsibility for, inter alia, the deportation of so many people.

Though there is no shortage of goons oops "historians" like Aleksandr Dyukov, with his "summer camp" theory on the deportations -- in my experience, most Russians do not try to deny Soviet responsibility for the deportations. It is more about diminishing their significance -- especially their significance for the Baltic nations and nation-states, which are seen as insignificant in of themselves. As you write, "if you consider the whole Soviet Union, millions of ethnic Russians were persecuted and imprisoned as well" -- indeed, but the Baltic states were not part of the Soviet Union until they were occupied (side note -- actually, many of the ca. 70 000 ethnic Latvians in the Soviet Union murdered in 1937/38 were killed because of their ethnicity; the Occupation Museum [which should be renamed the "Incorporation Museum"?] possesses orders where the reason given for arrest is "латыш"). Many Germans suffered under Nazism -- but the German occupation of Czechoslovakia (which, NB, took place without a war between Germany and Czechoslovakia) is a major subject in its own right. One rarely hears the argument that "the same thing happened all over Nazi Europe" -- in the case of the Baltic states, "those horrors happened throughout the Soviet Union" is a common Soviet/post-Soviet/Russian contention, however. One can only imagine what the reaction would be if the German ambassador to Prague said that the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia into the Reich was a confusing conundrum...

Lingüista ütles ...

Labdien, Pēteris! Tere päevast, Giustino!

Pēteris, you clearly know more about this topic than I do. Judging by the links you posted, it is indeed true that most people consider the Anschluss to be occupation rather than annexation. I am a bit surprised--it would seem that the reaction of the Austrians to the arrival of the Nazis was very different from the reaction of Estonians and Latvians to the arrival of the Soviets, but I clearly am no specialist.

You also make me hesitate about the point of whether semantic niceties can help 'sweeten the pill'. Personally, I share your indignation at weasel wording--there is a reason why the Alcoholic Anonymous make newcomers stand up and say 'Hi, my name is John and I'm an alcoholic': realizing how bad the situation is is part of the path towards healing, and 'weasel wording' (I just like to drink every now and then, that's all!) is often nothing but an excuse.

Still... the Germans were silent about the Holocaust for a whole generation. The attitude of 'better not talk about it' lasted (with exceptions, of course) till the 60s. I understand this as motivated by the fact that individuals have a problem with facing collective responsibilities: it is hard to admit, and you always feel like falling back behind a 'I didn't know anything, there were bad guys on the other side too, and some guys on our side, like Rommel, were good', etc. A lady who I met once, a Czech German who spend her childhood in an internment camp for ex-Sudendeutsche in Bavaria after WWII, talked very much like that. To people like these--who view themselves as basically all right, not really guilty of any big crimes--perhaps going step by step, starting with less bad versions and then progressing slowly towards the actual facts, would work better. I don't know; maybe it's just because I felt a certain amount of empathy for that lady.

Giustino, I agree with how you put it: the Estonian/Latvian narratives need to have more room for the identity of these newcomers. One does have the impression, sometimes, that the current narrative is not integrationalist but assimilationalist. It often seems to suggest that the best solution would be if all those Russians would either move to some other country or become bona fide Estonians and Latvians.

Now, I don't want to excuse the Russians for their attitudes--their claims often, if not always, seem to downplay any suffering that the Latvians and Estonians may have gone through, and that is certainly not the way to heal the wounds of the past. I think of the dismissive attitude in the Russian press of the Kaczyn massacer, for instance. Or of Putin's dismissive attitude in the interview I mentioned here in an earlier post ('small peoples used as bargaining items'). In fact, I haven't yet seen Russians give much sign of understanding the situation of the other peoples -- the only exception I can think of is this article in the Russian version of the Estonian Delfi portal, whose (Russian or Polish?) author says that Estonia was occupied, calls the Russian-speaking people 'occupants or their descendants' and says that 'Ivan must understand Jaan's situation'. It is, however, an exception, and its exceptional status is easy to see when you look at the unanismously very negative reactions--more than 500 in the comments thread.

If sweetening the pill won't work -- in the sense of making it easier for Russians to accept that the Soviet Union (with which they needlessly want to identify) did do wrong things in the Baltic states - then, Pēteris, do you think anything ever will? Do we just have to wait for a new generation of Russians, more distanced from the Soviet past, who will be more rational about it? (But think of the Serbians...) Or will this just go on forever?

Inner monologue ütles ...

Peteris, we got a song for you ... Läti Disco .... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adZoTF2exVI

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Thanks, Inner monologue!

Giustino ütles ...

Giustino, I agree with how you put it: the Estonian/Latvian narratives need to have more room for the identity of these newcomers. One does have the impression, sometimes, that the current narrative is not integrationalist but assimilationalist. It often seems to suggest that the best solution would be if all those Russians would either move to some other country or become bona fide Estonians and Latvians.

The issue here, Lingüista, is that Estonia, as small as it is, is a diverse country, and there are differing opinions among the political elite as to what policies are the best.

Watching Estonia, as a whole, create minority policies can seem really confusing. That is because there are both assimilationists and integrationists creating it.

For example, the Ministry of Justice stops translating laws into Russian, while the Ministry of Population Affairs buys time on the First Baltic Channel to "sell" Estonian citizenship to the stateless masses in Russian language.

The Ministry of Interior wants to change law on changing names to allow nae changes for "willingness to integrate," while Population Affairs Ministry opposes the law change, and says there is no need to "Estonianize" your name.

The Estonian daily Postimees has created a whole Russian print and online version of its newspaper -- this seems clearly integrationist. There are those, meanwhile, who openly state that their goal is to consolidate Russian-language education out of existence in Estonia.

It seems to me that when the "angry Russian voices on the Internet" talk about "Estonians," they are talking to only one, assimilationist viewpoint of the Estonian elite.

There is also a peculiar attitude that criticizes those Estonian Russians who would associate with Estonians and speak their language -- as if it was "selling out" to have Estonian friends and colleagues.

But most of the young Russophone mothers I see speak their native tongue to their kids, even if they speak Estonian with friends and colleagues. That is because Russian language is valuable; it's a world language spoken by over 150million people that produces immeasurable amounts of media. They feel it is worthy of passing on.

The chances of a large group of Russophones completely assimilating into a much smaller linguistic group are nil (it wouldn't be that way for the Estonians, some of them in Narva and KJ had already switched to using Russian as public and home languages by the late 1980s).

So, I personally think the integrationists are right, and that they are active, but that the assimilationists get all the press, because they are so much more controversial.

When Katrin Saks writes in her blog that there should be more Estonian state-funded, Russian-language media available, or when Marju Lauristin writes that Estonia needs to compete for attention in the Estonian Russian "inforoom" so that it doesn't get hijacked by radicals, there are no tabloid-like stories about it.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Bom dia, Lingüista!

Judging by the links you posted, it is indeed true that most people consider the Anschluss to be occupation rather than annexation. I am a bit surprised--it would seem that the reaction of the Austrians to the arrival of the Nazis was very different from the reaction of Estonians and Latvians to the arrival of the Soviets, but I clearly am no specialist.

Definitely very different -- but international law doesn't depend upon attitude. Even if most Balts had greeted the, er, progressive forces with flowers, it would still be an occupation. Here is what Pravda wrote about the Anschluss back then: "To occupy militarily a country, impose a satrap viceroy, police and gendarmery, introduce an occupation army 300,000 men strong, and then arrange for 'a free declaration of will'... is indeed a most ignominious comedy." It later waxed eloquent about how absurd it would be to believe that the Czechs voluntarily gave up the independence their nation had sought for so long. As so often, Soviet thought was selectively applied.

If sweetening the pill won't work -- in the sense of making it easier for Russians to accept that the Soviet Union (with which they needlessly want to identify) did do wrong things in the Baltic states - then, Pēteris, do you think anything ever will? Do we just have to wait for a new generation of Russians, more distanced from the Soviet past, who will be more rational about it? (But think of the Serbians...) Or will this just go on forever?

This is, as I'm sure you realize, a bouquet of exceedingly complex questions -- I can only touch upon a few aspects here. The Russians (and even more so the Russophones) in the Baltics aren't at all monolithic. Klenski, by the way, is a descendant of pre-war Russians, if my source is not mistaken -- he holds Estonian citizenship by descent -- and it is interesting (and disturbing) that not a few of the Russians with roots here hold views like his (some non-Russian Russophones also -- Tatyana Zhdanok, the sole "Russian" in the European Parliament, a former leader of the Interfront, is a descendant of Rīga Jews). Such people -- the "traditional minorities," much larger in Latvia than in Estonia -- have the least of reasons to sympathize with Soviet historiography; the leaders of their communities were murdered or deported in 1940 along with the ethnic Latvian elite (in the case of the Jews, for example, more were deported per capita than Latvians were -- far fewer Russians were, reflecting the low socio-economic position of most).

Many from the traditional minorities were and are patriotic, of course ("patriotic," "loyal" and other such descriptors are slippery, of course -- one can actually believe in official bilingualism, blanket citizenship, and the pursuit of intimacy with Putin's Russia and still be a Latvian patriot, or consider oneself to be one -- but here I mean patriotic in the sense that they have been supportive of independence and... well, let's say they'd be unlikely to call the restored Republic a "Fascist concentration camp").

The subgroups are not well-defined at all. Latvia had very high inter-ethnic marriage rates during the occupation and they remain very high now, for example (e.g., in 2003, 45% of Russian women in Latvia and 39,9% of Russian men married outside their ethnic group, 90,7% of Belarusian women married non-Belarusians, 88,5% of Polish women didn't marry Poles, etc., etc. ...and 19,5% of Latvian women and 20,3% of Latvian men married non-Latvians). Today, most mixed couples in which one partner is an ethnic Latvian send their children to Latvian-language schools (one figure given by a government official for that trend is 90%, but I've never been able to confirm its veracity). Similarly, Soviet-era settlers and "our Russians" have mixed in the last six or seven decades. You can extrapolate a lot from that -- sympathy for the non-citizens' (mostly self-inflicted) plight isn't just abstract solidarity but can be personal.

Curiously, a strident Russian article assailing Latvia's decision to exclude Soviet-era settlers from the minorities accorded recognition according to the Framework Convention (Estonia appended a similar declaration to its ratification document) said that the "Old Believers are already assimilated." Nothing could be further from the truth -- unlike homines sovietici, the Old Believers (who made up the vast majority of pre-war Russians) have in some degree maintained their communities and traditions. They're not at all "assimilated." I think about this remark when questions of what "integrationist" and "assimilationist" mean come up. Giustino notes "a peculiar attitude that criticizes those Estonian Russians who would associate with Estonians and speak their language -- as if it was 'selling out' to have Estonian friends and colleagues" -- to some people, what we think of as integration (primarily -- learning and using Latvian, respecting the Republic and its history) is assimilation. It is not. Articles like this recent piece in Russia Today completely distort the picture -- the aim of the language laws, for example isn't curbing the use of Russian but preventing discrimination against Latvian. Nobody cares if Russians use Russian with each other -- no one asks them to assimilate. In fact, I think most Letts would be quite pleased if they would take it upon themselves to build strong communities and cultivate their language and culture, as long as it's understood that this is not Russia and not a bicommunal state, and that this is the the only place in the world where we can speak Latvian. Other minorities in Latvia are flourishing -- the Poles, for instance, have a vibrant cultural center and a school a few blocks far from where I live. The Russian center -- in the former home of Melety Kallistratov, the most prominent Russian politician in Latvia between the wars, liquidated by the Soviets in 1941) is a shabby, dead place with shady businesses on the first floor. All for Latvia, brought forth by Russia Today as an example of the usual impending Fascism, is a fringe party -- it has never been elected to Parliament or any other governing body and garnered a mere 1,48% of the vote in the last elections. By any measure, extremism in Latvia is actually quite weak.

In the comments under another post at this blog, you seemed to suggest that you think Estonia has done a better at integration than Latvia has. In some ways and in some realms this might be true, and not a few believe people that -- certainly Estonia was perhaps two years ahead with liberalizing its naturalization policy and creating and adopting an integration program. I would point out though, that proportionately far fewer people have taken Russian citizenship in Latvia than have in Estonia, and I believe citizenship is the primary tangible tie one has to the state. We haven't had a Bronze Night, and it is not rare for Latvian Russians who have some experience of Estonia to think the opposite, claiming to encounter more ethnocentric bigotry in Estonia. "Russians riot there, not here" is meaningless, though -- despite some parallels, the ethnopolitics, the demographics, and the composition of the minorities are quite different.

I and others often tend to get bogged down in the divisions and the negatives -- but there have also been notable successes in integration here, as there have been in Estonia.

I'll try to continue tomorrow -- the questions you ask could lead to reams of debate! By the way, you might be interested in this book by the Finnish journalist Jukka Rislakki -- I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but those I know who have make it sound worthwhile.

Giustino ütles ...

In the comments under another post at this blog, you seemed to suggest that you think Estonia has done a better at integration than Latvia has.

I think Estonia is a more isolated, provincial country, and this impacts the way minorities feel here. There will be no open arms and emotional displays of hospitality -- you are on your own, and if you don't like it, then go home and share your sorrows with the bottle.

I read this again and again. "We don't feel welcome here." But nobody feels welcome here. I don't think the Estonians even feel welcome.

One can only imagine how bad it would have been had the Finns (notoriously introverted and suspicious of foreigners) had to host a Russophone population on their territory.

And, though people despise the allusions to the Turks and Arabs in Western Europe, there are similarities. Just as Estonian Russians hope to graduate to Brussels or London or Frankfurt or some international place where they feel less foreign, Danish Turks and Somalis get medical and legal degrees that will take them abroad? Why? Because they don't feel especially welcome in an isolated, little northern country where the third biggest party is the Danish People's Party, which represents the interests of ... the Danish people.

My experience with Latvia was Riga, and Riga seemed more cosmopolitan and European. I haven't been to every European city, but Riga reminded me of Berlin the most.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

I read this again and again. "We don't feel welcome here." But nobody feels welcome here. I don't think the Estonians even feel welcome.

The political scientist Juris Dreifelds observed that due to historical circumstances, every ethnic group in Latvia, including the majority, feels like a minority.

Sorry for rambling last night -- I had a lot I wanted to say but was too tired to get to the point(s). Inspired or provoked by this convo, I made some related remarks here just now. They will serve as my logorrhea of the day.

Lingüista ütles ...

Pēteris, labiden! And liels paldies for the post on false extremism in your blog -- I haven't read all of it yet, but it seems so good that I have to agree with several commentators--you should get your texts published. (I can't wait to see the book on the History of Latvia that you mentioned you were writing...). I think I'll even add some comments of mine on your blog, if you aren't tired of my own kind of logorrhea...

This is, as I'm sure you realize, a bouquet of exceedingly complex questions -- I can only touch upon a few aspects here.
Indeed. As a Transatlantic outsider, maybe I should simply say nobody knows what is going to happen with the Russians in the Baltic States, or if the differences betwen the Latvian and Estonian policies will or will not lead to different outcomes. It's fascinating to watch, though -- at least for this Brazilian who grew up in a solidly monolingual country where you'd have to travel thousands of kilometers to come close to the nearest 'foreign culture'--and they speak Spanish!

Part of my interest comes from the fact that I grew up in the last phases of the Brazilian military dictatoriship in the '80s--hearing stories about how Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were full of communists who wanted to destroy us. Nobody but the most credulous actually believed that, but Eastern European and Soviet geographic words like Latvia or Lithuania still retain to me a certain 'forbidden' taste to them that makes them exciting and interesting.

Or maybe it's the fact that I actually quite like (what I've seen of) all these cultures--Russians, Estonians, Latvians... In my dream world (yes, a bit ex-Soviet chic, with all the "дружба народов"), Latvians and Russians would be learning each other's languages and cultures--Russians singing Akāciju Palags and Latvians singing Город Золотой... Even poking mild, good-humored fun at stereotypes on each other, as in Kui raske Eestis olla (in Russian). Of course that's usually not the case, at least not in the public discourse. The number of intergroup marriages that you mention sounds hopeful, but then again I remember how many marriages between Serbs and Croats there were in the former Yugoslavia.

to some people, what we think of as integration (primarily -- learning and using Latvian, respecting the Republic and its history) is assimilation. It is not. [...] [Nobody is against them] as long as it's understood that this is not Russia and not a bicommunal state.

But I suppose the grievance of some of the Russians, both pre-WWII and 'new setlers', is precisely that they don't want that, and they think they have a right not to want that since this is also 'their home.' One can contend that, as you said, Latvia is the only place where one could speak Latvian and have the Latvian culture protected. To me this is an excellent argument; but to someone less sensitive to cultural uniqueness, I can see how a 'why don't we adopt the Finnish/Swiss/Belgian model?' argument could sound appealing. Yes, it seems that one still has to convince the Latvian Russians that it is a legitimate thing to make Latvia a Latvian state; they may answer (some of them even sincerely) that there are other ways of protecting Latvian culture than making the state purely Latvian.

[...] you seemed to suggest that you think Estonia has done a better at integration than Latvia has. In some ways and in some realms this might be true [...] I would point out though, that proportionately far fewer people have taken Russian citizenship in Latvia than have in Estonia [...] We haven't had a Bronze Night, and it is not rare for Latvian Russians who have some experience of Estonia to think the opposite, claiming to encounter more ethnocentric bigotry in Estonia.

I suppose it helps that Latvian and Russian are more similar than Estonian and Russian -- the argument in Estonia that 'the language is too difficult' probably wouldn't work in Latvia. But all in all I think Justin is right:

Giustino: I think Estonia is a more isolated, provincial country, and this impacts the way minorities feel here. There will be no open arms and emotional displays of hospitality [...] I read this again and again. "We don't feel welcome here." But nobody feels welcome here. I don't think the Estonians even feel welcome.

I think Estonia, perhaps because it had fewer Russians to start with, or perhaps because of the national character (as Justin points out above), seems more clearly on the road towards making the local Russians a 'true minority', like the Finnish Swedes. At some point in the future they may even enjoy a similar situation -- I suppose if at some point the situation is such that Russian is no longer seen as a threat to the Estonian language and culture, it could be made a second state language (or at least a locally official language). Not now, but -- who knows? -- maybe 50 years in the future.

In Latvia this seems to me less likely. The Latvians are more submerged than the Estonians, they feel more like a minority in their own country. Also, it seems to me sometimes the Latvians themselves don't know what exactly to do to protect their language and culture--the law about higher fines for speaking Russian at work is, I think, only going to create resentments and not really advance the knowledge of Latvian.

Pēteris: The political scientist Juris Dreifelds observed that due to historical circumstances, every ethnic group in Latvia, including the majority, feels like a minority.
And this is one of the things that make Latvia fascinating for me. I don't think there are other such cases in Europe -- in a 1999 book by Pål Kolstø I'm currently reading ("Nation-Bulding and Ethnic Integraton in Post-Sovietic Societies"), the author had to compare Latvia to Kazakstan, because Estonia wasn't really sufficiently similar.

Lingüista ütles ...

Sorry, I put the wrong address in the link to Akāciju Palags; the right one is here...

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

I've no time for much debate today, unfortunately, but I can't let this pass -- the law about higher fines for speaking Russian at work is, I think, only going to create resentments and not really advance the knowledge of Latvian; nobody gets fined for "speaking Russian at work." That is one of the insane distortions the Russian media so enjoys propagating. There are fines for not using Latvian, and they are are quite limited in scope. This is what the current language law says:

Language use in private institutions, organisations, undertakings (companies) and with respect to self-employed persons shall be regulated, if their activities affect the lawful interests of the public (public security, health, morality, health care, protection of consumer rights and employment rights, safety in the work place and public administration supervision) (hereinafter also – lawful interests of the public) and to the extent that the necessary restriction which has been set in the lawful interests of the public is proportional to the rights and interests of private institutions, organisations and undertakings (companies).

In most cases, the employer decides what category of Latvian language skills is required of employees, and people can speak Russian to their hearts' content -- and they do, which is why getting a decent job is so difficult for younger Lettophones, many of whom do not study Russian in school anymore (and in not a few cases cannot -- it's not offered any longer in some schools because of a dearth of teachers).

Jobs involving contact with the public require Latvian skills appropriate to the job -- a taxi driver needs to know enough Latvian to get a person who does not want to or cannot switch to Russian to his destination, a medical doctor needs a high degree of fluency (for reasons that should be obvious), etc.

Carrots are always nicer than sticks, but I will repeat that we've had language legislation in place for seventeen years -- as a matter of fact, the current language law is actually weaker than the one that took effect in 1992. I think it is sick -- not to mention dangerous -- to ask us to tolerate a hospital ward in which the personnel can't speak Latvian. I've had to learn enough Russian to get by in shops -- but the girls at the corner store can't say "paldies" despite being born here. Many Russophones have learned Latvian -- many because they realized it was the right thing to do (the vast majority of Russians agrees that they should), and many because they needed to.

Sticks do work -- the best example is from Québec, where Loi 101 transformed the linguistic environment. Québec is not a sovereign country and was not occupied by a totalitarian power, the French language is not an endangered one, and Canada is an advanced democracy. Québec law goes a lot further than Latvian law does -- it required companies with more than a handful of employees to set up francization committees to ensure that workers could work in French; there is basically no protection of a worker's linguistic rights in Latvia.

I know that the sticks work in Latvia, too -- I know numerous people who've had to learn Latvian to keep their jobs or to advance. The idea of a "language police" ("tongue troopers" as they're called in Québec) might seem unpalatable to many, and they sometimes do stupid things, like any agents of government. For the most part, however, the approach is quite reasonable. They sit down and talk to the management first. If they apply fines, they're usually quite low -- Ls 25 or Ls 40 are the most recent I've seen -- and see if the situation is remedied. Unfortunately, it's often not -- they've sat down with the powers that be at the bus station here again and again, but I've yet to hear a bus driver respond in Latvian en route to Rīga. People have questions -- where do we stop to pee, where does the bus go in Rīga, etc. Chto?

I agree with what you said earlier about some people finding it exceedingly difficult to learn another language, especially if they're older (I'm 44 and my Russian is still awful), but in most cases that's not the problem -- the problem is most often attitudinal. Latvians have attitude problems, too; they still tend to switch to Russian at the drop of a hat -- when they hear an accent -- and often keep going back to Russian, even if their interlocutor is trying to learn Latvian.

Yes, raising the fines (just as other fines have been raised -- we have a high inflation rate) will doubtless create resentments. But much of that resentment already exists -- in the last year, we've had the "hurl hot coffee at the monolingual Russophone who called you a Fascist" incident and the "call the Latvian girl (not monolingual -- she spoke English and Spanish) who can't speak Russian at the kiosk a tupaya rozha and threaten to sue" incident, both of which drew national attention. With less press, plenty of Latvians get to work in Russian all day because their colleagues won't use Latvian (even when most people in the workplace are Latvian speakers), and then they go home to a TV on which most everything is in Russian, increasingly so. The radio in my region is almost entirely in Russian since the broadcasting law was struck down by our Constitutional Court as violating free speech.

There are plenty of positive things Latvians could be doing to protect the language and culture that we don't do -- the recent decision to quadruple the tax on books is outrageous, for example -- but the language legislation has been integral to the progress that's been made... and plenty of progress has been made. In the 15-34 age group, 54% of Latvians know Russian well, while 74% of non-Latvians ("those of other ethnicity" -- those who aren’t ethnic Latvians) know Latvian well. Just over a decade ago, 60% of non-Latvians used only Russian at work; now that’s down to 26% -- back then 9% used mainly Latvian at work, now 37% do. Looking at numbers like that and comparing them to 1992, when only about one in five non-Latvians knew some Latvian... it's night and day.

Day -- increasing confidence and the decline of fluency in Russian among Latvians -- means that the policeman who responds to a request with "chto" can't get by anymore. Naturally, the apparent decline of Russian -- really the decline in the ability of Russophones to impose their language on others -- causes some Russians to feel a need to defend their language. That's understandable, but it doesn't help when the Russian media (here and in Russia) distort the reality. There is no new language law, as Russia Today has said -- the law was last changed in 1999 and scrutinized by the OSCE and like bodies before adoption (and was, in fact, sent back to Parliament by the President to remove the provisions that were seen as intruding upon private business). Though our language policies certainly seem to curb the use of Russian, as RT phrased it -- they have nothing to do with taping Russophones' mouths shut, as their illustrator likes to paint it. The point is to get Russians to learn enough Latvian to communicate in Latvian when necessary. Asking someone to learn a language is not asking them to forget their native tongue.

I'd also like to add that in reality, life can still be harder for Lettophones than Russophones in Latvia, and I find that unacceptable. The figures for language knowledge and use vary dramatically from place to place. I also know that much of the time, Latvians bend over backwards to cater to Russophones. Despite the "draconian" laws and fines, there's often plenty of leeway. I know teachers -- not in minority schools but in a Latvian-language school -- who were kept on for years after they didn't meet the requirements. Human kindness and the teachers' proficiency in a particular field - but it's not fair to the students... and in the end, it's unfair to everybody because these are the laws we decided upon and they should be applied to everyone.

Oh, well -- another bout of logorrhea! I'll have to leave "why comparisons to Belgium make absolutely no sense at all" for another day...

Lingüista ütles ...

Oh, well -- another bout of logorrhea! I'll have to leave "why comparisons to Belgium make absolutely no sense at all" for another day...
And I'll read it with great pleasure! The more I read you the more my respect for your analytical abilities grows. I still have a lot to learn about the Baltics...

Giustino ütles ...

I think Estonia, perhaps because it had fewer Russians to start with, or perhaps because of the national character (as Justin points out above), seems more clearly on the road towards making the local Russians a 'true minority', like the Finnish Swedes.

Well, Estonia does have a 'true' Russian minority. We can argue about connection to the land and permanence, but the fact is that slightly less than 10 percent of the population was Russian between the wars. If there had been no Soviet occupation, would Estonia have named Russian as an official minority language as per the COE's Charter for Regional and Minority Languages?. I think so.

At some point in the future they may even enjoy a similar situation -- I suppose if at some point the situation is such that Russian is no longer seen as a threat to the Estonian language and culture, it could be made a second state language (or at least a locally official language). Not now, but -- who knows? -- maybe 50 years in the future.

I really don't see the merits in making Russian an official state language. There's a huge state next door to this one where it is official, dozens of TV programs are produced, magazines published, newspapers printed, radio-shows manned, and you are going to waste your time going into the same business they are in? No thanks. Europe doesn't need another 'me too' country.

As for official status, I am always confused by the wording of the Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities, which states that:

National minority cultural autonomy may be established by persons belonging to German, Russian, Swedish and Jewish minorities and persons belonging to national minorities with a membership of more than 3000.

See, the law states that Germans, Russians, Swedes, and Jews are considered to be national minorities, which I guess means that Russians are a national minority according to Estonian law.

Their status appears to be designated as such. It doesn't say "Russians who have been here since before 1940" -- it just says Russians and Swedes. So, technically, my Swedish friend could naturalize and enjoy the rights proscribed in that law. Pretty interesting, don't you think?

Lingüista ütles ...

Indeed, Giustino... This probably was not the intention of those who wrote the law. I wonder what they would think of your interpretation.

You said: I really don't see the merits in making Russian an official state language. There's a huge state next door to this one where it is official, dozens of TV programs are produced, magazines published, newspapers printed, radio-shows manned, and you are going to waste your time going into the same business they are in? No thanks. Europe doesn't need another 'me too' country.

I don't think the reason why Russians in Estonia might want Russian as an official language has to do with being able to get more media output in Russian--they already have lots of it. (In Latvia, there seems to be more in Russian than in Latvian; I wonder if this is also potentially true in Estonia?) In principle it would be more like the Swedes in Finland (where Swedish is also official, despite the Finnish Swedes being a -- now rather small -- minority).

Now, of course, one could say that there is danger in the present situation--danger that Russian could overwhelm Estonian (or Latvian) if it were a state language. Or that it would make 'bridgeheads' for the annexation of 'Russian' parts of the Baltics like Narva by Russia if it were a locally official language (only where there are majorities, more or less as in Switzerland).

This is actually quite a compelling argument, considering the rather unsympathetic position that the Russian government has taken. So I end up being (weakly) against official status for Russian--not because it would be bad under any set of circumstances, but because it might end up being bad (or potentially misusable by nationalistic groups) under the current circumstances.

Giustino ütles ...

Lingüista,

I also have problems with the Finnish model, which elevates one minority over all other minorities.

Why? The Finland Swedes were wealthier and more influential when the republic was declared and Swedish was an official language of the Grand Duchy. It wasn't done to be inclusive.

This idea of quotas and metrics to determine the official languages of states actually has no relationship to reality.

It is a legacy of European intervention in former Yugoslavia, where real ethnic tensions fueled European intervention, and changes (such as cosmetic 'official languages') were prescribed by eurocrats as solutions to centuries-old problems.

Do you think that the fact that Serbian is co-official in Kosovo makes any difference? I don't think so. We all know who runs that place: the Kosovar Albanians.

Larger confederations or kingdoms, like Russia, Spain, and the UK, have gone the regional route when it comes to languages. These policies were mainly adopted in response to nationalist movements.

In Estonia, Russian is allowed to function as a pseudo official language. I think that's fine. And if, who knows, a whole shit load of Hungarians wash up on its shores, maybe they can come out with a Hungarian version of Postimees.

I also, for similar reasons, find it pathetic that Russian would be given special treatment over Võru speakers. Could you imagine sending Võru speakers to Estonian schools to learn Russian to comply with some inane command from the eurocracy to "be more inclusive."

That would never fly, my friend. If anything, the Võrukad deserve more support than the Russophones. They really need it.

Sérgio Meira ütles ...

Giustino, I tend to agree with you. Especially because of the rather one-sided and frankly rather angry way in which Russia expresses herself on the topic, one tends to feel like Russians in the Baltic state are an angry group, spoiled children who don't understand they have it much better than they deserve, etc. etc. etc. (I actually said something like that a couple of times in the comments thread of a couple of articles in the Russian version of the Estonian Delfi portal.) I actually have to force myself a little bit not to take this perspective, to play devil's advocate if you will.

The way they describe it, it's simply a question of big local minorities deserving to be acknowledged as such and given, at least locally, full legal rights. So if Narva is almost all Russian, then--so the argument goes--this should be legally accepted (not only pseudo officially, as you said). Out of respect for the local inhabitants.

The same would be true for the Võrukad, for that matter. (I suppose in the case of Võru speakers one also has to strengthen their Estonian identity--there are so few Estonians already... But I hear the Võru do think of themselves as clearly Estonian, though of the Võru kind. Like Latgallians in Latvia.)

Perhaps giving Russian official status only locally, where they are majoritary, would satisfy everybody? Võru speakers wouldn't have to learn Russian because Russians are not a majority there; and in Estonia this status would apply only, I suppose, to a few places in Ida-Virumaa like Narva and Kohtla-Järve. (Of course in Latvia that would be much more difficult to accept, with Russian speakers being local majorities in most large cities--Peteris' Daugavpils is a good example.)

But of course there's the argument of small languages being overwhelmed by Russian is too much leeway is given--and I can understand Pēteris' complaint about Latvian speakers not having it easy in Latvia when it comes to being able to use their language in the public sphere.

So Giustino--let me ask you a question, since you are someone with a real experience of Estonia while I am not. Do you think the Russians in Estonia have some legitimate complaints, as far as language rights go? Or do you think it is all -- or mostly -- just memories of having been the linguistic upper class in Soviet times?

Giustino ütles ...

Hi Sergio. Let me take a crack at some things:

So if Narva is almost all Russian, then--so the argument goes--this should be legally accepted (not only pseudo officially, as you said). Out of respect for the local inhabitants.

The explanation for this phenomenon is very hard to explain.

I could venture three observations:

a) the average Estonian voter rarely travels there and thinks little of its internal policies.

Narva is important because some of its infrastructure and its position on the west bank of the Narva River. Beyond that, it is of little interest.

b) the current political elite is still wrapped up in conundrum of forming a post-Soviet national identity.

The 1990s, when most of them entered public life, was a time of huge civilizational arguments about Estonia "rejoining the West."

Having Russian as an official language in Narva would be seen as being "unwestern" and is anathema to this world view.

c) If the people of Narva have grievances, they sure have a difficult time expressing them. And if laws should be changed, they'll have to convince the average Estonian why.

But I hear the Võru do think of themselves as clearly Estonian, though of the Võru kind. Like Latgallians in Latvia.)

Võru is quite different from standard Estonian. The Võru speakers I have met learned standard Estonian in school. I would say that Võru and Seto speakers are a bit more like Karelians in Finland. They are seen as more "genuine" and "pure" manifestations of Estonianness. Remember, that Kreutzwald wrote Kalevipoeg in Võru.

Perhaps giving Russian official status only locally, where they are majoritary, would satisfy everybody?

Back to politics, most Estonian Russians vote for the Center Party. This party is quite strong. After Reform, it is the largest party in parliament with 29 seats.

The Center Party has not promised to make Russian official locally, though, which I guess means that this is not an important issue for its constituency.

I do wonder, though, if the Center Party led the government, would Estonia become party to that aforementioned COE charter, as has been recommended by the COE and also Amnesty International.

When COE Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg visited Tallinn in 2007, he recommended that citizenship be given to stateless children automatically. The Center Party introduced a bill on this the same week. So you have to wonder if they would be willing to implement these proposed reforms.

If they did implement that charter, then Russian would be an official minority language, together with probably Swedish, Finnish, and maybe others.

Beside IRL and Reform, I think the other parties in the Riigikogu are sort of agnostic when it comes to these issues. I don't imagine SDE, the Greens, or Rahvaliit would stand in the way should this be put on the agenda.

So Giustino--let me ask you a question, since you are someone with a real experience of Estonia while I am not. Do you think the Russians in Estonia have some legitimate complaints, as far as language rights go?

I cannot say, because I am not a Russian speaker and I do not have even the most basic knowledge of their language.

I will say that when it comes to being consumers, they seem to have it pretty good. Wherever I go -- the department store, the bank, the telecom outlet, the ATM -- there is always a Russian language option.

The media also has Russian language options. One of the main dailies has a Russian-language edition. ETV broadcasts news in Russian. There is a state-funded Russian radio station.

With regards to the state, again, it seems like work is being done to reach them. The government's site is available in Russian, so is the presidents, and most of the ministries.

Or do you think it is all -- or mostly -- just memories of having been the linguistic upper class in Soviet times?

Here is a personal anecdote. When we were looking for an apartment, we didn't want to advertise in Russian in Tallinn. Why? Because then we might have to do the contract in Estonian and Russian and negotiations could be a disaster. So we bought from Estonians. Is that discriminatory? Maybe. But it also reflected our needs as buyers.

Now think about employers and their needs. You can imagine that it is just much more convenient for them to hire an Estophone over a Russophone, unless the Russophone is really skilled or multilingual.

Plus, if he's Estonian, there's a good chance he knows someone you know, and you have access to a social network that can provide you with more information about this potential hire. And that has nothing to do with the state or its laws. It's just a matter of social preference. Unfortunately, that situation also alienates a lot of people from each other.

Lingüista ütles ...

Hi Justin,

The Finland Swedes were wealthier and more influential when the republic was declared and Swedish was an official language of the Grand Duchy. It wasn't done to be inclusive.
I agree. It suffices to look at how the Finnish treated the Sami, their "Finno-Ugric brethren"... Still, it worked well in Finland to give Swedish official status. If I'm not mistaken, at the time of Finnish independence, Swedish speakers were a big minority (if not 50%?) of the population in Helsinki; this proportion went steadily down (as Finnish peasants moved to the capital), and nowadays Helsinki is clearly a Finnish-speaking city. The point being: not always is co-officialization tantamount to giving up and allowing the local national language to be submerged--Sweden was also nearby as a readily available source of books, radio emissions, more Swedish speakers, etc.

Now think about employers and their needs. You can imagine that it is just much more convenient for them to hire an Estophone over a Russophone, unless the Russophone is really skilled or multilingual.
But this is a rather complicated question, I think... Before the US government started accepting laws to forbid ratial discrimination in the workplace, arguments similar to these could also be used to justify why some people might see it in their interest to hire Whites but not Blacks -- I'm sure Whites, especially in the 'Deep South', had also more contacts with each other and more of a network that excluded Blacks. Besides, they could also claim that hiring a Black person would be bad for business--'clients won't buy from me if I do'. I could see people in the Russian minority using such arguments.

Now, it is a good thing that some effort is being made to reach the Russophone population as you mentioned. Indeed, one could say (as I think the leader of an organization of the Mari people said at some point) that the smaller nations within the Russian federation have much fewer linguistic/economic rights than the stateless Russophones in Estonia -- you won't find a Tatar or an Udmurt or a Karelian version of the president's web page or of the main periodicals.

Giustino ütles ...

The point being: not always is co-officialization tantamount to giving up and allowing the local national language to be submerged.

Finland isn't the only country in Europe. Most European minorities don't have that degree of officiality. The Poles of Lithuania (6.7 percent) and the Hungarians of Slovakia (9.7 percent) certainly don't, for starters.

My opinion is that there is no political party in Estonia today that would make Russian a co-official language, nor is there any grassroots movement to amend the Constitution to do so.

I could only imagine it becoming an official minority language through the implementation of that charter.

Before the US government started accepting laws to forbid ratial discrimination in the workplace, arguments similar to these could also be used to justify why some people might see it in their interest to hire Whites but not Blacks

Ah, the good old boys network! You could draw some connections there. But remember, Russians are not just peons in Estonia. There are a lot of wealthy Russian entrepreneurs who probably hire fellow Russophones as well. It goes both ways.

Peter Seling ütles ...

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