esmaspäev, mai 10, 2010

ukraizy?

Ever wonder what might happen to your country should an alleged "Kremlin stooge" come to power? Just look at Ukraine. Since President Viktor Yanukovich took office in February, Kiev has made nice with Moscow on many fronts after years of acrimony.

On every one of Putin-Medvedev's pet issues, NATO membership, historical revisionism, the future of the Black Sea Fleet, Yanukovich's Ukraine has seen eye to eye with the Russian Federation. There is even talk of deeper integration between the two countries' energy sectors, though any deal will respect Ukraine's sovereignty, of course.

Some call Yanukovich a traitor, others see him as a wily leader who is duping Moscow into giving Kiev more than what it receives in return. But one election pledge that Yanukovich has failed to make good on so far is the elevation of Russian to the status of an official state language.

Russia has a bit of a fetish for official languages. While external observers tend to describe the linguistic situation for many of its minority languages as dire, the Russian Federation maintains a policy of retaining official status for minority languages in certain republics, so that in Mari El, the official languages on paper are still Russian and Mari, though the UN, for example, has criticized the actual treatment of the Mari linguistic minority. As you can imagine, when Yanukovich promised to make Russian an official language of Ukraine, the Kremlin-controlled media swooned.

But there's a problem. In order to make Russian a state language, Yanukovich has to change the constitution, and even he and his mighty coalition of the Party of Regions, the Communist Party of Ukraine, and the Bloc Lytvyn, still can't do that. So, instead of mirroring Russia's federal republics, where Russian and the "titular" language are co-official on paper, he's decided to peddle Ukraine down the European route by implementing laws that protect the use of Russian under the 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Most countries in Europe have adopted the charter. In this part of Europe, there are three notable exceptions: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Finland ratified the charter in 1994. Sweden ratified it in 2000. Poland ratified it last year. In fact, one of the 15 languages protected by Poland is Russian. But the Baltic countries have yet to ratify this charter, which was the main suggestion of Amnesty International following its controversial critique several years ago.

Language policies continue to be the third rail of politics in the Baltics and, obviously also in Ukraine, because of Soviet language policies, memories of tsarist-era Russification campaigns, and in some places, demographic conditions that would make it difficult to receive any services in the national language at all without state enforcement. So it's a headache, but, in the case of Estonia, I have to ask, had the country not been occupied and annexed in 1940, had it not withstood mass Soviet "population transfer" -- as it is termed -- would it still not have opted to adopt the charter, this same charter that its neighbors have adopted?

There is this idea out there that minorities have no official status in Estonia. This is not true. The 1918 manifesto that proclaimed Estonia's independence specifically mentioned Estonia's minorities: "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." It's actually the second principle in the manifesto, right after, "All citizens of the Republic of Estonia, irrespective of their religion, ethnic origin, and political views, shall enjoy equal protection under the law and courts of justice of the Republic. "

The Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities, passed first in 1925 and again in 1993, similarly enshrined minority rights. Under the guidelines of the law, national minority cultural autonomy could 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."

The problem for the Russian minority in this case is that, with about 340,000 potential "members" in Estonia, it's kind of hard to elect a cultural council that represents everybody's interests. This is not the case for smaller groups like the Estonian Swedes or Ingrian Finns, both of which elected councils based on this law in the last decade. State authorities have noted the trouble for Estonia's Russians in applying the autonomy law, but no consensus has been reached.

So it seems that, in Estonia's case, the adoption of the charter might not actually be a bad option. But should some "Kremlin stooge" come to power in Tallinn and try to adopt the law, would the session end with eggs and smoke bombs on Toompea? Would the politicians who passed such a law be seen as a traitors or wily leaders, "solving" the minority issue once and for all by giving Estonia's minorities freedoms they actually already enjoyed? I don't know. It is reassuring to know that, with Estonia's historical narrative strongly supported in the West, and the country deeply integrated into NATO, there are relatively few opportunities for any sea change in future policies, regardless of who holds power.

7 kommentaari:

Evil Purc ütles ...

The 1918 manifesto is not really a legal document, it is a political declaration. Eesti Maanõukogu claimed sovereign power (independence one might say) with the "Maanõukogu otsus kõrgemast võimust" from 28 november 1917.

Sérgio Meira ütles ...

Well, to me this question depends also on what Russia would do -- if it would flood the Russian minority in Estonia with money to take advantage of any new rights the adoption of the minority language charter might bring to them, the propaganda campaign... an undercover 'let's-make-Estonia-Russian-speaking' action, let's say.

The geopolitical difference between the two languages is so striking, I'm not sure it would be a good idea for Estonian to do that. But, who knows?

Giustino ütles ...

Well, to me this question depends also on what Russia would do -- if it would flood the Russian minority in Estonia with money to take advantage of any new rights the adoption of the minority language charter might bring to them,

That's probably one of the reasons lawmakers are hesitant to pass it.

the propaganda campaign... an undercover 'let's-make-Estonia-Russian-speaking' action, let's say.

The state language policy has been on the books since 1989, before the restoration of independence. As you can see, even Yanukovich can't change the Ukrainian constitution. Do you think Savisaar could do that? Would he really want to? Savisaar can run Tallinn his way, but he can't run Estonia the same way, because most of Estonia doesn't vote like Tallinn. I could imagine more tensions between the central government and municipal governments, though, if the charter was passed -- probably another reason why they won't adopt it.

The geopolitical difference between the two languages is so striking, I'm not sure it would be a good idea for Estonian to do that. But, who knows?

In 1934, Russians were the largest minority in Estonia. Had there not been mass population transfer (or colonization as some put it), they probably would still be the largest minority. And if Estonia adopted the charter, Russian would certainly be named as a minority language (it already enjoys such status in many ways within Estonia -- official funding for Russian-language media, education, etc.)

The 1930s are an interesting time period, though, as there were also Estonianization campaigns back then, and there was tension not just with Estonian Russians, but with other minorities (Estonian Swedes, Setos) because of these campaigns. So it's not just a modern issue. Since the founding of the state, there has been some tension between minorities who were promised autonomy and Estonian nation building.

david h jones ütles ...

France has not ratified the European Charter on Minority Languages. It has consitently refused to do so. Something which is never highlighted in the press although we here a lot about the 'abuse' of Russian speakers in the former USSR.

France has to be the most bigoted state in its attitude towards indigenous languages within the state - languages which preceed the formation of the state and have not been implemented by the barrel of the gun or policies by a larger power.

The French Education Minister said in 1925 - 'for the unity of France, Breton must die'. That pretty sums up the French state - a state which Turkey models itself.

I wish British, French etc journalists would concentrate more on the terrible track-record and frankly spiteful attitude by the French state (both Socialists and Gaullists) towards Breton, Basque, Catalan, Dutch and German/Elsass within France and less about Russians in Estonia who enjoy far more linguistic rights.

Lingüista ütles ...

As you can see, even Yanukovich can't change the Ukrainian constitution. Do you think Savisaar could do that?

Well, Yanukovych is certainly going to try all kinds of indirect ways to gnaw at the constitutional status of Ukrainian -- using the minority languages chart is just one way. More support for Russian-speaking schools and Russian-language resources (the dubbing of foreign -- including Russian -- films in one Ukrainian TV channel is, as I recall, no longer obligatory), etc.

I don't think Savisaar could pull this one off in Estonia -- the distribution of Russians (Tallinn, Narva, Kohtla-Järve) is not as in Ukraine, Estonian and Russian are much more different than Ukrainian and Russian (a real problem for Ukrainian to keep existing, actually)... Yanukovych has a better shot at making Russian the most important language of Ukraine.

But I wouldn't consider it impossible for Savisaar to actually try and get Russian accepted as a regional official language -- this would make sense for Narva (less so for Tallinn). He may go on and try to make Russia a "privileged partner" and increase Russian presence in Estonian life, but considering the Western orientation of everything in Estonia these days, this would be way, way more difficult than in Ukraine.

Maybe he might want to court the Russian by claiming 'not to believe' in some 'official historical dogmas' (as Yanukovych did with the Holodomor, and also like Riga's mayor Nils Usakovs). I don't think he could ever be as authoritarian as Yanukovych in Ukraine (with his talk of "stabilnist'"), but maybe there are other indirect ways. I don't know.

What do you think?

Russian would certainly be named as a minority language (it already enjoys such status in many ways within Estonia -- official funding for Russian-language media, education, etc.)

You have a point here. Then again, it all depends on how Russia and the local Estonian Russian minority reacts. Will they feel like they've won a battle towards "carving their own autonomous region"? Or will they see it as a friendly gesture of the Estonian government and feel more inclined to integrate as citizens? (The current curiously more receptive attitude of the Russian government towards the historical viewpoints of other peoples, especially the Poles, does seem to support some cautious optimism.)

Since the founding of the state, there has been some tension between minorities who were promised autonomy and Estonian nation building.
I agree. But, in the 30's, was Russian, specifically Russian among other minorities, also seen in those times, by Russia itself, as, say, Russia's local envoys? Was their situation considered symbolic of respect for Russia? Was Russia involved in manipulating the local minority for political gains?

The other minority languages in Estonia weren't being used like that -- not for nothing is "Nochnoy Dozhor" a Russian name. So, psychologically, it's easeir to deal with them -- it's only Russian that gives you this impression it's backed by a big foreign country in some sort of fight for control in Estonia. (Maybe the Poles in Lithuania are a comparable group, I don't know.)

Lingüista ütles ...

david h jones, since I've personally worked with some "langues régionales" (Kalinya and Wayana in French Guiana) and the stupidity of French policy towards them for a while, I certainly agree with you. I wished the French would grow up and stop behaving as if their minority languages -- spoken by what, less than 5% of the population? -- actually constituted some 'threat' to the French nation and language. C'est ridicule.

Giustino ütles ...

I agree. But, in the 30's, was Russian, specifically Russian among other minorities, also seen in those times, by Russia itself, as, say, Russia's local envoys? Was their situation considered symbolic of respect for Russia? Was Russia involved in manipulating the local minority for political gains?

Well, technically speaking, Russia did not exist at this time. Estonia was a haven for White Russian refugees passing through on their way to Paris and London and New York. Manipulation was done via Comintern. It's a funny thing how Communism has been forgotten. Putin has had something to do with that, as he superimposes Russia on top of old Soviet mythology. But we've got stacks and stacks of old Soviet newspapers lying around from teh 1960s, and few of them talk about anything called Russia. It was all about ideology, not nationality, back then. Officially at least.

The other minority languages in Estonia weren't being used like that

The Baltic Germans had to be seen as an existential threat in some way. They had been seen as a threat from the 1870s on when Germany was expanding. From what I have read, the Estonian elite was torn as to who they should be more wary of. Some were terrified of Germany, others of the Soviets. The fact that Estonians welcomed the Germans in 1941 has a lot to do with the fact that in June 1941, 11,000 Estonian civilians were deported, and in early July 1941, 33,000 men were conscripted into the Red Army. No Estonian of that generation has expressed to me any kind of agreement with Germany's ambitions in that war.