[lg policy] Estonia: Left behind? Russian-speaking minorities struggle in new Baltics

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 26 15:18:58 UTC 2013


Left behind? Russian-speaking minorities struggle in new Baltics

While the Baltics make economic and democratic strides, they also face
growing pressure to better integrate their poor, disenfranchised
Russian-speaking minorities.

By Isabelle de Pommereau, Correspondent / December 12, 2012

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/1212/Left-behind-Russian-speaking-minorities-struggle-in-new-Baltics
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Tallinn, Estonia

On the edge of Tallinn <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Tallinn>'s
13th-century Old Town, women huddle along a medieval wall, selling mittens
in freezing weather. They are Russian-speakers. Across the street, shoppers
banter in Estonian at trendy boutiques that are a testament to the economic
vitality of a former communist state that's turned itself around at
breathtaking speed<http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/1212/Baltic-nations-offer-ex-Soviet-states-a-Western-model>
.

   - <http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/2012/1217-weekly/1217-orussians-russians-tallinn/14498007-1-eng-US/1217-ORUSSIANS-Russians-Tallinn_full_600.jpg>

 Baltic Russians sell mittens in Tallinn's Old Town. Russian speakers are a
big Baltic minority.

Isabelle de Pommereau
  Enlarge<http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/2012/1217-weekly/1217-orussians-russians-tallinn/14498007-1-eng-US/1217-ORUSSIANS-Russians-Tallinn_full_600.jpg>

   -  [image: Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and
Latvia]<http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/graphics/2012/1217-weekly/obaltics-map-g1/14515281-1-eng-US/OBALTICS-map-g1_full_600.jpg>

   Graphic Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and
Latvia<http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/graphics/2012/1217-weekly/obaltics-map-g1/14515281-1-eng-US/OBALTICS-map-g1_full_600.jpg>
   (Rich Clabaugh/Staff)

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This picture of poorer Russians and more-successful Balts living peacefully
side by side is seen often across the Baltic region, especially in
Estonia<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Estonia>and
Latvia <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Latvia>, home to most of the
Baltics' 1.1 million Russian-speakers. But behind this equilibrium, there
is a simmering mistrust.

Subconsciously at least, Russian-speakers are still associated by many
Balts with the former occupier. Most came in the Soviet years to what were
then considered the richest Soviet republics to do jobs locals did not
want, in oil shale for example. They stayed, even after the Baltics broke
free of the USSR <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/U.S.S.R.>.

Do you know anything about Russia? A
quiz.<http://www.csmonitor.com/World/2012/0202/Do-you-know-anything-about-Russia-A-quiz>

Lithuania <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Lithuania> integrated the
Russian-speakers easily, but in Estonia and Latvia many never learned the
native languages required for citizenship or chose to remain noncitizens –
and now they tend to look to
Moscow<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Moscow>for help and
direction. With a third of residents being Russian-speakers (a
little less in Estonia), Latvia has the largest such community in the
Baltics. In Lithuania, Russian-speakers only make up 7 percent of the
population.

As a result, how to integrate large Russian-speaking minorities has become
one of the key challenges facing Latvia and Estonia, experts say.

Occasionally, tensions explode. They did in 2007, when the removal of a
Soviet memorial from Tallinn’s center led to rioting by members of the
Russian-speaking population – and a cyber-retaliation by the Russian
government.

But the issue of the Russian minority's place in society took on a new
dimension last year when a pro-Russian party won the most votes in Latvia's
parliamentary elections.

RELATED: A Russian island encircled by Europe: Kaliningrad's dual existence
<http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/1212/A-Russian-island-encircled-by-Europe-Kaliningrad-s-dual-existence>

"We always look at this issue with great concern, but the particular case
in Latvia is more worrying to us than the situation in Estonia," says
Hannes Hanso of the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn. He
sees the vote as Russia's effort to "reestablish itself as a center of
gravity ... for those post-­Soviet countries."

“Russian economic interests are much much bigger and more ingrained in
Latvia. The Russian population is easier to manipulate over there.”

The popularity of Harmony Center, Latvia's pro-Russian party, reflects deep
discontent over austerity measures that have hit Russian-speakers hard in
particular, experts agree. In Latvia especially, Russian-speakers have been
largely disenfranchised, says political scientist Guna Leiskalne.

"None of the Latvian parties has ever tried to speak to Russians – never
ever," she says. "Latvian politicians have never fought for them. Somebody
has to represent them."

But while not yet a crisis, the question of how to integrate
Russian-speakers, especially the hundreds of thousands of noncitizens,
remains a thorn in the Baltic societies' side.

"Right now, there are no signals for danger. Russia and the European
Union<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/European+Union>need each
other. But we don't know how things will be in five, 10 years,"
says Raivo Vetik of Tallinn University's Institute of International and
Social Studies.

"That's why Estonia needs to do a better job of integrating Russians."


-- 
=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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