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Russia: UN Draft Resolution Seen To Target Estonia, Latvia

  • Valentinas Mite

(official site) PRAGUE, November 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) --  Russia presented a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly on November 7 decrying xenophobia and racism.

While the document does not accuse specific countries of fomenting such social phenomena within their borders, Russian media reports have indicated that the initiative is directed mainly at new EU members Estonia and Latvia.

Some observers see the move as an example of Russia attempting to pressure the two Baltic states, which have large ethnic-Russian populations, by creating divisions between old and new EU members.

Creating A Rift

James Owen of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit says Russia seems to be attempting to exploit differences between the new EU entrants and the original members of the bloc.

"The Russians clearly have this policy of trying to [create divisions]," Owen said. "They will cultivate good relations with Germany and seek to prevent Germany from being actively enlisted by, say, Poland or the Baltic states in the continuing tussles they have with Russia."

However, Owen also says that the EU is unlikely to get involved in Russia's dispute with the Baltic states unless Russia does "something silly" -- such as cutting their gas supplies.

Russia has long claimed that ethnic Russians -- who make up more than 25 percent of the populations of Estonia (25.6 percent) and Latvia (29 percent) -- are subjected to unfair treatment in the form of laws governing language and the establishment of Russian-language schools.

Individuals seeking citizenship in Estonia and Latvia are required to prove their aptitude in Estonian or Latvian, respectively, to acquire citizenship. The two states have also imposed restrictions on the establishment of schools whose curriculum is taught in a language other that officially sanctioned by the state.

Members of the Russian minority, many of whom are technically stateless citizens, argue that such legislation violates human rights norms.

Responding In Kind

Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says the Kremlin is taking advantage of the opportunity to counter accusations by the West that it is not doing enough to stem racism in Russia.

"I think that the aim of the resolution is to indicate that the problems caused by people who sympathize to fascism, who have pro- fascist attitudes, exist not only in Russia," Lipman said. "And this is true."

She notes that annual marches in Latvia and Estonia by veterans who fought on the side of Nazi Germany in World War II cause outrage in Russia. And she says that while it appears that Russian authorities are seeking to exploit such examples for political purposes, it is not an exclusively Russian way of tackling foreign-policy issues.

Lipman says Western states, too, often apply double standards in their foreign policy.

But Lipman also predicts that Russia's draft resolution will fail to create new divisions among the members of the European Union. She says the bloc will focus on issues it considers more pressing -- such as resolving debates over agricultural subsidies and the development of an EU constitution.

Moscow Takes On Extremism
Kamlizhan Kalandarov in RFE/RL's Moscow studio (RFE/RL)

COMBATTING THE HATRED: RFE/RL's Russian Service on August 21 spoke with Kamilzhan Kalandarov, a member of the Public Chamber and a leader of the NGO Our Russia. (Read the complete interview in Russian). Kalandarov spoke about efforts the authorities are making to combat the wave of hate crimes sweeping Russia.

Kalandarov: Xenophobia today threatens the national interests of Russia. But I agree that the authorities are making good progress in this matter. First, the order on withdrawing Russian forces from Chechnya was recently signed. That is a big plus because the source of extremism, the sources of Caucasus-phobia are partly in Chechnya. Islamophobia grew dramatically after the first Chechen war. Next, the Public Chamber was created. We have a subcommission on nationalities issues and a subcommission that drafts projects related to xenophobia. This work is ongoing, which is why I think the authorities are really interested in making sure this problem does not go any further.
We should also mention the courts. I think that in many cases judges themselves hold [xenophobic] views. Second, we have not created normal conditions for protecting witnesses. People are not physically protected from various types of influence. Judges are afraid and witnesses are afraid. Because they have to keep living in that city. This defenselessness leads to cases not being pursued and to not-guilty verdicts being issued.


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