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Voices from the Baltics


By Álvaro Peñas

In his speech prior to the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “it was a mistake to allow the republics to leave the USSR”, a clear reference to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which many have been seen as a threat. Moreover, as a result of population settlement policies, especially during the Stalinist period, the Baltic states have an ethnic Russian population, which historically has been the perfect excuse for conflict. Moreover, there are already narratives that point to discrimination against Russian minorities in these countries and speak of “second-class citizens”.

The reason for this article is to understand the Baltics’ view of this speech by the Russian president, two days before invading Ukraine, and to understand the situation of Russian minorities. To this end, I have asked three questions to leading members of patriotic parties in the Baltic republics:

1 Do you feel threatened by Vladimir Putin’s speech?

2 What is the situation of the Russian minority in your country?

3 Is there a political party that represents this minority?

Estonia: Eino Rantanen, chairman of the EKRE (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) youth organisation. EKRE is Estonia’s third largest political party and was part of a coalition government from April 2019 until January 2021. It belongs to the Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament.

1 “I don’t think we feel more threatened than before, as this kind of rhetoric is really nothing new. Russia has already questioned the legitimacy of the Estonian state and our independent status many times. What concerns nationalists, and me personally, is the parlous state of our defence capabilities. Estonia is woefully unprepared for any escalation of hostilities with Russia and is completely dependent on our NATO allies. This lack of an independent defence capability is, in my view, the most worrying aspect of this whole crisis. This war was a shock for everyone in Estonia, including us nationalists. Russia had not only launched a full-scale invasion of a foreign country, but had attacked a nation that we consider a close friend, even brothers. This is because our two countries have a shared historical experience as subjects of the Soviet Union and possess a strong national identity. Moreover, we see Ukraine as a strong and natural geopolitical ally for Estonia, especially with regard to the revitalised Intermarium project (of which our Ukrainian nationalist allies are strong supporters). In Estonia we see the struggle of the Ukrainian people as a struggle for survival and self-determination, not as the defence of “liberal-democratic Western values”. Our view is that there should be only one winner in this conflict: Ukraine, neither the globalist West nor the imperialist East and their respective (ideological) spheres. Let us hope that we can offer an alternative path together with other Central and Eastern European nation-states”.

2 “Ethnic Russians represent about 25% of Estonia’s population. This is obviously a problem given our aggressive neighbour to the east. The Russian government has repeatedly attacked us with unfounded accusations of discrimination against the Russian minority, something that has been a major factor in Russia’s support for the rogue states in eastern Ukraine. Many of the ethnic Russians in Estonia are still in the Russian information space (as opposed to the Estonian space) and this inevitably creates some antipathy towards the Estonian people and our state and, conversely, loyalty to Russia. Thus, in the event of a confrontation with Russia, the emergence of fifth columnists is, unfortunately, inevitable, and we have to be prepared accordingly. However, there have been some positive developments in recent years. An increasing number of ethnic Russians have seen the dysfunction of the Russian state and have begun to see independent Estonia as their homeland. There is greater cultural and linguistic integration and assimilation, especially among the younger generation. There is also greater support for a fully integrated and unilingual education system. So, although our demographics are far from ideal, the growing loyalty of ethnic Russians to the Estonian nation-state is cause for cautious optimism”.

3 “For most of its history, the Estonian Centre Party has been the go-to party for ethnic Russians. For example, they have opposed the unilingual (Estonian-language) education system and have been remarkably lukewarm in condemning Russian aggression. Until a few days ago, the Centre Party even had a cooperation agreement with the Russian ruling party, United Russia. Although not an explicitly ethnic party, almost all prominent Russian-speaking politicians are from the Centre Party and its support among ethnic Russians is around 60 percent. However, this percentage is down from 80% two years ago, as more and more Russian voters are turning to other parties, such as the nationalist-conservative EKRE and the liberal Estonia 200”.

Lithuania: Vytautas Sinica, political scientist and vice-president of the Nacionalinis Susivienijimas (National Alliance) party.

1 “The Baltic states were the first to leave the Soviet Union, so in a romantic way for us, and certainly to Moscow’s anger, we started the collapse of the Soviet empire. As for the threat, we live constantly under threats and pressures from our neighbour and his puppet Lukashenko, so we were not surprised. This war, if Ukraine is victorious, could mean the same for Russia as the departure of the Baltic states meant for the USSR. The Russian republics are united by strength and if they feel Putin is weak they will start to leave. Not because they are against the war, most of them don’t care about Ukraine, but because they feel the weakness, and right now even here we can feel the weakness of the Kremlin”.

2 “Russians in Lithuania represent 5% and they have not been oppressed at all, they have state-funded schools that teach in Russian language, not as a subject, but as the language of instruction for most subjects. They also have separate budget funding for cultural life. Most of the time this is a by-product of the rights of Poles, in Lithuania 6% of the population: states gladly give it to Poles and then to Russians, not so gladly, to avoid discrimination. But it is there. Now, after the invasion of Ukraine, there are tensions in society. The mayor of Vilnius and other politicians addressed the population so that there would not be any incidents”.

3 “Yes, there are two, but neither gets into parliament. Both are left-wing and nostalgic for the Soviet past. One is completely radical and openly pro-Russian, and calls from time to time for Putin to establish democracy in Lithuania. The other is more moderate, but still does not pass the vote threshold to get into parliament. Russian votes are dispersed among many national parties such as the Labour Party, the Social Democrats, the Party of the Regions and others”.

Latvia: Ritvars Eglājs, Secretary of the Central Election Commission, member of Nacionālā Apvienība (National Alliance), one of the parties that make up the ruling coalition in Latvia. NA belongs to the Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

1 “Putin’s speech is yet another threat. Latvia has felt threatened since the morning of 27 February 2014, when Putin began the occupation of Crimea. Why? Because, firstly, it showed that Putin ventures to attack other countries for Russian imperialist purposes and, secondly, we are the next obvious target if Ukraine is conquered. Putin’s speech (in fact, there are two; although apparently recorded at the same time, one was broadcast on 21 February and the other on 24 February) is not a surprise in that sense. What matters more than the speech is his actions, namely the all-out war of extermination against Ukraine. Any illusions about the seriousness of the threat were swept away on 24 February”.

2 “Russians and other non-Russified Latvians constitute one third of the population due to heavy colonisation during the Russian occupation in 1944-89. Most of them have a very chauvinistic mentality, much more so than Russians in Russia. For example, 95% of those who are Russian citizens voted for Putin in the last elections in 2018 and 96.5% of those who are Latvian citizens voted to make Russian the official language when we had the referendum on that issue in 2012. On the other hand, demographically they are fading away. Latvians have better demographic parameters and the percentage of natives is steadily increasing, unlike in Western Europe. Moreover, in 2014, faced with the real prospect of the so-called Russian World, many Russians recognised that this would mean serfdom for them too and stopped cheering for the Kremlin. Nevertheless, there are still many who consider the very existence of independent Latvia as an abomination and discrimination against them, all the more so because of the use of the Latvian language in Latvia”.

3 “Politically, the main Russian imperialist party in Latvia is called Harmony, following the communist tradition of calling things by opposite and innocent names, so the biggest spreader of lies was called The Truth or the denial of the sovereignty of Ukrainians is called denazification. Harmony once had an official cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party, which it abandoned when it became too toxic. It managed to come to power in Latvia’s capital, Riga, in 2009, as Riga is heavily Russified (the percentage of Latvians is only 48%) and ruled for 11 years. This time became infamous for corruption scandals that even fragmented the party and Harmony’s leader, Nils Ušakovs, went into a golden retirement in the European Parliament. There, and in the Latvian parliament, Harmony uses left-liberal ideology: it supports gay ‘marriage’, vilifies nationalism and promotes Third World immigration to make Latvia and Latvians weak and unwilling to counter Russian aggression. However, in recent days Ušakovs is proving to be on the Ukrainian side. Of course, siding with Russia now would be political suicide for anyone who wants to preserve any influence in the future. Moreover, let me recall that Russia also denied until the last moment that it was going to attack Ukraine and that Russian politicians in Crimea also swore allegiance to Ukraine until the day of the conquest”.

Source: El Correo de España

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