The director of a Russian grammar school in Narva, Estonia, was fired for having insufficient knowledge of Estonian. The Estonian authorities did not seem to be concerned about the fact that all of subjects were taught in Russian at that school.
This instance of discrimination against Russians is cited in a draft resolution on ethnic minorities in Latvia and Estonia, which was submitted for consideration at the 13th session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) being held in Edinburgh this week.
This is the first time that the OSCE will address civil rights violations within the European community rather than somewhere in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. Latvia and Estonia, known for their outrageous attitudes towards ethnic minorities that run counter to European law, were admitted to the European Union and NATO, i.e., to the community of civilised countries. Such an attitude does not only extend to ethnic Russians but to Ukrainians, Belarussians, Jews and Poles, i.e., all Russian speakers.
Close on 500,000 people in Latvia, where ethnic minority groups make nearly 40% of population, have passports with no indication of citizenship and 165,000 people in Estonia are non-residents. Non-residents are subject to flagrant employment discrimination; they cannot be civil servants, policemen or judges; they are denied the right to live in their native language environment; and they are treated as a second-class people.
This is the deliberate discriminatory policy pursued by the Latvian and Estonian governments, rather than individual institutions.
In a recent interview with Argumenty i Fakty, a Russian newspaper, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said: "They have to admit that this is an independent country and become Latvians of Russian decent, not Russians. If they want to be Russians they can go to Russia."
The president thereby denied nearly half of her country's population the right to speak their mother tongue and maintain their traditions and culture. Russian speaking outcasts must evolve into Latvians to obtain Latvian citizenship.
Interestingly, the EU admitted governments that were pursuing such outrageous policies in its democratic club and even, although indirectly, encouraged their policy of ethnic discrimination.
The EU, for example, allowed its member-countries to hold elections to the European Parliament in accordance with their national laws. All residents of Lithuania, including ethnic Russians, were allowed to vote. However, the non-residents of Latvia and Estonia, about 1.5 million people, were not allowed to vote.
Russia was guided by a desire to bring Latvia's and Estonia's national laws in compliance with the relevant United Nations, Council of Europe and OSCE documents as soon as possible when it submitted a draft resolution on ethnic minorities for consideration at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session in Edinburgh.
However, Russians are having a difficult time in other countries as well. The number of Russians living abroad increased after the largely unnatural disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991. It was not a third wave of immigrants like the 1.5 million of Russians who fled the Bolshevik revolution or the 700,000 displaced people who did not return to the Soviet Union after World War II. This time, the state deserted the 25 million Russians who found themselves outside the new Russia. These people were left to bear hardships on their own without any assistance from their homeland.
The problems of those Russians are very similar to the problems Russian non-residents face in Latvia and Estonia. The Ukrainian authorities, for example, are also closing Russian schools, libraries trying to root out Russian culture in the country. A bus driver could be fired for playing Russian pop music hits on his bus. Russian speakers in Kazakhstan are barred holding positions in state government bodies, even municipal bodies.
Thousands of Russians in Turkmenistan believe it a great luck to be able to assist Turkish construction workers. Turkish workers get $1,200 a month and can afford to hire Russians to do the job for them for $100 a month.
Today, Russians are probably the most divided nationality in the world. While 150 million Russians live relatively decent lives in Russia, according to local standards, 50 million Russians were left outside Russia and many of them pray at night for their mother country to help them.
First Russian President Boris Yeltsin did not understand the acuteness of the problem and said in his free-swinging manner: "If Russians suffer, we will receive all of them in Russia."
However, that rash promise has been translated into reality rather slowly. Around 7 million people, fleeing injustice in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Baltic countries, have immigrated to Russia over the past 10 years. Immigrants virtually took over Moscow, St. Petersburg and southern Russia. However, immigration has stalled because of the lack of a body that can help Russian compatriots resettle in vacant and fertile lands.
Today, the government seems to be making progress in that direction; a special department to manage Russian compatriots was established in the Foreign Ministry a year ago. The Moscow government also finances numerous projects that support Russian speaking communities abroad.
Firms in other countries allocate part of their revenue for aid to compatriots. The Moscow Duma funds the purchase of textbooks for Russian schools abroad. The Mayor's Office provides scholarships to Russian students from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Moscow lawyers provide free legal advice to Russian speakers in Latvia. They help, above all, WWII veterans persecuted by the authorities to the cheers of SS veterans marching along Riga's avenues bearing Nazi swastikas.
Once again, Russia is thinking about its prodigal sons and daughters and is trying to protect them.