Rimvydas Valatka: Latvian referendum is not the last echo of Soviet occupation
The referendum on making Russian a second official state language in Latvia failed. Over 77 percent of the nation said no to a plan devised in Kremlin. Latvians emerged as highly public-spirited: as much as 71.49 percent of all voters came to the polls, even more than in the vote on the EU membership. How could it be any other way? The point, therefore, is not that the referendum legitimately failed. The central issue is the fact that such a referendum, so humiliating to Latvians, could take place in a NATO and EU country in the first place.
Published: 20 february 2012 12:11
22 years ago, neither Moscow, neither its fifth column in Latvia would have dared to subject Latvians to such an event. Now they did. That is what must be most disturbing. Not only in Latvia, to Lithuanians as well.
The referendum reminds us that Moscow has not given up hope of at least partial revenge in the Baltic states. Instead of encouraging Latvian Russians to finally acknowledge the change in reality and successfully integrate into the society, Russia continues to pit part of the population against the Latvian state.
Russian-speaking population in Latvia – as well as in Estonia and, in part, Lithuania – are still kept hostages to Vladimir Putin’s imperialist policies in the Baltics. Is it surprising that Latvia takes them, as a matter of course, to be a potential fifth column? And this will continue to be the case as long as Moscow does not change its attitudes. Russia is harming its own compatriots in Latvia. This is sufficient evidence for how little Kremlin actually cares about Russians’ situation in Latvia. Local Russians are nothing more but a revenge tool in the hands of Moscow’s imperialist statesmen.
Right after the referendum, chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the state Duma Konstantin Kosachev proclaimed: “Despite the actual figures in the referendum, I think that the results are victory for those who fight for Russians’ right in Latvia.”
That means: Russia has no intention of paying attention to the referendum results. Insinuations and ideological warfare against the sovereign state of Latvia will go on. It must be said to the credit of Latvia’s Russian-speaking citizens that many of them are not being fooled by Moscow’s games and therefore voted against making Russian a state language.
But perhaps it would be very European of us to make all tongues used in a country into official state languages?
Let’s move for a moment to Russia, that beacon of European values so concerned about European standards in an EU country. How would Kosachev, Putin & Co view similar suggestion to have a referendum on making, say, Tatar a state language in Russia?
The question is purely rhetorical, no need to consider is seriously. Heresies of significantly smaller scale put Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail, got Anna Politkovkaya shot and made even young lawyers die mysteriously in Butyrka prison. And yet, Tatars (as well as Udmurts and Bashkirs) have been autochthon people in their lands since 13 century, long before Russians came there – the “liberation” by Ivan the Terrible was at least three centuries away.
Meanwhile in Latvia, the first Russian settlers came in late 18 century – after the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Republic. They are colonizers (not to mention those who came to Latvia during WW2, sporting NKVD uniforms and settling in Riga’s best houses, recently vacated of their original owners) even according to the most generous EU doctrines regarding national minorities.
Let’s forget the question raised so emotionally by Latvians: why 70-year period was not enough for them to learn Latvian? This is a rhetorical question too. The real issue is this: how come those Latvia’s Russians who do not speak Latvian could live in the country for the last 22 years?
The answer to that is a credit to Latvia as a state extremely tolerant towards its national minorities. Why? Could someone with no Russian possibly survive two decades in Russia? Anyone who has ever visited Russia knows well: no chance in hell. It took several months for Baltic deportees in Siberia to learn Russian. And they didn’t take this to be a humiliation: knowledge is power, not hindrance.
What’s the number of state schools in Russia offering education exclusively in Udmurt, Chuvash, Yakut, or Chechen language? Alternatively, let’s put it thus, if you will: How many state schools in Germany instruct only in Kurdish, Turkish or Serbian?
Latvia, meanwhile, has around a hundred exclusively Russian schools. That is one of the reasons why Russians there can get away so easily without knowing a word of Latvian. Moreover, thousands of Latvian Russian-speakers – Germans, Frenchmen or Italians would find that completely incomprehensible – take pride in not knowing a word of Latvian.
And I am not talking about ordinary workers or former military officers of the occupying army. Ten years ago I was part of a group of journalists from the Baltic states visiting China. Latvian delegation included Svetlana, a very loud reporter who had settled in Latvia after graduating from Dnepropetrovsk Institute with a degree in rocket science. In meetings with the Chinese officials, she would happily scorn Dalai Lama and, in between meetings, she did not choose her words in slandering the Latvian state.
All because she was made “second-rate.” What was preventing her from becoming first-rate? “Just imagine,” Svetlana would fume, “the government is making me learn Latvian!” Big deal – learn it, take an exam, and that’s all it takes to become a citizen with full rights? “Now that is not happening and you’re a nationalist like all the Latvians,” the journalist of a Russian-language paper in Latvia exclaimed, red with indignation.
How can Latvian soil carry characters like that? Politically incorrect question indeed. But, as it happens, Latvian soil carries thousands like Svetlana. How long would Russian soil put up with Latvians of analogous persuasions? Would it be tolerated in France, Italy, Germany?
Probably not. Than why should it be takes for granted in Latvia? Why people professing their hatred for Latvia are allowed to pick on historical wounds by holding anti-Latvian referenda?
The answer to that is far from politically correct, but that’s how I see it. It is only possible because part of Latvia’s Russians regard their current situation in the country as something temporary, hoping that, one day, “X” will come and “liberate” them. In other words, they, too, perceive themselves as the fifth column in a NATO and EU member state. The column that – due to the way the EU, and Germany with France in particular, indulge Moscow – is growing more adventurous every day.
Several simple conclusions can be drawn from the referendum in Latvia. Conclusions that Lithuanians – even those sincerely concerned with our national security – grow increasingly ignorant of.
1. We shouldn’t delude ourselves that Lithuania or any other Baltic state could actually improve its relations with Russia. Policies and goodwill of the Baltic states have no bearing on normal relations with Russia. Only Moscow’s does.
2. Currently, Russia has no desire of keeping good relations with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Kremlin’s ambition is the same as it was before 1990 – redrawing of maps at the expense of the Balts’ freedom. In Moscow’s view, the Baltic states must submit to Russia’s will and become its political satellites.
3. How long is this going to last? Unless Russia becomes a democratic state, it can go on for quite long. A case in point is the fact that Russia has not yet signed a peace agreement with Japan, even though it’s been almost 70 years since the war ended. All because of four tiny Japanese islands in the Kurils that Russia couldn’t care less about.
4. Moscow has, does and always will exploit our own – and especially the EU’s – political laxity and illusions of the younger generations about Russia’s goodwill. By the way, those who march and chant “Lithuania for Lithuanians!” are just as helpful to Moscow as the actual fifth column – except that the majority of such “patriots” are completely blind to the fact.
5. The same thing that was attempted in Latvia with the referendum, will be attempted in Lithuania with the mesalliance between the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and the Russian Alliance – something that can only be called treason of freedom by our Polish brothers. What’s worse, not even Warsaw seems to be aware of Moscow’s puppet show. To be more precise, Warsaw is blinded by romantic illusions that Lithuanian Polish leaders are essentially Polish, part of the in-group, and is unwilling to see Moscow’s divide-and-rule scheming.
6. The influence of Russian pop culture – and the accompanying politics – can be diminished by strengthening our own media. Unfortunately, the conservative government of Andrius Kubilius, led by narrow party interests, has done everything to make the Lithuanian media collapse or fall into the hands of pro-Russian forces.
7. Be that as it may, Latvians slapped Kremlin in the face last Saturday. And they presented Lithuanians with an excellent example. Especially for those who sadomasochistically rejoice in all those polls suggesting that Lithuanians would choose full stomach over freedom of their country. Latvians demonstrated very clearly that, when it comes to real threat, the Balts unwaveringly choose freedom.