Many ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries think that they can function perfectly normally there because they speak the languages and get along with their coworkers and neighbors, but that just shows they do not understand the situation, Vladimir Ilich Linderman says, and Moscow must intervene to show them what is really the case.
Linderman, an ethnic Russian from Latvia who has been a member of the National Bolshevik Party since 1997, argues on the “Svobodnaya Pressa” portal today that “among a significant portion of Russians living beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, there is no understanding of the nature and logic of nationalism”.
Many Russians in Latvia, for example, see their situation approximately as follows: “I am a Russian; I was born in Riga. Among my acquaintances and colleagues are many Latvians. We have normal relations and no conflicts on an inter-ethnic basis. Sometimes we speak Latvian, and sometimes Russian.”
“Not long ago,” say those who feel this way, “I helped fix my Latvian neighbor’s car, and his wife shared with mine some recipes. I do not understand where all this antagonism is coming from. It must be being promoted by politicians for their interests. But simple people simply suffer as a result.”
Such a perspective, Linderman says, is mistaken because “it does not distinguish and confuses two levels of relations between people which we can conditionally call ‘everyday life’ and ‘ideological.’ Successful cooperation at the everyday level,” he insists, “in no way guarantees mutual understanding at the level of ideology.”
According to the Latvian Russian publicist, “the very same Latvian who shares her recipes with a Russian almost certainly believes as a matter of faith all the nationalistic dogmas: ‘Latvians are the masters of Latvia and Russians are guests,’ ‘Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union,’ [and] ‘the Russian language is a foreign language in Latvia.’”
Such people will not give up these views even if their level of cooperation with Russians on the everyday level expands by several orders of magnitude, Linderman says. “Put simply, if you help your neighbor not only fix his car but also his apartment, motorcycle and computer, he will all the same retain his nationalist convictions.”
Many Russian diplomats make the same mistake about the non-Russian leaders they deal with in the post-Soviet states. They think that because they get along in an everyday way, they can find common ground. And then these diplomats are surprised when a Maidan or something similar breaks out, and they learn that that is not the case.
They wouldn’t be surprised, Linderman says, if they had not underrated the power of nationalist ideology or “failed to recognize” it at all.
Given this, “Russian cannot retain in the sphere of its influence a single country if it continues to ignore the issue of ideology.” Indeed, even among those countries which are allied with it in the Eurasian Economic Community are many who are quite prepared to take Moscow’s money but who promote nationalism in their schools and media.
That in turn means that whenever the West wants to overturn a pro-Russian or even a genuinely pragmatic non-Russian government, “it will do this easily by operating on young people and the media infected by anti-Russian nationalism.”
To oppose such scenarios will be “impossible” in the absence of “a strong and organized Russian community,” and if that community is a minority, it can be strong “only with support from Russia.” Moscow should thus insist on a ban against all anti-Russian propaganda as well as on “the protection of the rights and interests of the local Russian population.”
Does that constitute interference in the sovereignty of these countries? Linderman asks rhetorically, and answers, “Yes, it does,” Linderman says. “But there is no other way out” because Latvia’s acquisition of weapons is less dangerous to Russia that “the liquidation [there] of education in the Russian language.”
“The war for the souls of people is the most important war, and defeat in it is impossible to compensate for even with very large amounts of money. Only blood and only human lives can do that,” he says, as “we are not seeing today in the Donbas.'
Three things about Linderman’s argument are especially striking. First, he concedes that most Russians even in Latvia are quite comfortable with their current position. Second, he admits that they will rise up against the government only if and when Moscow openly interferes, something he very much wants to occur.
And third and most worrisome of all, he argues that Moscow should view all the non-Russian governments and peoples in the region as inherently anti-Russian and move forcefully against them, actions that are almost certainly going to prove a self-fulfilling prophecy and cost Moscow what hopes it may have on having good ties with any of them.