Transparency, accountability and double standards

  • 2004-07-22
  • By Janis Bolsteins
The most damaging and unjust action Western countries can take regarding the Russian minority issue in Estonia and Latvia - next to actually believing the agitprop coming from Moscow - is to treat it as an isolated, stand-alone phenomena, devoid of any historical context.

This would be a cowardly and dishonest approach to the problem. Lacking context, the impression is left that the Russian masses, portrayed as mere innocents abroad, suddenly appeared in the Baltics out of nowhere and, upon their benign arrival, the Balts promptly set about violating the human rights of these poor lost souls.
But precisely just that has taken place at an international meeting held in Scotland at the beginning of July. This was the annual session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This European plus American and Canadian grouping that has human rights as its main focus arose out of the processes in the 1970s and 1980s associated with the Helsinki Final Act. (That instrument, by the way, gets far too little credit for its contribution to the downfall of the U.S.S.R. and communism in Europe.) In recent years, however, the "Helsinki process" has devolved into something less than it once was.
In the concluding document of the OSCE session, Estonia and Latvia are explicitly taken to task and singled out a number of times for failings of one kind or another on minorities. At the same time, Russia, which is still the engine that drives much of what is wrong in the former Soviet space, gets only a disproportionate four hits in the 36-page document and none at all in the section on minorities where Estonia and Latvia come in for criticism.
Such treatment of the two Baltic states might be justified if it weren't for the fact that there is scant literature in the OSCE holdings that provides a detailed treatment of the roots of the minority problem in the Baltics. Without that, without the historical context, prescriptions for dealing with the problem are much harder to formulate and implement and much less palatable to the Balts as well.
The historical truth should be explicitly laid out in OSCE documents: Russia waged a murderous campaign against the Balts during the Soviet occupation. Forced annexation, mass murder and deportations to the Gulag, artificial industrialization and, most of all, Russification were the methods used. The Soviet military and the hundreds of thousands of Russian civilians that were allowed to flood the Baltics served these ends. The consequences can be seen today.
If the Baltics hadn't led the charge to dismember the Soviet Union, Moscow might have succeeded in its efforts. The proportion of Russians in Latvia and Estonia came dangerously close to 50 percent; Latvians and Estonians would have been minorities in their own lands. The same fate would in time have surely befallen Lithuania as well. (For relevance to more modern times, much the same is happening today in Tibet, as the Chinese Han majority in increasingly greater numbers are enticed to move into and colonize Tibetan lands.)
Together with more comprehensive historical treatment, the discussion and dialogue on this issue would also benefit from a redefinition of the term "minority" with respect to the Russians in the Baltics. The concluding OSCE document mentions "traditional" national minorities and "new" minorities that have resulted from migration between countries in recent decades. Neither suffices to adequately define the Russian minority in the Baltics - just as neither would suffice to describe the Han who would remain in Tibet were that beleaguered land to achieve independence. There are legitimate minorities such as, for example, the American Indian, and then there are illegitimate minorities, such as the post-World War II Russians in the Baltics.
The OSCE document speaks of transparency and accountability and double standards. Noble concepts all, but they do ring a bit hollow when the Baltics are essentially portrayed as greater human rights violators than the Russians. o
Janis Bolsteins writes
on Baltic affairs from his home
in Maryland, U.S.A.