• 2005-04-13
During the Soviet period, racism was a logical impossibility. Theoretical Marxism-Leninism preached the doctrine of internationalism, that all peoples essentially shed their national cloak as soon as they don the garb of the proletariat. Workers in a workers' state do not need nationality; they have their economic convictions, which transcend bloodlines and skin color. In practice, of course, the Soviet Union was as prejudiced as most countries.

A person's nationality was stamped in his/her internal passport, the tsarist, Stalinist anti-Semitism continued to thrive, and most people had to suffer some degree of Russian chauvinism.

Naturally, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, national identity became all-important. For some, it was the stick by which all things were measured. To be sure, experience in West European countries shows that nationalism is here to stay, irrespective of the level of economic development, and that there will always be marginal elements in society who will take out their frustrations on groups that are different.

But the same experience also shows that those governments prepared to combat the menace of intolerance and prejudice can bring pressure to bear and stem the tide. If it weren't for efforts by German authorities, no doubt we would be hearing about far more race-based attacks in places such as Dresden and Mannheim. As it is, these attacks, led mainly by individuals under the age of 21, are increasing. The year 2000 was plagued with some of the worst race-based violence Germany has seen since unification.

With all the other societal challenges on its plate 's dwindling population, corrupt civil service, creeping drug addiction, disgruntled medical staff, catastrophic road culture, disillusioned minorities 's the Baltic governments are probably loathe to hear that they need to start addressing intolerance and racism. But historically, the Baltics have been swept along by developments in larger neighboring countries such as Russia and Germany, and as both German leaders (in recent years) and President Vladimir Putin (at Auschwitz) have admitted, hatred and xenophobia are on the rise. The Baltics should beware.

As the newest Eurostat information shows (see lead story), they are in the throes of a demographic slide. In the not-too-distant future, there will not be a large enough labor pool for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to function normally. To make up the difference, migrant workers will have to be invited in. The question is, from where? Not matter who it is, the laws of economics dictate that these workers will be brought in on the basis of competitive wages. And sadly, the laws of human behavior show that an unprepared society will single out and target these foreigners as objects of hatred. Only a holistic effort coordinated from above will suffice to combat the evil of racism.