Staunton, February 12 – Europe has been the main force working for the just treatment of ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries and thus the integration of Ukraine into Europe will benefit both ethnic Russians living there and Russia itself, despite what some in both places may currently believe, according to a Siberian Latvian commentator.
On the one hand, Konstaantin Ranks argues today in an essay posted in Moscow’s “Slon” portal, Europe has exercised a powerfully restraining influence on anti-Russian nationalism. And on the other, Europe it has made relations between the Baltic countries and Russia far better and far more beneficial than would otherwise be the case (slon.ru/world/baltiyskie_kamni_na_ukrainskom_puti-1051018.xhtml).
Consequently, an article which begins as a warning to ethnic Russians in Ukraine not to believe the promises of Ukrainian opposition leaders that “in principle they are not against Russians but only against the regime in Russia,” concludes that the best possible outcome for them would be Ukraine’s integration in Europe rather than its subordination to Moscow.
Ranks starts by noting that Russian speakers in the Baltic countries – and he focuses on Latvia almost exclusively --fear that ethnic Russians in Ukraine may suffer some of the same problems they have had because they were misled by the promises of Baltic leaders and believe they’ve done as well as they have only because Europe has forced the Baltic leaders to restrain their nationalist impulses.
Latvia, Ranks suggests, “is a very good example for assessing the situation in Ukraine for several reasons.” The two countries have “much in common historically.” They were victims of Molotov-Ribbentrop, they fought against Soviet power in World War II and after, and although both “had played a big role in the success” of the Bolshevik revolution, they each had at the time of the recovery of independent enough people “who had preserved the habits of life in market conditions.”
Obviously, there were important differences as well, he continues. The size and ethnic balance of the two were very different. And unlike Ukraine, Latvia had a far more recent experience of independence to look back to and revive, and it had the experience of the departure of an entire ethnic community, the Baltic Germans in 1938, who had played a disproportionate role in Latvian life prior to that time.
The Latvian drive for the recovery of independence at the end of Soviet times also is instructive for ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Ranks argues. Not only did the Latvians create “parallel” state institutions at that time as the Ukrainians are doing now, but they told the ethnic Russians there that they would be treated equally after independence.
That reinforced the desire of many Russians to move to Latvia as their way to Europe, an attitude that continues, it should be said, and it led many ethnic Russians to discount statements of Latvian nationalists about them and to back Latvian independence. The same thing appears to be happening in Ukraine now, Ranks says.
After Latvia became independent, he continues, the situation changed dramatically. Latvia’s citizenship law, which was based on succession from the pre-war republic rather than ethnicity as such worked against ethnic Russians, a large share of whom had moved there in Soviet times. As a result, many ethnic Russians – about a quarter of the population -- became non-citizens and suffered as a result.
“The ethnic Russian believes not in law but in justice,” Ranks says, and ethnic Russians in Latvia responded by leaving – 150,000 have done so – many back to the Russian Federation and others like many Latvians to Europe, and others have organized to call attention to their plight and press Riga to change its approach.
Both the European Union and NATO required Riga to commit to the simplification of naturalization procedures, although Ranks says that despite Latvia’s admission to both Russian speakers in Latvia continue to have problems. But nevertheless, he writes, “Europe was and remains the single hope for the Russian-language diaspora.”
At present, there is “almost no exodus of Russian speakers” from Latvia to Russia, Ranks notes, “because life in Latvia is better,” although he argues that many young Russian speakers in Latvia are upset that “instead of uniting for the achievement of common goals, the communities [of Latvians and ethnic Russians there] exist as it were in parallel worlds.”
What should ethnic Russians in Ukraine take from the Latvian case. First of all, they need to remember, Ranks says, that “nationalist ideas can be much more deeply rooted in the consciousness of Ukrainian elites than it might appear at first glance” and that their commitment to civic identities may be less than many ethnic Russians want to believe.
Second, they and others need to understand that any dramatic rise in ethnic Ukrainian nationalism will not only lead to the exodus of “several million” ethnic Russians from Ukraine but also undermine the chances for “the flourishing of democratic ideas” in Russia by heightening “suspiciousness and a desire for revenge” against Ukraine.
And third, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine and Russians in Russia as well, Ranks suggests, need to see that the spread of European values in Ukrainian society is “the strongest medicine against nationalism which like everywhere else” – and he implies this includes Russia as well – pushes people “toward conservative religious-ethnic values.”
“The ideas of tolerance and respect for the rights of ethnic minorities,” Ranks concludes, “will assist both the European integration of Ukraine itself and the gradual liberalization of Russian public life by destroying the siege psychology” that exists in both places. A more powerful argument for Ukrainian inclusion in Europe can hardly be imagined be it in Ukraine itself, in the Russian Federation, or in EU capitals.
Baltic Experience Shows Russians in Ukraine and in Russia Will Benefit from Ukraine’s Integration into Europe (1)