Does Russia Remember Its Own People?

Putin helps those who help themselves. Russians storm the Estonian Parliament
An association, the “Russian Faction of the Party of Reforms,” is to be created in the Estonian Reformist Party next week, Estonian parliamentarian Sergey Ivanov told Interfax news agency Friday. He declared his intention to enter the Party of Reforms together with 300 associates and create a Russian-speaking faction. The decision to create the faction was made last week, after negotiations with the reformist leader, Estonian Prime Minister Siim Kallas. The faction will focus on the problems of the non-Lithuanian population and co-operation with Estonian politicians. “The association may become a prototype of prospective cooperation between Russian and Estonian politicians; it will also bring the two communities of Estonia closer. This kind of cooperation means that political organizations of the country are giving up the previously followed principle of building governmental structures based on ethnicity,” the deputy added.

According to sociologists, the Russian-speaking population of Estonia makes up from 33% to 88% of the total population (in 1989, 475 thousand Russians lived in Estonia, who made up 30.3% of the total population; in Latvia, there are 906 thousand Russians and 1 million 122 thousand Russian-speaking people, which make up 34% of the population; in Lithuania, the number is 344 thousand (9.4%). The problem of the Russian population in Lithuania was settled rather easily. Due to the peculiarities of Lithuania’s post-war development, the share of Russians in the total population of the republic was insignificant. That is why the problem of the Russian population status didn’t exist there as such. When Russia and Lithuania signed the agreement on intergovernmental relations, the republic already had a law on citizenship (a so-called zero variant), which meant that practically all people living in Lithuania could become Lithuanian citizens irrespective of their ethnic origin. The situation was quite different in Estonia and Latvia. The number of Russian-speaking people in both republics constantly increased in the post-war period, and by the end of the 1980s, it considerably exceeded pre-war numbers.

When Estonia and Latvia regained independence, it was decided that the republican legislation would chose not the zero variant, but restore the civil system that had existed there before the war. The restoration of the 1938 citizenship law in Estonia in February 1992 affected 120 thousand Russians living in the republic. The rest, those who were not Estonian citizens before the war, could appeal for naturalization only after two years of in the republic (the period was counted starting with March 1990), and the appeal was to be considered for a year. Thus, the majority of Russians and Russian-speaking people who came to Estonia after the war didn’t come under the category of people automatically gaining citizenship. Those people were on different terms in many respects.

First of all, as Russians were not Estonian citizens, they were expelled from the republic’s political life. The matter of the fact is that in 1992, elections to a new parliament and a new constitution of the republic were done in accordance with legislation that had existed in Estonia before WWII. When the laws and regulations on the legal status of non-Estonian citizens and on the process of obtaining Estonian citizenship were adopted, the Russian population of the republic was discriminated against once again. According to the initial variant of the law on foreigners in Estonia (June 1993), which regulated the status of non-citizens, all citizens living in the republic on the basis of Soviet registration were declared foreigners and were to apply for residential and work permits within two years. Those permits were to be renewed once every five years. In that period, the majority of Russians living in the republic for the majority of their lives, but having neither Estonian nor Russian citizenship, were considered newly arrived foreigners. Many international organizations strongly protested against the law, which is why the items were excluded from the final version of the law. The way the situation developed in the Baltic republics became rather unexpected for the Russian leadership. Russia and the Baltic republics concluded important agreements in 1991, according to which the parties guaranteed that Soviet citizens living in the Baltic republics by the moment of the agreements’ signing would have the right to obtain or retain the Russian Federation citizenship or obtain citizenship of the Baltic country “in accordance with the people’s free will.” But in fact, we see that the situation is radically different. Russia has left the Russians living in the Baltic republics completely neglected for many years.

The Russian authorities touched upon the problem of Russians living in the Baltic counties in March 2002 only. Before that, the congress of compatriots was held, where President Putin promised help and support to the people. The president said: “Little was done by the government to settle problems of our compatriots living in the Baltic republics for the past ten years after the break-up of the USSR.” He voiced his hope that good work would be done in that direction, “new approaches and ideas will be used at that.” President Putin added at that he pinned much hope on new specialists who would find a solution to the problem and eliminate the indifference of the officials, bureaucracy, and non-coordination on all levels of the governmental authority.

Those were very good words, but they remained just words, and no deeds followed. Soon after the president’s speech, the Russian media reported that a governmental organization would be set up to help Russians living abroad, which would considerably improve work on the problem. It’s already November, but there are no considerable results of the structure’s work yet.

Dmitry Chirkin PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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