Russians set for the European Parliament

From Thursday to Sunday, 344 million Europeans from the 25 countries of the enlarged European Union will be electing 732 deputies to the European Parliament. It is highly likely that some of the politicians that will go to Strasbourg will later form the core of the EU Russian Party's faction.

In point of fact, such an organisation already exists. In early June, delegates from six countries, mainly new EU members - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Norway - signed a declaration on the establishment of the EU Russian Party at a conference in Prague.

Their reasons for so doing are quite convincing. Following the Union's enlargement, on the territory of its 25 member-states the number of citizens who consider Russian to be their native language now stands at six million. This fairly large national community has its own interests and problems, sometimes on the European-wide scale, which, unfortunately, do not worry any of the parties represented in the European Parliament. Therefore, there is an acute need for a party of Russian Europeans within the EU.

The technical registration of the new political organization, including its charter and programme, is to be completed by spring 2005. However, even now the Russian-speaking public organisations behind the party's creation have a clear task: to promote their candidates at the current elections. It is time Strasbourg heard the voices of Europe's Russian-speaking population.

The specifics of the forthcoming elections seem to increase the chances of candidates with "a Russian mandate." According to general opinion, the elections will become a protest vote, reflecting a given country's local and national sentiments.

For example, the people of Great Britain, Italy, Portugal and Denmark will judge the candidates in terms of their disappointment over the Iraqi war. This promises serious trouble for Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, as the number of their parties' Euro-MPs could plummet. It was no coincidence that last Monday the British premier urged his fellow compatriots to "put aside" their feelings about Iraq and come to the ballot boxes with happy thoughts about the growing British economy and increased budget spending on social services.

On the contrary, Spain's new Premier Jose Luis Zapatero may see more of his socialist deputies in Strasbourg due to voters' gratitude for the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.

In Germany, the electorate is less obsessed with Iraq and more bothered by the troubled national economy. It is largely down to Germany that the European unemployment rate has surged to 9.1% this year, twice exceeding the US figure.

Accordingly, in going to the ballot box, every European is taking the troubles of his own country with him. The list is dominated by foreign policy and macroeconomics, which are spheres the European Parliament does not directly influence. Strasbourg is mainly concerned with lawmaking in the business and environmental spheres, appointing and dismissing commissioners of the European Commission and deciding how the EU will spend its Ђ100 billion budget to support regions and farmers.

However, if we are talking about local, national problems, the Russian-speaking electorate has something to hone in on during its election campaign.

The elections to the European Parliament have coincided with appearance of a demonstrating camp in front of the government building in Latvia. They are protesting against the Seim's amendment to the law On Education of 1998, which strictly limits school education in the Russian language.

In compliance with the document, from September 1, 2004, teaching in state secondary schools should be conducted mainly in the state, i.e., Latvian language. Russian should not account for more than 40% of the teaching process. The official explanation of the move is that the new norms will allegedly "accelerate the naturalisation" of the Russian-speaking community that accounts for over one third of the republic's population.

In reality, it does not seem that the authorities want Russian schoolchildren to know Latvian. They want them to know their place - inferior and subordinated.

The amendment means the beginning of the end of Russian-language education in Latvia. About 116,000 schoolchildren for whom Russian is their native language will be pushed to the sidelines of education.

Yet the main threat is different. The new linguistic barriers will inevitably increase alienation between the Latvian and Russian communities, property and other social contradictions. It seems that after joining the EU, Latvia is trying to show itself to the veterans of the European club as a malicious violator of democratic values envisaged in the documents of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Protection of Russian-language education in Latvia and Estonia is one of the main goals of the EU Russian Party. It also intends to work for making Russian a working language of the European Union. Following the EU's enlargement, so many citizens in its member-states speak it that a refusal to use it as an official means of communication could seem discriminatory against a large national minority.

On the other hand, with a considered approach even Brussels can find its own interests in the party. It intends to help the EU bodies in developing relations with its important and promising partner, Russia. Despite the positive dynamics at the recent EU-Russia summit in Moscow, serious differences still exist.

If the local problems of the elections seem to increase the chances of Russian-speaking candidates, another feature of the campaign could reduce them to nothing.

For the new EU members, which are far from rich, the election to the European Parliament gives them access to the impressive material benefits of a Euro-MP. This can explain the amazing influx of the candidates. Which politician from eastern Europe or the Mediterranean would not like to have an official car with a driver, monthly payments of tens of thousands of euros in addition to his wages, the possibility to hire his relatives for his office using the Ђ150,000 annually allocated for the purposes, and transport subsidies that are 10 times higher than real spending on airplane tickets?

Moreover, the current elections have become a podium where all kinds of celebrities parade. It seems that everyone, from beauty queens, photo models and TV presenters to, say, Dolly Buster, Germany's biggest porn star and candidate in her native Czech Republic, wants to go to Strasbourg.

With the motley background of moneymaking, ambitions and cynical self-advertisement, advocates of Russian interests may have difficulties in explaining their outwardly low-key, nationally oriented political programmes. However, there is every chance that in the first parliament of the enlarged EU, the Russian language will be heard, even if in the beginning it is in the lobby.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team