June 27, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Gaponenko


Russia should extend a helping hand to compatriots in Latvia and Estonia


After USSR's disintegration, millions of individuals associating themselves with the Russian nation failed, for various reasons, to acquire Russian citizenship. Eventually, the powers of Russia officially recognized them as compatriots. At present, they are viewed as a part of the single social community of the Russian Civilization.

The titular elites, rising to power in former Soviet Socialist republics, ventured construction of political nations on the ethnic principle. The Russian minority was perceived by them as most unwelcome.

In the Baltic States, Russians found themselves in a most complicated situation. The intention to expulse Russians, in a broad sense, was started already in the period of the campaign for independence. According to various estimates, between 450,000 and 500,000 Russians were forced to leave these countries between 1989 and 1999. In this process, most of all were losing jobs and social standards along with property, mixed families frequently being tragically separated.

During the last nine years, the pressure has been not so intense, and the massive exodus slowed down. Many Russians – mostly those whose families were rooted in the Baltic area for centuries stayed in the countries where they regarded themselves as a native population, as well as Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians.

Judging upon the parameter of use of Russian language, by early 2008 the number of Russians comprised over 860,000, or 37.5% of the population in Latvia, over 400,000, or 30% in Estonia, and over 275,000, or 8%, in Lithuania. In general, over 1.5mln Russians permanently reside in the Baltic States.

Ethnic minorities, not associating themselves with Russian culture (Poles, Western Ukrainians etc.), don't exceed 2-3% of the population of the Baltic States.

Since the declaration of independence, the new leaders of the Baltic States set the objective of constructing a monoethnic society. In the implementation of this objective, they undertook an attempt to assimilate a part of Russians who were supposed to adapt to the ethnocratic power system. Meanwhile, most of the Russian majority underwent an unprecedented segregation treatment.



The Baltic-type ethnocratic system provides comprehensive concentration of political power in the hands of the titular establishment under the guise of ostensible democracy. This power is used for appropriation of economic and social privileges, primarily, for the establishment itself, with elements of payoff to the titular populations for the expense of minorities.

This system includes the following elements:

provision of domination for political parties built on the ethnic principle and promoting policies of constructing a monoethnic society;

promotion of party functionaries to municipal bodies, institutions and courts on the principle of ethnic selection;

selective recruitment of representatives of titular nations for jobs in state institutions and authorities;

providing preferences for the titular nation in socially significant free professions in the spheres of law, notariate, architecture, land management, etc.;

mythology, substantiating ethnic inequality and based not only upon political charges of one-time occupation by the Soviets but also with the theory of cultural backwardness of Russians, and propagation of this myth through schools, museums, mass media, including means of state symbols and monumental propaganda;

legislative consolidation of inequality and relevant efforts to use the police apparatus for coercing minorities to comply with implementation of laws;

deprivation of rights of a significant portion of the non-titular population by means of imposing the status of "non-citizens".



The institute of non-citizens is a crucial element of the ethnocratic political systems of the Baltic States. It was introduced by segregation of the former citizens of the USSR into communities having and not having political rights. The policy was accomplished through re-institutionalization of the pre-1940 citizenship of Latvia and Estonia, and adopted yet by the supreme legislative bodies elected in the Soviet period. Therefore, this restitution of citizenship may be recognized as assaults on the constitutional law.

The described segregation policy was accomplished by introducing Registers of citizens. In Latvia, 161,000 of then 874 000 of non-titular residents were deprived of political rights as "aliens", while in a smaller Estonia, the number comprised 404,000 in 1992. Thus, a significant part of the population was politically oppressed.

The status of aliens was applied mostly to those Russians who had arrived in Latvia and Estonia in the Soviet period. Their contribution in the economy, construction, and public services, indispensable for the relevant nations, is not taken into account.

In Lithuania, the status of citizens was legally granted to the whole population. However, over 10,000 people, primarily of Russian origin, are still deprived of citizenship.

Since late 1990s, those aliens that had not fled the Baltic States with loss of property are gradually undergoing naturalization. By early 2008, the number of aliens in Latvia comprised 372,000, making up 43% of the Russian population. In Estonia, 116,000, or 39% of local Russians, still have the status of aliens.

The institute of non-citizenship is a unique invention of the Baltic States. International law admits the status of a person without citizenship. However, the powers of Latvia and Estonia were reluctant to assign this status to local Russians, as this suggested certain obligations. In accordance with the 1954 UN Convention of the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, they would have to provide citizens' rights to every person born in these countries.

Given the current speed of naturalization, the new-invented institute of aliens may be liquidated only in a four decades. Obviously, the establishment hopes that by that time, the elder generation will pass away while the younger will be completely assimilated.

The ethnocratic system provides significant preferences for politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, and intellectuals of the titular nations of Latvia and Estonia that would hardly give up these privileges on their own choice.



The aliens of Latvia and Estonia are deprived of the right to elect and to be elected to state and municipal bodies (in Estonia, this right is emburdened with strict conditions). In this way, Russians are isolated from decision-making and unable to introduce changes into the system. But that is not the whole difference between the titular and non-titular population.

Non-citizens cannot be employed for any job in the state and public services. The employment ban is applied not only to executive management, law enforcement and diplomacy. Non-citizens are not allowed to be employed to any office involving state secrecy, including police, the penitentiary system, and the fire protection service, along with bodies of land management, labor registration and employment. Non-citizens cannot be elected into the jury, as well as councils regulating public services.

Non-citizens are equally banned from judicial service, public militia, as well as from membership in the Broadcasting Council. They have a right to join parties, but in case over one half of a party is comprised of aliens, it is declared illegal.

Aliens are not included into the definition of ethnic minority regulated by the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. In this way, almost 500,000 ethnic Russians are excluded from the sphere of protection provided by the Convention.

Non-citizens are not protected from extradition on the request of any other nation. Legal assistance from diplomatic bodies outside Latvia and Estonia is not provided to aliens as well. The same concerns the right of re-unification with an adult child.

In addition, non-citizens are deprived of the right to protect their lives, as they are forbidden to keep and purchase weapons. Privacy of correspondence, phone and wire communication is guaranteed only for citizens.

In other countries, some of the mentioned restrictions are applied only to foreigners. Hundreds of thousands of Russians, born in Latvia and Estonia, are regarded as the native population in accordance with international law. In fact, they are allowed to exist there only as physical bodies convenient as a cheap labor force.



The ethnocratic system generally and the institute of non- citizens in particular have provided a severe effect on the economic and social guarantees of most of the Russians residing in Lithuania and Estonia. They are practically ousted from systems of education, health care and science, and forced to seek employment restricted with physical labor. Unemployment among them far exceeds average numbers. They are formally allowed to run business but in fact, titular businessmen are provided unofficial forms of protection.

Employment of Russians is impeded with the expulsion of the Russian language from the sphere of official communication. Knowledge of the titular language is checked by special commission which impose fines on employers hiring those who are not enough fluent in national languages. Meanwhile, education in Russian is gradually curtailed. Restrictions have been imposed also on Russian-language media.

In its extreme expression, ethnocracy suggests bans for Russian holidays, Russian symbols, and desecration of Russian memorials. The revival of the Nazi ideology is a direct consequence of the ethnocratic political rule.

Due to permanent economic pressure and lack of possibilities for normal social reproduction, a significant part of Russians is marginalized. Birth rate and life expectancy in the Russian population is significantly smaller than in the titular nation.



Discrimination and massive infringement upon human rights in Estonia and Latvia has been repeatedly mentioned in official reports of special commissions of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, PACE, and the European Commission. All these bodies found out violations of the 1994 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the 1996 Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, the 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and a lot of other international regulations.

In particular, the UN Commission on Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended revising the separation into citizens and non-citizens, in accordance with the corresponding International Convention. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance insisted that Latvia grant aliens the right to elect and be elected. In its earlier report, the same Commission also recommended to re-establish employment rights for aliens.

OSCE's Bureau on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, in its 2002 report, urged to involve Latvian aliens into election to municipal bodies as "the first and real step towards compensation of the lack of democracy.

In the concluding remarks of its 2003 Report, the UN Human Rights Commission emphasized that the aliens are deprived of basic political, professional, proprietary, and social rights.

Still, Baltic elites ignore all these recommendations. Moreover, they often manage to gain support on the EU level on the recognition of the existing segregation, under the pretext of the Soviet occupation. This partial support encouraged Latvia and Estonia for raising the issue of the revision of the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements, thus challenging the whole system of effective international law, including the principle of inviolability of borders, included into the UN Charter. Public protests against the demolition of the Bronze Soldier in Tallin in April 2007 were used as one of the arguments in this discussion.



For the solution of the problem of mass non-citizenship of ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, the federal authorities of Russia can and should undertake an array of legislative and executive measures.

1. The Russian State Duma should:

recognize the resolutions of the Supreme Soviet of Latvia and the Supreme Soviet of Estonia on deprivation of the part of these countries' population of basic human rights as unjustifiable and incompatible with basic principles of international law;

qualify the political regimes of Estonia and Latvia as non-democratic and question the results of national elections during the whole period of independence due to alienation of one third of the population from voting;

admit that the discrimination of ethnic minorities in the Baltic States is systemic and institutional, being based upon an ethnocratic approach.

2. Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs should raise the issue of violation of human rights in Latvia and Estonia in international institutions, insisting that "non-citizens" be granted rights of citizenship on application.

3. The rights of Russian compatriots in Baltic States should be included into the agenda of Russia-EU negotiations, with a particular emphasis of non-citizens.

The issues to be raised include:

recognition of the status of Russian language as one of the official languages of Europe, on the grounds that this language is used by over 10mln Europeans;

recognition of the right of Baltic Russians for being educated in Russian language, and legalization of teaching in Russian in the Baltic States;

recognition of the right of Baltic Russians for a national- cultural autonomy, including separate financing and management of the institutions of education and culture;

recognition of the right of Russians for service in administrative and judicial bodies as well as in employment in state institutions of the Baltic States;

recognition of the right of Baltic Russians for dual citizenship;

the right of Russians and EU nationals for taking part in municipal elections in case they permanently reside in the area of each side during more than six months.

4. In bilateral agreements, signed by Russia and Baltic States, it is necessary to consider measures preventing discrimination of the Russian population:

Russians should be guaranteed the right to address authorities and be answered in Russian language in districts where they comprise over 20% of the population;

in courts, the plaintiff, the suspect and the third side should have a right for translation of the proceedings and documentation into/from Russian language for expense of the relevant state;

in administrative and judicial bodies, private documentation should be provided to a Russian-speaking side in Russian, in addition to the documentation in the national language;

all kinds of documentation concerning Russian-speaking individuals should be presented in the corresponding language, in addition to the national language;

minorities should be guaranteed a right for use of the name, paternal mane and surname in accordance with the original transcription;

the Russian minority should be granted the right to use of national emblems characterizing the identity of the community comprising the majority in municipal bodies;

municipal bodies should acquire the right for returning original Russian names to topographic objects;

memorials and memorial plaques, associated with the life of Russians in Baltic states, should be re-established;

laws that immediately concern culture, use of language, private documentation and use of symbols, as well as the local legislation concerning finances and municipal elections, are to be approved by the majority in supreme bodies of Baltic States including representatives of the Russian community;

the Russian minority should be guaranteed a right for a preschool, primary, secondary and higher education and re-education for the expense of the state with equal standards for academic programs. For implementation of this right, all the national and municipal educational institutions, where education is conducted in Russian, should be conveyed to Russian communities;

cultural institutions, providing reproduction of Russian identity and financed from national and municipal budgets, should be conveyed to Russian communities;

national budgets should contribute in the foundation of Russian Museums, Russian Archives, and Centers of Russian Research, founded in the Baltic States and managed by Russian communities;

Russian communities should be guaranteed the right of approval of programs of Russian history, language and literature, geography of Russia, Russian Orthodox theology studied in secondary, professional and high schools;

Orthodox Christians, including Old Believers, should be granted the right for unconstrained celebration of religious holidays;

adoption of laws and amendments concerning municipal management, culture and education, identity cards, change of the borders of the existing communities, use of language and national symbols, should be accomplished by means of a special procedure. They are to be approved by the majority of members of supreme administrative bodies involving the absolute majority of the Russian vote;

special efforts should be introduced to combat the elements of ethnic and religious intolerance.

The mentioned provisions reproduce the regulations of the Ohrid Agreements, applied to the peoples of former Yugoslavia and recognized by the EU as universal requirements.

5. In negotiations with Baltic States, Russian compatriots in relevant countries should be invited as experts.

6. Non-citizens in Latvia and Estonia should be granted the priority right for receiving Russian citizenship.

7. The Russian Government should accelerate the implementation of the Law on Compatriots that enables aliens to acquire a privileged legal status in Russia. In particular, Latvian and Estonian aliens should be granted certificates of compatriots.

8. The Russian Government should contribute to foundation of the international Public Committee for Overcoming Ethnic Discrimination in Latvia and Estonia. The Committee should follow the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declares in Article 15: "Every individual has a right for citizenship. Nobody can be arbitrarily deprived of citizenship or the right to change citizenship".

9. The Russian Government should provide support for Russian compatriots in the Baltic States in their efforts to re-establish rights of citizenship, as well as compensation of the losses resulting from deprivation of citizenship.

10. The Russian Government should consider financial support of radio and TV programs, scientific research and seminars focused on the history of the Baltic States and the role of Russians and the Russian state in their development.

Alexander Gaponenko is the Co-Chair of the United Congress of Russian Communities in Latvia

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