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Human Rights in the Baltic States

Date de publication: 26.11.2010

On 9 December in Brussels, the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation presented the English translation of its report, “Chance to Survive: Minority Rights in the Baltic States.”

The report, originally published in Russian, was commissioned by IDC’s sister organisation, the Foundation for Historical Perspective in Moscow. It was carried out by the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights in Estonia and by the Latvian Human Rights Committee. The volume is edited by Vadim Poleschuk with comments by Aleksei Semjonov.

The report deals with human rights and minority rights issues in Latvia and Estonia. It deals with various aspects of law and policy in these states and their impact on minority rights. In both countries, the single most important human rights issue is that of statelessness. The law on citizenship in Latvia and Estonia is structures in such a way that a large part of the population of these countries do not have citizenship of their country of residency (and not the citizenship of any other state either).

There are various reasons for this situation, which the authors analyse with great objectivity. They include the difficulty of the language and history tests, the latter including politically loaded questions and requiring knowledge of obscure information about the history of these provinces.

But the basic problem which causes these difficulties is that all three Baltic states embrace the theory that they were the victims of “occupation” by the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1991. They, together with Poland, argue that Eastern Europe was carved up between Hitler and Stalin by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and that they lost their independence as a result of it. The Baltic states argue that they were then the victims of occupation and colonisation and that they need now to restore their statehood, interrupted by the events of 1939 – 1944.

They have done this largely with the approval of the West, which has been happy to integrate these states into the EU and NATO in spite of the fact that the questionable human rights situation there is well known. The West’s indulgence is striking because the “state continuity theory” (which Latvia emphasised by electing as president in 1993 a great-nephew of its pre-war head of state, the dictator Karlis Ulmanis, but which all three Baltic states share) represents the implementation of state’s rights whereas, for all other countries, the West demands that human rights have priority instead.

The state continuity theory allows the Baltic states (especially Latvia and Estonia) to treat a large part of their Russian-speaking inhabitants as “occupants” or as the children of “occupants”. By this means, even people born in these countries are denied citizenship. While being required to pay taxes, they are denied the right to vote. 2009 may be the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall but it is also the 20th anniversary of the last but one democratic election in Latvia – the last time that all residents of the country had the right to vote.

The state continuity theory also affects education policy. Russian-speaking taxpayers, especially in Latvia, have complained for years about the new laws on education (which require Latvian to be used even in Russian-language schools). The reports also detail myriad other ways in which law and the public bodies in Estonia and Latvia are stacked against the country’s ethnic minorities. Indeed, many Russians are even denied this status because only citizens can have the status of ethnic minorities.

The book launch in Brussels was attended by journalists, politicians and lobbyists both from the EU and Belgium. The speakers included: Natalia Narochnitskaya, president of the Foundation for Historical Outlook in Moscow and of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris; John Laughland, Director of Studies at IDC in Paris; Aleksei Semjonov of the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights in Tallinn; Tatjana Zdanok, Member of the European Parliament; Professor Jean-Pierre Arrignon, Emereitus Professor of History at the University of Arras in France.

The report is available in book form and as a pdf document. Copies may be obtained by writing to John Laughland at IDC Paris, or by phoning + 33 1 40 62 91 00. 

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