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On Demonization of Russian Culture

On Demonization of Russian Culture

Tatjana Zdanoka – Ms. Zdanoka is a Member of the European Parliament, Latvia

We used to say, “Don’t bring me, My God, to live during an era of big changes.” But we are living during an era of big changes now.

The methods of management focused on unifying the population of Europe and the world according to values of “homo economicus”—the self-sufficient rational consumer—are enduring a systemic crisis. “The economic person” is not even an abstraction, it is a reduction, a flat projection of one of a set of measurements of any human being. The reality is that all people—West Europeans, East Europeans, the Chinese, Indians or Russians—cannot be reduced to the sum of their economic requirements and to functioning as consumers of goods and the benefits.

Each person exists only in the interrelations and the relations with other people, and these communications are irreducible to mutually advantageous or mutually acceptable economic exchange. These are social and political communications—belonging to language, culture, national or subnational community or to religious community. Both these communications and interests are unrealizable out of community, out of political space.

The following phenomenon is evident: with the growth of integration on the contrary, awareness of the originality increases. There is the known mathematical rule: the process of integration must be accompanied by the process of differentiation. I’m often used to quoting the words of Yehudi Menuhin: “Either Europe will become the Europe of cultures, or Europe will die.”

The title of my intervention is “On Demonization of Russian Culture.” There is no need to argue that the EU is infected with Russophobia. Here is just one single example out of thousands.

You see in this slide the invitation to the discussion “Pushing Pushkin: the imperialism and decolonization of Russian culture” co-hosted by Rasa Juknevičienė, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Lithuania, and Raphaël Gluksmann, MEP from France. The main idea promoted by the organizers and guests of that discussion is that Russia has always used and continues to use any work of culture as a “weapon of colonization.” The burning hatred in Baltic states, in particular in my country, Latvia, towards everything Russian is irrational and caused by a state inferiority-complex of national elites.

At this moment, the Russian minority of Latvia is on the verge of a catastrophe under the blows of the decisions taken by the ruling politicians, who represent exclusively the national majority. Since last spring, the situation has deteriorated significantly. The war in Ukraine served as a signal for new persecution of the Russian-speakers of Latvia.

Four years ago, my colleague Inese Vaidere, a member of the European Parliament from Latvia, denounced me to the State Security Service for publicly stating that Russians in Latvia felt like Jews on the eve of World War II (saying that we cannot compare [the two], the situation of Jews in Germany was worse). Now another colleague, Sandra Kalniete, calmly tweets that “we should take advantage of the “window of opportunity” that has opened to solve issues important to “our people,” first of all, the elimination of education in Russian and the demolition of the Monuments to the Liberators of Latvia from the Nazi invaders.

Ethnic Russians make up 25% of the population of Latvia, the Russian-speaking linguistic minority makes up 37% of the country’s population. This part of the country’s population is of mixed origin—some represent the descendants of the citizens of the Republic of Latvia from the period 1918-1940, and some represent the labor migrants of the Soviet era. There are approximately 25% of Russian-speaking citizens among the voters of the country, since 12% of Russian-speaking permanent residents remain in a status close to the status of a stateless person and cannot vote.

When speaking about a “window of opportunity,” the Latvian colleague supposed, “[W]e can now achieve our goals without much international attention.” What are those goals? [They encompass] a full-scale campaign by the Latvian authorities to dehumanize, suppress and marginalize the country’s Russian-speaking population. Latvian society is sinking in the wave of hate speech in the mainstream media and social networks. Columnists and commentators openly compare Russian-speaking compatriots with “animals,” a “fifth column” and “aggressive occupiers.” One of the members of National Parliament (Saeima) of the ruling coalition party openly called for ethnic cleansing, aimed at increasing the proportion of ethnic Latvians in the country’s population. The signatures are collected on a petition for the expulsion of “disloyal citizens” from the country and deprivation of their Latvian citizenship, as well as on a petition for a ban on my party, the Latvian Russian Union, standing for the protection of the rights of Russian-speaking minority.

The European Union nominally has an instrument to combat this kind of manifestation. This is the Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA of 28 November 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism. This document does not have direct effect—it obligates the states to criminalize the respective acts in their legislation. And the Latvian Criminal Code has an article punishing incitement to national, ethnic and racial hatred. The crux of the matter is that this article is only selectively applied in my country.

Appeals to the police and state security bodies regarding the use of hate speech and calls for violence against Russian-speaking residents of Latvia are fruitless. Consistent refusals to initiate criminal proceedings are coming in. At the same time, charges of allegedly inciting hatred against the titular population have been brought against several journalists writing in Russian, the most prominent of them being Yuri Alekseev and Vladimir Linderman.

The Government has prepared a package of initiatives to destroy memorials dedicated to the soldiers of the Soviet army who liberated Latvia from Nazi occupation during World War II. About 150 thousand Soviet soldiers died in the battles for the liberation of Latvia. In almost every family of Russian-speaking Latvians and in many Latvian families, the memory of the victims of the war and the ancestors who fought on the side of the anti-Hitler coalition is preserved. Through this initiative, people are deprived of the opportunity to preserve the memory of their families.

Thanks to the efforts of our party, complaints were submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee and a temporary settlement was requested, i.e., a ban on the demolition of eight monuments until the complaints were finalized. All these requests were granted. However, the government ignored the UN HRC’s decision, stating that it was advisory in nature. During last summer and autumn, more than 70 monuments to the liberators of Latvia from German fascist occupiers were dismantled, despite the decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee obliging Latvia to refrain from demolition.

I was among those who addressed the Committee. Fate so decreed that the land on which one of the monuments stood belonged to my ancestors, victims of the Holocaust. It is the monument to Alosha in the city of Rezekne, the capital of Latgale.

In addition to the demolition of the World War II monuments, the authorities have recently taken on other sites. You see in this slide the sculpture of Pushkin in one of the parks in Riga which was recently demolished.

The fight against monuments of the past continues with repressions against people living in Latvia today. Some of the elderly people are at risk of becoming illegals. The new retroactive norm provides annulment, in the case of bad knowledge of the Latvian language, of the permanent residence permission for those who acquired the citizenship of Russia. But most grave consequences of the use of “window of opportunity” affect the young generation. The ongoing destruction of minority education started in 1995 (higher education), continued in 2004 (secondary education) and 2018 (primary education). The latest amendments to the Education Laws in the Republic of Latvia are deemed to abolish the education in Russian language in total. It will apply both for public and private schools.

I will conclude my intervention with the fragment of the video clip produced by our team in 2003 when the mass protests of Russian-speakers against education reform started. With the kind permission of Roger Waters, the fragments of the famous Pink Floyd clip were used.

School education in native languages of traditional ethnic and linguistic minorities is one of the most important values of the EU. The Russian-speaking community of Latvia is one of such traditional linguistic minorities of the European Union like many others, and its rights should be respected.

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