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Edward Lucas @edwardlucas
, 40 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
so -- starting a new thread for those who have just joined my discussion with my friend @ClarkeMicah, who is right on a lot of things, but not this. The story so far. He contends that it is "indisputable" that Estonia and Latvia have mistreated their "Russian minorities"
I think a) that the term "Russian minority" needs further explanation before it can be used and b) that there is plenty of room for dispute.
@ClarkeMicah appears to be surprised that I disagree with him
For the record, I don't think either country, or indeed any country, is "faultless" on anything. I have criticised all three governments for mistakes over the past nearly-30 years. But I do think the post-1991 language and citizenship laws are broadly correct.
This does not mean that, as @ClarkeMicah puts it, that I am a "Public relations" person for these countries.
On the whole I favour the underdog, so I'm particularly sympathetic to small countries over big ones, and quiet voices over loud ones, and victims of colonialism over perpetrators. I also think outsiders should be careful about ladling out criticism of places they don't know well
Humility is a good starting point in argument -- I am often wrong and glad to be corrected. I am ultra-cautious about using words like "irrefutable" to buttress arguments just because I personally like them.
Getting back to the Baltic states -- thread starts here
1) My starting point is that this is a messy post-colonial problem. There are all sorts of historical injustices caused by the Nazi and Soviet occupations which can't be put right neatly, or even at all.
2) these include, for example, restitution. Who gets what? Is physical property (eg family farms) privileged over financial assets? What happens if looted property has been acquired lawfully in subsequent years?
3) another example is language. These countries experienced intense Russification. Should that be regarded as a done deal, with Estonian and Latvian remaining in the margins of national life (like Welsh or Gaelic)? Or should there be an attempt to restore them?
4) Then there's citizenship and residency. Which colonists/occupiers get to stay. Which get full political rights (citizenship, eligibility for public office)? Are there rules for naturalisation? Is there a "zero-option" where everyone gets citizenship automatically
5) these three are just some of the questions arising for a country which has been colonised or occupied, but where previous statehood is in living memory and has some kind of legal foundation. It wouldn't make sense if we were talking about a newly independent Venice
6) but it does make sense to consider with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were independent until 1940.
7) I do not see how one can say that there are simple, #indisputable answers to these questions .One can adopt a strict Kremlin view of the issue, in which nothing before 1991 matters, and all ex-Soviet countries simply seceded from the USSR. That is logical, but contentious.
8) now we move onto the tricky question of defining who we are talking about. Leave aside Lithuania for now, where the population make-up scarcely changed during the Soviet era (and the tricky questions involve Poles and Polish-speakers, not Russians)
9) Assuming that pre-1940 matters at all, there is a fairly clear division between people who were citizens of the pre-war republics (and their descendants) and people who moved to Estonia and Latvia during the Soviet era.
10) from a strict constitutionalist point of view, these people are all "illegal immigrants". They and their descendants have no right to stay at all. They should "go home".
11) this approach would have been inhumane, impractical and diplomatically disastrous. Nobody in the political mainstream has advocated it.
12) the question is therefore under what circumstances will these Soviet-era migrants (could also be call "settlers") continue to live in Estonia and Latvia.
13) One option would be to give them automatic citizenship. But that would be difficult, not least because Russia does not allow dual citizenship. In both countries a slice of the Soviet-era migrant population (henceforce SEMP) chose to adopt Russian citizenship.
14) They are fully entitled to do that (and it does not affect their residency status, access to public services, etc). It has some benefits in easy access to Russia. It can make travel to other countries marginally more difficult
15) So the next question is what about the rest. What (if anything) are the requirements for naturalisation? Estonia and Latvia decided that a basic knowledge of the national language, an oath of loyalty to the country, and a basic knowledge of history were the essential ones
16) the rules have changed (and relaxed) over the years. They will doubtless change again in future. But I think the basic approach is fair. Political rights involve political responsibilities. if people do not identify with a country, or reject outright its right to exist...
17) ... it is questionable whether they should have the same say as people who do. There were good reasons to worry about the loyalty and outlook of parts of the SEMP in 1991.
18) as pointed out in a separate thread, this is not about ethnicity or language. "Russian-speakers" or "Russians" as @ClarkeMicah calls them are not identical with the SEMP
19) for a start, almost everyone in Estonia and Latvia in 1991 was a "Russian-speaker". The language you speak, even as a mother tongue, is a bad guide to political allegiance or national identity
20) Russian-speaker is about as useful in this context as "English-speaker" would be in discussing any British ex-colony.
21) Moreover, "Russian" is not useful either. As explained above, part of the SEMP instantly chose Russian citizenship and is happy with it. And both Estonia and Latvia had pre-war Russian populations (many refugees from Bolshevism)
22) survivors of that generation (few, thanks to Stalin) and their descendants (more numerous) are automatically citizens. Citizenship, in short, is based on history not ethnicity.
23) Of course the Kremlin dislikes this argument, because the official Russian line is that nothing before 1991 matters.
24) Another nuance is that in Estonia 60,000 members of the SEMP applied for citizenship _before_1991 by signing up for the pro-Independence Estonian Citizens Committees (which went on to elect the…)
25) These people automatically gained citizenship when statehood was restored in 1991. Another nuance: the SEMP is not simply "Russian". As pointed out in a previous thread, it includes people eligible for Ukrainian, Moldovan & other FSU citizenship
26) and people with roots in what is now the Russian Federation who are not (in some cases emphatically not) "Russian" -- Chechens, Komi, Ingrians, Tatar/Bashkir etc.
27) The Kremlin lexicon lumps all these people together as "Compatriots" and claims an ill-defined responsibility to protect them.
28) Getting back to the post-1991 decisions. As @ClarkeMicah rightly says, truth is the daughter of history. Some people feared that the Estonian and Latvian approach would be disastrous.
29) these people included many well-meaning international observers. They said that the approach was discriminatory and counter-productive. It would alienate the SEMP and lead to weak divided countries which would be prey for Russian meddling
30) actually the opposite happened. Large numbers of people in both countries from the SEMP acquired citizenship (50,000 in Latvia since 2002). Some of those that did not cited good reasons -- for example not wanting to do obligatory military service.
31) Contrary to some expectations, SEMP members have not emigrated to Russia. However Russians continue to emigrate to Estonia and Latvia, chiefly in search of political freedoms and higher living standards
32) A lot more could be said, but I think this is enough to show that contrary to @ClarkeMicah these are not simple questions and the rights and wrongs are eminently #disputable
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