The Great Balts: Still a Thorn in Russia’s Backside

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A personal assessment.


PREFATORY NOTE BY THE MANAGING EDITOR OF THE RUSSIA DESK

Teutonic_Order_1260[T]he saga of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the shores of the Baltic Sea is an ancient story, intersecting at various historical moments of what we refer to in a general way as “Europe”. Since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, those small states—formerly part of both the Russian Empire and the USSR —have been independent. “Back in the European fold,” delighted Western spokesmen declared in 1991. “Back in the heart of Europe.” During the Cold War, the question of the Baltic States was one of the most disputed and controversial issues between East and West.

Unlike Ukraine today, the Baltic States then exited apparently easily from a Russia in disarray. They joined both the European Union and NATO and today even host NATO military bases right on Russia’s borders, even though remaining dependent on Russia for energy and despite their large ethnic Russian populations who do not want to leave their homes and move to Russia.

Approximately 30% of the six million total population of the three states are ethnic Russian. Although Russian economic sanctions have hit the Balts hard, Latvia for example asks for an even greater NATO/EU/US presence. On the one hand, the USA promises more military presence there, while on the other, Russia continually issues warnings against increased NATO presence in East Europe. Though there is a tendency to generalize and toss all three Baltic states into the same pot, they are in fact very diverse one from the other. Estonian is a Finnic language and the country’s people consider themselves Nordic. Latvian and Lithuanian are Indo-European languages, though the countries’ histories are vastly different: Lithuania was part of a major European empire for many centuries, while Latvia and Estonia farther north were united for many centuries. The three countries became part of the Russian empire in the 18th century, then became independent after WWI. They were occupied (according to the Baltic States) or voluntarily joined the USSR in the 1940s. They have again existed as sovereign states for now fifty years. But they are poor, while the diaspora of these peoples is worldwide, from Poland and Sweden to the USA and also to neighboring Russia. —Gaither Stewart 


 

The Great Balts: The Russian factor, NATO, European “prosperity”
A personal assessment.

By Alevtina Rea

estonia1

[T]he subject of Russia in the Baltic countries is definitely a sore one. The ghost of former co-existence and lingering insecurity still haunts Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, even if they became independent entities 23 years ago, in September 1991. And even, as experts note, they left the USSR on very favorable terms: no debts and keeping ownership of companies that were part of all-Union property. Despite this noble gesture on the part of Russia, as far as I heard, these three states are obsessed with their Soviet past and hostile to their former partner.

In fact, the question of the so-called Soviet occupation has been elevated in the Baltic countries to the status of one of the main principles of construction of a new national identity. As a result, discrimination toward ethnic Russians and paranoid Russophobia are a common practice in all three. What’s more, egged on by the West, they have turned into barking mongrels attacking an imposingly serene giant bear, who quietly goes about his business without paying much attention to these small and occasionally mean attacks.


 

SIDEBAR

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 3.25.44 PM

Obama reassures the Baltics of protection against “Russian aggression.”

TALLINN, Estonia, 9.3.14—Using the spurious notion that Russia has committed aggression in Ukraine, instead of the Kiev coup and ensuing wars being a product of NATO/US meddling in Ukrainian affairs, Barack Obama, the most exalted disseminator of US falsehoods, offers Washington’s assurance that the Balts will be secure under the NATO umbrella. The report, tendentiously headlined,  

Obama to Baltic states: NATO, U.S. forces bulwark against Russia”

was published on 3 September 2014 by the Washington Post, one of the leading disinformation organs in the USA. Among other unadulterated lies, Obama called Russia’s actions “a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine” during a speech at the Nordea Concert Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, on Wednesday.  Turning reality upside down, Obama declared that “the US would not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea.”


(Continued from above the sidebar)

After joining the European Union, the Baltic countries began to receive substantial financial assistance for the development of certain areas of their economy within the Brussels framework of leveling regional development. Thus, in 2004-2006 Lithuania received from various European funds 1.7 billion Euros, Latvia – 1 billion Euros, and Estonia – 800 million Euros. The planned allocation for 2007-2013 was, respectively, 6.8 billion Euros, 4.6 billion Euros, and 3.4 billion Euros.

Thus, these three overgrown “kids” were never weaned from the accustomed donation/external support scheme, with the only difference that now they began to receive subsidies not from Moscow but from Brussels. However, there was and is a very significant difference between the Soviet Union and the European Union. EU membership not only provides a multimillion dollar infusion; it also imposes severe restrictions on the economies of the member states, which led to the destruction of many of the competitive enterprises in the Baltic States. This same pattern is currently being imposed on Ukraine, with the EU calling for a virtual dismantlement of the nation’s industrial base. In the Balts, a well-developed sugar industry in Latvia has been eliminated, in keeping with the onset of 2006 EU reforms – under the pretext of opening the market to third countries and declining sugar prices.


 

RUSSIA DESK 
Gaither Stewart Managing Editor
Alevtina Rea Deputy Editor  • Paul Carline Deputy Editor


 

French pilots stationed in the Baltics, as part of NATO's air shield mission.

French pilots stationed in the Baltics, as part of NATO’s air shield mission. (click to enlarge) 

In more than 20 years of “independence,” the most developed republics of the Soviet Union – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have been transformed into the weakest countries of the EU, while being made acutely aware of their inferiority. Verily—as the biblical warning goes—be careful what you wish for!

ANTI-RUSSIAN PARANOIA

Being so paranoid about anything Russian, the Baltic States turned their backs on their comfortable past in the former Soviet Union, snubbed Russia on the way to their supposedly prosperous European development “future”, ruined their industrial base and agriculture at the first order of the EU brass, and, basically, found themselves in the demeaning position of cheap laborers of their idol – western capitalism. Deceived and manipulated!

Discrimination of the Russians as a linguistic minority in the Baltic countries—a silly, self-wounding notion catering to cheap chauvinism— is expressed in a gradual narrowing of the scope of the Russian language. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2011, there are 1,052,520 ethnic Russians in the Baltic States (Latvia 556,422, Estonia 321,198, Lithuania 174,900), having declined from 1,726,000 in 1989.” Although the Russians and Russian-speakers make up a large part of Baltic States population, they are deprived of the right to appeal in Russian through the administrative channels, they have limited opportunities for education in Russian, and they are denied the right to receive official information in Russian. According to historian W. Shnirelman, Latvia and Estonia especially are guilty of political discrimination. Most of the ethnic Russians didn’t receive respective citizenship of these countries and have been excluded from the political process.

Given the latest demonization of Russia by Western media scoundrels, I was curious to investigate the Russian barometer as far as the Baltic States are concerned. I was interested in three simple questions: 1. What do the Balts think about Russia nowadays? 2. What is their relationship toward ethnic Russians who live in Baltic States? 3. What is their relationship toward NATO? Olga, our source in Moscow, has the following to report:

“The Baltic countries present a very complex question. I communicate with the Lithuanians and Latvians who live and work in Moscow. But I have not been there myself for a while, and there are less and less of my friends who stay in these countries. Some of them went to Europe, but the majority went to Russia.
“The positions of those who came to live in Russia are diametrically different. Some people, quite successfully, combine their work with volunteering at the embassy and with the Diaspora, but, at the same time, they harbor a negative attitude toward the country where they found shelter and a loaf of bread, so to speak. One such friend has a farm in Lithuania; she goes there to sow, plow and harvest, but right now she cannot do anything with the fruits of her labor. According to EU legal restrictions, she has no right to sell her produce in (Western) European countries. Hence, her harvest is rotting. As she says, mice are eating it.

Position of the Balts in Europe

Position of the Balts in Europe

“Many Balts who live in Russia are obsessed with a strange feeling that they are spied on by the KGB all the time (KGB is long gone, but they are still paranoid about it), and, basically, they look ridiculous and pathetic. Of course, we do not say anything to them – and what could you say, really, when they open their eyes wide and whisper that someone is shadowing them? Who instilled this paranoia in them? Because of this nonsense, we try to cut our communication with them to a minimum.

“Once upon a time, in the Soviet Union, the Baltic republics were considered almost an island of Europe and freedom, and now they are some poor excuse … There are, of course, some very successful people from over there who are internally free and totally adapted to their life in Russia, and they have tons of friends! These people are of what one might call “a normal psychology.” But those who, for whatever reasons, are easily influenced and clearly manipulated – ended up zombified to such a degree that even many years of residence in Russia cannot teach them anything. Sometimes I think that they are secretly gathering in some undisclosed hangout and singing either Lithuanian or Latvian songs. Who needs them with their fears and hatred?

“Occasionally, I ask those zombified, ‘Why did you come here, if you hate Russia so much?’ They say, ‘And where could we go?’ So strange! For example, if I hate America, never in my life will I go there! Some double standards are at play, nothing else! In my opinion, having double standards is immoral.

“The situation with NATO is definitely a tricky question. It is not just black and white … On the one hand, some people welcome them but complain that the country should feed them. Quite often, NATO officials behave impudently toward the local residents. The situation has sort of calmed down a bit, but still, they are disliked because of their rudeness and arrogance.

US troops in maneuvers in

Cold War reduxx—US troops in maneuvers in the Balts, a symbol of US resolve to “defend the region”.  They may also be used as a tripwire for a much larger confrontation with Russia. Washington’s criminal irresponsibility knows no bounds. 

“The situation with the Russian population in Latvia and Lithuania is complicated. On the one hand, there is an effort to oppress them, but, on the other hand, people are afraid to do it. There are many Russians over there. And Russia is nearby, too. So, I do not think that there will be any anti-Russian explosion of some kind. The Ukrainian example has cooled them off.”

On the topic of NATO, I could add this excellent report that surfaced earlier this year, a mayor of the Latvian city Ventspils, Aivar Lembergs, compared the NATO foreign military with occupiers, “who do not recognize the sovereignty and laws of Latvia,” and said that bullying and fights of sailors stationed in the city discredit the alliance in the eyes of the local population.

In an interview with the agency LETA, the mayor said that NATO sailors “behave like pigs,” defecate in public and drink alcohol in public places. “They also plucked flowers from the flower beds to give them to prostitutes,” complained the city head. Lembergs also commented that a military man from the Netherlands was severely beaten and several more sailors were injured. According to the mayor, the local men, supposedly, had to protect women from harassment by foreign military men.

So here we go, once more. The Baltic States cannot get rid of their constant nightmare, the occupation. NATO personnel are “occupying” their cities now, in an ironic twist of the European “freedom” that the Balts were fighting for! At the same time, paranoid misconceptions of Russia don’t prevent the Baltic people from seeking a cushy life in there. While living in Moscow, Baltic society is sharply divided. Some Balts, victims of undigested nationalism, continue to despise anything Russian, thereby, as the proverb has it, biting the hand that feeds them. Some others, however, lead a comfortable and happy life, perhaps blessing the moment when they decided to move to Russia.

The Ukrainian crisis has definitely shaken the Baltic scene as well – their belligerence toward Russia is not diminished, but their drive to oppress the Russians residents in the Baltic States has somehow abated. What if the paw of the giant Russian bear might swipe them, inadvertently? Play it safe, they say!
It’s a delicate situation unlikely to find a happy solution any time soon, especially if NATO continues to stir up trouble on the very doorstep of Russia.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alevtina Rea is a researcher, analyst and writer and a strong supporter of social justice and human rights. For 7 years (2005 – 2012), she worked as an assistant editor with CounterPunch, a leading left journal of fact and opinion. Ms. Rea is currently a deputy editor with The Greanville Post’s Russia Desk, and a contributing author to CounterPunch, Cyrano’s Journal Today, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies.  She can be reached at rea.alya@gmail.com.

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