Baltic Dialogue Initiative
Russia and the Baltics: Moving from the Common Soviet Past to a Shared European Future
Written by Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky, UPF-Russia
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
A Peace Initiative of the Universal Peace Federation
To establish a new channel of dialogue between the populace of the Baltic nations and Russia, on the basis of shared European values, for the sake of growth and development, by means of popular diplomacy, mutual understanding, interfaith cooperation, humanitarian aid, and service projects, for the purpose of promoting better relations between the Russian-speaking and the native populations of the Baltic states and also to support the process of integrating the peoples of Russia and the Baltics into the European zone.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s led to the appearance of new independent states. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia situated in the Baltic region share the common past and joined the Soviet Union relatively late. The history of suffering under the Soviet Union left resentments from these nations towards Russia. Mutual resentments were never dispelled. On the contrary such were fanned both by the Russian authorities and the leadership of the Baltic states.
After the Baltic nations achieved independence, the status of the Russian-speaking population residing in these countries by and large deteriorated. A whole series of laws were enacted, determining a disparity in the legal, economic, and social positions of the representatives of the respective dominant nationalities vis-à-vis national minorities. This is one of the causes of tension in Baltic-Russian relations. While on the one hand Russia is troubled over the position of its compatriots in the Baltics, on the other hand the very fact of the presence of Russian-speaking communities within their confines is an aggravating factor for Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
To date about 1.1 million Russians are residing in the Baltics, with 636,000 in Latvia, 173,000 in Lithuania, and 344,000 in Estonia. From the outset of the 1990s, changes in the national makeup of the Baltic states were characterized by an increasing proportion of the chief national population and a decreasing proportion of Russian speakers.
The legal status of Russian-speaking people in the different Baltic states is not uniform. Lithuania’s approval of zero-option citizenship has enabled the nation to avoid seeing its population divided by nationalities in the political, economic, and other spheres.
Over the last ten years in Latvia and Estonia, however, the problem of mass statelessness has been retained: about 400,000 residents of Latvia and over 115,000 residents of Estonia remain citizens without a country. This problem affects for the most part the Russian-speaking population. In these countries, the greatest disparity between the population of the dominant nationality and the representatives of the national minorities shows up in the social sector. Also the changeover from the Russian language to the official national language presents a very serious problem.
The Russian population is very unevenly distributed throughout the territory of the Baltic states; its proportion in different districts and cities varies anywhere from 1 percent to 95 percent. In each of the nations one can find districts where Russian speakers make up better than half of the populace.
Differences in the status of the Russian-speaking populations are not just limited to territorial factors; there are also peculiarities in age distribution. There are significant differences in the positions of three main age groups (youth, those in the working age bracket, and retirees). Furthermore, these groups in themselves are by no means homogeneous.
Among youth we may distinguish two groups. The first consists of well-integrated youth. In comparison with the others, the overwhelming majority of them are citizens of the country where they live, and they command the highest level of mastery of the national language. This is mainly owing to the fact that most of them were born in the already independent Baltic states.
The second group is made up of non-integrated youth. This group has emerged because of lack of clarity of their social position. A characteristic problem of this group is drug abuse. One of the chief reasons for its high prevalence among Russian-speaking youth of school age is the difficulty they face in receiving instruction in a second language, for which reason they drop out of school.
By far the greatest disparity according to region of habitation can be observed in the working age group. The first category is the socially-adapted work force. The material situation of this age group is determined mainly by their occupation. In the districts close to the capital city, a fairly large number of these are Russian-speaking entrepreneurs or shopkeepers.
The second group is the socially non-adapted working-age population. The situation of this group may be described as very difficult, in connection above all with a high rate of unemployment. A high percentage of this group do not have citizenship in the country of their residence.
Those in the worst material straits and with the lowest morale are the Russian-speaking pensioners, though the gravity of their situation varies from district to district. Their economic hardships are largely because, living in low-income areas, they are generally unable to receive support from family members.
Goals and tasks
- To reduce the tensions in developing relations between Russia and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia through furthering social dialogue on the basis of common shared values
- To draw public attention to the need for protecting the rights and interests of the various age groups of the Russian-speaking population of the Baltic countries
- To promote the peacemaking concept of the Universal Peace Federation: “Peace of Mind – Peace in the Family – Peace in the Society – Peace for Our Whole Planet”
- To create a stable and effective alliance of Ambassadors for Peace and other people of good will who can contribute to the dialogue between Russia and the Baltic nations
- To cooperate in furthering dialogue and cross-border cooperation between peoples of the northeastern provinces of Russia and the adjoining districts of the Baltic countries
- To promote parallel participation in official projects and undertakings of Russia and the European Union, and likewise within the northern region of the European Union, the Baltics, and the European Arctic regions within the scope of non-governmental organizations
- To establish international contacts with public social organizations and movements involved in some way in dialogue between Russia and the Baltic nations
- To consolidate various peacekeeping efforts oriented toward the development of dialogue and cooperation among Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia
- To develop volunteer initiatives and humanitarian projects for the purpose of resolving socioeconomic problems of the Russian-speaking population of the Baltic nations and creating bonds of friendship among the people of Russia and the Baltic nations.
- To make contact and hold informal consultation with representatives of nongovernmental social organizations of northeastern Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia
- To conduct an international academic forum on “From the Common Soviet Past to a Shared European Future” (cohosted by the International Baltic Academy in Riga)
- To organize seminars on character education and techniques of reconciliation for the various age categories (youth, working-age people, and veterans) in the Baltic nations (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania) and in the nations surrounding the region (Belarus, Finland, and Sweden)
- To cooperate in developing volunteer and humanitarian initiatives in the adjoining provinces of Russia and the Baltic states highlighting cross-border cooperation
- To organize special get-togethers for the purpose of promoting Baltic dialogue in the context of the international projects of the Universal Peace Federation.
- Governmental organizations (agencies, programs) of Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia
- Ambassadors for Peace (activists) from Russia, the Baltic nations, and other concerned countries
- Representatives of the European Council, the Bureau of Democratic Institutes and Human Rights (of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), the Human Rights Commission (of the UN), and other international organizations
- Representatives of organizations for regional cooperation and nongovernmental social organizations in the countries of the Baltic region
- Representatives of expatriate organizations and ethnic and national diaspora in Russia and the Baltic countries.
 Here “Baltic region” (the combined watershed basin of the Baltic Sea) includes 14 sovereign states — Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, and Denmark. Nine of these (excepting Norway, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia and Czech Republic) have direct access to the Baltic Sea, and the territories of five of these (Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) lie completely within (or almost completely within) the Baltic Sea watershed basin.
For reports about developments in UPF-Eurasia's Baltic Dialogue Initiative, click here.
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