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”We work for the representation of Russian-speakers in bodies of power” – Interview with Tatiana Zhdanok

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”We work for the representation of Russian-speakers in bodies of power” – Interview with Tatiana Zhdanok


Tatiana Zhdanok – leader of Latvia’s Equality (Ravnopraviye) Party; European Parliament deputy; member of the Greens / European Free Alliance (EFA) faction; member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee; and member of the Russia-EU Parliamentary Cooperation Committee – met with Russian World Foundation Executive Director Vyacheslav Alexeyevich Nikonov.

A wide range of issues was discussed during the meeting, which was held at the Foundation on July 25, 2008. A high assessment was given to the experience of collaborating in preparations for the staging of the first Forum of the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance, which was held last year, as well as the roundtable on mutual cooperation between the Russian diaspora and other ethnic diasporas in the European Union, which was held in Luxemburg in June. A program for the preparation of a second Forum, which will be held in Brussels on December 8-9 of this year, was outlined. For his part, Vyacheslav Nikonov expressed support for Tatyana Zhdanok’s efforts to get elected to the European Parliament, as well as support for her political movement in Latvia’s municipal elections, which will be held on June 6, 2009.

The Foundation expressed its satisfaction with the support received from the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance, as well as with its position, during the Strasburg court hearing of the Kononov case. At the end of the meeting, Vyacheslav Alexeyevich Nikonov consented to become a member of the Council of the Forum of the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance.

While in Moscow, T. Zhdanok also met the mayor, with whom a wide range of issues was also discussed.

Tatiana Zhdanok has kindly agreed to answer a few questions.

– Tell us more about other Latvian claims similar to the Kononov case. Are a lot of them filed in all?

– Soon, the court is due to issue a ruling in the case of Natalya Andreyeva, whose pension was revoked because she is not a citizen, and her employment history was recorded while Latvia was under submission to a union.

Not that many claims are received from Latvia. I recently took a look at the European Court statistics and found that Russia is the record-holder. But if one looks at the complaints as a percentage of the population, then it turns out that quite a lot of the cases come from Latvia.

In particular, Strasburg considered my suit against the revocation of my political rights, and my right to stand in elections. It was won at the first stage, which allowed me to stand in the election of deputies to the European Parliament.

As far as the Kononov case is concerned, this was an attempt to rewrite history, to make him into a war criminal for actions that he committed while a partisan. The partisans’ tribunal staged a counterinsurgency operation against some fascist accomplices who had just betrayed a group of partisans. Several people were killed, including a woman with small children.

And Latvia’s Criminal Law qualified Kononov’s actions as a crime. The European Court found this to be unlawful. This was precisely the question that we discussed with Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov. The Moscow Mayor’s Office provided legal assistance in this case – from the very beginning, from the moment an entire group of veterans were convicted.

The fact is that there are two groups of charges. The first involves charges filed against Kononov, and they include war crimes. The other group involves people who are charged with committing “genocide.” These are former state security agency officers who in 1948 carried out expulsion orders against the so-called “kulak” element. This was the charge brought in Estonia against Arnold Meri. The Estonia hearing continues to this day. Unfortunately, many of the accused from the second group did not live to see today. Their cases are still before the European Court. And of course, the precedent of a Strasburg court ruling serves as an important signal to Estonian authorities, which are persecuting the heroes of the Soviet Union.

– The Latvian problem pits citizens against “non-citizens.” How do your European colleagues view this issue?

– These are another group of cases, which are also very important. They reflect a problem that is encountered by a broader part of the population. Unfortunately, the European Convention does not have a specific article that could be used to appeal this particular crime committed by the legislative body of Latvia – at the time, it was the Supreme Council. It made a ruling that split society into citizens and non-citizens by birth. It depended on whether people – or their ancestors – were citizens as of August 17, 1940.

We have filed a collective complaint. But we are being told that this is a problem that concerns the domestic jurisdiction of a state. So we have to bring up specific cases in which other articles of the convention are concerned. Or, for example, there is the case of Natalya Andreyeva, who was not awarded her pension. This concerns the right to exercise one’s social rights.

We have anther case that looks very promising. This is a case involving my party colleague, who went through the entire naturalization process but was denied the issue of a passport by the Cabinet of Ministers itself on the grounds that he was “disloyal” to Latvia – that is what the ruling says. This was because he was one of the leaders of the headquarters of a movement in defense of Russian schools. He campaign against the education reforms of 2004 that eliminated Russian-language high school instruction. Prior to that, university-level instruction in Russian was eliminated, as well.

This, by the way, was the reason why I ended up going into politics. I am actually a Doctor of Mathematics and a university professor. I worked in a Latvian university, where I primarily taught in Russian, even though I did work with Latvian groups. A third of the university students studied in Russian, and two-thirds – in Latvian. And as soon as the Popular Front began to implement its ideas, education was where it began. Today, our state-financed higher education is only taught in Latvian.

The idea is clear: on the one hand, to use social discrimination to squeeze out the Russian-speaking population as much as possible, and on the other – the forcible assimilation of the youth.

– Could you please tell us about the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance, about how it was created.

– The idea was born back in the run-up to the 2004 European Parliamentary elections. The idea was to somehow coordinate our efforts and to give each other support – to the Russian-speaking politicians of the Baltic states. We stood in the European Parliament elections, but then we thought – why only the Baltic nations? And so, on the eve of the elections, we held a meeting in Prague, which was attended by representatives of seven EU nations.

Later, when I ended up getting elected to the European Parliament and I gained certain opportunities in guiding the general line of my political group’s work, I joined a group that represents various minorities within the EU nations. There are six of us, and we are a part of a faction that unites the Greens and ethnic minorities. And so, I began to invite various Russian-speaking activists to European Parliament conferences.

Being a simple deputy with one assistant and one specialist (in other words, there are three of us from Latvia), my job is to assemble individual political figures so that we may work on representing Russian speakers in various bodies of power. We have to work on what other diasporas are already doing with some success – the Turkish diaspora from Germany, the Armenian one from France, and others.

So these are the people that we started to assemble, creating an alliance that serves as a network structure, an organization uniting active people, journalists, Russian-language school directors, people who are tightly knit with the diaspora and who have opportunities to interact with the local authorities. These are the people who have slowly started to fill our ranks.

Just recently, we were joined by Natalya Vrikhet, a deputy from a small local administration in Sweden. In Italy, a member of our Alliance has already stood in local elections. And even though he never became a deputy, the precedent itself is important. In the European elections of 2009, members of our Alliance will stand in elections in Germany and France – in other words, not only in the Baltic nations. We are registered in Strasburg.

– And could you tell us about the second Forum, which is being planned for staging in Brussels?

– The idea for organizing such a Forum arose from a desire to invite various levels of politicians to join in on the dialogue – from both the European Union, particularly the European deputies, and from Russia, along with journalists. We would like to invite more journalists from Russia to the second Forum in order to help initiate the dialogue.

The idea of the first Forum was born after the negotiations between Russia and the European Union hit a dead end. As is well known, the dialogue was first blocked by Poland, and then by Latvia.

A year has passed since then and we have entered a period of very involved work on the agreement, an active stage that followed the Khanty-Mansiysk summit.

Of course, it would be good to see this work being conducted in a more benevolent atmosphere. We, the Russia-speaking residents of the EU nations, would like to see this agreement become a strategic partnership agreement that, in the future, would result in the creation of a single economic space, opening borders to the movement of both capital and labor.

Otherwise, we could see the ongoing brain drain from Russia to the European Union continue. Today, we have drafted guidelines for attracting highly-qualified specialists, and are also developing the idea of a “blue card” for highly-qualified specialists.

And it would be better to see this develop over a common space. We, Russian speakers, are very concerned about issues relating to employment and the recognition of diplomas. This type of agreement would help us a great deal. But unfortunately, both the Western media and many politicians are hostage to stereotypes, refusing to change their established opinions. And very often, I encounter a situation in which European Union deputies understand that there is a problem and that there are lots of Russians living here. But the imposed stereotypes – against the Russian people and against the Russian state, which are often filtered through the media – are influencing politicians, forcing them to continue behaving in the simplified “friend – foe,” “bad person – good person” manner. For this reason, we would like to analyze this very subject at the 2008 Forum, which will be called “Russia and Russians in the EU Nations’ Media.” And we would like to invite both European and Russia media to the event. We will prepare certain material for the Forum (it will be prepared by members of the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance). We will have to analyze and prepare some analytical material, and invite various journalists – and this will even include some anti-Russian authors. But they would not necessarily have to be anti-Russian. Recently, while preparing for the Luxemburg conference, I read a French-language newspaper from Luxemburg. The article’s author writes about the state of the Russian language in the European Community, and it even had this provocative headline – “Russian as an EU Language.” In other words, he is writing that there are lots of Russian speakers, and that something needs to be done to make Russian into an official language. I myself sit in the European Parliament next to a deputy from Poland, who sits next to a deputy from Bulgaria, and they use Russian to converse. So, in any case, this article is filled with the very stereotypes that I mentioned above. So we even encounter stereotypes in a good-intentioned article about resolving Russians’ rights, about how Russians came to live in the Baltic nations and about the status of the Russian-speaking population. In fact, we are actually a traditional minority in the three Baltic states, Romania and the eastern part of Poland (Belostok). This is as having a completely different status, a different quality – we have been living there for several centuries now. Not for two or three generations, but for many more than that…

– Tell us about your meeting with the mayor of Moscow.

– First of all, I would like to express gratitude on behalf of all the residents of Latvia to Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov and the Department of External Relations for their legal support. We associate Yury Mikhailovich with a politician who does a lot for compatriots abroad.

In particular, we decided that our party should undergo a generational change. It has always had two co-chairmen – one heads the parliament faction, and I am a European deputy. And now we have elected a third co-chairman – a young Seim deputy, Yury Sokolovsky, who received a legal education thanks to a scholarship from Yu. M. Luzhkov. This was a program that enabled people to obtain a Russian-language education in private universities, since people cannot be taught in Russian in our countries’ public universities. But Luzhkov’s program enabled people to obtain an education that not all of them were able to afford. And so, thanks to this program, some new, young politicians have emerged. And I thank Yu. M. Luzhkov for this. And of course, we discussed cooperation with the International Council of Russian Compatriots. Support from the Moscow Mayor’s Office is unquestionably very important to us. We agreed that he would try to come to the Forum of the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance, and become a member of its Council. We decided to abandon the idea of co-chairmen, and to create a Forum Council composed of eight or 10 people. I hope that Vyacheslav Alexeyevich consents to joining the Council of the Forum of the EU Russian-Speakers’ Alliance.


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