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Rights of the Russians in the Baltic states keep being violated. What can be done?

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Rights of the Russians in the Baltic states keep being violated. What can be done?


Alla Berezovskaya

Compatriots in Riga commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The conference of Baltic human rights advocates was held there. Representatives from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia took part in it. And though the occasion was sort of heartwarming – anniversary commemoration, most of participants spoke with concern and regrets about worsening of human rights crisis in their countries.Does it mean that today the declaration adopted by the UN in 1948 as the universal document is nothing more than a letter to Santa Claus?..

The founder of the Latvian Human Rights Committee, MEP of three convocations Tatyana Zhdanok, giving due respect to the great significance of this important document that had a positive impact on the development of human civilization, agreed, however, that today entire groups of people still end up outside the legal framework. In her opinion, the main drawback of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that it proclaims the supremacy of individual rights over the collective ones.

Tatyana Zhdanok

Later on rights of trade unions were regulated; however collective rights of nations, language groups, and ethnic minorities were not sufficiently elaborated and secured,” said Tatyana Zhdanok. The declaration has not formalized the basic human right - the right to live in peace, without wars and upheavals, to live in a healthy environment.

In the setting of legal crisis, we have no right to abandon our ideas and goals; human rights are extremely important - states should not be exclusively liable for them. The leader of the Russian party (Russian Latvian Union (RLU) - ed.) recalled that today Russian-speaking activists were being persecuted and jailed for speaking at public peace meetings in Latvia and it happened at the suggestion of top officials of the state. Human rights activist Alexander Gaponenko, as well as journalists Vladimi Linderman and Yuri Alekseev had to stay in prison for free expression of their views, both verbally and in writing. Ruslan Kotsaba, a journalist, was convicted for pacifism and refusal to fight against his people in Ukraine.

Here is the paradox: we wrote letters in support of Kotsaba on behalf of MEPs; and then the very same European Parliament has suddenly disgraced itself this year by awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Oleg Sentsov, a man convicted for attempting to blast power lines, stated the human right activist. dious Russo-phobic statements of Latvian political and cultural figures have been ignored by Security Police, but Russian activists, including me, have been persecuted for some imaginary causes and accused in stirring up interethnic hostility … And yet, even under these difficult circumstances, we must continue to struggle for human rights. No one here will do it except us! Our main incentive should be the words from the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

If we stay passive, we will be wiped out.

Miroslav Mitrofanov, Tatyana Zhdanok’s colleague and current MEP from Latvia, went on with the significance of human rights in modern life.

The European Parliament will soon consider a report on human rights violations over the past year, which was prepared by one Lithuanian MEP. The content of the report, as Miroslav Mitrofanov admitted, filled him with astonishment. The author left without attention not only numerous human rights violations in Eastern Ukraine, but even massacres in Myanmar. Instead, he focuses on analyzing dubious data on Russias interference in elections of some countries and criticizes Russia, among other matters, for attitude to opposition movement in it.

Miroslav Mitrofanov

Speaking of Ukraine, the MEP from Lithuania brought up a topic of Crimean Tatars and their situation in the occupied Crimea. At the same time, the report does not contain a word about the arrests of journalists in Ukraine itself, nor about persecution of dissidents. Nevertheless, the document was approved by all commissions and will be adopted in the European Parliament in the nearest future. Miroslav Mitrofanov designated the above mentioned report as a symbol of the degradation in the area of human rights advocacy.

Human rights will be respected only if people actively stand up in their defense. Next year we are going to resume protest campaigns against discriminatory amendments to the Education Act. We shall not allow our country to slip into totalitarian state. National top leaders have been aggressively pushing us towards the final decision on Russian issue. If we stay passive, we will be wiped out, believes Mitrofanov.

Vera Alperovich, a representative of the Moscow-base SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, told colleagues about her organization and its activities focused on monitoring of hate crimes, as well as cases of vandalism due to ethnic or ideological causes.

Alexei Semyonov, the head of the Informational Center on human rights, spoke about issues with rights of national minorities in Estonia. He recalled events of 1992, when more than 40% of population were deprived of civil rights during restoration of Estonian citizenship. And such legal chaos lasted for nearly seven yeas, until 1999, when Estonia introduced permanent alien resident institute and commenced issuing grey passports (similar to Latvian purple ones).

At the conference of Baltic human right advocates

With such document in hand, Russian-speaking residents of Estonia were given opportunity at least to travel out of the country and return back. As of today, there are more than 85,000 permanent alien residents in Estonia, which is less than 10 per cent of the population. Other 30 per cent became naturalized or moved to other places, or passed away.

Permanent alien residents still face issues, though little less than before. The grey passport does not grant the right to vote or be voted for in elections for Estonian or European Parliaments. However it is allowed to vote in municipal elections. Permanent alien residents are not allowed to join political parties, work as public officers; there are restrictions for crossing border with some countries and overseas employment.

There are problems with languages of national minorities, as well as with schooling in the native language. Recently, the Estonian Parliament made another attempt to shift education in all schools to the single state language. It has not worked, yet - one vote was missing, but the authors of the bill are not going to stop.

According to Maria Salamakhina, a representative of the Lithuanian Center for research and protection of basic rights, over the past twenty years the number of Russian schools in Lithuania has decreased from 85 to 32; and number of pupils has become 65 per cent less. Until 2011 national minorities schools were relatively free to use a teaching language of their choice; however the situation deteriorated after introduction of amendments to the Education Act. The country imposed the uniform Lithuanian language exam for Lithuanian schools and schools of national minorities, which has had adverse effect on graduating high school students, who are not of Lithuanian origin. On the other hand, young people of Polish, Russian as well as Lithuanian origin have been leaving the country in search of a better life.

Maria Salamakhina

As to persecution for dissidence, the most vivid example is the case of Klaipeda Municipality deputy Vyacheslav Titov, who was indignant at the decision of the local authorities to put a memorial board commemorating Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, the Forest Brothers commander on the wall of the university building. Titov said that the "national partisan", who is considered to be a "hero" in the country, was involved in killing of eight thousand civilians. In response, the Klaipeda prosecutor's office opened a criminal case, and the mayor of Klaipeda initiated the procedure for dismissing the deputy. Currently, a campaign in support of Vyacheslav Titov has been launched in social media.

Cultural Genocide

Vladimir Busaev, co-chairman of Latvian Human Rights Committee (LHRC) and peoples ombudsman, and Alexander Kuzmin, a Board member of LHRC, shared about liaison with the UN and OSCE in the area of observance of human rights and reported on 17 cases, which were prepared and sent to ECHR.

Vladimir Busaev gives a speech

Alexander Kuzmin, a human rights advocate, has repeatedly delivered reports on impairment of education and citizenship rights of Russian-speaking residents, as well as violation of national minorities rights in Latvia. Based on alternative reports by human rights advocates, OSCE has already sent Latvia more than ten recommendations pointing to legal violations by the state. Recently, three UN rapporteurs sent letters to the government of Latvia expressing deep concern about shifting of school education to Latvian language. Currently human rights advocates are preparing a new appeal to the UN - now in connection with the resolution of the Latvian authorities on kindergartens, where they prohibit teachers from speaking to children in Russian

Being on trial and under investigation for dissidence

Alexander Gaponenko, Doctor of Economics, human rights activist, who recently spent four months behind the bars on charges for anti-state activities, told colleagues that the other day he finally received a response from the International Criminal Court to his letter sent more than a year ago.

In my understanding, in Latvia we face violation of our ethnic rights; they restrict us in using our native language and culture, said Alexander Gaponenko. And those who express their disagreement with such cultural and linguistic genocide immediately fall under political repression. Unfortunately, cultural genocide - ethnocide - has disappeared from legal regulations. I wrote to the ICC about the persecution of Russian human rights activists in Latvia. From the answer received, it is clear that the presented facts were taken into account by them. I believe that we should continue to make efforts in this direction, remind the world community about violations of our collective rights as an ethnic group.

Alexander Gaponenko

My case evidences that today Europe is closing its eyes to the ethnocratic powers in the Baltic countries, which carry out soft assimilation - through schools, legislation, regulations, intimidation of the discontented. I still do not understand why I was arrested. I was charged based on my publications on neo-Nazism, as well as for discussion at the presentation of the featureHatred, but could this be called a crime against Latvia? Is it a reason to jail a person for 8 years? This is no longer soft assimilation, taking into account my age and health condition, it is physical. The case of Yuri Alekseev, a journalist and my friend, is just the same.

He is charged based on his polemical articles published on his IMHO Club website. Now, after two days of arrest, Alekseev has been released under police supervision. Just like me, he is not allowed to leave the country; besides he has to report to the police three times a week like some kind of terrorist! The journalist is denied access to his portal, he has no right to write articles or edit them. What is this if not ethnic dictatorship, which aims to suppress Russian activists - opponents of the ethnocratic regime? They wanted to quietly assimilate the Russians by destroying education in their native language - it did not work out, the protests began. Therefore, it is necessary to neutralize those who are behind or support such protests. The Declaration of Human Rights as a toolkit is there, but it is not enough anymore for our protection. It is necessary to develop a new concept to counter the attack on collective rights of ethnic group, so individual ethnic groups could retain their existence,. And yes, as the UN teaches us, we must raise the alarm, first of all - in Europe.

When Alexander Gaponenko was finishing his speech, Yuri Alekseev entered the conference room. He came just to shake hands with his comrades and to thank them for their warm support when he was roughly detained by the Latvian special services. A group of activists from the Russian Latvian Union, who were in Warsaw that day, found out that the leading Russian journalist of Latvia had been arrested. So they arranged the picket near the Latvian embassy in Poland, demanding his immediate release. The news of Alekseevs detention was immediately reported in social media and sent to foreign news agencies. Human rights activists informed the OSCE and UN committees. The next day, before the expiration of 48 hours, the troublemaker was released from the courtroom.

The focus is on Yuri Alekseev

Your support was extremely important for me, said Yuri at the conference. Since I am a suspect in anti-state activates (I may face up to 5 years in jail under one article of the law and up to 15 years under another one), I had to sign the pledge of secrecy in respect of the case materials. But what really upsets me is another point: when the case has already been transferred to the prosecutors office, I also have no right to disclose any case materials as a defendant. It is a violation of human rights, isnt it? I have the right to defend myself in any way I can, including drawing public attention and publicizing important facts. This is also a way of defense.

I could tell you a lot of important things regarding my case, but if I do this, they will immediately drag me to the bunk bed, which is fraught with consequences at my age of 60... Thus, they simply silence me. As a result of unlawful actions of the police, I was denied access to my Internet portal, which never received a single comment about a violation of the law in its entire seven-years-long history. Now access to this site is closed to all. It feels like a locked door, the keys of which were taken from me.

It is a sad confession by a Latvian citizen when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been in existence for 70 years. But in any case no one is going to surrender. The human right advocates will continue their work.

If they dont, who will?..

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