LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 42, No.2 - Summer 1996
Editor of this issue: Robert A. Vitas
Copyright © 1996 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
HUMAN RIGHTS, NATIONAL MINORITIES, AND THE KREMLIN'S COLONIALISM
Although during the last few years much has been written in the Western press about the Baltic States and their newly regained independence, it turn out, however, that the media is either not aware of some vital factors or simply distorts some well-known facts. Specifically the colonialization of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia began immediately when these independent States were seized by Stalin, and by force and perfidy incorporated into the Soviet Union. This colonization accelerated after World War Ii with mass deportations to Siberia, genocide, the imprisonment of many innocent people in death-camps, with the destruction of the nationhood and culture in the Baltic countries. All this was in perfect accord with the Kremlin's plan of assimilating these countries as soon as possible, forcing them to lose their national identities, and turning them into a peculiar race of „Soviet people". This plan was ultimately crowned by a certain success: the Kremlin managed to settle in the Baltic countries about 1,5 million colonists — the majority of whom were brought from Russia.
Such a great number of non-Baltic nationals was naturally excessive for three small countries with a combined population of nine million; the more so that thousands of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians had fled to the West for fear of the Red Army and the Bolshevik regime. Even more of them had perished in the fights of the partisan resistance movement as well as in the labor camps of Siberia. As a result, the total figure of the surviving ethnic population in the three Baltic countries did not exceed six million. The colonization of the Baltic States was a criminal activity, it violated the 1949 Geneva Treaty (Part III, Clause 49), which prohibits an occupying power to populate the occupied country with its own people. However, Moscow nonchalantly ignored the treaty.
In the course of time, the percentage of colonists in the Baltic countries was constantly growing, the inevitable outcome of this process being that the Latvian and Estonian nations ultimately were confronted with the absolutely real and menacing prospect of becoming totally extinct. For example, in the capital of Latvia, Riga, the Latvian population in 1993 was far smaller in number than the Russian colonists, forming only 37.22%. And generally Latvians form only 53.55% of the total population of Latvia. While in Estonia, Estonians hardly formed 61.5% of the population in 1989. It is the industrial region of Narva that has been affected the most by colonization: the non-Estonian population is dominant here with 96%. The question naturally arises as to which population group is in fact a national minority? It is only the restoration of independence that finally removed the danger of the total and ultimate colonial assimilation of the Baltic countries.
The majority of the newcomers from Russia (with a few exceptions) were biased against the independence of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as against the demolition of the Soviet Union. They resisted it in every possible way and resorted to various measures trying to undermine the movement for freedom in the Baltic countries. Especially active in Lithuania was large gang of colonists who called themselves Jedinstvo. They were instrumental in the bloody events of January 13, 1991 when Soviet black beret OMON troops used weapons against civilians, leaving thirteen people killed and numerous injured.
After the Baltic countries, in spite of everything, succeeded in restoring their nationhood and independence, the Russian colonists began a propaganda campaign about their being a national minority and about the violation of their rights, although they have always had their own schools, press, theaters, radio and TV programs in he Russian language. Their Orthodox churches are in the occupied countries. In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, they have their "Russian book shop" and "Russian art gallery." Regardless of their hostile acts against the state and its people, they have even been automatically granted Lithuanian citizenship — an unheard-of practice in any Western country.
When speaking of national minorities, it is essential to distinguish between real national minorities and colonists who have been brought into the occupied countries in accord with the colonial assimilation policies of the Kremlin, and who have been practicing discrimination against the local population, aimed at obliterating its national consciousness and historical memory. It is very unfortunate indeed that in some parts of Lithuania, for instance, Lithuanians themselves have paradoxically become a national minority in their own homeland. This happened with the construction of the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe in the eastern region of Lithuania, not far from Ignalina, where the town of Visaginas was founded in which Lithuanians form but 6% of the population.
Thus who in fact can be considered the real national minorities? These include people of other nationalities who have inhabited Lithuania for ages, such as Poles, Jews, Germans, Russians — those who settled in Lithuania before its occupation in 1940 — and some other non-Lithuanian minorities whose rights nobody would dare infringe. Various foreign missions visiting Lithuania have never noticed or registered the slightest cases of minority rights infringement; the same applies to Latvia and Estonia.
Unfortunately, the Kremlin has not abandoned its brutal chauvinistic ideology as well as its imperialist intentions. It is not tolerating the collapse of the former Soviet Union. That is why, instead of offering Russians the alternative of returning to their homeland, the Kremlin conducts slanderous political campaigns against the three independent Baltic governments, announcing alleged violations of Russians' human rights. Further, the Kremlin never misses an opportunity to threaten the Baltic countries with possible invasion. Constant attempts are also being undertaken to set the Baltic countries against each other.
From Russia's viewpoint, all colonists who speak Russian deserve to be considered national minorities, which is totally wrong; it is a great delusion. Accusations of the alleged violation of their human rights in the Baltic countries are being made with a very obvious goal in mind: to spread misinformation abroad (circulated in the Western mass media) and to mislead the public opinion of other countries, with the aim of doing great damage to the interests and reputation of the Baltic States in the hope that they will be denied vital economic aid. Opportunities are also being sought to interfere in the internal affairs of these independent states and to shatter the status quo there, while still clinging to the idea of imposing Moscow's hegemony again. That is why one hears declarations about the possibility of Russian troops resorting to military force in the Baltic countries as to allegedly protect the rights of their compatriots. What is it if not the continuation of the Kremlin's old colonialist policy? Thus it is worth distinguishing between national minorities and colonists.
Reigning to be an ardent champion of human rights, Moscow, ironically, herself violates them. There are numerous national minorities in Russia whose rights are not taken into account altogether. Chechnya, where the whole nation is being subdued in the most barbaric way, and the sad fate of Eastern Prussia come readily to mind. Under the Potsdam treaty of August 2, 1947, Eastern Prussia was assigned to the Soviet Union for provisional administration, but as soon as October 17, 1947, this region was incorporated into Russia and is still a part of it. Local inhabitants suffered the most severe and barbaric genocide, leading to practical extinction. All historical place names were changed to Russian, valuable architectural and cultural monuments were demolished, and the area was renamed the Kaliningrad region and completely colonized by Moscow. As time passed, numerous Lithuanians settled here — either those who went into hiding to escape deportation to Siberia or, later on, others who had returned from their forced exile in Siberia but were not allowed to go back to their former native places in Lithuania. However, the Lithuanian minority in the so-called Kaliningrad region has never enjoyed any rights. They were even denied the right to have their own schools and to teach their children in their native tongue. With very slight changes for the better, this is still the situation there today.
Colonialism has long been abolished in India, Africa, and Arab countries, but the Kremlin, although claiming alleged victimization of Russian national minorities in the Baltic countries, is far from thinking that it is time to do away with its disgraceful and criminal colonialism in the very heart of Europe. But this cannot last forever. The issue of de colonization must be brought into the forefront of international forums and placed on the agenda of the United Nations because this issue connects the infringement of human rights to the infringement of the rights of small nations. The honest resolution of this problem will be conducive to the restoration of historical justice. And it will happen only when the Kremlin abandons all demagoguery and intimidation, and takes the first real step to withdraw its military troops from the still-occupied East Prussia. Only then there will be a realistic hope for a democratic and peaceful Europe.