Baltics seek representation in Russia

The Baltic Times
Marge Tubalkain-Trell, TALLINN
May 22, 2008

Ethnic Russians in the European Union have held a round table gathering in Luxembourg and decided that the Baltic countries should push forward with proposals for the ethnic minority to have its own representative in the Russian parliament.

Twenty countries were represented at the May 17 meeting, including all three Baltic states. Their success hinges on the European parliamentary system, which at the moment does not allow political groups based in the EU to compete in elections outside of its borders.

Gennady Afanasyev, the Estonian representative to the EU Russian Speakers Alliance, said that he considers the Russian situation in Estonia to be quite good. The representative also said, however, that Russians sometimes do not understand Estonian politics and that many people he knew are more interested in Russian politics.

“We can get our representative if the European parliament election system changes. As far as I know, the elections in 2009 will be the same as usual but in 2013 there will be changes. Then pan-European parties or their associations can participate. So there is the possibility that Russians can have their own representative in the Russian parliament,” said Afanasyev.

Representatives of the Russian Speakers Alliance said Estonian government officials don”t know enough about the Russians to rope them in and build a strong Estonian country.

Afanasyev said Estonia is pressing ahead with the integration program without taking into account the needs and interests of Russians and other minorities.

“If we want the kitten to lick the milk, we can”t just drown it in the milk. That”s what is happening in Estonia – no one asks Russians what they want. Maybe it”d be better to leave that kind of question to Russians themselves, so they could start thinking about how to live here in Estonia,” Afanasyev said.

The gathering was also aimed at getting experience and knowledge from other Russians across Europe.

“The round table was to see how other nations are living in Europe, to get their experience and to learn from it. Frankly, until now Russians didn”t feel like a national minority, which is a problem. Russia is a big country and now we have to get used to being a minority,” said Afanasyev.

The gathering was organized by the EU Russian Speakers Alliance and supported by the “Russian World” fund. For the Alliance it was the first chance for Russians living in 20 European countries to discuss their cultural, spiritual and linguistic individuality with other nation”s minorities.

There were numerous Estonian representatives at the meeting, including members of Russian Alliance, representatives of the Russian Party, Stanislav Cherepanov, Larisa Semyonova from the Legal Information Centre of Human Rights and Alexander Korobov, a member of a movement called Night Watch.

According to the EU Russian Speakers Alliance Web site, there are more than six million Russians living across Europe.

There are approximately 344,000 ethnic Russians in Estonia. Many of them have Russian citizenship and can vote in Russian elections.