Why Defame The Baltics?

Algirdas Avizienis

In the Op-Ed page of LA Times on March 13, 2014 in the article “Ukraine’s Threat From Within” (this article is presented below), Robert English, director of the School of International Relations at USC writes:

“But Russian worry is well-founded. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, millions of ethnic Russians or Russian speakers have endured loss of citizenship in the Baltic republics (where many lived for generations)…”

This statement is a defamatory untruth about the treatment of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-1992. The evidence presented below is available in public documents of the three Baltic republics – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, easily accessible via the Internet.

The independent Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were assigned to the “sphere of influence of the Soviet Union” in the secret attachment to the Treaty of Non-aggression signed by the foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop of Nazi Germany and Vyacheslav Molotov of the Soviet Union on August 23, 1939 in Moscow. Consequently they were occupied by the Red Army in June, 1940. The three Baltic states were immediately incorporated as republics of the Soviet Union, and their citizens were declared to be citizens of the Soviet Union.

Their forced Soviet citizenship lasted until the breakup of the Soviet Union, when the Baltic states declared the restoration of their independence in 1990 and fully achieved it in 1991. At that time all three Baltic states passed laws which declared that all persons who were their citizens prior to Soviet occupation in June 1940 and their descendants immediately regained their citizenship regardless of their ethnicity. That included the persons identified by Mr. English as “where many lived for generations”. In 2004 all three Baltic states became members of NATO and the European Union.

The treatment of permanent residents who had arrived from other republics of the Soviet Union during the 50 years of occupation differed in the three states. In Lithuania they became citizens upon signing a loyalty oath. Language proficiency was not required. Those wishing to leave were allowed to sell their apartments and other property and take the proceeds with them. Their Soviet passports were accepted for citizenship in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus.

Latvia and Estonia passed laws that required settlers who had come from other parts of the Soviet Union during the 50 years of Soviet occupation to complete a naturalization process in order to receive citizenship. It is evident that those individuals did not “endure loss of citizenship in the Baltic republics” as claimed by Mr. English because they were citizens of the defunct Soviet Union who never held Latvian or Estonian citizenship.

Naturalization requires residency of at least five years, basic competency in the native language, the ability to answer questions about the state’s Constitution and the taking of a loyalty oath. Latvia also requires ability to answer questions about the country’s history and knowledge of the words of Latvia’s national anthem.

Those former citizens of the Soviet Union who chose to remain in Latvia or Estonia and are not citizens of another state have received “non-citizens’ passports” (similar to the aliens’ Green Card in the USA) that are valid for permanent residency and for travel abroad. They cannot vote, except that in Estonia they can vote in local government elections. Their children who were born in Latvia or Estonia after the restoration of independence can receive citizenship upon the request of at least one parent.

Mr. English writes of “millions of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers”. Let us consider the actual numbers from openly available statistics. In Latvia it is estimated that in 1991 there were 715,000 non-citizens (2 percent of the total population), while in 2014 their number is 282,900 (13 percent). In Estonia in 1992 there were 490,600 non-citizens (32 percent), and in 2014 there are 87,800 (6.5 percent). Thus at the beginning of independence there were about 1.206 million “non-citizens” who held passports of the defunct Soviet Union, and not “millions”.

In Lithuania such “non-citizen” status did not exist at all because the permanent residents who came from non-Baltic republics of the Soviet Union either signed the loyalty oath and became Lithuanian citizens or sold their property and left for other former republics of the Soviet Union.

Algirdas Avizienis is a distinguished professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA. In 1990-1993 he served as Rector of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) in Kaunas, Lithuania. VMU was the national university of independent Lithuania in 1922-1940, closed by Soviet government in 1950 and reopened in 1989 as an American-style research university, now attended by about 10,000 students.


Neofascists Are As Much A Menace To Ukraine As Putin’s Actions In Crimea

By Robert English – March 13, 2014

It’s become popular to dismiss Russian President Vladimir Putin as paranoid and out of touch with reality. But his denunciation of “neofascist extremists” within the movement that toppled the old Ukrainian government, and in the ranks of the new one, is worth heeding. The empowerment of extreme Ukrainian nationalists is no less a menace to the country’s future than Putin’s maneuvers in Crimea. These are odious people with a repugnant ideology.

Take the Svoboda party, which gained five key positions in the new Ukrainian government, including deputy prime minister, minister of defense and prosecutor general. Svoboda’s call to abolish the autonomy that protects Crimea’s Russian heritage, and its push for a parliamentary vote that downgraded the status of the Russian language, are flagrantly provocative to Ukraine’s millions of ethnic Russians and incredibly stupid as the first steps of a new government in a divided country.

These moves, more than Russian propaganda, prompted broad Crimean unease. Recall that this crisis began when Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovich retreated on a deal toward European integration. Are the Europe-aspiring Ukrainians who now vote to restrict Russians’ cultural-language rights even dimly aware that, as part of the European Union, such minority rights would have to be expanded, not curtailed?

More to the point, why wave a red flag in front of a nervous bull? The answer is that for Svoboda, Right Sector and other Ukrainian far-right organizations, it was barely a handkerchief. These are groups whose thuggish young legions still sport a swastika-like symbol, whose leaders have publicly praised many aspects of Nazism and who venerate the World War II nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, whose troops occasionally collaborated with Hitler’s and massacred thousands of Poles and Jews.

But scarier than these parties’ whitewashing of the past are their plans for the future. They have openly advocated that no Russian language be taught in Ukrainian schools, that citizenship is only for those who pass Ukrainian language and culture exams, that only ethnic Ukrainians may adopt Ukrainian orphans and that new passports must identify their holders’ ethnicity be it Ukrainian, Pole, Russian, Jew or other.

Is it so hard to understand Russians’ shock that senior U.S. officials (such as Sen. John McCain, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland) flirt with extremists who have been denounced as anti-Semitic, xenophobic, even neo-Nazi by numerous human rights and anti-defamation groups? That they were snapping pictures and distributing pastries among protest leaders, some of whose minions were at that same moment distributing “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” on Independence Square?

In the few instances where concern over such extremists is acknowledged, it is usually dismissed along the lines of, “Yes, the new government isn’t perfect, but moderates will soon prevail.” But Russian worry is well-founded. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, millions of ethnic Russians or Russian speakers have endured loss of citizenship in the Baltic republics (where many lived for generations), have been driven out of Central Asian jobs and homes and have suffered particularly virulent discrimination in Georgia (the root cause of the 2008 war with Russia, but also broadly ignored in the West).