The three centuries’ old debate of whether Russians are Europeans, Asians or a bit of both has taken another turning. Last week representatives of the Russian communities of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Cyprus and the Czech Republic came together in Prague to form a Europe-wide Russian party, to represent the interests of the Russian-speaking population in the European Union, now, apparently numbering six million.
Some might say that they could do worse than finding out that Norway is not in the European Union.
The presence of all these Russians is due to various factors. Some of the Baltic Russians have been there for some time, moving to those small countries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Others, the majority, are descendants of Russians sent there after the Second World War and in the ensuing decades, to take the place of the exiled and murdered Balts and to dilute the population. One suspects that the language problems is greater among the second group.
The Russians in the other countries are different. Though there might conceivably be some in the Czech Republic who are descendants of the large number of White emigrés and refugees who flooded there after the Revolution and Civil War, the likelihood is that most of these people are the various Russian “biznessmeni” as they are known, part mafia, part secret services, wholly dishonest, who are moving into Eastern and Central Europe with a great deal of money and few, if any, principles.
Cyprus is, at present, over-run by Russians, who prefer to keep themselves and their money out of Russia for all sorts of reasons and who like the warm, friendly climate and atmosphere. How long the Cypriots will remain friendly remains to be seen. They are already grumbling.
The Russian population of Norway remains a mystery.
Though to be fair, there are some Russians, who have come to the West in order to have a better life, to work and to live in better conditions. One would think that their first priority would be to learn the language of the country they have moved to, but according to the new political grouping, that is not so. One of its top political priorities is the recognition of Russian as an official EU language. If the numbers are accurate, there is a better case to be made out here than that of the Irish Presidency, now definitely in its last lap, for Erse.
Other political aims are the protection of the Russian language in Estonia and Latvia and the formation of a pan-European political party that would put up candidates for the European Parliament. All this has to be achieved and the structure of the new political grouping worked out by May 1, 2005.
According to the BBC Russian Service correspondent in Helsinki, the prognosis is not good. Some of the Russian politicians in the Baltic states are standing in these elections and it is not clear how much they will achieve, though as he points out, surprises are always possible.
Furthermore, a Russian bloc did achieve good results during the last Latvian parliamentary elections, only to disintegrate immediately afterwards.