Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Trouble on the eastern border

Two items of news from Estonia, apart from its unexpectedly high position in the European crime charts: Andrus Ansip, the Prime Minister has finally decided not to bother to negotiate a border treaty with Russia and the Russians are accusing the Estonians of nurturing neo-Nazism because the parliament has voted to remove the bronze statue of the Soviet soldier from the centre of Tallinn to a cemetery outside the city.

Those border treaties between the former Soviet Baltic republics and Russia have been somewhat problematic since the Balts would like some kind of an acknowledgement of the fact that they had existed as independent states between 1918 and 1939, were then invaded by the Soviet Union twice with a Nazi invasion sandwiched between the two.

The Soviet invasions, at least one of which is called liberation, have been responsible for the destruction through death and deportation of roughly a third of the population of the tiny Baltic States. When the Russian population of those countries complains about being discriminated against one must not forget that most of them moved there or were moved there to take up the jobs and homes of those who had gone east.

Convinced that they were there to rule for ever the Russians did not bother to learn the languages of the republics they lived in. The break-up of the Soviet Union did cause a great deal of displacement and bewilderment but of them all, the Russians in the Baltic States deserve less sympathy than many others.

What went wrong with the agreement between Russia and Estonia?
The two countries signed border agreements on May 18, 2005, and the Estonian parliament ratified the documents on June 20, but with additional demands linked to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia.

On September 6, Russia notified Estonia that it was revoking its signature from the treaties because the 1920 document was no longer valid.

Moscow said the new provisions in the ratification law could be seen as legally entitling Estonia to make some territorial claims on Russia.

Moscow proposed including a provision "that all the previously signed agreements and treaties in bilateral history outlining the border are invalid" in mid-2006, but Estonia replied that it had no intention of resuming negotiations.
So that seems to be that, though as Mr Ansip points out, it is perfectly possible to live next to a country and have cross-border co-operation without any formal agreements. Most likely President Putin agrees with that and will go on doing so until it becomes convenient for him to blame the Balts for something or other.

That brings us to the bronze soldier. After the second invasion … sorry, liberation … of the Baltic States, there were referendums in all of them and by an overwhelming majority they all voted to become part of the Soviet Union. Presumably, even the people who went off into the forests to fight a ten-year long civil war, also voted to join.

To celebrate the liberation of these countries and all East European ones, large monuments were erected to the Soviet soldier, popularly known in most of those places as the monument to the unknown rapist.

The Estonians would like to remove their bronze soldier to a cemetery outside Tallinn and President Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, one and all see this as a development of neo-Nazi ideology in Estonia.

Estonian arguments that Nazi insignia has been legally banned in the country cut no ice. Just to acknowledge that the Soviet invasion of 1944 was not the liberation longed for by the local population shows that the country is becoming neo-Nazi.

The EU has an interesting problem on its hands. Presumably, if the German proposal for making the denial of racist and xenophobic genocide illegal will go through, nobody will be allowed to say that the Nazis had murdered Jews and Slavs in the Baltic States. But, given the scale of Soviet activity, it, too could be called genocide. Was it on racist and xenophobic grounds? Did they simply feel the need to destroy large parts of the Baltic middle classes, intelligentsia and peasantry? Or did they really hate the Estonians? Some lucky lawyer is going to have to decide these matters.

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