Russians in the Baltic states

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Percentage of Russians in different regions of the Baltic states. 2000 and 2001 censuses.

Russians in the Baltic states is Russian-speaking communities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Russians in the Baltic states does not imply a separate ethnic subcategory among the Russians. As of 2011, there are 1,052,520 ethnic Russians in the Baltic States (Latvia 556,422, Estonia 321,198, Lithuania 174,900), having declined from 1,726,000 in 1989.[1]

History[edit]

Most[2] of the present-day Baltic Russians are migrants from the Soviet era and their descendants, whereas only a relatively small fraction of them can trace their ancestry in the area back to previous centuries.

According to official statistics, in 1920, ethnic Russians (most of them residing there from the times of the Russian Empire) made up 7.82% of the population in independent Latvia, growing to 10.5% in 1935.[3][4] The share of ethnic Russians in the population of independent Estonia was about 8.2%, of which about half were indigenous Russians living in the areas in and around Pechory and Izborsk which were added to Estonian territory according to the 1920 Estonian-Soviet Peace Treaty of Tartu, but were transferred to the Russian SFSR by the Soviet authorities in 1945. The share of ethnic Russians in independent Lithuania (not including the Vilnius region, then annexed by Poland) was even smaller, about 2.5%.[5]

Following the terms of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied and subsequently annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as Soviet republics in 1940. Germany invaded and occupied the Baltic states in 1941 a week after the first Soviet-conducted mass deportation. Communist party members who had arrived in the area with the initial annexation in 1940 and the puppet regimes established evacuated to other parts of the Soviet Union; those who fell into German hands were treated harshly or murdered. The Soviet Union reoccupied the Baltic states in 1944–1945 as the war drew to a close.

Immediately after the war, Joseph Stalin carried out a major colonization and de facto Russification campaign of the Baltic states. Many of the Russians, along with a smaller number from other ethnic groups, who migrated from other parts of the USSR to the Baltic republics, arrived to transform the pre-war Baltics' largely agricultural economy to an industrial one. Mostly they were factory and construction workers who settled in major urban areas, as well as military personnel stationed in the region in significant numbers to staff the military bases established owing to the Baltic states now acting as Soviet borderlands facing Europe. Many military retirees chose to stay in the region, which featured higher living standards compared to most of the USSR. This would lead to bitter disputes with Russia regarding the issue of their military pensions after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the flow of new migrants to the Lithuanian SSR slowed down, owing to different policies on urbanization, economy and other issues than pursued in the Latvian SSR and the Estonian SSR.[5] However, the flow of immigrants did not stop entirely in Lithuania, and there were further waves of Russian workers who came to work on major construction projects, such as power plants.

In Latvia and Estonia, less was done to slow down Russian immigration. By the 1980s Russians made up about third of the population in Estonia, while in Latvia, ethnic Latvians made up only about half of the population. In contrast, in 1989 only 9.4% of Lithuania's population were Russians.

Scholars in international law have noted that "in accordance with Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the settlement of Russians in the Baltic States during the period was illegal under international law" ("The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies").[6][7][8] The convention was adopted in 1949, including by the Soviet Union. However, as the Soviet Union maintained the Baltic States joined the USSR voluntarily, it did not consider the convention applicable to the Baltic states.

Continuing the position of their legations or governments in exile, and based on international law and treaties in effect at the time of initial Soviet occupation, the Baltic states view the Soviet presence in the Baltic states as an illegal occupation for its full duration. This continuity of the Baltic states with their first period of independence has been used to re-adopt pre-World War II laws, constitutions, and treaties and to formulate new policies, including in the areas of citizenship and language.

Some of the Baltic Russians, mainly those who had come to live in the region not long before the three countries regained independence in 1991, remigrated to Russia and other ex-Soviet countries in the early 1990s. Lithuania, which had been colonized the least, granted citizenship automatically. In Latvia and Estonia, those who had no family ties to Latvia prior to World War II did not receive automatic citizenship. Those that failed to request Russian citizenship during the time window it was offered were granted permanent residency "non-citizen" status. (see Citizenship section).

Current situation[edit]

Baltic Russians live mainly in the cities.

In the Lithuanian capital Vilnius Russians make up 14.43% of the population, in Lithuania's third largest city Klaipėda 28%. Other Lithuanian cities, including the second-largest city Kaunas, have lower percentages of Russians, while in most small towns and villages there are very few Russians (with the exception of Visaginas town). In all, 4.9% of Lithuania's population are ethnic Russians.

Russians make up almost a half of the population of Riga, the capital of Latvia. In the second largest city Daugavpils, where already before World War I Russians were the second biggest ethnic group after Jews,[9] Russians now make up the majority. Today about 27.6% of Latvia's population are ethnic Russians.

In Estonia, most Russians live in Tallinn (as of year 2011, 38.5% of the city's population were ethnic Russians, while even higher number – 46.7% spoke Russian as their mother tongue[10]) and in the north-eastern county of Ida-Virumaa, particularly such cities as Narva (82.02% of its inhabitants were ethnic Russians as of 2011[11]), Sillamäe (about 82%[12]) and Kohtla-Järve (69.68% respectively). In the second largest city of Estonia – Tartu – ethnic Russians constitute only about 16% of the population.[13] In rural areas the proportion of ethnic Russians is very low (13 of Estonia's 15 counties are over 80 percent ethnic Estonian). Overall, ethnic Russians make up 24% of Estonia's population (the proportion of Russophones is, however, somewhat higher, because Russian is the mother tongue of many ethnic Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews who live in the country).

Russians settled in the larger cities because of the need for industrial workers there. In all three countries, the rural settlements are inhabited almost entirely by the main national ethnic groups, except some areas in eastern Estonia and Latvia with a longer history of Russian and mixed villages. The Lithuanian city of Visaginas was built for workers at the Ignalina nuclear power plant and therefore has a Russian majority.

After the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the European Union on 1 May 2004, many Baltic Russians have moved to other EU countries. In particular, tens of thousands of Baltic Russians (especially those with EU citizenship) moved to the United Kingdom and to Ireland, who were the first 'old' EU countries to open up their labour markets to the new members of the EU. Thousands of Russians from Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, holding EU passports, now live in London, Dublin and other cities in the UK and Ireland. They make up a substantial part of the Russian-speaking community in London. Unfortunately, no reliable statistics on their exact numbers exist, as in the UK they are counted as nationals of the Baltic countries, and not as Russians.

Citizenship[edit]

After regaining independence in 1991, Latvia and Estonia restored the pre-1940 citizenship laws on the basis of the legal continuity of their statehood throughout 1940 – 1991, automatically recognising citizenship according to the principle of jus sanguinis for the persons who held citizenship before 16 June 1940 and their descendants. Most of those who had settled on the territory of these republics after their incorporation by the USSR of these states by the USSR in 1940 and their descendants received the right to obtain citizenship through naturalisation procedure, but were not granted citizenship automatically. This policy affected not only ethnic Russians, but also the descendants of those ethnic Estonians and Latvians who emigrated from these countries before independence was proclaimed in 1918. Dual citizenship is also not allowed, except for those who acquired citizenship by birth.

Knowledge of the respective national language and in some cases the Constitution and/or history and an oath of loyalty to established constitutional order was set as a condition for obtaining citizenship through naturalisation. However, the purported difficulty of the initial language tests became a point of international contention, as the government of Russia, the Council of Europe, and several human rights organizations claiming that they made it impossible for many older Russians who grew up in the Baltic region to gain citizenship. As a result, the tests were altered,[citation needed] but a large percentage of Russians in Latvia and Estonia still have non-citizen or alien status. Those who have not applied for citizenship feel they are regarded with suspicion, under the perception that they are deliberately avoiding naturalisation.[citation needed] For many, an important reason not to apply for citizenship is the fact that Russia gives non-citizens preferential treatment: they are free to work or visit relatives in Russia. The citizens of the Baltic states must apply for visas.

The language issue is still contentious, particularly in Latvia, where there were protests against plans to require at least 60% of lessons in state-funded Russian-language high schools to be taught in Latvian (in the first version of the Law on education this was 100%).

In contrast, Lithuania granted citizenship to all its residents at the time of independence redeclaration day willing to have it, without requiring them to learn Lithuanian. Probably the main reason that Lithuania took a less restrictive approach than Latvia and Estonia is that whereas in Latvia ethnic Latvians comprised only a small majority of the total population, and in Estonia ethnic Estonians comprised about 70 percent, in Lithuania ethnic Lithuanians were about 80 percent of the population. Therefore, as a matter of voting in national elections or referendums, the opinions of ethnic Lithuanians would likely carry the day if there were a difference in opinion between Lithuanians and the larger minority groups (Russians and Poles), but this was less certain in the other two Baltic countries, especially in Latvia.

Some representatives of the ethnic Russian communities in Latvia and Estonia have claimed discrimination by the authorities, these calls frequently being supported by Russia. On the other hand, Latvia and Estonia deny discrimination charges and often accuse Russia of using the issue for political purposes. In recent years, as the Russian political leaders have begun to speak about the "former Soviet space" as their sphere of influence,[14] such claims are a source of annoyance, if not alarm, in the Baltic countries.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have since 2004 become members of NATO and the European Union (EU) to provide a counterbalance to Russia's claims to speak for the interests of ethnic Russian residents of these countries. Furthermore, to satisfy a precondition for their admission to the EU, both Estonia and Latvia slightly adjusted their citizenship policies in response to EU monitoring and requests. Claims of discrimination in basic rights by Russians and other minorities in the region may have less effect now than they did during the years when the Baltic countries' membership applications were still pending with the EU.[citation needed]

Political activity[edit]

There are a number of political parties and politicians in the Baltic states who claim to represent the Russian-speaking minority. These political parties support the Russian language rights, demanding citizenship to all residents of Latvia and Estonia and tend to be left-wing on other issues. These forces are particularly strong in Latvia, represented by "For Human Rights in United Latvia" which has one seat in the European parliament held by Tatjana Ždanoka, as well as the more moderate Harmony Centre, which currently has the largest faction in Latvian Saeima (31 deputies out of 100), the post of Riga Mayor currently held by Nils Ušakovs and is represented in the European parliament with two members – Alfrēds Rubiks and Alexander Mirsky. In Estonia there is a similar Estonian United Left Party. However, that party is not represented in Estonian parliament since the Estonian Centre Party is overwhelmingly the most favoured party among Estonian Russians in part because of its controversial agreement of co-operation with the United Russia party in Russia, less nationalist rhetorics and lack of russophobic sentiments compared to other mainstream Estonian parties and better representation of ethnic Russians and Russophones on "leading positions" controlled by this party in municipalities and in parliament.

In 2011 the pro-Russian groups in Latvia managed to collect the necessary number of signatures in order to initiate the process of amending the Constitution which would have given the Russian language the status of the second state language. This proposal was rejected by the Latvian Saeima and the question was put on a national referendum in February 2012. The proposal gained support of 24.88% of voters which was far from enough to be adopted (it should, however, be mentioned that a large part of the Russian-speaking community in Latvia [290,660 or 14.1% of Latvia's entire population] could not vote in this referendum because since 1991 they have held non-citizen status and thus have no right to vote).

Notable Baltic Russians[edit]

Famous modern Baltic Russians include:

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ [1][2][3]
  2. ^ Idzelis, Augustine (1985). "Soviet Russian Colonial Practices in the Baltic states". In Pap, Michael S. Russian Empire: some aspects of tsarist and Soviet colonial practices. John Carroll University. Institute for Soviet and East European Studies. p. 79. 
  3. ^ Data on population of Latvia in 1920–1935
  4. ^ History of Russians in Latvia
  5. ^ a b Stasys Vaitiekūnas "Lietuvos gyventojai per du tūkstantmečius"
  6. ^ Yaël Ronen, Transition from Illegal Regimes Under International Law, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p206
  7. ^ Eyal Benvenisti, The International Law of Occupation, Princeton University Press, 1993, pp67-72
  8. ^ http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebART/380-600056
  9. ^ http://demoscope.ru/weekly/ssp/rus_lan_97_uezd.php?reg=127
  10. ^ Statistical yearbook of Tallinn
  11. ^ Narva in figures
  12. ^ http://www.sillamae.ee/public/files/sillamae_arvudes_2010.doc
  13. ^ Tartu arvudes
  14. ^ Vladimir Socor, Kremlin Refining Policy in 'Post-Soviet Space', Eurasia Daily Monitor 8 Feb 2005

Bibliography[edit]

  • Benedikter, Thomas, ed. (2008). "Nationality-based exclusion: the Russians in the Baltic states". Europe's Ethnic Mosaic. A Short Guide to Minority Rights in Europe. Accademia Europea Bolzano. pp. 66–69. 
  • "Russians". EU-MIDIS. European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey. Main Results Report. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union. 2010. pp. 176–195. ISBN 978-92-9192-461-5. 
  • Russian Minorities in the Baltic States "Ethnicity" No. 3/2010 ISSN 1691-5844

External links[edit]