Friday, August 29, 2008

Russia and its neighbours

Quite a few articles I recently read about Russia talk about Russia being nostalgic for its empire and trying to get it back. Yet I don't see any sign of that in Russia's foreign policy. Rather I see a Russia that is concerned about the Russians and Russian citizens outside its border.

This is in line with how other former empires behave:
- After its borders had been set in World War I Turkey didn't fight to expand them (they got Hatay peacefully in 1939), except when it felt that Turkish citizens on Cyprus were threatened.
- Similarly when Yugoslavia broke apart Serbia only fought were it believed its ethnic group to be threatened.
- Hungary didn't even have the power to fight for its ethnic group after World War I as it was too small.
- Germany took on the case both of its own former citizens and the Germans from the Habsburg Empire after World War I. In the end things got out of hand with Hitler. But Hitler's empire was something new, not a restoration of the Habsburg Empire.

We live in the time of the nation state. Having other ethnic groups inside your border only gives trouble. So it should come as no surprise that those former empires don't wish to restore their old borders.

In this light the Western support to Georgia is very harmful. Even if the Georgian attack had succeeded it would have done nothing to stop "Russian imperialism" for the simple reason that there is no more Russian imperialism. What it did was greatly increasing Russia's worries about its citizens in the other republics. About 1700 were killed and the West basically supported this. The only result is a more nervous Russia that next time may take preventive action.

Having a big former empire as neighbour is not always fun. Specially not when it claims to speak for some of your minorities. Old reflexes may occasionally arise: the former empire may feel superior and the small neighbour that was formerly ruled by the empire may feel intimidated. But when the smaller countries try to form alliances against the former empire that mainly hinders the development of normal relations. We have most recently seen that in former Yugoslavia. External interference in conflicts usually leads to grandstanding and a lack of desire to compromise.

For that reason I think we should not Russia's crying semi-neighbours too seriously. I can understand that Estonia feels a bit uneasy after the Russian military action in Georgia. It will make them conscious of their adversarial policy towards their Russian minority. But I don't think that there is a need to give them extra assurances.


realist said...

"Having a big former empire as neighbour is not always fun."

It is a current empire, too. Just ask the people of Chechnya, which became a colony of Russia in the late 19th century. It broke free during the 1990s, and was an independent nation. Then Putin ordered it to be crushed and annexed. Or ask the president of Ukraine, who was almost poisoned and assassinated by Russia because he wants Ukraine to be free and independent. Russia is even making noises about Cuba, which was a Soviet colony for many decades, wanting to support the Castro regime and keep Cubans from ever getting free.

Then there is the aggressive stance by Putin against Estonia because Estonia refuses to "properly" honor the Soviet soldiers that invaded, raped, and ravaged the nation during WW2.

Estonia honoring Soviet soldiers is like Israel honoring Nazi soldiers.

Wim Roffel said...

No country is happy to give up territory. You don't have to be an empire for that. The US civil war war about secession. But there is a big difference between not wanting to give up territory and wanting to add new territories that don't want you.

I have always felt unsure about Yushchenko's disease and recently I found this article that seemed to confirm my doubts.

Russians are a large minority in Estonia. The removal of the statue found place without consultation with the Russian minority and the new location was an insult for anyone who cared about the statue. This was a deliberate insult by racist politicians.

realist said...

"But there is a big difference between not wanting to give up territory and wanting to add new territories that don't want you."

How about wanting to keep territories that were attached to you in an illegitimate fashion, or that you invaded and colonized? Britain wanting to keep India, Serbia wanting to keep Kosovo, Nazi Germany wanting to keep Poland.

As for the statue, it was an insult to the Estonians, as it represented the brutal invasion and occupation of the country by an enemy empire. Estonia should carefully pack it up and send it back to Russia. It is not "racist", as the Estonians and Russians are of the same race. Removing a symbol of Soviet aggression and atrocity is no more outrageous than removing Nazi emblems from places.

Russians should not be offended by removal of symbols commemorating Soviet atrocities, just as Germans should not be offended at the removal of Nazi emblems.

Perhaps the Germans have matured, and no longer cling to the glories of their Nazi past, and it is time for Russians to stop clinging to the even worse "glories" of the Soviet emplre.

Wim Roffel said...

You know perfectly well what I mean with "racist". So why do you misinterpret me?

The statue was also the symbol of the Red Army driving out the Nazi's. You ignore that positive side. Estonia's Russian minority was rightly indignant for that denial of the positive things that Russians did.

The Estonian leaders knew perfectly well how their Russian citizens felt but they preferred to hurt their feelings in order to appeal to nationalist Estonians.

realist said...

That is "positive"? The Soviets did not liberate Estonia. They merely replaced the Nazi reign of terror with the Soviet reign of terror. They occupied the country for decades afterwards... raping, pillaging, and plundering. The Soviets kidnapped large numbers of Estonians and sent them to death camps in Russia. They crushed dissent and killed anyone who tried to bring democracy and freedom to Estonia: Estonia under Soviet control was always a terror state: a human rights nightmare. There was nothing positive that the Soviets did for Estonia. Only since the 1990s has Estonia start to come out of the nightmare.

The Soviets made things a lot worse for Estonia, actually. If the Soviets had stayed out of the country, the Nazis would have been driven out of Estonia by the western allies a couple of years later, and it would have become a free and independent country in the 1940s.... instead of 50 years later only after the Soviet empire fell. The Nazi atrocities in Europe were fleeting, while the Soviet atrocities were very long lasting.

Celebrating Soviet atrocities and those who committed them is just as bad as celebrating the "accomplishments" of the Nazis.

The Russian minority has no right to be indignant. The decades-long Soviet reign of terror, after all, killed more Russians than any other ethnic group.

After all, how many times do you see Germans defending Nazi "heroes"? Russians who defend Soviet atrocities are just as bad.

realist said...

As for "the positive things that Russians did" during their reign of terror in Estonia, let us look at specifics of these things. How positive are they?

This page has some chilling specifics about the atrocities during the Soviet wars against and occupation of Estonia.

There are line items for different sorts of human rights violations by the Soviets against Estonia (enslavement, execution, imprisonment, ethnic cleansing/deportation) during the separate periods of Soviet oppression of the place, and also what the Nazis did in between.

We can look at one of these line items alone: the 30,000 Estonian "CIVILIANS ARRESTED AND IMPRISONED FOR VARIOUS POLITICAL REASONS 1944-1951" during the Soviet war against Estonia. Why celebrate the Soviet soldiers who carried out these and other atrocities? What sort of sick Russian celebrates this?

You will also see the mention of 500,000 Soviet citizens settled in Estonia during the occupation: a matter of settling a colonized territory in coordination with an "ethnic cleansing" effort kidnapping and deporting tens of thousands of Estonians. This is the Russian population that wants war criminals celebrated in Estonia with memorial statues: very recent settlers.

How can you put a positive spin on the 3,750 who "DIED DURING RESETTLEMENT PROCESS" as one of the many positive things the Soviets did while they were slaughtering and imprisoning their conquered subjects in Estonia?

realist said...

According to Wikipedia, "The Cherokee Trail of Tears (also called the trail of Indian tears) refers to the forced relocation in 1838 of the Cherokee Nation from their lands in Georgia to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) in the Western United States, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 4,000 Cherokees.[1]"

This is similar in number to the "3,750 who "DIED DURING RESETTLEMENT PROCESS"" mentioned above.

Just to point out how one of the many Soviet atrocities against Estonia compared to another well-known instance of ethnic cleansing.

Given the facts of the unprovoked (did Estonia ever threaten Russia? Ever?) and unstopping brutality by the occupting Soviet army against Estonia, it is surprising that Estonia has not chosen to ship all of the monuments and remains of Soviet war criminals back to Moscow in dirty milk cartons.

They would be well within their rights to do so. There is certainly no reason to honor and celebrate the atrocities committed by an enemy empire upon Estonia.

Perhaps Russians in Estonia who insist that these rapists, murderers, and robbers be "honored" should be deported to Russia also. They certainly have no respect for the country they are in, or its people.