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BBC Monitoring
Russia has little time to continue complaints about Latvia - newspaper
Source: Lauku Avize, Riga, in Latvian 3 Jun 03

Russia is running out of time when it comes to its ongoing complaints about the way in which Russians are supposedly treated in Latvia, because 11 months from now Latvia will join the European Union, and then Moscow would instead have to claim that Russians are being mistreated in the EU, a Latvian newspaper has written. The newspaper argued that Russia will not do so, because that would make it appear laughable. The following is the text of the article by Ivars Andins, entitled "Dear little Russia" and published in the Latvian newspaper Lauku Avize on 3 June; subheadings inserted editorially:

Latvia had hoped that during the St Petersburg celebrations [the Russian city recently celebrated its 300th anniversary] it could move forward in terms of its relations with Russia, but that did not happen. It takes two to tango. In a brief discussion with Latvian President [Vaira] Vike-Freiberga, Russian Prime Minister [Mikhail] Kasyanov said that we "do not love or respect Russia". Tango? That is not even a Russian folk dance.

Since the historic meeting between Vike-Freiberga and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in Austria three years ago, the Latvian-Russian relationship has not taken even half a step toward what might be called good neighbourly relations. Russia's position is extremely clear. Members of Putin's so-called "presidential party" were among those who were noisily protesting outside the Latvian embassy in Moscow over our educational reforms. The fact that 60 per cent of lessons are to be taught in Latvian [in ethnic minority schools after September 2004] seems to them to be something inhumane - a horrendous form of humiliation.

Russia and Europe

When it comes to the G8 group of nations and the European Union, meanwhile, Russia speaks a very different language. How justified is it to include Russia among the so-called big eight, by the way? In economic terms it is nowhere near the major powers. Its gross domestic product is approximately the same as that of Mexico or the Netherlands. One needs about as much time to cross the Netherlands by car as one needs to cross the city of Moscow, but the Netherlands and Mexico are not terribly bitter about the loss of an empire. Neither do they have any atomic bombs.

Meanwhile, the European Union was greatly surprised by Russia when it was invited to take part in a very intimate dance. Putin called on the EU to introduce a visa-free regime with Russia. At the same time, Putin did not ask that Germany, in which there will soon be more Russian speakers than there are in Latvia, open up schools where all lessons are taught in Russian.

Nothing of the sort. The president of the European Commission, [Romano] Prodi, got so carried away in describing the outstanding cooperation between the two sides that he claimed that Russia and the European Union are as compatible as caviar and vodka. Of course, it may be that this was just a masterful form of gallantry, because Europeans prefer to drink champagne with their caviar.

Russia's thinking

For the last decade, as has been the case for centuries, Russia's understanding of things such as democracy and the rights of countries and nations has been even worse than a presentation of caviar with buttermilk. The Russians have always thought that they can place much higher demands against small countries which are or which have once been subordinated to them. For some reason they are asking Latvia and other countries to observe Russia's own standards of human rights, not those which are observed by the western democracies. Let us not even speak of Chechnya. First they argue that we are hateful, and then they are surprised that we do not love them.

I can promise, however, that I will love Russia or even adore it when the eastern border of the European Union and NATO passes through [the far eastern Latvian town of] Zilupe. For the time being, however, there is something else that is the most important thing. I believe that Russia has only 11 more months to sing the tired old song which claims that "Russians are being oppressed and persecuted in Latvia". If on 1 May 2004 [when Latvia is due to join the EU] it were instead to say that "Russians are being oppressed and persecuted in the European Union", that would sound silly, to put it mildly.

Russia has never been particularly upset when it has been caught in a web of lies, but it has always panicked about the possibility that it might become laughable. One assumes that Russia will not sink to such depths of dishonour. Deep in their hearts, the Russians are wise and kind. At the decisive moment they will be rescued by common sense. Of course, we ourselves must display common sense first - on 20 September [the date of the Latvian referendum on EU accession].

Source: Lauku Avize, Riga, in Latvian 3 Jun 03

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