February 3, 2010

How to Address the ‘Humanitarian Dimension’ of Russian Foreign Policy?

Russia’s objective to create a common ‘Russian diaspora’ of its compatriots and Estonia’s wish to integrate more effectively its Russian-speaking population constitute two competing paradigms.

3.02.2010, Juhan Kivirähk
Russia’s objective to create a common ‘Russian diaspora’ of its compatriots and Estonia’s wish to integrate more effectively its Russian-speaking population constitute two competing paradigms.
It is quite usual that large nations believe it is their mission to spread their language and culture in the world. In Estonia, we are well acquainted with such organisations as the Goethe Institute, the British Council, the Centre Culturel Français, the Pushkin Institute, and so on. Globalisation inevitably leads to stronger cultural, educational and scientific links and closer humanitarian cooperation between countries. Obviously, these processes increase the domination of bigger cultures and, in a way, their spheres of influence in the foreign policy arena.
The ability to affect the behaviour of a target group through cultural attraction and by setting a positive example was defined by Joseph S. Nye as ‘soft power.’ The key components of a state’s ‘soft power’ are its culture, values and policies. According to Nye, the main instruments for the implementation of ‘soft power’ are public diplomacy, the mass media, exchange programmes, the provision of development aid, and so on.1 One of the preconditions for the integration of East European states within the European Union was the very attractiveness of Western values and lifestyle, together with their desire to embrace (or return to) Western culture.
In addition to the development of cultural contacts, ever more people find themselves living in places other than their home country, as the world is becoming increasingly small. And it is praiseworthy when their country of origin keeps in touch with them and tries to help them, if necessary. The Estonian government, among others, has adopted a programme for Estonian compatriots for 2009–2013, which aims to support the preservation and development of Estonian culture and language outside Estonia. We want to help our compatriots mostly in the fields of education, culture, information exchange, the preservation of religious identity and repatriation.
Two of the above objectives – to spread the Russian language and culture in the world and to unite people of Russian origin, who live outside Russia, by forming a common Russian diaspora – have also been integrated into the definition of the ‘humanitarian trend’ in Russian foreign policy. Unfortunately, the aims of this foreign policy concept clearly intertwine with Russia’s geopolitical ambitions. ‘The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation Until 2020,’2  which was approved by the Russian President this spring, does not even attempt to disguise the fact that a common and united diaspora of Russian compatriots is viewed as an important tool for Russia in achieving its foreign policy aims.
It is noteworthy that in its foreign policy language, Russia does not use Nye’s term ‘soft power,’ but prefers its own ‘humanitarian trend.’ Knowing Russia’s track record, the word ‘soft’ seems to be slightly inappropriate; the more so as being ‘soft’ would not probably be a trait that Russia would like to draw attention to.
After all, Russia wants to be a derzhava – a great and powerful state – while ‘softness’ is an indication of weakness. The topics of a public competition on possible developments in the 21st century, which was organised by the Russkiy Mir Foundation, are particularly characteristic of this attitude. The name of the creative competition was ‘Derzhava 2009’ and its three subcategories were ‘Velikaya derzhava’ (‘A great power’), ‘Yedinaya derzhava’ (‘A united power’) and ‘Russkiy Mir’ (‘The Russian world’).
In order to analyse the ‘humanitarian trend,’ which has been included in Russia’s foreign policy weaponry, six think-tanks in its target countries carried out a comparative study. Their research results were published in a book, with the title of The ‘Humanitarian Dimension’ of Russian Foreign Policy Toward Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltic States, which was presented for the first time at the end of October in Chişinău. The National Endowment for Democracy, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the East–East: Partnership Beyond Borders Program of the Open Estonia Foundation supported the implementation of the research project. An independent Latvian think-tank – the Centre for East European Policy Studies – coordinated the project. The International Centre for Defence Studies was the Estonian partner.
Russia has declared that purposeful actions in the following fields are key components of the humanitarian trend: 1) the defence of human rights; 2) the protection of the interests of compatriots living abroad and their consolidation into a united community; 3) consular matters; and 4) partnerships in the cultural, educational and scientific sectors.3
Together with an analysis of general trends in Russian foreign policy, the study contains six case studies. Every case study provides an overview of the developments from 2006 to 2008 in each participating country in the above four areas. In addition, it was decided to devote special attention to a fifth area as well – the impact of Russian mass media on the attitudes and informedness of the Russian-speaking population in each host country.
Having restored its independence, Estonia took its rightful place in international organisations, from the OSCE to the UN. Russia has tried ever since to accuse us of abusing the human rights of our Russian-speaking population. I can only imagine how tedious it must have been for Estonian diplomats to counter these kinds of statements – as if reproduced on a copier – which Russian diplomatic representatives continued to make year in year out. Nonetheless, it is clear that the number of people who take their accusations seriously is steadily dwindling all around the world. What bias or discrimination could there be, given that even the leaders of the Bronze Soldier riots were acquitted by Estonian courts? In addition, a recent judgement by the European Court of Human Rights, which partially upheld a complaint by a Russian military pensioner, Nikolai Mikolenko, and which Russia is currently advertising as a major victory over Estonia, concerned only procedural arrangements, without denying Estonia the right to expel Mikolenko – the court found fault only with the excessive period of his detainment in an internment centre.
As Russia seems to have decided to undermine Estonia’s reputation in the international arena and as the human rights issue has been more or less exhausted, Russia has put its stakes on a new card – history. This trend began at the festivities commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow and has intensified year by year. In 2008, Russian representatives have used every opportunity they have had in various international forums to accuse Estonia of rehabilitating Nazism and persecuting anti-Fascists.
Of course, their declarations were mostly inspired by the Bronze Soldier riots in Tallinn in April 2007. However, when looking at the implementation of the ‘humanitarian dimension’ in Russia’s neighbouring countries from a more systematic perspective, one cannot help but ask whether their insinuating remarks were indeed motivated by the Bronze Soldier, or was the Bronze Soldier necessary in order to substantiate their accusations?
The topic of history has also been added to the arsenal of compatriots’ organisations that operate in Estonia. ‘Nochnoy Dozor’ (‘Night Watch’) already gained prominence during the Bronze Soldier riots. The Impressum Media Club has held a series of events where ‘experts’ from Russia called into question the occupation of Estonia, mass deportations and other historical facts. At the same time, the perpetrators of these acts were glorified as heroes. For example, the Estonian Anti-Fascist Committee was solemnly named after Arnold Meri, a Hero of the Soviet Union, who had been put on trial for participating in mass deportations. As an aside, the Finnish branch of this organisation is headed by the notorious Johan Bäckman.
At the presentation of the book in Chişinău, one Moldovan politician asked us what we intended to do with all the information we had gathered, as it was clearly beyond our power to change Russia’s behaviour. True, it would be rather futile to hope that by throwing accusations at Russia we could elicit changes in its behaviour.
However, we need to know the nature and patterns of Russia’s ‘humanitarian foreign policy’ in order to take them into account in our activities and, if necessary, to respond adequately to them. As a component of the ‘humanitarian trend’, ‘soft power’ exerts a long-term and imperceptible effect, which is the more profound, the greater the gaps we leave with our actions or inactions for the Russians to fill with their compatriots’ policy. After all, it is not that hard to notice that Russia’s objective to create a common ‘Russian diaspora’ of its compatriots and Estonia’s wish to integrate more effectively its Russian-speaking population constitute two competing paradigms.
We have to take a selective approach to Russia’s activities in implementing its ‘humanitarian trend.’ Russia’s help to its compatriots should not be treated by default as hostile or detrimental. A good example here is Estonian-Russian cultural cooperation, which has been quite successful during the last two decades, regardless of all kinds of collisions at the state level. This is an area where cooperation is based on concrete contracts, the results of which thousands of Estonian and Russian theatre, cinema, music and visual art admirers have enjoyed over many years. Undoubtedly, it would be hard for Estonian scientists to imagine their professional activities without close contacts with Russian universities and research institutes.
While Russian TV channels grant us the opportunity to watch good Russian films, theatrical performances and entertainment, they also spread hostile and clearly inaccurate information everyday. Unfortunately, most of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia trust these sources of information. As a result, there are vastly contrasting views in our society on the advantages of being a member of NATO and the causes of the war in Georgia, not to mention different historical interpretations of the reasons why the Second World War broke out, the occupation of Estonia, and other similar issues.
The preservation of the Russian language space is a key component of Russia’s compatriots’ policy. What could we have against the Pushkin Institute, which makes praiseworthy efforts to promote the Russian language and culture in Estonia? At the same time, we must be very careful not to allow the preservation campaign of the Russian language to undermine the positions of the Estonian language, which is, after all, the official language in Estonia.
Moreover, we must take into account the fact that the implementation of Russia’s compatriots’ policy has started only recently. The whole concept was revealed in 2007; the Estonian branch of the Russkiy Mir Foundation was opened in 2008; in the same year, Russotrudnichestvo, a Russian federal agency, was established. It is likely that these organisations will become more active in Estonia in the coming years.
Luckily, despite the dark shadows left by the bronze nights, the Russian-style ‘soft’ policy does not seem to appeal to most Russian compatriots who live in Estonia. This is also evidenced by the results of the latest local municipal elections and the negligible popularity of the compatriots’ representatives among the Russian-speaking population. People who live in Estonia have become accustomed to a democratic way of life, while the processes of formulating the bodies that represent Russian compatriots do not follow democratic procedures, but Russia’s preferences. Dmitry Kondrashov, editor-in-chief of the journal Baltiyskiy Mir, has declared: “Russia chooses its partners by itself.”
So, the people whose interests the compatriots’ policy allegedly protects are actually used as a tool for the realisation of Russia’s imperialistic ambitions. The aim of Russia’s efforts to consolidate the Russian-speaking population in Estonia is not to make them a part of Estonian society, but rather to push them outside society and to lead them into confrontation with it. Instead of making Russia’s image more attractive (which would be in accordance with the nature of ‘soft policy’), the policy raises risk perceptions about Russia and increases tensions between nations. If Russia were sincerely interested in improving the situation of its compatriots in their host country and in empowering them to play a more active role in Estonian society, it would not leave the mark of a ‘fifth column’ on them.
It is therefore important that those Estonian politicians, who are fond of playing the Russian card before each and every election, keep in mind and take into account the existence of the ‘humanitarian trend.’
After all, the success of the Centre Party in Tallinn and the East Viru County was quite predictable due to a large proportion of Russian voters in the electorate. The same has happened in previous elections as well, but these elections were the first after the notorious April riots in 2007. Although the Russian population did not vote for the ‘heroes’ of the bronze nights, their political bias carries significant risks. Its very existence points to social tensions and the need for and potential of consolidation in the Russian community. It is crucial that this consolidation is carried out with a focus on Estonia, instead of following the schemes of the architects of our neighbouring country’s ‘humanitarian trend.’
Our activities – Estonia’s national and citizenship policies – therefore play a major role in preventing our Russian-speaking population from supporting the Putin-Medvedev doctrine of ‘sovereign democracy,’ which currently dominates Russia. Instead, many Russians in Estonia should be guided towards backing the implementation of real reforms in Russia and its integration with the Euro-Atlantic community that is committed to human rights and democracy.
On October 23, Samuel Golomb, Director of the Tallinn Jewish School, wrote in Õpetajate Leht about a trip to Russia by students of Russian-speaking schools in Estonia. He pointed out that when Estonian Russians go to Russia, they suddenly become aware of their European values. They are stunned by the absence of some basic freedoms, which they take for granted. The title of his article was My Eyes Are Estonian Eyes.
Indeed, despite the election victory of the political force that enjoys the support of most Russians in the Estonian capital, it was the Communist faction in the Russian Duma that began to protest about the lack of democracy in the country after Moscow’s municipal elections… Against this background, the advantages of democracy in Estonia should be quite obvious to everyone.
I think that the call by Indrek Teder, Chancellor of Justice, to push the reset button on our integration policy by helping Estonian Russians to reinforce their Estonian identity was very well timed, so as to enable us to buck the ‘humanitarian trend’ in Russia’s compatriots’ policy and to thwart its accompanying imperialistic ambitions.
1 Jospeh S. Nye, Jr., “Get Smart,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 88, No. 4, July/August 2009, pp. 160–163.
2 Стратегия национальной безопасности Российской Федерации до 2020 года, http://www.scrf.gov.ru/documents/99.html.
3 Обзор внешней политики Российской Федерации, http://www.un.int/russia/new/MainRootrus/docs/off_news/270307/newru1.htm.

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