On June 4 in Prague, Russian left-wing activists from the three Baltic states led the founding conference of the “Russian Party of the European Union.” Main initiators of the party are: Tatyana Zhdanoka from Latvia, Georgii Bystrov from Estonia, and Sergey Dmitriev from Lithuania.
The group has established three main programmatic goals: to promote the “rights of the Russian-speaking population” throughout the European Union (EU), including universal citizenship or residence; to enhance the status of the Russian language in the EU, “including the right of Europe’s Russian-speaking inhabitants to be educated in their mother tongue”; and, to provide a “bridge between the EU and Russia.” The group hopes to attain seats in the European Parliament.
Russian activists residing in several European countries joined those from the Baltic states in the founding conference. By their own definition and count, “the Russian-speaking minority is the EU’s largest minority, with over six million people,” including two million in the Baltic states. In order to meet Europarliament criteria for a European party – as distinct from a collection of country-based parties — the Russian Party would need to spark formation of similar parties in at least one-quarter of EU member countries. Moreover, these parties are required to have representation in either their respective parliaments or in local elective councils. These criteria are being met at the moment in the Baltic states, which officially became EU members on May 1.
No official representative from Russia attended the founding conference of the new party. Konstantin Kosachev, the Duma’s foreign affairs committee chairman, commented in an interview in Izvestia that it is the right of Russian politicians from the Baltic states to establish such a party, but it may complicate Russia’s relations with the European Parliament. Kosachev said, “Anti-Russian forces may in this event accuse Russia of forcing its way inside the Europarliament’s walls.” Russia’s state television channel NTV Mir — beamed to the CIS and Baltic states as well as the Russian diaspora in the West — reported favorably on the party’s founding conference.
In this month’s Europarliamentary elections, Zhdanoka seems strongly positioned to win a seat from Latvia, where Russian voters form a relatively large bloc. Her main campaign issue is resistance to education reforms. Specifically, Zhdanoka is opposed to increasing the proportion of classes taught in Latvian in those state secondary schools where Russian is still the main language of instruction. Beyond this tactical issue, Zhdanoka opposes Latvian national statehood as such. She previously took this position in the name of Soviet equality until 1991, and, later, under the banner of “human rights.” Her group, “Equal Rights,” is a radical organization within the Russian and “Russian-speaking” bloc in Latvia.
Bystrov, mayor of a small town near Tallinn, is the joint candidate of most of Estonia’s Russian parties and associations in the Europarliament elections. He has a long and continuous record of noncompliance with the country’s language legislation. Dmitriev represents Lithuania’s relatively small Russian minority in that country’s Parliament. He and several colleagues expressed sympathy for Lithuanian Communist leaders who were sentenced for their role in the 1991 Soviet crackdown. Bystrov has also visited President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after European parliamentary institutions, as well as Lithuania’s Parliament, suspended contacts with the Belarusan dictator.
These politicians and their constituencies fit the mold that Sergey Karaganov has described as “levo-russkie” (Russians of the left) in Baltic and CIS states. Meanwhile, the Baltic states are witnessing the emergence of what might be termed Euro-Russians. This promising trend does not suit leaders of the Russian Party of the European Union in the Baltic states who thrive on their status as levo-russkies (BNS, June 1, 4; NTV Mir, June 4).