Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Refusal to Acknowledge

On November 1, the Estonian newspaper Postimees published the text of a report containing an interview with Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee, by Toomas Sildam. In the interview, Kosachev claims that the Soviet occupation of Estonia "did not exist."

Russia does not acknowledge the occupation of the Baltic States by the USSR because the noncitizen residents in Estonia would then become occupiers, explains Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, the State Duma.

[Sildam] Dostoyevsky wrote that Russians have two motherlands - Europe and Russia. How should this be understood?

[Kosachev] The dispute - whether Russia is Asia, Europe, or something else - started before Dostoyevsky and continues today, splitting our society. My unconditional support goes to Russia's choice in the direction of Europe, and I do not mean the commercial-economic nuances, but the general values, European intellectuality.

A modern society can consider itself developed if three basic concepts have been established in it: a market economy; democracy, accompanied by consciousness, freedom of the press, an independent judicial branch - and separation of powers in general; and third, the social protection of the people.

[Sildam] What would be Russian society's alternative to the European choice?

[Kosachev] It is pseudo-patriotic to claim that Russia has no friends in the world and that it can only rely on its strength. Do you remember the famous statement by Alexander I, that Russia had only two allies: the army and the navy?

Of course, Russia needs a strong army, navy, and economy, but the pseudo-patriotic attitude will bring us closer to isolationism because it recommends acting according to personal interests. That seems fatal to me.

Sooner or later, cooperation with the surrounding world has to become the only possible project for Russia, in spite of the temptation that opposition may sometimes give better results.

[Sildam] What should be done with the border treaty between Russia and Estonia, which Russia quit?

[Kosachev] I am optimistic here, rather than pessimistic. We - the government and the parliament - feel a little offended, because when we proposed adding a political declaration to the border treaty,Estonia said: Why? The treaty is a technical document.

We agreed, but the Estonian Parliament still attached a political burden to it like a wagon.

The lawyers are now arguing whether the wording of your act of ratification will enable further territorial claims, but lawyers are lawyers. The political side of the case is more important.

[Sildam] What is going to happen?

[Kosachev] Strategically, I have no doubt that political declarations have to be removed from technical agreements, and they must be ratified as technical agreements.

Tactically, a slightly renewed text has to be published. Some political points could even be added to the preamble with mutual approval in order to escape this dead end. This way, the document could be viewed formally, as the basis of new negotiations and of later ratification.

We both have to agree with mutual compromises and maintain our face. It cannot happen with one side making concessions and the other not.

[Sildam] So you are talking about new border negotiations between Estonia and Russia?

[Kosachev] That is the official position of Russia, and I see no reason to reconsider.

[Sildam] How do you view Estonia - is it a country that became independent in 1991 or a country that reestablished the independence that was lost in 1940?

[Kosachev] If we concentrate too much on history, we only get unwanted results. I am categorically against legally describing the Soviet era in Estonia as an occupation. Politically, any evaluation can be given.

In no way do I justify the crimes of the Soviet leaders of that era - Stalin and his companions - against Estonia and other neighbouring countries, as well as against their own nation. But, once again, what happened can be legally called anything but occupation.

[Sildam] Why?

[Kosachev] By not giving Estonian citizenship to one category of residents, you make them hostages of the situation. If we imagine even hypothetically that Russia would acknowledge the occupation, all of those people would become occupiers. It would be absolutely morally unacceptable to Russia.

[Sildam] Still, was Estonia founded in 1991 or 1918?

[Kosachev] I support the approach that the Republic of Estonia was founded in 1991. We may have different opinions about the Soviet period, but any recognition of the unbroken Estonian state would legally mean acknowledging the occupation.

I do not want that. Estonia was not independent during the Soviet era. It lost its independence in 1940, and in 1991 Estonia emerged on the world map as a new country.

[Sildam] Why did United Russia send a congratulatory telegram to the Centre Party after the local elections?

[Kosachev] If we have an agreement to cooperate with them and they do well in the elections, then why should we not do that? There is nothing strange about it.

[Sildam] Where does the historical foundation of Russia lie today - is it, for example, Peter I and the "window to Europe," or Alexander II and the abolition of serfdom?

[Kosachev] For me, it is pre-Revolutionary Russia. The crimes of the Bolshevik Party and ideology against their nation threw us decades back in time, maybe even centuries. The biggest tragedy for Russia is losing the bond with history, because several generations grew up in denial of their history. It is a national trauma that we still have not completely overcome.

[Sildam] How well is Russia doing right now?

[Kosachev] Yes, we are still far from many things that are characteristic of united Europe. But we are no longer standing at one point or hesitating which way to take. We are moving on.

Of course, we are lucky right now for the favourable outward factors - the price of oil helps. But this is not the main thing. The main thing is that we have definitely chosen a market economy, human rights, and have returned to the social protection of the people, which was forgotten in the 1990s and because of which many people take a very cautious attitude towards the ideas of democracy and freedom and are ready to support the authoritarian phenomenon for the sake of stability.

[Sildam] Is everything fine with human rights in Russia?

[Kosachev] No, everything is not fine, if we think of the press and the freedom of entrepreneurship, too.

The problems are known; we just cannot find the best recipe for each case. For example, the excessive use of force by the federal troops in the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya. This is a headache for us. It is difficult to solve this in a way that human rights will be taken into consideration and the operation will not be harmed.

[Sildam] What will Russia be like after Putin?

[Kosachev] I hope Russia will not lose the stability and positive progress that Putin's eight-year term has given to us.

[Sildam] Where will the new president come from?

[Kosachev] From among the people.

Three Thoughts

- The dispute - whether Russia is Asia, Europe, or something else - started before Dostoyevsky and continues today, splitting our society.

- I am categorically against legally describing the Soviet era in Estonia as an occupation.

- The biggest tragedy for Russia is losing the bond with history, because several generations grew up in denial of their history.

Opinion

Vahur Made, Deputy Director of the Estonian School of Diplomacy

It is always useful to know the arguments of your opponent and how he thinks.

If Kosachev refers to moral reasons, it shows that it is a problem of domestic policy, in which moral reasons give and take the votes of the electors.

Estonia has to work within the EU for the sake of the Union reaching a solution on the topic of all of Eastern Europe falling into the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.

In the new foreign policy yearbook, I propose that the EU should pass a resolution that would condemn the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, while noting that this will not bring any sanctions for Russia.

If that fails, our problems will stay topical for a very long time, like the problems of Russia and Japan.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Vice Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Social Democratic Party
Russia's unwillingness to acknowledge the occupation of the Baltics is more of a psychological alarm than anything else.

Such an apology (from Russia) will not come during this regime. For this reason, we have more practical things to tend to. Estonia could talk a lot more in the EU capitals about the things that are important to us. For example, the border treaty with Russia and the German-Russian gas pipeline via the Baltic Sea.

Marko Mihkelson, Deputy Chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Res Publica :

If Moscow thinks that the occupation of the Baltic States did not exist, there is no reason to believe that Russia belongs to the European cultural space. Kosachev's concern for his countrymen is unfounded. They are feeling good in the EU. He should be much more concerned about the future of Russia. The more we look into the distorting mirror of history, the greater the danger of incorrectly evaluating the things that are happening now.

(via BBC Monitoring)

Hat tip: Marius
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