My native country, Latvia, one of the Baltic states, feels threatened by Putin’s aggressive policy in Ukraine. Here’s why: Latvia, according to the CIA World Factbook, has a Russian population of 26.2 percent, higher than the population of Russians in Ukraine (at 17.3 perent) and higher than in any other former Soviet republic.
When Latvia was first a free nation (from 1918 until after World War II), Russians made up about 10 percent of the population. They were citizens of Latvia and became if not exactly steeped in Latvian culture, then at least comfortable with it and participated in civic life. However, when Latvia was “annexed” by the Soviet Union after World War II, it was Soviet policy to resettle all three of the Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania), which meant forcibly removing the Balts from their countries and shipping them off to either Siberia or other remote locations within Russia and replacing them with Russians. In this way, not only would Baltic culture get watered down but so would any national sentiment.
At present, Russians make up close to half the population of Riga, the capital. Of all the Russians in Latvia now, only 56 percent have chosen to become Latvian citizens. Russians who are not citizens have a sense of entitlement born of former Soviet rule. They want Russian to be an official language of Latvia; they want to keep properties that were taken illegally from Latvians by the Soviets.
And, most significantly, Putin’s propaganda and Russian news media encourage Russians to label Latvian nationalists as Nazis while portraying Russian nationalists as a put-upon minority.
This is the same technique the former Soviet rulers used and that Putin uses now again in Ukraine: the Ukranians who protest are characterized as Nazis. Yet in actuality, it’s the Russian-allied Ukranian government that is resorting to anti-Semitism, instructing the riot police to denounce the opposition as being led by Jews.
It’s not a question of Nazis OR Jews, but rather a struggle between ideologies — between those Ukranians who favor the European Union (that is, principles of equality, democracy and the rule of law) and those like Putin who want his Eurasian Union (authoritarian rule).
What I didn’t know about Eurasian ideology, I have learned from Timothy Snyder, eminent historian and professor at Yale who speaks and/or reads 10 languages and consequently gets information on Eastern Europe firsthand. Snyder writes that Eurasian ideology founded around 2001 by a Russian political scientist, Aleksandr Dugin, proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. It believes in drawing what “is useful” from both fascism and Stalinism.
I have always thought fascism and communism had more in common than not, but I’m still shocked that National Bolshevism supports a far-right party called Rodina (Motherland) that in 2005 asked that all Jewish organizations be banned from Russia. Sergei Glazyev, co-founder of Rodina, is also the Kremlin’s point man for Eurasian and Ukranian policy.
The media campaign for the Eurasian Union is headed by Dmitry Kiselyov, host of the most important talk show in Russia, as well as director of the state-run media group. Media characterize the European Union as “decadent,” conspiring “economic genocide” against Russia, and promoting gay rights.
Where is 21st century’s George F. Kennan (brilliant “father of containment” policy after World War II) when we need him?