In the geopolitical balance of power Baltic countries are situated just between Western European civilization and Russian civilization. The balance of power between these geopolitical centers of power changes from time to time. The geopolitical pendulum swings from side to side, and the Baltic nations find themselves in the sphere of influence of one or the other center of civilization.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pendulum of power swung towards Western Europe. Therefore Baltic nations fell into the sphere of influence of the European civilization personified by European Union (EU). Moreover, EU has established political control over two million people who have identified themselves as Russians. In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Russians (in the broadest sense) made up 10 to 50% of the total population.
The national democratic elites that came to power in the newly formed republics on the coast of the Baltic Sea forcibly ousted abroad from a quarter to a half of all Russians. The remaining Russians were subjected to “soft” but systematic assimilation.
Most of Russians who remained in Latvia and Estonia were forcibly deprived of citizenship by the authorities and restricted in active and passive suffrage, the right to serve in public institutions and work in state enterprises, the right to practice “free” professions, property rights, the right to occupy leading positions in business, the right on retire. In total, the new laws established more than 80 differences in the rights of citizens and non-citizens.
The Russian language was deprived of its official status and forcibly ousted from the public sphere. Special language commissions were created. These commissions detected those persons who did not speak the language of the titular nation and fined them. Afterwards their dismissal from work was initiated. The authorities closed groups in public higher education with Russian as the language of education, significantly limited the possibilities of studying in Russian in public secondary schools.
The Russian intelligentsia was dismissed from state institutions of education, culture, science, and later marginalized. The museums have liquidated expositions that told about the thousand-year history of Russians in the Baltic states. They began to confiscate and destroy books in Russian from libraries. On the background of market reforms, the Russian press was closed, while the press of the titular ethnic groups received state subsidies and grants. State TV and radio channels broadcasting in Russian were gradually closed.
The authorities of the Baltic republics replaced the traditional Russian topographic names with Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian toponyms. Accordingly, Russian names and surnames were transformed. These were exactly the same instruments of the compulsory deprivation of Russian people of their ethnic identity.
In general, over a decade and a half of independence, an ethnic hierarchy has developed in the Baltic republics, in which only representatives of the titular ethnic groups found themselves at the highest rungs of the social ladder, and representatives of ethnic minorities, primarily Russians, were ousted to the lower rungs of this ladder. Among the victims were also Poles in Lithuania, Latgalians in Latvia, Setos in Estonia.
The created hierarchy was supported by force of laws and legal institutes, which means athat the discrimination based by ethnicity has been institutional.
The ethnocracy in Baltic countries was radically different from the same model of social order on which post-war Western European society was built. Nevertheless Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were admitted to European Union in 2004. The Baltic governing elites promised Brussels to immediately eliminate the most egregious human rights abuses in their countries upon accession in EU, but they never kept their promises.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia became its legal successor. Russia recognized the right of all former Soviet citizens to obtain Russian citizenship and accepted refugees on its territory. The problem of splitness of Russian nation was not officially recognized by the Russian authorities. Russia was building the Russian nation, and foreign compatriots were not estimated as a part of it. Moscow did not provide real support to the Russian diasporas abroad, did not protect them from ethnic discrimination, and practically did not maintain relations with activists who defended the rights of ethnic Russians.
Events in Crimea and Baltic Russians
In 2014, the European geopolitical pendulum swung in the opposite direction and the Russian-populated Crimea passed to Russia. The Donbass, populated by Russians, achieved its independence. This happened because Russia moved from building a Russian nation in the sense of rossyane (Russians who live only in Russia) to building a Russian nation in the sense of russkiye (Russians in general). Russia became concerned about the fate of its compatriots. The national radicals who came to power in Kiev threatened the Russian people with genocide, and Russia eliminated the danger of possible ethnic cleansing. The six-year civil war in Donbass has shown that the Russians’ fears were not unfounded.
In response to these key geopolitical changes on the continent, the top European elites decided to move from “soft” to “hard” assimilation of the Russian population living in the Baltics. The elected strategy assumed that by these means all Russia’s actions to protect the Russian diasporas from discrimination, persecution and genocide by the local ruling national-radical elites would be eliminated. In other words since there are no Russians, then there is no reason for their protection by the mother state.
Thus, the European ruling elites made an attempt to forcefully stop the movement of the geopolitical pendulum, which is changing its position not only for ethnic reasons.
After the Crimean events, national-radical elites came to power in the Baltic republics and began to implement a policy of forcible assimilation of the local Russian population. It was planned to have time to carry it out before Russia acquires greater geopolitical weight that will inevitably lead to the changing of existing unipolar system of power in the world.
In Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the so-called “school reforms” were completed in an accelerated manner. As a result all Russian children were deprived of the opportunity to receive education in their native language in the state school system. In Latvia, an interdiction of education at school in Russian concerned not only state, but also private schools and private higher educational institutions. Moreover, the policy of forced letonization was extended to state and private kindergartens. This was a violation of the right of the Russian minority to preserve their ethnic identity and a violation of the right of free business.
During the “school reform”, the study of the culture and history of the Russian people was completely excluded from all educational curricula. In the remaining educational component, a sense of interiority and an idea to change ethnicity began to be imposed on Russian children. This was made, for example, by imposing on them the concept of “Soviet occupation”, “the responsibility of Russians for the genocide of indigenous ethnic groups,” and the glorification of Nazi criminals in their educational courses.
Non-citizens in Latvia and Estonia remained infringed on their rights. Official Riga and Tallinn have completely forgotten about the promise to the authorities of the EU, CoE and UNO to liquidate the shameful institution of non-citizens.
Commercial TV channels that broadcast in Russian were closed in Latvia and Lithuania, and the Russian-speaking TV channel that remained in Estonia began to be used by the authorities as a tool to suppress the ethnic identity of the Russian population. At the same time, the authorities of all three Baltic republics prohibited the retransmission of the leading Russian TV channels, which ensured the conservation of the identity of the Russian population. This was done in violation of the right of TV viewers to choose their own sources of information and in violation of the constitutional provisions that prohibited any types and forms of censorship.
After 2014, in all three Baltic republics, the struggle to destroy the public consciousness of the Russian population intensified. For this purpose, monuments of material culture associated with the history of Russians were liquidated or desecrated, in particular the monuments to the fighters against fascism during the Second World War. The prohibition of the use of Soviet symbols, which for seventy years were also Russian ethnic symbols, was tightened. The Soviet flag, anthem, coat of arms, Soviet military uniform and awards were declared totalitarian and banned from use at public events.
In fact, the ruling Baltic national-radical elites carried out a state ideology. Its provisions were to be taken on faith by the population, and an open deviation from the established dogmas was punishable under state criminal law. One of the elements of this official doctrine was the assessment of Russians and other ethnic minorities as inferior ethnic groups.
For example, the case with the deputy of the ruling coalition in the Parliament of Latvia Edwin Shnore, who in May 2017 publicly identified the Russians as “lice” and called for their “removal” from the “fur coats” of the republic, that is, called for the massacres of people by ethnicity. The republic’s prosecutor’s office refused to the demands of Russian activists to bring the russophobe deputy to justice. Therefore, they confirmed the legitimacy of the official’s incitement of ethnic hatred and call for genocide. This is just one of many dozens of cases when the ruling national-radical elites have called for reprisals against ethnic minorities in the Baltic countries.
As a tool for destroying Russian identity, the authorities of the Baltic countries widely use the glorification of Nazism, in the fight against which the Russians suffered huge sacrifices. In the Baltic republics processions and solemn events organized by the followers of Adolf Hitler are allowed. Nazi criminals are buried in the national memorial cemeteries, on whose graves officials lay flowers in recognition of their merits. Literature glorifying Nazism is being published and openly distributed. These facts demonstrate the readiness of a part of the ruling elites to restore the model of the social structure that existed in Europe under the so-called “New Order” in the 30s-40s of the last century.
At the same time, the Latvian authorities are prosecuting those who fought during the war against Nazis and those who now take anti-fascist positions.
Russian protests against the policy of forced assimilation
Russian communities in the Baltic countries do not want to become victims of assimilation. They are actively protesting against the violence perpetrated by the national-radical ruling elites.
In Latvia, the beginning of the “school reform” in 2004 caused mass protests, demonstrations, meetings, and hunger strikes made by parents. Many tens of thousands of parents and schoolchildren participated in the protests. In 2014, an attempt to speed up “school reform” sparked a new wave of outrage and protests. Human activity in the form of mass protest actions, meetings and petitioning continued in 2017-2019. As a means of defending the interests of their community, Russians have initiated hundreds of claims to the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2012, Russian activists held a referendum to improve the legal status of Russian language. In it absolutely all of the Russian population with legal capacity (almost three hundred thousand people) spoke in favor of giving it the status of a state language. Numerous non-citizens of the Latvian Republic, for whom Russian was native, could not take part in this referendum. The authorities completely ignored the demands of two fifths of the population.
Russians have protested against the deprivation of their citizenship since the authorities made this decision in October 1991. In 2014, a massive protest movement, the Congress of Non-Citizens, emerged in Latvia, and activists held elections to an alternative representative body. It was called the Parliament of the Unrepresented. Activists of the movement of non-citizens petitioned the UNO, CoE, EP, heads of the world’s leading powers.
One of the forms of demonstration by the Russian communities of their intention to preserve their identity is the annual celebration of the Day of Victory over Fascism, holding, as part of this celebration, a procession in honor of the fallen soldiers, which is called the Immortal Regiment. Several hundred thousand people annually take part in the celebration of May 9 in Latvia, tens of thousands of people take part in the procession of the Immortal Regiment.
In 2007 in Estonia mass protests broke out against the destruction by the authorities of the Russian national symbol – the Bronze Soldier. It was a memorial on the grave of the soldiers who died during the liberation of Tallinn from the Nazis. Many thousands of people took part in the protests. The protests were brutally suppressed by Estonian police forces, and several Russian activists were sent to prison without any legal reason.
Numerous demonstrations, protests, pickets against the forced estonization of Russian schools were held in the country. For ten years now, the human rights organization “Russian School” has been fighting for the preservation of schools that still have partial teaching in Russian.
An organization representing the interests of non-citizens operates in Estonia.
One hundred thousand people annually take part in the celebration of Victory Day in Estonia, and thousands of people take part in the Immortal Regiment.
In 2015 in Lithuania, Russians, together with Polish people, organized protest actions and marches against the forced lituanization of ethnic minority schools.
Tens of thousands of people annually take part in the celebration of Victory Day in Lithuania, and thousands of people take part in the Immortal Regiment.
All public protests of Russian communities in the Baltic countries were peaceful and took place within the framework of democratic procedures. The protests were led by public activists who formulated the demands of the Russian communities, brought them to the attention of the authorities and international organizations, and organized symbolic events to demonstrate the aspiration to preserve ethnic identity. The positions of Russian human rights defenders on ethnic discrimination were regularly presented at OSCE meetings.
Russia did not support the Baltic Russians’ protest movement against forced assimilation. Moscow confined itself to accepting statements about the need for official Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius to comply with the obligations assumed when signing international conventions on the protection of the rights of national minorities.
Persecution of Russian human rights activists in Baltic countries
Proceeding from the goal of assimilation of the Russian population, the ruling national-radical elites of the Baltic countries do not recognize the very fact of the existence of numerous Russian ethnic communities in their countries. The fact of the existence of one and a half million Russians is not reflected in the constitutions. There are no laws that regulate their legal status. International conventions on the rights of national minorities are not respected. Some of them have been signed by governments with the removal of the most important legal norms.
All democratic protests of Russian communities are completely ignored by official Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius. The right to represent the interests of the Russian population for the activists of Russian national movements is not recognized. Even the ombudsmen, who are appointed by the authorities of the Baltic countries, do not speak about the existence of acute ethnic conflicts.
The activities of the human rights activists of the Russian communities are presented by the ruling Baltic elites exclusively as inspired from the outside that is from the Kremlin. Accordingly, the activists defending the rights of the Russian population are presented by authorities as “agents of the Kremlin’s influence” acting against the national interests of the Baltic republics. Meanwhile in reality Russian activists are protesting against the policy of ethnic discrimination and political persecution led by the ruling national-radical elite groups.
This is the source of the repressive policy held by current Baltic ruling elites against the human rights defenders who represent the interests of the Russian population, which are regarded in the present context as Russian human rights defenders.
Repressions against Russian human rights defenders began immediately after the establishment of the ethnocratic system of power in the Baltic countries. However, after 2014, these repressions intensified and became widespread. Let us describe the most egregious cases of reprisals against Russian human rights defenders in every country.
The repressive policy of the authorities against human rights defenders in Latvia
In the past five years, several dozen Russian human rights defenders have been subjected to political repression in Latvia. Among them: V. Linderman, Yu. Alekseev, I. Girs, E. Osipov, A. Gilman, A. Gaponenko, P. Pogorodny, D. Sustretova, A. Filey, A. Berezovskaya, A. Solopenko, A. Yakovlev , S. Melkonov, T. Kirillova, D. Prokopenko, Yu. Zaitsev, V. Muratova, V. Kozyrev, O. Burak.
The first criminal trial was initiated against the scientist and writer Alexander Gaponenko in March 2015. In reality, for the fact that he actively participated in organizing a referendum for granting the Russian language state status, in organizing the Congress of Non-Citizens’ movement and was elected speaker of the Parliament of the Unrepresented, actively acted as vice-president of the organization of Russian Community of Latvia. In addition, he organized the Immortal Regiment movement in Latvia.
Gaponenko used his status positions in the Russian community for appeals to the UNO, CoE, EP, to the leaders of the world’s leading powers, and regularly criticized the Latvian authorities at OSCE sessions. The human rights activist has published books and made films about discrimination against Russians in the Baltics.
In order to suppress public activity, the authorities accused A. Gaponenko of inciting ethnic hatred on social networks. The applicants in the criminal proceedings were deputies of the Latvian Parliament from the national-radical party National Alliance, dissatisfied with A. Gaponenko’s criticism of their participation in the glorification of Nazism in the republic. Claims were made against posts that criticized the glorification of Nazism and the militarization of Latvian society. The trial on this case lasted five years and in December 2020 A. Gaponenko was sentenced by the court of first instance to a year of imprisonment conditionally. The process continues in the second instance.
The second and third criminal proceedings against A. Gaponenko were instituted in March 2018 for active participation in the struggle of Russian parents for the right to teach children in their native language. In particular A. Gaponenko was accused in addressing the parliamentary delegations form the countries, which are members of the Council of Europe, a letter that described the violent nature of so called “School reform” in Latvia.
Formally, the human rights activist was again accused of inciting ethnic hatred on social networks, and then, to aggravate the accusations, he was accused of activities aimed at destroying Latvian statehood which were held in favor of a foreign state. A. Gaponenko spent 4 months in pre-trial detention without charge. Then the prosecutor’s office charged him on such episodes as:
– participation as an international observer in the presidential elections in Russia,
– publication of two scientific monographs in Moscow,
– publication of scientific articles in Copenhagen,
– organization of holidays and competitions for Russian children,
– criticism of the authorities at OSCE sessions,
– speech at the premiere film by the Polish director V. Smarzhevsky “Volyn” with criticism of the crimes of the Nazis.
The applicants in this criminal proceeding were again the deputies of the ruling coalition from the National Alliance.
The second trial is to be continued. The human rights defender faces up to 15 years in prison for actually providing his scientific concept of ethnic conflicts in Latvia and defending the interests of the Russian community at the international level.
A. Gaponenko is prohibited from leaving Latvia, and thus he is deprived of the opportunity to receive medical treatment, work, distribute books and films he has written, and speak at human rights forums. He was even barred from speaking at hearings in the European Parliament on human rights violations in the Baltics.
On the fact of unlawful arrest and detention, A. Gaponenko filed a lawsuit with the ECHR in May 2018, the case was accepted for consideration.
The third criminal trial was terminated in 2020 for lack of corpus delicti. In this trial, the human rights activist was accused of speaking out in defense of the right of Russian children to receive education in their native language, which was presented by the special security services as a call for an uprising.
Two criminal proceedings were initiated against the editor-in-chief of the Imhoclub.lv portal Yuri Alekseev.
The first criminal trial was launched in 2017 for inciting ethnic hatred on social media, illegal possession of ammunition and distribution of pornography. Ammunition and pornography were planted on the human rights activist, since the investigation did not have any evidence of inciting the hatred.
The second criminal trial against Yuri Alekseev was initiated in March 2018 with charges of activities aimed at destroying Latvian statehood and activities in favor of a foreign state. The human rights activist spent several days in pre-trial detention. According to this process, he was “punished” by the investigator with a two-year ban on publishing materials on the portal headed by him. Also he was assigned a duty of a report to the police three times a week. He was prohibited from leaving his home at night, as well as he was not allowed to leave the republic.
The first criminal case has been under trial for a year now. The journalist faces up to 12 years of prison. On the second criminal procedure, the case is still held in the prosecutor’s office.
Together with Yu. Alekseev in the second criminal process, the defendants were the technical staff of the Imhoclub.lv portal Petr Pogorodny and Dmitry Sustretov. They were charged with activities aimed at destroying the Latvian statehood and activities in favor of a foreign state. For two years they were deprived of the right to travel outside Latvia. The materials of the case are in the prosecutor’s office and are going to be submitted to the court. The defendants also face up to 15 years in prison.
The real reason for the criminal prosecution of Yu. Alekseev, P. Pogorodny and D. Sustretov was their journalistic work on the Imhoclub.lv portal. The portal is a popular electronic platform for exchanging views on key issues in the life of the Baltic countries, including the life of its Russian population. Alekseev, as an editor, published materials delivered by authors with different political attitudes, he himself criticized the ruling Baltic elite. The portal exerted a significant influence on the public consciousness of the Baltic Russians.
In July 2019, the State Security Service of Latvia initiated a criminal case against the Russian philologist and journalist Alexander Filey. He was prosecuted for publishing an article on social networks, in which he gave a “wrong” interpretation of the events of the summer of year 1940, connected with the entry of the Republic of Latvia into the USSR. The secret services accused the philologist of publicly denying the “occupation” of Latvia and praising the “war crimes of the USSR”. The criminal case is currently pending in court. Essentially, the philologist and journalist Alexander Filey is being tried for the fact that he adheres to one of the scientific points of view on controversial historical events.
In reality, the authorities of the republic are trying to suppress the activity of A. Filey in maintaining the identity of the Russian community. He publishes popular articles on history, organizes “Total Dictation” – an action to preserve the Russian language, participates in the activities of the political party Russian Union of Latvia to protect the rights of the Russian population. The human rights defender faces five years in prison for his opinion.
In December 2020, the State Security Service of Latvia opened criminal cases against a large group of Russian journalists, searched their apartment, confiscated computers, phones, archives, and cash. Alla Berezovskaya, Vladimir Linderman, Andrey Yakovlev, Andrey Solopenko, Sergey Melkonov, Tatiana Kirillova were repressed. The investigation began, the suspects were banned from leaving the country for an indefinite period. Journalists face up to four years in prison.
Most of the journalists mentioned are active defenders of the interests of the Russian community in Latvia. They took part in a referendum for granting the Russian language the status of a second state language, participated in the activities of the Congress of Non-Citizens, fought against the “reform” of Russian schools, opposed violations of the rights of ethnic minorities in Latvia. Through their professional activities, journalists contributed to the spread of points of view alternative to the official ideology and thus the preservation of the ethnic identity of the Russian population of the republic. During the repression, the authorities also set out to intimidate other Russian journalists and prevent them from spreading their views among members of the Russian community.
Formally, the journalists were accused of collaboration with the Russian editions Sputnik-Latvia and Baltnews, thereby violating the European Union sanctions against the head of the state agency MIA Rossiya Segodnya Dmity Kiselyov. In fact, European sanctions were applied against the individual Dmitry Kiselyov, but not against the organization he heads. The secret services also did not take into account the fact that journalists are not part of the staff of these editions, but are stringers.
In October 2020, the Latvian security forces detained a Russian citizen, chairman of the Republican Society of Military Veterans Vladimir Norvind. The 75-year-old pensioner was hospitalized for several hours in a pre-infarction state, and then was forcibly expelled from Latvia to Russia in an ambulance and left from the other side of a state border.
The formal basis for the deportation was the cancellation of the residence permit of a Russian citizen, although he had the right to reside, since his wife is a citizen of Latvia. In reality, it was revenge for the activity in protecting the interests of military veterans, rendering assistance to the needy, lonely, elderly Russians. In addition, Norvind led a creative art circle that sang Russian and Soviet songs on the Day of Victory over Nazi Germany. Thus, the authorities disorganized the work of two small but important social institutions for maintaining the identity of members of the Russian community.
In March 2018, the All-Latvian Parents’ Meeting was held in Riga. Dozens of activists spoke at this meeting with criticism of the actions of the authorities to forcibly transfer the education of Russian children at school form Russian language into Latvian. On the fact of the meeting, the special services initiated a criminal case with accusations of the activists who spoke at it of inciting ethnic hatred, calls for mass riots and assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against Latvia.
Tatiana Zhdanok, co-chairman of the Russian Union of Latvia, Aleksandr Gaponenko, Ilya Kozyrev, Viktor Gushchin and Evgeniya Kryukova, members of the board of this party, and journalists Alla Berezovskaya and Vladimir Linderman received the procedural status of suspects.
Vladimir Linderman was arrested and spent two weeks in prison. Ilya Kozyrev was kept in prison for a short time. Alexander Gaponenko was put in prison for four months. The rest of the meeting participants were interrogated and intimidated.
In May 2020, the criminal case against all the defendants was closed because of lack of corpus delicti.
V. Linderman filed a claim for damages, which was caused to him by fact of his unjustified detention. The Latvian prosecutor’s office, in revenge for his obstinacy, again initiated a criminal case against him on the fact of speaking at the All-Latvian Parents’ Meeting.
Prior to this case, about ten attempts were made against V. Linderman to subject him to criminal punishment. He was actually blamed for his participation in a referendum on granting the Russian language the status of the state language, participation in the work of the Parliament of Unrepresented, publication of articles criticizing the authorities, and other human rights activities.
In October 2018, a former police officer, Oleg Burak, was arrested on charges of espionage for Russia. Burak was reminded of the fight against corruption and the exposure of bribery on the level of the top leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which he led ten years earlier, while still on the police staff. There was no evidence of espionage, and they were rudely planted in the form of a flash drive into an empty apartment after the arrest, in violation of all procedural norms. The flash drive contained information that he did not have access to in the service. To cover up the lack of evidence, the trial was kept in secret.
The anti-corruption fighter did not directly participate in human rights activities inside the Russian community, but was prosecuted by Security Police so that it could demonstrate the activity in the fight against the Russian threat. His Russian ethnicity and visits to relatives in Pskov played an important role in the case. An elderly and sick retired police officer was sentenced to 15 years in prison in August 2020. At present, a protest has been filed against the decision of the first instance court.
In 2014, human rights activist Valentina Muratova took part in collecting humanitarian aid for the civilian population of Donbass affected by the civil war. The security police began to intimidate her into giving up this activity and reporting information about other participants of the humanitarian action. She refused. Then she was forcibly sent to a psychiatric hospital for the purpose of an examination for mental illness and placement for compulsory treatment. However, Muratova was absolutely healthy. The human rights activist made public the fact of the use of punitive psychiatry against her. This allowed to stop the arbitrariness of the special services, however, attempts to exert pressure through the use of psychiatry continued in a milder form. Moreover, on the initiative of the special services, Muratova was evicted from her apartment onto the street.
All the above-mentioned Russian human rights activists are alluded in the annual reports of the State Security Service as enemies of Latvia and “agents of the Kremlin”. Their photographs are given as well. Information from these reports is reprinted by mass media that receive subsidies from the state budget, and thus the policy of stigmatizing of Russian human rights defenders is carried out. This leads to the destruction of their business reputation, loss of jobs and earnings, social alienation.
The repressive policy of the authorities against human rights defenders in Estonia
In recent years, there have been politically motivated criminal prosecutions in Estonia: D. Linter, M. Reva, M. Siryk, A. Zarenkov D. Klensky, M. Rusakov, E. Cherysheva, A. Kornilov, R. Kamashin.
In April 2007, Mark Sirik, Maksim Reva, Dmitry Linter and Dimitri Klensky were accused by the Security Service (KaPo) of organizing riots during the spontaneous protests of the Russian population against the demolition of the monument to the soldiers who liberated Tallinn from the Nazi invaders. D. Linter, M. Reva, were imprisoned for seven months, M. Syryk for a month and a half. A January 2009 trial acquitted all four of the accused.
In fact, M. Sirik, M. Reva, D. Linter and D. Klensky were prosecuted for being activists of the Night Watch movement, which opposed the demolition of a Russian monument – the Bronze Soldier, significant for the Russian community of Estonia. They publicly voiced the position of the Russian community and got a large influence among its members. The government’s repressions against these four human rights defenders were intended to demonstrate to the Russian community the futility of resisting the policy of forced Estonianization.
After the acquittal of the court, the persecution of Russian human rights defenders M. Reva and D. Linter continued, they were deprived of the opportunity to work and study in Estonia, and were forced to emigrate abroad.
Andrei Zarenkov opposed the glorification of Nazism in Estonia, headed the Estonian Anti-Fascist Committee, was the publisher of the Russian-language magazine Baltic World, wrote and published books, organized Russian cultural events, criticized the authorities for the policy of forced Estonianization, including against the total translation of Russian schools in Estonian. At the end of 2013, he held an international seminar in Tallinn on human rights violations in Estonia.
In January 2014, the human rights defender was arrested on charges of violations of business rules and spent six months in prison. Under physical pressure, he made a deal with the investigation and admitted his guilt in order to be released. Thus, his imprisonment was legalized, and he was presented to society as an ordinary criminal who committed an economic crime. In addition, Zarenkov was sentenced to two years of police supervision and was excluded from public activities for this period.
Kornilov Alexander. He was detained with the use of brute force in August 2016 on suspicion of forging documents for allegedly incorrectly provided tax data. An absolutely far-fetched reason that was an ordinary case of an ordinary entrepreneur’s dispute with the tax office. At that time, he was the chief editor of two Russian-language portals: Baltija.eu and Baltnews.ee. The chief accountant and an employee of the Baltnews.ee portal were also detained. Electronic devices, work computers, and mobile phones were confiscated from all three during the searches. A day later, after public pressure, the detainees were released on recognizance not to leave Estonia. Powerful psychological pressure was exerted on a woman – an accountant of the company. She was demanded to give testimony against Kornilov the special services needed. The attempt failed; nothing was found in the computers to confirm Kornilov’s guilt. In July 2018, the Estonian court terminated the criminal proceedings against all the accused by way of accordance. It is worth to mention specially that a month before the trial, in May 2018, by the leadership of Russia Today, Alexander Kornilov was dismissed from his post as editor-in-chief of the Baltnews.ee portal. Kornilov was mentioned in the 2014 KAPO annual report as an agent of Russia’s influence. After that, the pressure continued, first through the tax services, then through detention and legal proceedings.
In December 2018, the Estonian prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal case against the leader of the organization Russian School of Estonia Mstislav Rusakov. In July 2019, Rusakov was granted suspect status. The investigation lasted 15 months. At that time, searches were carried out in the apartment and office, office equipment, telephones and archives were seized, which prevented the activities of the human rights activist to defend the interests of Russian schoolchildren and their parents. In March 2020, the criminal proceedings were terminated due to the lack of corpus delicti. In practice, this was an act of intimidation of a human rights defender and all those who take part in the public activity to protect the rights of members of the Russian community in the republic.
In December 2019, the head of the publishing house Sputnik Estonia Elena Cherysheva and her employees received letters from the republican police and border guard department with threats to initiate criminal proceedings against them if they did not terminate their labor relations with the international news agency Russia Today by January 1, 2020. All journalists were threatened with imprisonment for up to three years.
Official Tallinn justified its actions with the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Dmitry Kiselyov, director general of the Rossiya Segodnya news agency. In fact, European sanctions were applied against the individual D. Kiselyov, and not against the agency he heads, and even less against the employees of the agency’s subsidiaries.
Under the influence of these threats, employees of Sputnik Estonia were forced to stop their labor relations with the publishing house and lost their jobs.
The real reason for the pressure on the journalists was their position on providing objective materials about the life of the Russian community in Estonia, coverage of the facts of ethnic discrimination, including the forced elimination of the education system for Russian children in their native language.
Rafael Kamashin, an active politician, criticized the Estonian government and spoke about the existence of ethnic discrimination in the country. In November 2020, the human rights activist called a doctor to his home about a cold. The doctor, without any reason, summoned a representative of the court and he made a decision to send Kamashin for compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital. The human rights defender spent three days in compulsory treatment and was released only after the lawyer asked the Ministry of Justice about the reasons for his detention. It is clear that punitive psychiatry was applied to the human rights defender for his beliefs.
Together with Rafael Kamashin, about twenty more people were released from the psychiatric hospital after the intervention of the Ministry of Justice, who were also subjected to punitive psychiatry.
All the mentioned Russian human rights activists are mentioned in the annual reports of the State Security Service (KAPO) as enemies of Estonia and “agents of the Kremlin”, their photographs are given. Information from these reports is reprinted by mass media that receive subsidies from the state budget. Thus, the policy of stigmatization of Russian human rights defenders is being implemented, which leads to the destruction of their business reputation, loss of jobs and earnings, and social alienation.
The repressive policy of the authorities against human rights defenders in Lithuania
Over the past 10 years, more than 20 people have been subjected to various forms of persecution for political reasons, imprisonment, fines, discrediting in the media on groundless charges in the Republic of Lithuania. Mostly they were repressed for the fact that they defended the right to preserve their ethnic identity, but also for the fact that they spoke from a broader standpoint. They defended the right to freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of association.
The most famous are the cases of A. Paleckis, V. Ivanov, G. Grabauskas, V. Orlov, J. Valyukenas, J. Mel, G. Ivanov, K. Nikulin, V. Titov, A. Greicius, T. Afanasyeva, E Kanayte, D. Shultzas, P. Zhevzhikov, O. Bekerene, E. Andreeva and I. Rozova.
Valery Ivanov (born in 1947). In 1991 he was arrested and sentenced to 3.5 years of imprisonment in a maximum security colony in connection with the creation and management of the organization “Venibe-Unity- Jedność”, which advocated the equality of all ethnic groups in Lithuania.
In 1997 he was sentenced to a year for his book “Lithuanian Prison”, in which he showed that there is no objective evidence of the death of civilians at the hands of Soviet servicemen during the January events in Vilnius in 1991.
In 2006, he was sentenced for violation of public order for a year suspended for the fact that during the release from prison of the first secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party, Professor M. Burokevičius, after 12 years of imprisonment, he resisted a provocateur who insulted this elderly and honored person.
In the period from 2010 to 2020, a Russian citizen permanently residing in Lithuania by a residence permit, a native of Kaunas, Valery Ivanov, was and is being persecuted and publicly discredited by the authorities of the Republic of Lithuania three times.
In 2013, after the release on May 9 on the Victory Day celebrated over Nazi Germany at the Antokol war memorial in Vilnius with a poster showing photographs of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army and marshals of Victory, as well as a photograph of the Order of Victory, was prosecuted and fined worth 200 euros.
In December 2018, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Lithuania issued a search warrant for Valery Ivanov’s apartment in connection with the initiation of a criminal case against a prominent Lithuanian public figure Algirdas Paleckis on charges of espionage for Russia. The Lithuanian State Security Department tried to find some facts of V. Ivanov’s espionage activities in conjunction with A. Paleckis and other citizens of Lithuania in the above case. Finding no evidence of V. Ivanov’s espionage activities, except for scientific notes and journalistic articles in a computer seized as a result of a search and on a flash drive, the police initiated a lawsuit against V. Ivanov on illegal possession of firearms, based on the damaged starting revolver found during a search. As a result of the trial, which lasted for two years, V. Ivanov was sentenced to two years of home imprisonment, with a restriction on leaving the apartment at night. At the present time, a cassation appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court of Lithuania in connection with the complete lack of evidence in this case regarding any combat firearm properties of a piece of old scrap metal found in V. Ivanov’s possession.
Human rights activist and journalist Algirdas Paleckis stood for the right of all people to equality, against the rehabilitation of Nazism in Lithuania, for truthful coverage of the history of the republic.
In 2010, the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal prosecution of the human rights defender only for one phrase he uttered during his introduction to the radio: “in January 1991, during the events near the Vilnius TV Tower, the compatriots were shooting at their own compatriots”. This phrase was regarded as the extension of the historical point of view of Russia on the process of the formation of the new Lithuanian republic. In January 2012, this interpretation of historical events was assessed by the Lithuanian court as an attempt to undermine the ruling regime and Paleckis was sentenced to pay a fine of 5 thousand euros.
In October 2018, journalist A. Paleckis was arrested by the Lithuanian State Security Service and accused in collecting materials on the January 1991 events in Vilnius with the aim of transferring them to Russia. The journalist was collecting material for writing a book. Paleckis was kept in prison for a year and a half in the hope that he would break down and incriminate himself. After a year of imprisonment, the investigation obtained a fake denunciation by another prisoner that he and Paleckis worked for the Russian special services. The human rights defender was charged with espionage.
Since April 2020, Paleckis has been under house arrest and is being prosecuted against him. Thus, the human rights defender was excluded from active social activities and, using his example, the security service intimidated all those who spoke with their point of view on the events associated with the creation of the Republic of Lithuania. The human rights defender faces 15 years in prison for his own convictions.
The first pre-trial investigation against the director of the Baltic Youth Association “Juvenis” Alexei Greichius was launched in 2017. For a year and a half, attempts were made to find something in his activities that would make it possible to bring charges under Art. 118 of the Criminal Code of Lithuania (Aiding another state to act against the Republic of Lithuania). Unbeknownst to the suspect, wiretapping of his phones was conducted, other material was collected. In 2018, the pre-trial investigation was terminated, as nothing was found.
In fact, the authorities did not like the events held by the human rights defender to preserve the memory about the events of the Second World War, which do not fit into the new interpretation of history by the Lithuanian authorities. Also the authorities did not like books that have been published and are being published dedicated to the veterans of the Second World War. Alexei Greichius organized the international forum “Ethno-nationalism as a threat to the security of the world”, held in Klaipeda in 2015. He also organized the international action Immortal Regiment, first held in Klaipeda in 2016. Also A. Greichius participates in conferences and forums both in Russia and in Lithuania, held by Russian compatriots.
In March 2020, a new investigation against A. Greichius began, now on charges of collaborating with Russian intelligence service. The basis of the accusation is the events dedicated to the memorable dates of the Second World War, which were held by Aleksey Greichius, the posting of articles and photographs in the public domain, as well as communication with a representative of the Russian public fund. As a result he was sentenced to three months of imprisonment in a pre-trial detention center in a common cell, and then – to 9 months under house arrest with a bracelet on his leg. The first court hearing is scheduled for March 10, 2021. The human rights defender faces fifteen years in prison.
Russian citizen Konstantin Nikulin has been serving his term in a Lithuanian prison for 13 years. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the alleged murder of Lithuanian border guards in 1991. Proofs of the crime were not provided to the court by the Lithuanian investigation. At the time of bringing Nikulin to justice, the statute of limitations for such crimes expired and the charge was reclassified as a “crime against humanity,” in violation of the procedural rights of the accused.
This case of criminal prosecution is an attempt to derive political benefit from the tragedy of border guards, whose death was once used as an instrument of pressure on Moscow in the struggle for independence by the new ruling elites of Lithuania. Nikulin proved to be a suitable figure for persecution because of his ethnicity and service in the Soviet special force unit. His incident is still used by the Lithuanian authorities as an instrument of pressure on dissidents who question the myths built around the events of January 1991.
Russian citizen Yuri Mel was arrested by the Lithuanian authorities in March 2014 when entering the republic and accused of participating in the attacks of the Vilnius TV Tower 23 years ago, in January 1991. At that time, he served as a lieutenant in tank units and carried out orders from the Soviet command. He fired three shots with blank charges from the tank, carried out maneuvers and shone his headlights into the eyes of those gathered near the TV tower. This was seen as a conspiracy to overthrow the legitimate government in the republic, although at that time Lithuania was an integral part of the USSR.
Yuri Mel was sentenced by a Lithuanian court to seven years of prison. Together with him, the Russian citizen Gennady Ivanov came under criminal prosecution. He was sentenced by a Lithuanian court for four years and has already been released. Yuri Mel is to be released from prison in 2021, but the authorities want to extend his imprisonment for another three years.
It should be especially noted that the trial on the events of January 1991 in Vilnius began in 2014, at the same time when Crimea became a part of Russia, and many independent observers believe that it was started to intimidate the local Russian and Polish communities.
Titov Vyacheslav Yurievich was born in January 26, 1978, graduated in 2001 from the Kaliningrad State Technical University, worked for 12 years at the shipbuilding company “Baltios”, currently is the director of CJSC “Prusiyos Centras”. Before the sentence came into force, he was a deputy of the Klaipeda City Council for 12 years and actively defended the interests and views of the Russian population of Klaipeda. He is married and has 3 children. In 2018, the Mayor of Klaipeda V. Grubliauskas initiated the immortalization of the leader of the “forest brothers” Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in the city of Klaipeda.
Having got acquainted with the project, the deputy of the city council Vyacheslav Titov decided, as a deputy of the city council, to delve into the biography of this figure. Then he found the decision of the Supreme Court of the Lithuanian SSR in 1957, which contained information that only according to the reports of his subordinates, 500 civilians were killed, and in that the area where he commanded, a total of about 8,000 civilians and children were killed. Having learned about this, V. Titov at the Finance Committee of the City Council on July 18, 2018 to share information with other deputies and expressed his political position on this figure.
Information was received that, according to the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas was involved in 1941 in the Holocaust in Merkin, Druskininkai etc. At the same time, the Lithuanian Seim recognized this figure as a hero of Lithuania and posthumously awarded all kinds of titles and even announced in Lithuania the year of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas. It turned out that the Lithuanian Court reinstated (rehabilitated) Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas without revising the criminal case, since in 1991, the law did not allowed such a procedure, and a statement from a relative was sufficient. Although the same law prohibited the rehabilitation of persons who participated in the Holocaust and in the torture and murder of unarmed persons.
After these actions, politically motivated baiting of the deputy of the city council V. Titov began. The mayor of the city initiated an impeachment procedure against him, the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office launched a pre-trial investigation and carried out humiliating searches. As a result, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania recognized that V. Titov, having expressed such a political position providing both his opinion and opinion of his voters, violated the oath of a city council deputy.
The Lithuanian prosecutor’s office notified of the suspicion under three articles of the criminal code, demanded from the court 1 year 8 months in prison with a delay of 2 years, and that for 2 years, he was at home every day from 22.00 to 6.00. The Judicial Collegium for Criminal Cases of the Klaipeda Regional Court dated October 17, 2019 considered the appeal of the convicted Vyacheslav Titov by the judgment of the Klaipeda City Chamber of the Klaipeda District Court dated May 14, 2019, by which Vyacheslav Titov was found guilty of committing crimes provided for by part 2 of Article 170 of the Criminal Code of the Lithuanian Republics (hereinafter – the CC) (act concerning incitement to hatred towards the commander of the “forest brothers” A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas and a group of persons belonging to the participants in the provision of armed resistance to the USSR – the so called partisans of Lithuania and their supporters), part 1 of Article 1702 of the Criminal Code (justification of Soviet aggression (genocide) on the territory of Lithuania), part 3 of Article 313 of the Criminal Code (insulting the memory of the deceased). The Court of Appeal also found Vyacheslav Titov guilty under these articles, but reduced the fine from 12,000 euros to 10,000 euros. The verdict of the court entered into force.
After the entry into force of the verdict, the Main Election Commission of Lithuania, on the basis of the entered criminal conviction, deprived Vyacheslav Titov of the mandate of the deputy of the Klaipeda City Council. The decision of the Klaipeda Regional Court of Appeal was contested on cassation in the Supreme Court of Lithuania. The Supreme Court of Lithuania 2020.02.04 refused to accept Vyacheslav Titov’s complaint for consideration.
Thus, the Lithuanian court officially recognized the political point of view of Vyacheslav Titov and the opinions of at least 7.5% of Klaipeda residents on the negative attitude towards the glorification of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in Klaipeda as a crime (7.5% of the city’s residents voted for Titov in the municipal elections to the Klaipeda City Council on March 3, 2019). Thus, the court on behalf of the Republic of Lithuania showed that to have a condemning opinion towards all kinds of murderers of civilians in 1941-1956 is a criminal offense even in relation to city council deputies and is politically symbolic in nature, aimed at strengthening the rewriting of history and glorification of Nazi aides.
Human rights activist Gedrius Grabauskas spoke out against the violation of human rights in Lithuania, including against the complete transfer of the education of Russian and Polish children at school into the Lithuanian language.
In March 2020, the prosecutor’s office ordered a compulsory examination of Grabauskas in a psychiatric hospital. The prosecutor substantiated his decision by the fact that the human rights activist had publicly raised questions about the participation of ethnic Lithuanians in the Holocaust during World War II, as well as questions about the crimes of the so-called “forest brothers” after the war. That is, not being able to prosecute the human rights defender for discussing the problem in academic terms, the authorities resorted to punitive psychiatry.
As a result, G. Grabauskas was forced to emigrate from the country and received political asylum abroad.
All the mentioned Russian human rights activists are mentioned in the annual reports of the State Security Service as enemies of Lithuania and “agents of the Kremlin”, their photographs are given. Information from these reports is reprinted by mass media that receive subsidies from the state budget, and thus the policy of stigmatizing Russian human rights defenders is carried out. This leads to the destruction of their business reputation, loss of jobs and earnings, social alienation.
Poland: the case of the persecution of M. Piskorsky
Attempts to use Russia as a scarecrow and on this basis to repress human rights defenders are characteristic not only of the Baltic authorities. Polish politician Mateusz Piskorsky, who defended the interests of the Polish nation, sharply criticized the pro-American and at the same time anti-Russian policy of the authorities, became the victim of repressions led by the Polish state. In 2015, he founded the political party Smena, which criticized the nationalist radicals in power. In May 2016, Piskorsky was arrested by the special services and accused of espionage for Russia.
The investigators had no evidence of guilt, but the politician was kept in prison for three years. According to experts from the University of Warsaw, as well as the Working Group under the UN Human Rights Commission, the accusations against Piskorsky have no legal basis from the point of view of the Criminal Code, as espionage refers to the transmission of information. However, a Polish citizen is accused of “shaping public opinion.” In the official indictment, the National Prosecutor’s Office of Poland accuses Mateusz Piskorski, in particular, of expressing assessments that coincide with the opinion of the leadership of the Russian Federation, and also opposing Ukrainian nationalism.
Currently there is a trial and the politician is limited in the right to leave the country, which does not give him the opportunity to meet with his family. The politician was excluded from public life under the pretext of his sympathy for Russia and the Russians. The Polish Ministry of Justice declares that it is preparing a draft amendment to the Criminal Code, which introduces the concept of “information war”, but so far this law has not been adopted, and the case of Piskorski, despite the absence of corpus delicti, continues.
The human rights defender faces ten years in prison.
1. The ruling elites of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia over the past three decades have pursued a policy of forced assimilation of the Russian population living in them.
Assimilation occurs through:
– elimination of social institutions that ensure the maintenance of the identity of the Russian population.
– ban on the use of the Russian language in public life and the teaching of Russian children in their native language;
– marginalization of the Russian intelligentsia;
– depriving Russians of access to the culture of the mother state;
– imposing a false public consciousness on Russians;
– depriving a part of Russian socio-economic rights through granting the status of non-citizens;
– squeezing Russians out of the state apparatus, from state enterprises, from prestigious professions.
2. In all three Baltic republics, societies have acquired the character of ethnic hierarchies, in which representatives of the titular ethnic groups occupy the highest steps of the social ladder, and representatives of non-titular ethnic groups, primarily Russians, occupy its lower steps.
3. Ethnic hierarchies in the Baltics are supported by state punitive institutions, courts, laws and departmental norms passed by parliaments, and state media. This allows us to say that discrimination against Russians is institutional in its nature.
4. The Baltic authorities completely ignore international obligations to protect the rights of ethnic minorities. European institutions prefer not to notice these violations, thereby ignoring the process of discrimination and persecution of Russians. In this way, they legalize in member countries the practices convicted by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.
5. Baltic Russians do not accept discrimination and forced assimilation and resist them within the framework of the norms and procedures established in a democratic society.
Official Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn do not recognize the very fact of the existence of one and a half million Russian population in their countries. They present the struggle of Russians for the preservation of ethnic identity as the actions of a group of intruders initiated by Russia.
Until recently, the actions of activists who defended the interests of the Russian population were suppressed by the ruling elites through threats, pressure on their businesses, dismissal from work and expulsion from educational institutions, fines, criminal prosecution for non-political activities, and discrediting in the media.
At the same time, Russia limited itself to condemning the discriminatory practices of the Baltic authorities against its compatriots; it did not provide direct support to Russian human rights defenders.
6. After 2014, the persecution of Russian human rights defenders in the Baltics intensified and became widespread. Currently, the persecution of Russian human rights defenders has taken the following forms:
a) the transition from the conditional conviction of human rights defenders to the appointment of significant real terms of imprisonment;
b) the imprisonment of human rights defenders for a long period of time during the investigation without any reason;
c) the use of extrajudicial repressions against human rights defenders e.g. their placement by the investigating bodies under police supervision for a long period with a significant restriction in their rights, including the right to commit their professional and human rights activities;
d) the use of criminal prosecution against human rights defenders for their actions to spread the truth about discrimination against members of Russian communities, for expressing an alternative state ideology point of view, for organizing resistance to forced assimilation within the framework of the law, for bringing their opinions to international instances;
e) widespread use of falsifications by the special services when initiating criminal proceedings against human rights defenders by planting evidence, exerting physical pressure for the purpose of self-incrimination, accusations of economic crimes, espionage in favor of Russia;
f) the use of punitive psychiatry against those Russian human rights defenders against whom it is difficult to initiate criminal proceedings;
g) arbitrary deportations of Russian activists and human rights defenders abroad;
h) confiscation of funds, computers, telephones, electronic archives from human rights defenders;
i) discrediting Russian human rights defenders in the media in order to weaken their influence on members of the community.
7. In general, a policy is being pursued against Russian human rights defenders in the Baltics, as well as against politicians from among the titular ethnic groups, for whom Russophobia is unacceptable, which is defined in the scientific literature as politicide. This is the physical destruction or deprivation through criminal punishment of opportunities for the activities of the elites of oppressed ethnic groups.
Discrimination and persecution of groups of people on the basis of their ethnic origin are defined by the Roman status as elements of genocide. Russian activists have filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding the assessment of the actions of the ruling elites in the Baltics.
However, the international community should already put pressure on the ethnocratic Baltic regimes, which are pursuing a policy of discrimination against Russians and persecuting human rights defenders who protect them.
European Union of the politically repressed
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