Sunday, May 06, 2007

Riots in Estonia

One week late... this is my perspective on what happened in Estonia. In terms of facts, I don't have much to add to what Aleks and Justin wrote.

Why did this happen in Estonia and not Latvia? There are a few curious stories that I've read over the past months. The first was in Nedela (The Week), a Latvian newsmagazine, last December. A certain pro-Russia activist organization was planning to organize a "conference" in Riga on World War II and Latvian history. Given the organizers, the conference would have been a sequence of speeches proclaiming the positive role of Soviet Union, denying that Latvia was ever forced to join the Soviet Union, downplaying the extend of Stalinist crimes against humanity... They got a phone call from Russian embassy in Latvia asking them to cancel the conference.

The next story came in March. March 16 is a date when the Latvian legion of SS was founded in 1943 and it usually results in a number of marches and counter marches in Riga, by older veterans who were part of Latvian legion, by younger Latvian nationalists (a lot of them from quite dubious nationalist organizations) who want to honour the Latvian legion and by Russian groups who hate the legion and try to obstruct the march, proclaiming that "freedom of speech does not apply to Nazis". In past years, things have gotten quite confrontational, to the degree that Riga City Council deliberately scheduled repair work in the city centre in March 2006, to push the marchers away to more remote locations.

This year, there was a new twist! A few phone calls from Russian embassy to "anti-Nazi" groups asking not to get "too unruly" with their "counter-march" because Russia did not want to inflame tensions in Latvia. The organizers were hinted that, if they disobey the orders, they might run into some dificulty getting Russian vizas next time when they go to Russia.

If Moscow wanted to stir up tensions in Latvia, they could easily find an excuse... but they seem to be working in the opposite direction! Why are they interested in confrontation in Estonia but not Latvia? I wish I could understand the logic of Moscow puppetmasters...


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Nice to see you emerge from dormancy!

I think the Kremlin's changed attitude towards Latvia and Estonia has a lot to do with the Border Agreements -- Latvia caved, Estonia didn't. Why argue with a country that's selling out when you're buying in?

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Latvian Abroad,

One should perhaps also see which business interests control transport capacities as for e.g. the ports of Ventspils and Riga.

That may partly explain why relations are so cordial at the moment. A tacit "deal" has obviously been struck on the extent of Russian influence - primarily financial - in Latvia. Then, most outstanding issues can be solved, including border agreements.

Of course, one may also hold that Latvia - in contrast to Estonia - caved to Russian demands concerning the border agreement. Obviously, several factors have to be taken into account to explain the difference between developments in Estonia and Latvia.

Suffice to say that it is obvious that Russia does not consider it in its interest to spark similar events in Riga as in Tallinn, and to the contrary tries to hinder such tendencies. Explanations vary, and it would be interesting to get more opinions on the reasons why situations differ between Estonia and Latvia.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Welcome back BTW! I have once more added you to my blogroll.

Latvian abroad said...

I'm a bit skeptical whether Russia would attach so much importance to Estonia not caving in on the border treaty. From a practical perspective, the border is there, in the place where Russia wants it to be and has been there for last 16 years. And Estonia has no possible way to get their territory back.

Business interests could explain a lot. I wonder what Russia is trying to get out of Estonia in terms of business...