A few days ago, Latvia faced a political scandal: one of its most prominent politicians, a European parliamentarian, member of the ruling party Iveta Grigule refused to vote for an anti-Russian resolution. It was the first time Grigule took a pro-Russian step. For many in Latvia, it was a sign that the European elites are beginning to change their attitude towards Russia.
Grigule’s unexpected step
Grigule refused to support a draft resolution that de facto was comparing Russia with ISIL (a terror organization banned in Russia).
“The European Parliament has compared Russia with cutthroats from ISIL. Grigule refused to do that and faced anger from her comrades and colleagues. It looks like some schizophrenia: one half of the Latvian government promises to improve the country’s trade with Russia, while the other half compares it with ISIL. I would advise them to find their position,” says Latvian opposition MP Janis Urbanovics.
Grigule’s explanation was as follows: “As soon as the European Parliament shows enough courage to acknowledge the reality, stops applying dual standards, adopts a declaration on the United States’ ‘good deeds’ and the EU’s ‘exploits’ and prohibits the EU to sell arms to warring nations, I will support such a declaration.”
Here Grigule was unanimous with two more European parliamentarians from Latvia, oppositionists Andrejs Mamikins and Tatjana Zdanoka. This is what Mamikins posted in social networks about Grigule’s decision: “A couple of years ago, Grigule acted as a nationalist. She refused to support us on the non-citizens issue. She supported all anti-Russian resolutions. Her voters are mostly conservative farmers, who are afraid of Russia. Grigule did not discuss her decision with ‘Latvia’s enemies’ – I mean Tatjana Zdanoka and me – nor did she consult with any of the 179 MPs who voted contra or any of the 208 MPs who abstained. She just acted as her conscience told her. Her logic is that one cannot compare Russia with ISIL. What is going on in the world? Our prime minister is ready to let down own people (in this particular case, Grigule), to expel them from his party, just to see his country keeping pace with Europe against Russia. He is raving! This is not even politics, this is beyond the bounds.”
Grigule’s comrades were enraged. Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis said that she had gone beyond any bounds and had acted against her own state. Augusts Brigmanis called Grigule and told her that her decision was contrary to the program of her party. But, according to Diena, Kucinskis has no influence on Grigule. In the ruling Union of Greens and Farmers, he represents just the Liepaja party, while Grigule is a European parliamentarian.
In Latvia, Grigule is regarded as one of the key Euro-skeptics. Her colleague Roberts Zile has even refused to work with such a “populist.” In 2014, he told LNT’s 900 Seconds program that if Grigule tried to join his European Conservatives and Reformists Group, he would object. “Our values are different,” he said. But, later, it turned out that the rumors about Grigule’s skepticism were exaggerated. Grigule broke away from the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy parliamentary group just because some of her colleagues had said that the EU had to be destroyed. She also condemned the MPs who had turned their back to the EU’s flag.
In the past, Grigule was against Latvia’s joining the Euro Zone. “I still believe that we needed a nationwide referendum,” she told Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze later. “Yes, in the Union of Greens and Farmers, there are people who are skeptical about the EU, but this does not mean that we advocate exit from the EU or want to ruin it as do some Western European politicians, more specifically, Marine Le Pen. We believe that Latvia should be part of the EU but we insist that we should have the right to decide how to live and develop. Unfortunately, in the EU, there are forces who seek to centralize power in Europe and to reduce the role of national governments. The question is What is more important for us – to be part of a union of national states or one centralized unit, where national states have a very small role? This question will be crucial for Europe in the next five years,” Grigule said.
But moderate Euro-skepticism and pro-Russian stance are two different stories. Grigule has never done anything pro-Russian so far. So, why she voted against that resolution? What did she sense in the air?
President Vejonis is making advances to Russian-speaking Latvians
But Grigule is not the thorn in the flesh of the Latvian nationalists. The other one is President of Latvia Raimonds Vejonis, who has suggested giving Latvian citizenship to the newborn children of non-citizens. His motive is that the Latvian authorities should stop “spawning citizens of no-longer-existent USSR.” Even more, the President’s expert team for integration of the Latvian society has suggested that when giving interviews to Russian-speaking mass media, Latvian politicians should speak Russian. This is absolutely contrary to the previous presidents’ policy to root out Russian from Latvia.
As a result, one of the ideologists of the Latvian radical nationalism Edvins Snore has accused Vejonis of acting against his country. But what has Vejonis done? “A new president is to come into power in the United States in January and the Russians have already made it clear to him who owns what. The borders of states are fixed in a map but real spheres of influence are determined by means of symbols and messages. They help one side to make it known to its rival where its territory is. For the Russians, their territory is the territory of the former Soviet Union. If anybody forgets this, they use TASS to send him a message just like all Russian leaders have done since the times of Stalin,” Snore says.
“On Nov 17, TASS quoted Russia’s foreign ministry as saying that the Russian language is in danger in the territory of the former Soviet Union and needs a special legal status, especially as there are lots of Russian-speaking people living over that territory,” Snore says. He is concerned that this message mostly refers to Latvia and Estonia. And he is really worried that some local politicians have also begun advocating wider use of Russian in the Baltics.
“This message was followed by an alarming signal from Estonia, where, according to Postimees.ee, the Center Party suggested that some bilingual schools start teaching in Russian only. On Nov 22, many in Latvia were shocked to hear their President Raimonds Vejonis as urging the Latvians not to be ashamed of speaking Russian. Some of our politicians speak Latvian even when they speak to Russian-speaking mass media. I would advise them to use the example of those speaking Russian in such cases,” says Snore.
He believes that the Russian language is the Kremlin’s key weapon in its hybrid war against the former Soviet republics. “Of course, it was a coincidence that President Vejonis has stood up for the Russian language just a few days after his decision to help Russian investors to avoid additional budget contributions. He should have waited a couple of weeks lest we might suspect him of coordinating his decisions with the Russian foreign ministry,” says Snore.
Vejonis (whose mother is Russian) has always been reputed as wise pragmatist. But he is not a rioter. Last year, he spoke much about the need to confront potential aggression and to stop Russian “green men.” And now he has suddenly come up with serious concessions for non-citizens and the Russian language! What happened?
Russian schools in Estonia
As Snore mentioned in his interview, last week, the new Estonian Cabinet gave start to a new epoch for Russian education in Estonia. Newly appointed Education Minister Mailis Reps (the Estonian Center Party) said that the 60/40 system, when most of the subjects in Russian schools are taught in Estonian, did not work. “This is a politicized ratio. Our idea is to find an alternative for making Estonian better known in our country. We suggest that our Russian schools should decide for themselves which language to use for one or another subject. In some six years or even sooner, we will see that pupils will know Estonian better than they know today. And their parents will see that it was a pedagogical rather than political initiative,” Reps said.
This initiative has been advanced by the ruling Center Party, the Social Democrat and Pro Patria and Res Publica Union and suggests that in the next six years, the government should allocate one million euros a year to Russian schools wishing to adopt a more flexible system. For the moment, there are four schools wishing to do this. “Pupils in those schools will be able to learn geography in Russian but will have more intensive lessons of Estonians. In some six years, they will have to undergo an exam and will show how they know Estonian,” Reps said.
All the three events took place at one and the same time, and this is not a coincidence. Simply, the most sensible Latvian and Estonian politicians are taking steps to improve their countries’ relations with Russia. The newly elected U.S. President has just come into power and his “minions” are already taking steps to please their new master, aren’t they?
Vyacheslav Samoylov, Latvia, specially for EADaily