As far as symbolic gestures go, the UN resolution declaring the Crimean referendum illegal is useful.
Not that it’s going to do anything to reverse the situation: the annexation of the Crimea is a fait accompli. But the overwhelming vote in favour told those who still had doubts exactly where Russia belongs in the world.
Rather than absurdly being accepted as a G8 member, she finds herself in the company of the great powers that opposed the resolution, such as Sudan, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Armenia, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
One can only be surprised that it took Russia yet another barbaric act to find herself in such exalted company. Granted, her rape of Chechnya in 2000 and Georgia of 2008 couldn’t boast the same scale as the attack on the Ukraine. However, one finds it hard to detect any moral difference.
Anyway, this UN vote has drawn some attention in the press. Not much, but some.
What was passed in near-total silence was another UN action whose significance goes much further than mere symbolism. I’m referring to the report on Latvia issued by the UN Human Rights Committee.
Here I must own up to an idiosyncrasy: I suffer from two terrible allergies.
One is towards all international organisations, the whole alphabet soup of them: UN, EU, UNESCO, WHO, FAO, IMF – you name it.
The other allergy is to any organisation (or document) that has Human Rights in its name. This allergy was triggered when I first found out that the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights was signed, among others, by such experts on the subject as Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Since then the allergy has become worse, but it has never been as virulent as it is today. For the Human Rights Committee has just issued a document pushing the West to the brink of either a major war or abject surrender.
A few facts first.
Latvia’s government has amassed much data suggesting that their country is next on Putin’s list of glorious conquests.
Looking for a pretext to launch an invasion, Putin clearly relies on the old chestnut first perfected by Hitler: alleged persecution of a diasporic minority. In the absence of any real persecution, the bogus kind will do as well.
Instances have already been reported of Putin’s thugs clad in the uniforms of Latvian police perpetrating ‘false flag’ beatings and murders of Russians in Riga.
This constitutes an escalation of the process that started after Latvia declared her independence in 1991. Russian rulers immediately claimed that the Russian minority in Latvia was being persecuted.
Since they could cite no instances of physical persecution, they focused on the linguistic kind. For, once Latvia became a sovereign state, the dastardly Letts had the temerity to declare that thenceforth Lettish was the only language of the country’s public and commercial life. It also made fluency in Lettish a requirement for citizenship.
That naturally put at a disadvantage those Russians who grew up in Latvia without bothering to learn the country’s language. Not all Russians though. The citizenship restrictions didn’t apply to the Russians with pre-Soviet roots.
The Letts see such Russians as part of their society, which can’t be said for the families of those who arrived as conquerors in the wake of Soviet tanks. There was plenty of room to fill: up to a third of the country’s population perished in Stalin’s bloody purges.
In a methodical programme of Russification, the Soviets filled the vacancies with ethnic Russians and put them, or their stooges, into most positions of power.
This explains why so many of them and their descendants don’t speak much Lettish. It’s up to the conquered to learn the language of the conquerors, not the other way around, and this is the spirit in which the Russians have traditionally behaved.
Now I realise that any nation insisting on the exclusive status of her historical language has to become a pariah in our globalised world. For example, not being able to string two English words together is certainly no obstacle to gainful employment in, say, Britain or the USA – in fact at times this seems to be a necessary qualification.
But surely we can understand the sensibilities of the Letts? It’s as if the Germans still living in Prague after the war persisted in referring to their country as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and refused to speak any language other than German.
Putin would dearly love to reincorporate Latvia into his version of the Soviet Union, by violent action if need be.
Alas, in 2004 Latvia joined NATO (she also joined the EU, but this is a trivial irrelevance), and Article 5 of this treaty states unequivocally that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Yet you know and I know and, most important, Putin knows that NATO doesn’t want to go to war over Latvia or any other ex-Soviet territory. Neither does Col. Putin – as the conquest of the Crimea shows, it’s the bloodless 1938 Anschluss that’s his model, not the bloody 1939 attack on Poland.
Hence Putin needs a quasi-credible pretext to annex Latvia, while NATO needs a pretext not to fight back with anything other than derisory sanctions. Some aura of legitimacy is badly needed – and the UN Human Rights Committee has provided it.
The committee, says its report, is concerned over the “discriminatory effects of the language proficiency requirement on the employment and work of minority groups and at the exclusion of ‘non-citizen’ residents from certain professions in the private sector”.
If this is discrimination, I wish we had more of it in the UK, especially within ‘certain professions’ in the service sector where it’s becoming increasingly hard for an English speaker to make himself understood.
In Latvia, however, the issue of granting automatic citizenship for those who can’t speak the national language was put to a referendum in 2012 and overwhelmingly rejected. Unlike the Crimean referendum, that one was indisputably legal.
Instead of reaffirming Latvia’s right to insist on the exclusivity of her national language, the UN instead chose to issue a tacit encouragement, and some pseudo-legal justification, to Col. Putin.
Let’s pray he doesn’t take the hint for, if he does, the West will be faced with a Hobson’s choice between war and surrender.