Statement by First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC Arria Formula meeting on the situation with national minorities and glorification of Nazism in Baltic and Black Sea regions
I am very glad to welcome you to our Arria-formula meeting which is devoted to a topic which is usually not in the focus of attention of the international community. But this doesn’t make this problem less acute and less dangerous.
Here in the UN we have a group of countries who declare themselves champions of democracy and ardent defenders of Human Rights. Among them we often see Baltic States and Ukraine. That is bewildering to us, because being their immediate neighbor, we know what the real situation with human rights looks like in these countries and that it is poisoning intercommunal trust and regional stability.
I will leave aside for a moment the issues related to the freedom of the media though independent journalists face enormous pressure and prosecution in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and especially Ukraine. Maybe these issues deserve a separate meeting of this kind. But we decided to focus today first and foremost on the issues related to the rights of ethnic minorities which experience multiple forms of discrimination and stigmatization in Baltic states. A unique situation is also developing in Ukraine where Russian speakers who constitute majority in Ukraine face discrimination and stigmatization as well.
This situation, inter alia, leads to the existence of a unique category of non-citizens or “aliens” in Latvia and Estonia. According to latest estimates, there are 70 000 non-citizens in Estonia (6 % of the population) and 200 000 in Latvia (10 % of the population). Their numbers have shrunk during 30 years of independence of these countries, but mainly not as a result of change in government policies, but rather of natural population loss because of mass immigration and passing away of elderly citizens. These people face significant discrimination in comparison to those having citizenship.
The education sector is the primary victim of such segregation, apartheid-style policy.
Russian-speaking kids are being forcibly naturalized and ripped of their right to get education in a native language. By 2035, Tallinn seeks to cut the limits for the use of national minorities language to a fraction of 25% (dedicated to all the foreign languages). This is especially devastating considering the fact that Russian speakers comprise a third of the country’s overall population. The situation in Latvia is quite similar.
That runs counter to many of Estonia’s and Latvia’s international obligations, namely under Article 4 of the UN declaration on national ethnic and linguistic minorities and Article 5 of International Convention on elimination of all forms of racial discrimination among others.
In Ukraine human rights defenders note steady increase of xenophobia and cases of aggression against foreigners, happening with indifference or even active engagement of law enforcement structures. The practice of detention, arrest, and identity checks on the basis of race and ethnicity remains widespread. Cases are becoming common when racist or discriminatory hate speech and statements directed mainly against minorities are made in the course of public discussions, including by public figures and politicians in the media, in particular on the Internet, and during rallies and mass gatherings.
It is worth mentioning the infamous “Mirotvorets” website in Ukraine, supported by the Ministry of the Interior, which publishes personal data of people, whom nationalists consider enemies of Ukraine. Many of them get harassed or even killed after such publications. Recently, a 12-year old girl from Lugansk was included on this list.
Forced ukrainization is an integral part of official Kiev's policy towards national minorities. It discriminates a significant part of the population on the basis of language, triggering major violations of the rights of the Russian-speaking community. Since 2017, country's legislation, introduced by the Maidan authorities, has consistently banned the use of any language other than Ukrainian in the public sector, education, and the media. Nowadays we are witnessing a war on the Russian language and Russian education which is in breach of numerous international conventions on ethnic minority rights. In Ukraine’s case, this is also a direct, gross violation of its Constitution that guarantees the rights of the Russian language and those of Russian speakers and other ethnic minorities.
Let me draw your attention to the report on civic space and fundamental freedoms in Ukraine presented on December 15 by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Nada Al Nashif. She expressed concern over the restrictions on the free expression of critical or unpopular opinions and on participation in peaceful assemblies. Government sanctions led to closure of TV channels and online media outlets. Lack of accountability for threats and violence targeting Human Rights defenders. Such an impunity discourage participation in the public affairs and narrows civic space.
Anti-Semitism is also a cross-cutting problem for the countries in question, especially for Ukraine. It is fueled by the raise of Nazi ideology in the Baltic states and Ukraine. Instead of being prohibited, events praising the Nazi legacy and those who served in the Waffen-SS and participated in murder of hundreds thousand people, are held in these countries, often with the support and participation of officials. We condemn such activities and policies by the Governments of Ukraine and the Baltic countries.
It would be especially timely for us to examine these phenomena today in the light of the 75th Anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal verdicts which is celebrated this year. This historic event symbolized the end of the deadliest World War and contributed in a decisive way to the identity of the United Nations and its Security Council, which since then carries the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Nevertheless, after seven and a half decades glorification of Nazi criminals and collaborators is unfortunately not uncommon. We clearly see this danger observing our Western Colleagues in the UN General Assembly cowardly abstaining or even voting against alongside with Ukraine on our yearly resolution against glorification of Nazis.
I can understand the frustration and impatience of our panelists who are eager to take the floor and to react to what has been said. Indeed this issue is very deep and very vast, and it deserves precise and more considerable attention. Maybe we will think of organizing something else to follow up of this meeting. Fernand [de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities Issues] you are absolutely right. I mentioned at the beginning that the issue of freedom of media was specifically not tackled, because this is a separate very vast topic.
I assume that you now realize how difficult it is for us to work in the Security Council and to engage in dialogue, sometimes because "we talk apples, they talk oranges". Nevertheless, I want to thank you very much for your participation, for bringing to our attention concrete facts from your life and your experiences. And of course, everything that you said will be important for our work.
I will make some closing remarks on your behalf as well if you permit me. I want to congratulate all of us today for a very important meeting that we managed to hold. I value most the fact that we heard the voices of people living in the affected countries and having firsthand knowledge of what's happening on the ground. It's hard to overestimate this achievement. Due to time constraints very many things that our panelists wanted to flag were not pronounced and this was deliberate.
Therefore, we intend to share with you, I address the UNSC members and wider UN membership, to share with you additional information that our panelists will send to us.
Before this event, some of you were likely wondering why we had chosen this topic for our Arria-Formula meeting and how it was related to the agenda of the Security Council. But I think those of you who listened attentively to the panelists have already got an answer to this question.
The accumulating hatred, hate speech practices, practices of discrimination, xenophobia, discrimination of minorities in our immediate neighborhood trouble us very much. They also poison relations between Russia and the EU, Russia and the West in general. And the developments in Ukraine after the Maidan coup have accelerated these negative and extremely dangerous trends. But instead of reacting to them, our Western colleagues prefer to pretend that nothing is happening. Maximum that they could do is to claim that this is all caused by harmful influence of Russia. And we have seen such things today as well. Though in some other country situations, not to mention Russia and Belarus, any minor problem of absolutely different type of scale would trigger accusations of human rights violations that also we heard today.
This ostrich policy clearly backfires encouraging far-right movements in Europe and the US who get inspiration from Baltic and Ukrainian neo-Nazis. This is quite clear. So turning a blind eye to these trends, you are acting very shortsightedly.
I can understand how awkward you feel today, my dear Western colleagues, and how difficult it is for you to comment on what was said today. And I appreciate the input of those who decided to take the floor. But staying comfortably numb, not noticing this big elephant in the room or trying to cite alleged Russian disinformation in every instance when we shed light on concrete irregularities will not make these dangerous trends less dangerous.
Сolleagues, there are a lot of examples in the world, in Europe in particular, where language issue and the problem of minorities are being settled in normal and civilized way. Belgium, Switzerland, Finland to name a few. But somehow countries in Russia's immediate neighborhood chose to settle it in a very inhumane, perverted and non-civilized way, through oppression and discrimination. We believe that our indignation and non-acceptance of these methods merits most serious attention by our Security Council colleagues. We simply can't stay silent, especially when one analyzes this from a broader perspective. In fact, Russia and Belarus are being encircled by some kind of an instability rim from the West and from the South.
This situation directly threatens our stability and security, and therefore it should be taken quite seriously into account by the Security Council member-states while implementing its mandate in accordance with the UN Charter.
To conclude, let me thank all of you once again and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and all the best in the coming year 2022.
Thank you very much.