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(FYI): WoE: Estonia, Russia Clash on the Future of Finno-Ugric Peoples

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  • Norbert Strade
    Monday, June 30, 2008 Window on Eurasia: Estonia, Russia Clash on the Future of Finno-Ugric Peoples Paul Goble Vienna, June 30 – Estonian and Russian
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2008
      Monday, June 30, 2008

      Window on Eurasia: Estonia, Russia Clash on the Future of Finno-Ugric

      Paul Goble

      Vienna, June 30 – Estonian and Russian officials clashed over the
      weekend about the fate of the numerically small but politically
      sensitive Finno-Ugric nations in the Russian Federation, an exchange
      “Gazeta” said was the first “international scandal” in Dmitry Medvedev’s
      presidency and one that points to more problems ahead for these
      officials and their peoples.

      In the course of the World Finno-Ugric Congress, Medvedev met with the
      presidents of Estonia, Finland and Hungary, the three independent
      Finno-Ugric states. His meetings with the leaders of Finland and Hungary
      reportedly went well, but his session with Estonia’s president Toomas
      Hendrik Ilves clearly did not.

      Medvedev suggested that the two discuss “the remarkable number of
      problems” in the relations between Russia and Estonia, to which Ilves
      responded, speaking English rather than Estonian, that it would be a
      good thing if “the public rhetoric” surrounding their bilateral ties
      were to be dialed back (www.gazeta.ru/politics/2008/06/30_a_2770031.shtml).

      But while the conversation between Medvedev and Ilves may have been
      somewhat tense, the problems really began with the remarks Ilves made
      after that session and with speeches delivered by others to the plenary
      sessions of the congress as well as with the comments officials and
      scholars offered about both sets of remarks.

      In his speech, Ilves noted that only three of the 24 Finno-Ugric peoples
      had achieved independent statehood, something he implied that others
      should hope for even if the current prospects seem bleak: “Freedom and
      democracy were our choice 150 years ago when even poets did not yet
      dream about state independence,” he said.

      “As soon as you get a taste of freedom,” the Estonian leader continued,
      “you will understand that this is a question of survival, without which
      it is impossible to operate.”

      Not surprisingly, given the less than warm relations between Moscow and
      Tallinn – more than one Russian commentator today noted that when there
      are general problems in a relationship, almost anything can be the
      occasion for a conflict – many of the delegates from the Russian
      Federation responded very negatively to the Estonian president’s statement.

      Representatives of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District, for example,
      told Russian journalists in widely quoted remarks that they were
      surprised by Ilves’ remarks and that they could not imagine how they
      would cope “without Russia.”

      But the strongest attack against Ilves came from Konstantin Kosachev,
      the chairman of the international affairs committee of the Duma and a
      frequent critic of the policies of the Baltic countries. “I consider,”
      he told journalists, that an attempt has again been made to politicize
      the Finno-Ugric process,” an action that he said was “extremely
      incorrect” at such a conclave.

      He said that albeit “in a much camouflaged form,” Ilves had issued
      “certain appeals to the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia to think about
      their own self-determination,” appeals that had left him angry and
      disappointed because he suggested it showed that “Estonia in the person
      of its president cannot see the forest for the trees.”

      Then, when he delivered his speech to the congress, Kosachev expanded on
      these remarks. “One should not resolve problems by trying to sharpen
      ethnic conflicts,” he insisted, especially in the Russian Federation
      where “we have no problems with the survival and good neighborly
      relations of people of the most varied nationalities.”

      In response to those words, the Estonian delegation including President
      Ilves stood up and left the hall. The audience applauded, according to
      Kosachev because they did not approve what the Estonians were doing but
      far more likely because so many of them, who have been and remain
      victims of Moscow’s policies, did.

      Estonian officials were unanimous in saying that the Estonian delegation
      had done the right thing, standing up for their fellow Finno-Ugric
      nations and refusing to sit still for what they and Finnish President
      Tarja Halonen said was Kosachev’s tendentious account of the state of
      Finno-Ugric life in Russia

      But Russians were outraged. “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today offered the
      observations of three Moscow commentators. Valery Tishkov, the director
      of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, dismissed the very idea
      of any “commonality of a Finno-Ugric world” – “at least from the
      political point of view (www.ng.ru/politics/2008-06-30/1_skandal.html).

      It is “one thing” in Hungary, Finland and Estonia, “where these peoples
      are the titular” nationalities. “It is an entirely different thing in
      Russia where they are minorities” and where they are “not in such a
      catastrophic situation as some want to suggest.” Consequently, urging
      them to seek their own state is “a cover form of separatism.” (*)

      Tishkov who has often reacted angrily in the past to concern in Europe
      and more generally about the fate of the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia,
      insisted that the government in Tallinn “would not permit a Russian or
      small Finno-Ugric minority in Estonia to define itself in this way.”

      Konstantin Voronov, a senior researcher at the Institute of World
      Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) in Moscow, was equally
      dismissive, saying that the Finno-Ugric issue was a “’sleeping’ problem,
      which “our Estonian partners want to politicize,” despite Moscow’s
      willingness to allow minorities autonomy as in Tatarstan and Chechnya. (**)

      And Dmitry Suslov, a researcher at the Council for Foreign and Defense
      Policy, summed up what Medvedev, Kosachev and all the others on the
      Russian side almost certainly feel. “This scandal cannot radically
      affect Russian-Estonian relations because today they are not in the best
      condition” given, among other things, last year’s dispute over the
      Bronze Soldier.


      * It's >decolonization<, stupid.
      ** Willingness to allow autonomy in Chechnya? Has this Mr. Voronov been
      the victim of electroshock experiments at the Serbsky Institute? N.S.
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