17.02.2004
“The Russian World” Without Borders
№1 2004 January/February

The history of Russia is an account of the wonderful feats by
its people who have made it possible for the country to achieve
great successes. But it is also a history of tragic upheavals. As a
result of such cataclysms, millions of our fellow countrymen – and
a lot of them happen to be the nations’ finest – found themselves
scattered around the world.

Russia, both in the czarist and Soviet times, experienced
several waves of emigration. The collapse of the Soviet Union
momentarily deprived millions more people of their motherland:
although they became residents of foreign states, these emigrants
remained intimately attached to their homeland since they never
would have considered leaving Russia had a catastrophe not forced
them into the decision.

The Soviet Union had been developing its national economy along
the principles of a unitary state. It sent productive forces to
economically promising regions which were formed close to natural
sources.  This process gained momentum after World War II,
when many enterprises that had been evacuated to the country’s
east, to the then Central Asian Soviet republics, remained in
places of their supposedly temporary location. More often than not
these enterprises were not provided with proper infrastructure.
Nevertheless, the specialists working in these regions ultimately
chose to stay there permanently. The majority of them were of
Slavic origin, and after the dramatic events of 1991, they
immediately became foreigners.

The developments following the breakup of the U.S.S.R. were
largely rooted in the inflamed nationalistic sentiments and
ambitions of the newly born political elites. These developments
led to grave consequences and often resulted in armed conflicts and
bloodshed. All these tragic events had a dramatic impact on the
fate of many ethnic Russians and further complicated the already
difficult process of building new states.

Overcoming these negative consequences as fast as possible fully
corresponds to the interests of both Russia and its neighbors.
Russia’s dramatic history is setting serious tasks for us all, the
government and society. The main task is to do everything in our
power to ensure that any Russian – no matter where he resides or
what country he is citizen of – be sure that he can rely on the
support of his historic motherland.

The Russian government has set as its major foreign policy goal
a more active interaction with Russian communities abroad, which
now embrace over 25 million people of Russian origin. Today, the
efforts of the Russian government are mainly focused on protecting
the rights and interests of ethnic Russians in the CIS and Baltic
countries. The next goal is to extend the dialog with Russian
compatriots living in the ‘far-abroad’ countries, to attract and
use their intellectual, scientific and economic potential to
Russia’s benefit.

Unfortunately, in many countries within the post-Soviet space
the rights of ethnic Russians are often infringed upon, although
they are supposed to be strictly observed in line with generally
recognized international law and ensured by the protection of human
rights in civilized societies. More specifically, the Russian
government has continuously expressed its concern with the
Russian-speaking populations of Latvia and Estonia who are deprived
of the right to receive citizenship within these countries.
Anti-fascist WWII veterans in these countries continue to be
legally prosecuted. The social and economic conditions of those
people who participated in WWII are steadily getting worse; they
are being stripped of well-deserved social benefits.

The use of the Russian language is getting more limited with
every passing day. The number of Russian schools is being reduced
not only in the Baltic States, but in most of the CIS member
countries as well. In many cases this is being perpetrated under
false pretexts, in attempts to suit local nationalistic moods,
which stand in contrast to the needs and aspirations of the
citizens themselves. Any purposeful effort to belittle the
importance of the Russian language, regardless of its historic role
as a means of interaction between many different nationalities,
results in the decrease of the common cultural and informational
space. (According to the 1989 census data, there were as many as
184 million Russian-speaking people in the former U.S.S.R.) The
refusal to use the well-mastered, rich, internationally recognized
Russian language not only entails problems in communication; this
decision is fraught with spiritual and cultural destitution for
those nations that have assimilated Russian culture. It is also
poisonous for the concord between nations. The obvious
discrimination of the Russian language compromises the very idea of
integrating the post-Soviet states into a civilized world
community.

However, knowledge and active use of the Russian language by the
majority of the populations in the CIS and Baltic countries is to
their big common advantage.

It is worth noting here that some CIS countries are well aware
of this fact. Russian is the second state language in Belarus and
has the status of the official language in Kyrgyzstan. Under
Kazakhstan’s Constitution, “… state organizations and local
government bodies use the Russian language on an equal basis with
the Kazakh language.” Maintaining high standards of education in
the Russian and native languages is promoted by joint universities,
which under intergovernmental agreements are active in Kyrgyzstan
(the Russian-Kyrgyz Slavic University), Tajikistan (the
Russian-Tajik Slavic University) and Armenia (the Russian-Armenian
University).

Seeking to ensure the rights of its compatriots abroad, Russia
is prepared for a broad dialog with the authorities of all states
involved so as to find mutually acceptable solutions. Law-abiding
Russians living abroad actually bridge Russia with other nations,
promoting friendship and mutually beneficial political, economic
and other kinds of interaction. At the same time, it is obvious
that violating the fundamental rights of ethnic Russians in this or
that country cannot but have negative effects on its relations with
the Russian Federation.

Let me stress in particular that Russia’s concern for the rights
and freedoms of its compatriots abroad is by no means dictated by
the conditions of the political moment. It is Russia’s strategic
foreign policy choice, which is part and parcel of the country’s
internal transformation. It is no accident that this issue has
entered the main agenda of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which has
been made to play the role of an interdepartmental coordinating
center. In order to achieve the goals set down, the Ministry has
established a Department for Russian Compatriots’ Affairs. Work on
defining specific lines of operations, including within the sphere
of normative and legal acts, is nearing completion. Relevant tasks
have been established for our diplomatic missions and consular
offices. These maintain close contacts with Russian communities
abroad and understand to a high degree the particular problems
faced by our fellow countrymen in foreign countries.

Finally, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its offices
abroad implement programs worked out by the Russian Government
Commission for Compatriots’ Affairs. In 2003, funds appropriated
for these programs amounted to 210 million rubles, and they are to
be increased by 20 percent in 2004.

The Russian Government prefers not to finance public
organizations but to directly channel funds for specific programs
and undertakings. It supports Russian communities’ programs which
are dedicated to memorable dates in Russian history and culture,
and provides assistance in arranging summer recreation for their
children in vacation resorts and health centers in Russia. The
government also pays for veterans’ medical rehabilitation programs,
and provides as much help as possible to socially unprotected
compatriots. Any association that unites ethnic Russians abroad is
welcome to submit their programs to one of our Russian embassies
and consular offices in the CIS and Baltic States; they can be sure
to receive our support.

A considerable portion of budget funding goes toward promoting
the prestige of Russian culture and the Russian language abroad, as
well as helping compatriots preserve other languages and cultural
traditions that are native and dear to them. The Russian government
takes care to establish solid cultural ties between Russian
communities abroad by supporting Russian-language schools,
organizing training of Russian literature schoolteachers, and
providing schools with textbooks, teaching aids, reference books
and other materials. Last year alone, such materials were supplied
to schools in the CIS and Baltic States to the tune of over 50
million rubles.

Importantly, financial support for targeted programs also comes
from regional governments of the Russian Federation. For instance,
the Moscow government has its own program for assisting ethnic
Russians living abroad; it allocates more than 160 million rubles
for these purposes annually. And of course, it is hard to
underestimate the great role that has been traditionally played by
the Russian Orthodox Church in uniting Russians living in foreign
countries.

***

The Russian Federation does not demand any special privileges or
benefits for ethnic Russians living abroad. But it firmly insists
that they be provided with all human, social, economic, cultural
and other rights and freedoms accepted and legally protected in
civilized societies.

Regardless of the country where the representatives of “the
Russian world” may reside, any steps toward their unity is a strong
incentive for strengthening and enriching both Russia and the
nations where ethnic Russians happen to live and work.

The Congress of Compatriots from the CIS and Abroad, held in
October 2001 in Moscow, clearly demonstrated that the Russian
Federation is not negligent of its compatriots living beyond its
borders. Russia has proved to be aware of their needs, concerns and
difficulties and that it is proud of their achievements and highly
values its ties with “the Russian world,” above all, cultural ones.
Not all major tasks outlined at the Congress have been accomplished
as fast as one might wish. But the desire of the Russian Federation
Government and ethnic Russians living abroad to take steps toward
each other is obvious.

The Russian diaspora abroad possesses an impressive potential
that should be used on a much wider scale in the interests of both
our fellow countrymen and Russia itself.