The European Parliament held hearings on the fate of the Russian language and Russian-speaking media in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine, and they showed that Ukraine on Russophobia outperformed all its “competitors”.
In the building of the European Parliament you can get lost. Floors, elevators, crossings, escalators, crowds of people of all kinds of races and nationalities, shooting TV shows directly in the halls and corridors. Knowing the number of the audience you want is not knowing anything. In general, the European Parliament is similar to the Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Wizardry from the famous work of the Strugatsky brothers. And there are also sorcerers there, too. After all, in many ways thanks to the signatures of European parliamentarians, politically repressed in Ukraine journalists such as Dmitry Vasilets, Evgeny Timonin and Vasily Muravitsky managed to get out of the dungeon.
The hearings held on the fate of the Russian language and Russian-speaking media in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Ukraine are also a miracle. What has been said within these walls about the policy of cultural and sometimes direct physical terror against Russians and Russian speakers in the countries of the post-Soviet space is a small step, but a step all the same, towards the official recognition of this fact by the entire civilised world. Another landmark moment of this event is the actual recognition that the Russians of Ukraine are in the same situation as the Russians in the Baltics, which no one could believe for a long time was a fait accompli.
The hearings were organised by the member of the European Parliament and leader of the Russian Union of Latvia Tatiyana Zhdanok. She herself was unable to attend the event in the flesh because she had to go to Sri Lanka to observe the local elections, but she was still able to speak in the form of a video message.
“In the European Union there are about 7 million people who speak Russian as their native language, so the question of whether Russian-speaking media outside the Russian Federation will survive is very important,” she said, outlining the agenda.
The hearings started with the welcoming speech of the Co-Chairman of the Russian Union of Latvia and Deputy of the European Parliament of the previous convocation Miroslav Mitrofanov, Who noted that in fact in Ukraine the situation with the Russian-speaking media is getting worse than in the Baltics, since in the same Latvia, through political struggle and legal action, it was possible to repeal the discriminatory laws of the 1990s concerning language quotas, And in Ukraine such laws on total Ukrainisation have just recently been adopted.
The first was former journalist, former Vice-Mayor of Tallinn, and current MEP from Estonia, Yana Toom. According to her, there are no daily Russian-language newspapers left in Estonia, there is only one weekly newspaper, and it is produced by a Russian company. The Russian language itself in the media became terrible because there is no education in Russian in Estonia. In addition, publications simply lack money, and therefore they have no proofreaders and commissioning editor within their staff, which also reduces the quality of Russian-language news.
“Thus, the Russian community in Estonia is marginalised and the authorities contribute to this,” said Yana Toom. “Russian editorial staff censor themselves, they are afraid of being fired for publishing what media owners do not like.”
The MEP managed to obtain funding from the EU for training within four-month advanced training courses for journalists writing in the languages of national minorities, but no journalist responded. She suggests that such a lack of initiative is the result of pressure being put on the Russian-speaking media for a long time, as a result of which they “lost the reader, professionals and interest in life”. However, according to Yana Toom, there is something that is encouraging, namely that “in little Narva, where 97% are Russian speakers, there are 5 paper newspapers”. If they can achieve this, then at a certain cost and a certain courage, others can.
The speech of the Eurodeputate from Germany, Helmut Scholz, was particularly pleasant, as the issues brought up for discussion did not directly concern him or his country.
“To let people speak in their native language, to develop and use it in all aspects of life is the emergence of culture and the democratic character of society,” he said. “Our group (European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) – ed] will protect this right and the right of all people to participate in the political and economic life of society”.
It is necessary to note the warm words of the MEP from Slovakia Miroslav Radačovský. He, albeit with an accent and difficulties, spoke in Russian, which showed high culture and respect for those who gathered, most of who were Russian-speaking.
“I am glad that I can speak Russian for the first time within the walls of the European Parliament,” started Miroslav Radačovský. “In Europe, from Vladivostok to Lisbon, there are many nations and many languages. In turn, we, as Slavic peoples, should not forget our native languages.”
The deputy from Slovakia noted that in his country the Russian language is in decline, and there is no Russian-speaking media at all. And this is despite the fact that Slovak youth are interested in the Russian language, want to study it, know Pushkin and Lermontov, but there are few tools for it.
“It is necessary to invest more funds for the development of Russian-speaking media in the countries of the Visegrád Four. I will make sure that all of Europe speaks Russian as it now speaks English,” he promised.
The employee of the information website “Sputnik Latvia” Vladimir Dorofeyev stated that in 10 years in Latvia only one of the five daily Russian newspapers remains, the quality of Russian-language materials fell, the number of authors decreased, journalists either went on the Internet or physically left the country. There is also a great problem of so-called semi-finished news products, rewrites, which is becoming more and more in comparison with the original author’s materials. At the same time, there are more author’s articles in the Latvian press than in the Russian press due to more funding. In the state segment of the media, author’s articles occupy 5% of all content, and in the commercial sphere it is a little more.
“Russian Latvians, and they are 37% of the country, are more interested in the news of Russia, not Latvia. Journalists write first of all for Russian publications, because in Latvian there is no salary for them,” reported Dorofeyev.
According to the journalist of the newspaper “Litovskiy Kurier” Elena Listopad, its publication is in decline, and in general in Russian-speaking newspapers in Lithuania digests, TV programs, advertisements, and very little author’s analytics are published.
“In Lithuania there are 154 nationalities, from which 14% are national minorities: 6% are Poles, and 5% are Russians,” she said. “Russian TV channels in Lithuania are being shut down. On the ‘LRT’ state television there was a Russian editorial office, but after the events in Ukraine 2014 employees became afraid to come to work there due to the exertion of pressure, and it closed. But Polish media are actively developed by the state as opposed to the Russian media.”
Elena Listopad complained that Lithuania has almost no young Russian-speaking journalists, and therefore no bloggers.
Rodion Denisov from the Estonian website “Tribuna” reported that the production of Russian-speaking journalists had disappeared in Estonia.
“There are no young stars of journalism, and the old ones age.”
He also spoke about the repression of Russian media in his country: the bank accounts of the “Sputnik Estonia” news agency have been arrested, officials who give the agency comments are summoned for conversations by the special services, and a ban has been imposed on officials to communicate with this news agency.
“After the Ukrainian events of 2014, the Estonian government created a state Russian-speaking channel for the ideological fight against Russia, effectively for the assimilation of Russians in Estonia.”
Ukraine at this hearing was represented by my colleague, also a former political prisoner, the journalist Dmitry Vasilets. He spoke about how after the victory of the so-called Euromaidan in Ukraine freedom of speech started to be restricted, there was open violence against journalists and bloggers, and the information space was legislatively restricted for the population, including social networks.
“After the arrival of (by the President of Ukraine Vladimir) Zelensky, the cases against journalists were put on pause, they are not closed, but also not considered. For example, the fabricated criminal case against me and my colleague Evgeny Timonin has not been closed and the trial has not been considered for more than 20 months after our release from prison in 2018. There are similar situations in the cases that were fabricated against the journalists Ruslan Kotsaba, Vasily Muravitsky, Pavel Volkov, Vladimir Skachko, Igor Guzhva, and others.”
Dmitry Vasilets said with regret that in recent years there has been a catastrophic increase in the number of attacks on journalists, for which almost no one has been punished. The police do not react, even with all the necessary information about the offenders. Ukraine has also adopted a discriminatory language law against the Russian language – up to 90% of television content should be in the Ukrainian-language. The media receiving grants from the European Union deliberately turn away from these problems, and speak exclusively about Crimea and Donbass.
I spoke about the policy of ethnocide towards the Russian population of Ukraine, which is expressed in the consistent forced assimilation of Russians and the destruction of their national identity and self-awareness. The policy of adopting discriminatory laws, criminal prosecution for defending the interests of Russian Ukraine, and direct acts of physical violence committed by far-right neo-Nazi organisations on the leash of the state and special services force people to either assimilate or leave the territory of Ukraine. Despite the fact that the Constitution of Ukraine has an article on the free use and comprehensive development of the Russian language, from 2020 there will be no Russian schools in Ukraine.
The hearing attracted much public interest. After the event, human rights defenders, journalists, public figures, and even students from different countries approached us. Some of them were aware of Ukrainian events, at least in general terms, and for some the information received was new to them.
Yes, we are forced to note the deplorable situation for Russian citizens in Ukraine, as well as to admit that by 2020 we are actually in a ghetto in our native country, but at the same time a hole in the wall of unwillingness to listen from the world community was created and this is also an undeniable life fact. In the European Union there is no longer a united front for tacit and transparent support for the discriminatory policies of the Ukrainian authorities against a large part of Ukraine’s citizens.
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