Friday, March 07, 2014

The Big Winners in the Crimeans Crisis

Fluent Russian speakers in former Soviet Republics who want to emigrate to Russia. And there are a lot of them. The Central Asia and the Caucus republics are filled with fluent Russian former Soviet citizens who would love to become citizens of the more affluent Russia.

This could also resolve the almost 23 year old problem of ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic states won't give ethnic Russians citizenship unless they can prove fluency in the national language. Many Russians who settled there during the Soviet period (in some cases, forcibly sent there) and their children never learned the local language and are now effectively stateless. The country where they live (in some cases, lived their whole lives) won't recognize them as citizens and, until now, Russia would not grant them citizenship either. The Russian official position was that the Baltic Republics' refusal to grant them local citizenship constituted discrimination against their Russian minority. If Russia gave them citizenship, it would amount to a de facto recognition that they do not belong where they live, the position of the Baltic Republics governments. And so millions of Russians had been trapped in a stateless netherworld which causes endless bureaucratic hassles.

(Years ago, I was friends with a Russian woman from Estonia. She showed me her passport, which was issued by the Estonian government, but was titled "Alien Passport" in big letters on the cover. The inside of her passport--where most passports a statement that says something like: "The bearer of this passport has the protection of the government of [insert name of issuing country], so let him/her pass"--it said something along the lines of: "This person is not entitled to any rights of a citizen of Estonia and will not be protected by that government. But let her pass if you want." (I don't remember the exact words, I saw the passport in 1999) Needless to say, the "Alien Passport" was a hit at the Science Fiction convention where I met her).

So it looks like Moscow's new-found sympathy for Russians in the "near abroad" in Crimea is going to help a lot of people across the former Soviet empire. I guess that counts as a real silver lining.