Ethnic identity and personal choice

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July 22, 2003 by AK

The more I read about developments in the two Baltic countries, Estonia and Latvia, the more I suspect that the principal goal of local nationalists, who control the government and enjoy solid popular support, is to maintain the ethnic character of their states. They have no qualms about trampling on the Russian-speaking minorities’ rights to prop up their treasured national culture and language. Hence their draconian language, citizenship, and education laws. (If you think France has funny language laws, take a look at Estonia.)

On the other hand, the Russians in Estonia and Latvia seem to be unable to organize and consistently demand their rights back. It’s a general Russian problem: centuries of being subjects, not citizens, must have left an imprint on the psyche. In addition, Baltic Russians have shitty spokesmen who can’t possibly achieve anything positive.

Is a language spoken by 1.5 million people worth protecting? Isn’t the answer obvious — yes, but without curtailing the non-speakers’ natural rights? The identity issue remains — members of an ethnic group may be successful while the group’s identity is being eroded. Over and over again, group identity gets in conflict with personal choice. And whatever the outcome is, casual observers will always be asking — was it worth it?

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Many thanks to Baltic Blog for linking me; I only found it out today by searching blogrolling.com.


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