Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Colonization by Another Name

One of the elephants in the room around Putin's loud and aggressive championing of Russian speakers and ethnics in former Soviet states is the fact of Russian colonization. Ethnic Rus have been settling regions well beyond their historical homeland for many, many generations.  When Ronald Reagan called then Soviet Russia an 'Evil Empire' he was not just referring to Russian troops garrisoning Warsaw Pact 'allies'.

Throughout the long Soviet era Russians took up residence in many countries across their borders, while at the same time expelling other ethnicities from their own territories (Crimean Tatars, Swabian Germans, and others).  In the 18th and 19th Century Russian settlers spread across Asia and even into North America via Alaska. Russian Orthodox churches remaining today on Vancouver Island are testimony to how far down the North American continent Russian pioneers went. The Russo-Japanese War of a century ago was a conflict of imperialists and colonizers. The present Russian Federation is the most ethnically diverse country on the planet, yet we hear next to nothing about its non-Russian citizens in official propaganda.

While Latvia may seem harsh in not granting full citizenship to a third of its 27% of population of Russian stock, its reluctance is understandable - these people are colonists, and staffed the local KGB who terrorized the natives in Soviet times.  Unlike most other imperialist colonizers, Russian settlers have never had to defend and atone for their usurpation of indigenous landholdings across Eastern Europe and Asia. There has been no accounting for their genocides, forced indoctrination programmes of Russian language and dogma, and land theft.

Yesterday in Canada we celebrated National Aboriginal Language Day.  Having extirpated or severely limited the use of our great variety of native languages, we are finally recognizing that they and their speakers are cultural assets. Americans have restored French as an official language in Louisiana and recognized the Gullah of rural black Carolinians and Georgians and the Hawaiian language as national treasures. Formerly obscure languages like Frisian and Scots Lallans are recognized and funded in the European Union.

While wringing our hands over the excesses of our Western European colonization in the Americas, Asia and Africa, we singularly fail to include Russia in our list of aggressive global colonizers with skeletons in their closets.

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