There is discrimination but there is also ......
Well, what is it, actually??
R.W. Reuderink, specialist on Baltic Affairs, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Estonia and Latvia there is regular discussion about/on the signing of international treaties on minorities. The reason therefor is that in these countries the problem is not discrimination but just something very otherwise. The issue itself is a general (every in the world) occuring problem, for which exist still no name (term). With help of sport matches like the Olymic Games and the changes in the staffing (employees) of the police of South-Africa it will be made clearly (explained) what the problem is and that it is quite different from discrimination.
For discrimination means making a a distinction between persons, groups, organisations, countries on non-functional grounds. And that results in injustice, often even in grievous injustice.
An example: a municipal hospital is looking for an experienced cardiologist. One of the applicants is a dentist. He is rejected on functional grounds; he is not a cardiologist. This is not discrimination. In the final choice between two candidates, the hospital chooses a cardiologist with experience over a cardiologist who has just completed his studies. This is not discrimination either. It is a logical consequence of the job requirements.
But if, in choosing between two experienced cardiologists, the choice is made on the basis of religion and a Catholic is appointed because he is Catholic and a Protestant is rejected because he is Protestant, that is indeed discrimination. It also applies the other way round, of course. And the same applies, for example, in choosing a man because he is a man, at the expense of a woman.
In discrimination particular people, groups of people, organisations, countries etc. get fewer opportunities in life than other people. This results in serious injustice for these groups. And it also works to the detriment of society as a whole because, often, the right person does not end up in the right place. One chooses the second-best person for a job, for example, instead of the best. It can also be looked at this way:
Fundamentally equal people, groups, organisations, countries etc. are unjustly treated as different. And that is in conflict with a fair legal system and causes a lot of injustice.
There are also situations, however, where one rightly makes a distincton. Think of the Olympic Games. Men and women generally compete in Olympic events according to sex. But if it had been decreed that all people are equal and that men and women must therefore compete together in the same events, this would mean - in track and field competition, for example - that not a single woman would win a medal in racing, the long jump, shot-putting etc. And that, in events involving quarter finals, half finals and finals, only men would reach the finals. Women would be simply out of the running.
This applies to virtually all sports where victory stems mainly from individual physical strength. Men and women are built so differently - in regard to muscle mass, for example - that fair competition is out of the question if they participate together in Olympic events such as the 100 meter run.
No term yet exists to cover this phenomenon. Because it involves unfairly ignoring or even denying fundamental differences, I propose calling it dis-ignoration. The race for men and women together is an example of disignoration, which can be characterised as follows:
Fundamentally different people, groups, organisations, countries etc. are unfairly treated as equals. And, just as with discrimination, this leads to a lot of injustice and is in conflict with a fair legal system.
Sport, fortunately, is free of disignoration. Sport expressly acknowledges the fact that men and woman are so fundamentally different in physical structure that, in most sports, only separate competitions are justifiable.
To avoid disignoration one must sometimes take measures that, in other situations, could quickly lead to suspicions of discrimination.
An example is South Africa. At the moment (2004) quite a few white South Africans are working in Iraq as security personnel. Most had been middle-level and higher-level police officials in their own country. They were dismissed in line with a policy by which the police had to more represent the whole population at the middle and higher levels of their profession too. In short, people were dismissed from the police because they were white. To my knowledge, not a single individual, government or action group in Europe has called this a violation of human rights, or a violation of minority rights or, simply, racism.
At the time of the scrapping of apartheid, the situation among the police in South Africa was fundamentally different than, for example, among the police in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands everyone who could and can meet police job requirements could and can rise to middle and higher levels - regardless of religion, for example, or race. This was not the case in South Africa during apartheid. At the time, virtually whites alone could advance to higher police ranks.
To undo the grievous injustice of apartheid, one accepted in Europe that police officials in South Africa were dismissed from their posts because they were white. If one had protested against this in Europe and imposed sanctions against the South African government, this would have been a clear case of disignoration. Europe would have wrongly treated fundamentally different countries (for example, South Africa and the Netherlands) as equal.
And, for South Africa, that could have meant being forced to go on accepting some of the grievous injustices of apartheid. In South Africa, it should be said, it was not in police ranks alone that the government worked towards achieving better representation of the general population.
This shows that Europe realised the fundamental differences between South Africa and - for example - the Netherlands and was therefore not guilty of disignoration against South Africa.
Disignoration does occur in practice, however - viz. when the fundamental differences between various situations have been overlooked. One example involves Estonia and Latvia. The West wrongly compared the situation in the two Baltic countries with that of ordinary minorities in Western Europe.
Estonia and Latvia had been occupied from 1940 to 1991. Three years by Germany and 48 years by the Soviet Union - as represented entirely by Russians. The Russian occupation went coupled with large-scale deportations and many executions. The Soviet Union also systematically promoted emigration to Estonia and Latvia (mainly by Russians). Both practices together were, demographically speaking, the most efficient way to change the ethnic composition of the population. Heavy Russification also took place, at the expense of the language and culture of both Estonia and Latvia.
The Russians who arrived in Estonia and Latvia during the Soviet occupation differ fundamentally from ordinary language minorities in Western Europe. The Occupation-Russians formed a dominant group; they were the overlords in Estonia and Latvia. They are comparable with the whites in South Africa before the abolition of apartheid. The Estonians, Latvians and the other non-Russian population groups were the subjected masses, just as were the non-whites in South Africa. These Russians are also comparable with the pieds-noirs (French) in Algeria before Algeria became independent.
An ordinary language minority - the Frisians in the Netherlands, for example, or the Bretons in France - differs fundamentally from the Occupation-Russians. The difference is in the attitude towards the state in which they live and towards the state language. During the German occupation, the Frisians were at least as loyal to the Dutch state as the Dutch-speakers.
Virtually all Frisians above the age of six had outstanding command of the state language, Dutch. They could also read and write Dutch well. As to writing in Frisian, most Frisians are illiterate in their own language and some of them also have a problem reading Frisian. The Frisians find it self-evident that, outside Friesland, they speak Dutch with Dutch-speakers, and most do so within Friesland too. The majority (the Dutch-speakers) also find this self-evident. The majority have no skills at all in Frisian, with a few exceptions here and there. A majority does not need to know the minority language - an attitude that we find entirely normal throughout Europe.
In Estonia and Latvia, however, most people of the majority (Estonians/Latvians) do know a minority language, and even command it very well. This is Russian, the language of the former occupier. The other way round, a large portion of the Russians who arrived during the occupation have little command of the state language (Estonian or Latvian) or none at all. And if Occupation-Russians do have a reasonable command of the state language, they generally refuse to speak it.
Virtually all Occupation-Russians find the thought of having to use the state language, or begin using it, not only humiliating but also a violation of their human rights. According to the Occupation-Russians, Estonians and Latvians who find that Estonian/Latvian should be the lingua franca in their own countries are nationalists and/or fascists.
On the other hand, these Russians do not consider it humiliating for the Estonians (the majority in Estonia) and the Latvians (the majority in Latvia) to speak the language of the one-time occupier. And doing so, they say, is no violation of human rights either.
Almost all Russians who arrived during the occupation demanded/demand that the Estonians/Latvians should speak a 'human language' (Russian) rather than a 'pig language' (Estonian/Latvian).
Even now, more than ten years after the restoration of independence, the Occupation-Russians demand that the Estonians and Latvians speak a 'decent' language. And they force most Estonians and Latvians to speak Russian in their own countries.
At the same time, virtually all Occupation-Russians are still denying that there was a Russian occupation of Estonia and Latvia, an occupation involving deportations, executions and terror in general.
In short, a language minority like the Frisians in the Netherlands or the Bretons in France differs fundamentally from the Occupation-Russians in Estonia and Latvia. Because in Estonia and Latvia one of the minorities considers it self-evident that the majority should speak their minority language - Russian..
And what has the West been doing about all this? The Council of Europe, for example, the OECD, the European Union? In actual practice they act as if the Russian occupation never occurred and that the Occupation-Russians are an entirely normal minority. These Occupation-Russians became stateless in 1991 and that because Russia did not automatically grant them Russian citizenship!
According to the treaty of Geneva of 1949 the Occupation-Russians are living illegally in Estonia and Latvia, and must return to their fatherland. But this international treaty has been swept under the carpet. It turns out, according to the West, not to apply to Estonia and Latvia.
On the other hand, it seems that the international treaties that grant rights to citizens who belong to a minority do indeed apply to Estonia and Latvia. These treaties have even been re-interpreted since 1991 in the sense that they now suddenly also apply to stateless Russians in Estonia and Latvia. Without, it should be said, any changes to the texts of these treaties.
The case of the Occupation-Russian shows that Europe does not see the fundamental differences between language minorities in western Europe and the Occupation-Russians in Estonia and Latvia, and is guilty of disignoration. And, just as with the victims of discrimination, one treats the victims of disignoration (in this case the Estonians and Latvians) unjustly and (implicitly) as inferior people. This does not create confidence in fair treatment in and the legal system there.
Estonia and Latvia are therefore justified in doubting whether they should sign, where called upon, international treaties and charters with regard to minorities. Because these treaties are intended for the protection of ordinary language minorities. And not to unjustly give more power to the Occupation-Russians at the expense of Estonians, Latvians and the non-Russian minorities. By treating two fundamentally different situations (ordinary language minorities versus Occupation-Russians) as identical, the West is displaying a classic example of disignoration.
There is discrimination in the world but there is also .... dis-ignoration. Both result in injustice and both should therefore be challenged (be fihgted against).
Translation: Patrick McGiverna