What's In Blue

Posted Tue 21 Dec 2021

Arria-formula Meeting on Minorities in the Baltic and Black Sea Regions

Tomorrow morning (22 December), Russia will convene a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “the situation with national minorities and the glorification of Nazism in the Baltic and Black Sea regions”. Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, is expected to brief. Anticipated panellists at tomorrow’s meeting include: Alexei and Larisa Semyonov, representatives of the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights in Estonia; Viktor Gushchin, Director of the Baltic Centre for Historical and Socio-Political Studies in Latvia; Valery Engel, President of the European Centre for Democracy Development in Latvia; Alexander Gaponenko, a civil activist in Latvia; and Alisa Blintsova, Head of the NGO “Russian School in Estonia”.

The meeting will be broadcast live on UNTV at 10 am EST.

According to a concept note prepared by Russia, the objective of tomorrow’s meeting is to apprise member states of the situation regarding national minorities and the glorification of Nazism in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. In addition, the meeting aims to provide an opportunity for member states to pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Tribunal verdicts.

Russia has previously raised the issue of neo-Nazism in a 5 May Arria-formula meeting titled “Odessa seven years after: Neo-nazism and violent nationalism as drivers of conflict in Ukraine”. In a concept note prepared ahead of that meeting, Russia said that the meeting sought to provide an opportunity for member states to discuss the role of violent nationalism as a dividing factor in Ukraine in the events leading up to and during the Maidan protests in 2013 and 2014. After the meeting, Council members Estonia, Ireland, France, Norway, the UK, and the US, together with non-Council members Belgium and Germany, issued a joint statement asserting that Russia had organised the meeting to promote a false narrative about the situation in Ukraine.

The issue of the glorification of Nazism has also been discussed regularly at the General Assembly’s Third Committee. Since 2012, Russia has been the main sponsor of a resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. The latest resolution, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 12 November, expressed deep concern about the spread of extremist political parties, movements, ideologies and groups with a racist or xenophobic character, including neo-Nazis, and reaffirmed states’ responsibilities to address hate speech. The resolution notes that doing so does not equate to limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech, but rather preventing incitement to discrimination and violence, which may “not be justifiable as exercises of freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression”.

The General Assembly resolution was adopted by a vote of 130 in favour and two against (Ukraine and the US), with 51 abstentions (including Council members Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, and the UK). Prior to the vote, US Deputy Representative for ECOSOC Nicholas Hill characterised the annual resolutions as “thinly veiled attempts to legitimize Russian disinformation campaigns denigrating neighboring nations and promoting the distorted Soviet narrative of much of contemporary European history, using the cynical guise of halting Nazi glorification”. Hill also conveyed the US’ objection to the resolution’s “unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression”, which it views as contravening the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Varennes is likely to brief on his latest report on “Minorities, equal participation, social and economic development and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The report, issued on 16 July, describes the Special Rapporteur’s work on the thematic priorities of statelessness, education and minority languages, hate speech targeting minorities on social media, and on the prevention of violent conflicts through the protection of minorities’ human rights. The report notes that most stateless persons in Europe “belong to the Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia, at around 300,000”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to present opposing narratives on the situation of national minorities and the glorification of Nazism in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. Russia is expected to voice concerns regarding Russian-speaking minorities in these regions and call on member states to combat the glorification of Nazism and other practices that fuel intolerance. Council members who oppose Moscow’s position may criticise Russia for using the Arria-formula meeting format to present a false narrative of the situation facing minorities in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. While Council members are united overall in their condemnation of the glorification of Nazism, divisions remain with regard to the appropriate method of addressing the issue. Several Council members, including the US and European members, are likely to express the view that tackling hate speech should not come at the expense of freedom of expression.