Lost in Translation: Human and Minority Rights Discourses of the European Union and Russia

ABSTRACT: The legal documents drafted in April 2013 to enable the EU’s accession to the European Charter of Human Rights represented a further confirmation of the unprecedented victory of democracy and human rights in Europe. However, with the outbreak and evolution of the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the victory of democracy and human rights in Europe is less straightforward. The conflict highlights the clash over the understanding of human rights between the two major political powers on the European continent – the EU and Russia. This article complements quantitative data on human rights violations with qualitative discourse analysis of human rights frames. The highly contentious case of the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia is selected as a test case. Presented analysis shows that the Russian-speaking minority in Latvia is lost in translation – caught between the Latvian notion of non-citizens as a legally justified statelessness and the Russian notion of compatriots, victims of aggressive Western expansion. Neither the Latvian nor the Russian official discourse has recognized the Russian-speaking minority as an autonomous entity; rather for both the minority issue is instrumentalized for domestic and foreign policy reasons - identity is instrumentalized and securitized. The EU, whose hands are tied, is largely absent. The relationship between the actors is polarized and antagonistic, and as the situation of Ukraine shows, has further potential for violence.

© Petra Guasti and Arne Niemann

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