Latvia's Terrible Error

By Ivanov, Mikhail | Russian Life, May 1998 | Go to article overview
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Latvia's Terrible Error

Ivanov, Mikhail, Russian Life

One can easily understand (though perhaps not forgive) Latvian hatred for and mistreatment of ethnic Russians living in that country. The 1940 "integration" of Latvia into the USSR was not exactly "benevolent." Add to that mass deportations - one in June 1941 when the NKVD deported nearly 20,000 Latvian citizens to Siberia and a second in 1949, and there is ample reason to hate the Russia. But there will never be just cause for the events which took place in Latvia in March, with the approval of Latvian authorities.

First, on March 3, police in the Latvian capital of Riga broke up a protest rally held by septuagenarian Russian pensioners by hitting and shoving them to the ground. Strangely, only Moscow voiced condemnation of this blatant violation of human rights. Western countries abstained, seemingly believing that, in relations between Riga and Moscow the latter is always wrong.

Inspired by its impunity, on March 13 Latvians authorities blessed a march of Latvian Waffen SS veterans through downtown Riga; Latvian Army Commander in Chief Juris Dalbinsh took part in the march. Thankfully, this time, even the traditionally pro-Baltic Western world protested. During the March European troika summit in Moscow, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (whose government is paying pensions to many SS victims worldwide) spoke out strongly against Latvia's and Estonia's policies towards ethnic Russian minorities. Tallinn and Riga, he said, should not "overestimate the amount of support for them from Western European states."

Interestingly, while anti-Russian sentiments run high in Latvia and Estonia, things are different in Lithuania: it is the only Baltic country which gave full citizenship to all persons living permanently in the republic in 1991. And Lithuanian travel agencies seem to want to distance themselves from anti-Russian sentiments in the neighboring Baltic states. One company's brochure declares: "No anti-Russian mood here, helpful Russian-speaking personnel." The strategy seems to be paying off: Russian tourists are traveling heavily to this Baltic state.

Not so in Latvia, whose once-popular health-resorts are operating at well under capacity. It seems that old scars inflicted in the Soviet era are taking longer to heal in Latvia. The "elder brother" to the East now looks weak and sick, and Latvia could be said to be imitating the donkey from Ivan Krylov's fable, savoring long overdue revenge by kicking the sick lion.

But even the best analogy has its weaknesses, as they say. The Russian lion is not as sick and desperate as it may seem. And Latvia is surely not a donkey among nations. Having taken two visits to Latvia in the 1980s, I very much want to regard Latvia as a civilized nation with a strong economy, justly aspiring to become a full-fledged member of European community, and not one that will make an ass of itself by carelessly allowing fascists to march its streets.

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Latvia's Terrible Error


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