On May the 9th of this year, Latvia will be celebrating Europe Day together with 24 other European democracies. We will be commemorating the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Schuman Declaration, which sought to establish a durable peace in war-torn Western Europe, and which paved the way for formation of what is now known as the European Union.
On May the 8th, Europe will also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. This conflict was unparalleled in its savagery and brutality, and resulted in the largest loss of lives that humanity has ever experienced during wartime.
The end of this war had one undeniably welcome result. It led to the fall of the Nazi German regime, which had occupied and subjugated over a dozen European nations, and which has been responsible for the killing of millions of innocent civilians throughout Europe. In my own country of Latvia, the Nazi Germans and their local accomplices carried out the most heinous and large-scale crimes against humanity to have ever been committed on Latvian soil. They annihilated over 90 % of Latvia’s prewar Jewish community, as well as tens of thousands of other Jews whom they transported into Latvia from other parts of Europe. The Nazis also drafted tens of thousands of Latvian men into their army ranks to serve as live cannon fodder, in a shameless violation of the Geneva Conventions regarding the rules of warfare.
Latvia, together with the rest of Europe, rejoices at the defeat of Nazi Germany and its fascist regime in May of 1945. However, unlike the case in Western Europe, the fall of the hated Nazi German empire did not result in my country’s liberation. Instead, the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were subject to another brutal occupation by another foreign, totalitarian empire, that of the Soviet Union.
For five long decades, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were erased from the map of Europe. Under the Soviet rule, the three Baltic countries experienced mass deportations and killings, the loss of their freedom, and the influx of millions of Russian-speaking settlers.
On May the 9th of this year, Europe’s leaders will meet in Moscow. This is the date when Russia traditionally pays tribute to the millions of Russians who died during the Second World War, and celebrates its costly victory over Nazi Germany.
As the President of a country that subsequently suffered greatly under the Soviet rule, I feel obliged to remind the world at large that humanity’s most devastating conflict might not have occurred, had the two totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Union not agreed to secretly divide the territories of Eastern Europe amongst themselves. I am referring to the shameful agreement signed on August 23rd of 1939 by the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Vyatcheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop.
A week-and-a-half later, as a direct result of this disgraceful pact’s secret supplementary protocols, Hitler invaded Poland and started the Second World War. The Soviet Union then occupied the eastern half of Poland, with Hitler’s full compliance, and invaded Finland later that year. Then, in June of 1940, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. These invasions and occupations had been foreseen and agreed to in advance by Hitler and Stalin.
It is precisely these two dictators who bear the brunt of the blame for the immense human loss and suffering that resulted during the war that ensued. In commemorating those who lost their lives during the Second World War, we must not fail to commemorate the crimes against humanity committed by both Hitler and Stalin. We must not fail to mention these two totalitarian tyrants by name, lest the world forget the responsibility that they bear for beginning that war.
For Latvia, the beginning of the end of the Second World War arrived many decades later, on May the 4th, 1990. This was the date when my country’s parliament passed a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. This May, Latvians will be celebrating the 15th anniversary of that historic declaration.
On May the 1st of this year, Latvia will be celebrating the first anniversary of its accession to the European Union. This is the date that truly marks the end of the Second World War for my country. It marks the end of artificially imposed spheres of influence. It marks the return of my country to an extended European family of free and democratic nations.
As a full member of the European Union and the NATO Alliance, Latvia is proud to be able to take part in the construction of a new and better Europe, a privilege that had been denied to my country for decades. For this reason, I, as President of my country, have decided to attend the summit of Europe’s leaders in Moscow on May the 9th of this year. In doing so, I will be demonstrating Latvia’s resolute desire to take part in all significant meetings that concern our continent’s past history, as well as its future.
In commemorating Europe Day, I will be celebrating the fall of fascism and the resurgence of freedom and democracy in Western Europe. I will be celebrating the birth of what is now known as the European Union and I will be rejoicing at Latvia’s membership in this significant international body. I will be paying tribute to those who lost their lives during the Second World War. But I will also be commemorating, with great sadness, the renewed Soviet occupation of my country, and the immense human loss and suffering that ensued as a result; not only in Latvia, but throughout the former captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
In attending the official events in Moscow, I will be extending a hand of friendship to Russia. Latvia invites Russia to display the same degree of conciliation to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and to condemn the crimes of the Second World War, regardless of who committed them. All leaders of democratic nations should encourage Russia to express its regret over the post-war subjugation of Central and Eastern Europe, which ensued as a direct result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In this, Russia would be following the same path that its Western neighbours have assumed: the path of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and the respect of human rights.