By Mart Niklus and Kalju Matik
The Honorable George W. Bush, President of the United States of America
The Right Honorable Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain
The Honorable Jacques Chirac, Président de la République Francaise
The Honorable Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland
The Honorable Gerhard Schroder, Kanzler der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
We Estonian nationals, former political prisoners of the Soviet GULAG prison camps, hereby appeal to you and to world opinion.
The Russian Federation has officially declared itself to be the lawful successor state to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (hereafter: the USSR). However, the Russian Federation has not yet acknowledged the evil past of its predecessor, has not recognized the massive atrocities committed by the USSR, and has made no attempts to atone for them.
To fully appreciate the scope and setting of Soviet actions, it is important to recall some relevant historical facts about Estonia and other European nations.
On September 17th, 1939, the USSR attacked Poland, a country already under attack by Hitler’s Germany. By the end of September, Nazi Germany and the USSR divided all the Polish territory between them, and Poland ceased to exist.
The USSR’s repressive security forces massively murdered thousands of captured Polish military men and civilians, as well as foreigners in Katyn and elsewhere.
In the fall of 1944, as Polish armed resistance fought pitched battles to free Warsaw from Nazi control, the Red Army refused to grant Western Allies the use of captured airstrips in Poland, thereby crippling all the allied attempts to re-supply Polish freedom fighters in Warsaw. The USSR, thereby, directly contributed to the suppression of the Warsaw uprising and to the destruction of Warsaw, capital of Poland.
In 1940 the USSR occupied and annexed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in direct violation of international law and several internationally recognized treaties to which the USSR was a signatory.
The USSR carried out massive repression against the populations of the subjugated nations, thereby violating both the laws of the said nations and those of the USSR, as well as fundamental notions of human rights.
The Russian Federation has failed to restore to Estonia property and national treasures that were looted and removed to Russia during World War I, the return of which was expressly agreed to by the USSR in the 1920 Peace Treaty of Tartu. Though Estonia has now regained its independence from the Soviet Union, Russia is continuing, since 1944, to forcibly and illegally occupy approximately 5% of Estonia’s lawful territory.
As a result of the USSR’s aggression of 1939 and renewed military conflict in 1941, Finland lost approximately 10% of its territory. About 11% of the Finnish population lost their homes and were forced to abandon their ancestral lands.
The USSR forcibly annexed parts of other countries during or directly after World War II, notably from Japan, Afghanistan, etc.
The Russian Federation continues to wage colonialist war in the Chechen Republic, relying on the same tactics of genocide that has become its hallmark, and refusing to engage in any negotiations whatsoever with the democratically elected leaders of occupied Chechnya.
In sharp contrast to Nazi SS-Commander Joseph Goebbels who acknowledged the status of partisans fighting against German occupation as enemy combatants, the Russian Federation’s leadership obstinately labels all opposing freedom fighters terrorists, despite the fact that the latter have repeatedly invited the Russian Federation to resolve conflicts through negotiations, as several Chechen leaders have done.
The Russian Federation demanded and received compensation from Germany for the hard labour carried out by captured Russian citizens who were forcibly taken to German labour camps during World War II. However, the Russian Federation obstinately refuses to compensate Estonians and citizens from the other Baltic nations who were imprisoned in the GULAGs and forced to work in sub-human conditions.
The Russian propaganda machine systematically disseminates lies about Estonia and Latvia. Typical such falsehoods include assertions that Estonia and Latvia approve of Nazism, or that they discriminate against ethnic Russians living there. Quite in the identical manner Hitler accused Poland and other European nations of repressions against indigenous Germans to justify Germany’s invasion of her neighbouring countries.
The listed items are not inclusive, by any means. But even these points suffice to demonstrate that the present leadership of the Russian Federation, consisting overwhelmingly of former Communist Party functionaries and the KGB officers, has no intention of atoning for atrocities and crimes against humanity perpetrated by its lawful predecessor. Instead, any mention of such past crimes is regularly silenced or simply denied, or else the Russian government attempts to justify them. In fact, the crimes that were so widely committed by the USSR are often repeated and continued by the Russian Federation even in our days.
While verbally defending the fight for freedom by those subjugated under western colonialism, the present leadership of the Russian Federation is actively and forcibly suppressing the same aspirations by the peoples living under their own rule. The United Nations General Assembly approved the proposal of the former USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev to grant independence to colonies and territorial protectorates. In reality, the Russian Federation which has declared itself as the legal successor state to the USSR, is attempting to thwart the independence movements of all the many peoples living in its vast territory under its power.
We ask the world to recall that Chechnya was incorporated into the colonialist Russian Empire in precisely the same manner that, for example, France and Poland were incorporated into Hitler’s Reich. The Chechen Republic has been forcibly held within the Russian Federation against the will of the Chechen people. To achieve a superficial legitimacy for its continued subjugation of Chechnya, Russia recently held an “election,” in which local Russian soldiers were also permitted to vote. Estonians have never recognized France or Poland as being a part of Hitler’s Greater Germany. Nor would we have had such a fraudulent and farcical election been carried out during World War II by the occupational forces in France, Poland or elsewhere in occupied Europe where German soldiers were allowed to vote. Even if the German occupation and its accompanying repression had lasted in France, Poland, in the Baltic States or elsewhere for as long as the Russian occupation has lasted in Chechnya, it would have made no difference in our recognition of the legal government and rightful representative of the Chechen people. The Estonians relate in precisely the same way to what is presently happening in Chechnya.
In attempting to accord superficial legitimacy to the Russian Federation’s illegal actions in Chechnya, Russian propaganda continually disseminates the myth that the whole world must be forever indebted to the USSR for its having played a major role in the destruction of fascism. At the same time Russia maintains absolute silence about the role of the USSR in strengthening of fascism through the Friendship and Border Treaty Pact signed with Germany on September 28th, 1939, when France and Great Britain were already at war with Germany. The USSR provided Nazi Germany with grain and raw materials until the moment that its former ally invaded the USSR. Thus, the USSR can justifiably be compared with a pyromaniac who claims to be a hero for helping to extinguish the house-fire that he himself had set. That the pyromaniac himself suffers burns in the process provides no basis for his public adulation. The pyromaniac’s assistance in quenching the fire could be, however, taken into consideration in mitigation of his punishment.
The Russian Federation, in its attempt to deflect international attention away from Russia’s past and present atrocities, is planning to arrange a huge propaganda show on May 9th of this year, to which many heads of state have been invited. Participation in such an event can only be justified if it were accompanied by a jointly signed demand to Russian Federation’s leaders to right the above-cited wrongs and crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated. Should the leadership of the Russian Federation not be prepared to comply with these demands or refuse to constructively confer on those issues, it would be just and proper for all the invitees to the May 9, 2005 planned propaganda show in Moscow to decline to participate.
In conclusion, we recall the agreements of Munich, Moscow, Teheran, and Yalta that resulted in the division of Europe and the validation of totalitarian regimes throughout Eastern Europe. Participation by leaders of the world’s nations on May 9, 2005 at Moscow’s celebrations would also constitute a plain but tacit acquiescence in Moscow’s continuing repressions and blatant misinformation campaigns.
We, former GULAG prisoners of Estonian nationality, shall never forget the encouragement and support we received from the leaders of many nations, organizations, and world opinion during our incarceration up to the end of 1980’s.
We would be grateful for your understanding and statesmanlike support of the issues we have here raised.
Thanking you in advance for your positive attitude to our letter,
Tartu, April 11th, 2005