Victory Day Irks Baltics

St. Petersburg Times
January 14, 2005
By Vladimir Kovalev

The three Baltic states are wary of attending Russia’s 60th anniversary celebrations of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Kremlin has invited international leaders to the Victory Day parade in Moscow in what it plans will be the highlight of this year’s celebrations.

On Wednesday, Latvian president Vara Vike-Freiberg announced she would attend the celebrations, but emphasized that for Latvia, World War II did not end on May 9, 1945. For Latvians it ended on May 4, 1990 when a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union was signed, she said.

“May 9 is not only the day of victory over fascism,” website quoted her saying. “It also represents the loss of independence for all three Baltic states. We have to show the world the other side of the date.”

She justified her decision to attend by saying that as the president of a member country of the European Union she belongs with the other leaders of EU countries at the celebrations.

“We cannot allow a repeat of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences where the fate of Latvia was decided without its participation,” she added.

But the Baltic states, who had been part of the Russian Empire, were independent after World War I and refer to the Soviets who occupied them in 1940 as invaders. The Nazis drove out the Soviets in 1941, but the Soviets returned in 1945, resulting in mass persecution of Balts by Soviet secret police. Many Balts went into involuntary exile.

The political map of Europe was redrawn at conferences in Yalta and Potsdam, resulting in an Iron Curtain running across the heart of Europe.

Ill feelings continued after the fall of the Soviet Union, with Moscow regularly condemning treatment of ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic countries. Some Balts demand compensation for mistreatment they received in Soviet times, something that Moscow has fiercely rejected.

Moscow had hoped to use the Victory Day gathering as an opportunity to finalize post-Soviet borders with the Baltic states.

Baltic politicians say signing a border agreement is not a sufficient reason for heads of Baltic States to come to Moscow.

“By attending the commemorative events in Red Square, the Baltic presidents will essentially acknowledge Russia’s victory,” the English-language Baltic Times, published in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, said in an editorial this week. “No spin control, be it from the Kremlin or the presidential palaces here, can refute this. If the Baltic presidents decide to do that, fine, we won’t second guess them, but they should get something commensurate in return – and that is not a border agreement. “The only thing worthwhile is recognition of a different kind – namely, that the Baltics suffered as a result of Soviet occupation,” the editorial said.

Aldis Kushkis, a member of the New Time faction in the Latvian parliament, was critical of Russia’s stance on Tuesday.

“Russia is one of a few countries that has not admitted the facts about the occupation and annexation of Latvia,” he was quoted as saying by Riga newspaper Chas.

Latvia’s claims against Russia are to the state, but not to the Russian people, he added.

“Because Russia is a successor of the U.S.S.R., it has to answer for its [the U.S.S.R’s] actions,” he said.

A petition signed by the faction’s members on the issue has not been sent neither to President Vladimir Putin, nor to the Russian embassy in Riga, because the deputies have decided “this would be a too big honor for them,” the paper said.

Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst at the Moscow based Heritage Foundation, said the spat is only the beginning of wide ranging discussions within political circles of the Baltic States and also in dialogue with the Kremlin.

“This is going to be a very sharp political discussion,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview. “I’ve just been to Estonia and the discussion there has already broke through the level of business-related interests and turned into a very serious issue.”

“Russia has made it very clear that the visit of the heads of the Baltic States will be tightly linked to the question of signing the border agreement,” he said. “How this question will be resolved is still open. It’s going to be a matter for a serious concessions on particular questions between these states and Russia.”

After the Baltic States became part of the Soviet Union in 1940, some eastern territories was given to the Russia. Lithuania signed a border agreement in 1997 and ratified it in 1999, but it was not ratified by Russia’s State Duma.

“Judging by the current foreign policy in the country, it is unlikely that Russia will make any compromise to the Baltic states’ demands,” said Tatyana Protasenko a political analyst in the sociological department of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“No concessions will be made,” she said Thursday in a telephone interview. “This was clearly seen in the last State Duma elections when the genie of nationalism was let out of the bottle. This is the country’s policy at the moment. I had a chance to see and hear on TV a new song performed by Oleg Gazmanov called ‘I was born in the U.S.S.R.’ This is not a joke. This is serious ideological [propaganda].”