Deriving scholarly information from Latvians' suffering

  • 2004-05-27
  • By Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Thank you for being present at this milestone, yet another one in the important work of the Latvian Historians' Commission. I would like to take this opportunity to thank especially all foreign members of this commission for their willingness and readiness to participate, for their readiness to share their professional knowledge and expertise in addressing these particular questions that are of importance to Latvian history.
The period covered in today's volume, the period, the general framework from the 1941-1945 Nazi German occupation, provides a compliment, a broader view and an analysis of the situation to the other special section of research that the commission has addressed, and that is specifically the question of the Holocaust. The two are complimentary to each other, the one providing background to the events that have received special attention in the section of Holocaust and in the various publications that have issued from that line of research.
I should like to express my thanks to all who have participated in the work of the commission, who have participated and presented papers at its conferences and who have contributed to the volume which today is being published.
There are many questions in Latvian history that still remain to be addressed and that are linked to the problems caused by foreign occupation. It is in a way an experiment in social sciences that the Latvian people have been forced to endure. These are tragic events that ruined many lives and have influenced the life of the Latvian people over many decades. But I think we should make every effort to use what information is available to study them objectively, from the point of view of the distance of time and attempt to look at things outside of the framework of the political strictures that any totalitarian system necessarily imposes. There is a great deal to be done, not least of which, the evaluation of the period after the 1949 deportations, which has received attention already, the whole period until the renewal of independence.
Today as president I shall have to make a decision about a bill, which proposes to make freely available the incomplete data that the KGB, or whatever you call it by the initials of that time, has left behind as part, and only part, of its archives.
My own feeling as scholar and scientist is that such material first needs serious analysis and presentation from a scholarly point of view, and only then can it be made freely available to all comers, which would otherwise have difficulty in interpreting a very complex notation and different types of information that are contained therein. And the impact on many lives, on their civil rights in many ways and on those of their descendants, could be extremely serious.
I am awaiting the results of the deliberations: at his very moment we have asked specialist to give us their opinions on this particular concrete question. But I think that it is just an illustration of how complex many things are and how little scholarly study they have received as yet.
There is material there that should be analysed in a scholarly and objective way. I think that is when it will be the most useful for historians, for social scientists, for social psychologists and for political scientists. The judicial aspects, civil rights aspects, all of that has to be taken into account, but the scholarly work should happen independently of all that.
Of course, whatever decision that the president comes to and whatever decision of Parliament in response to the president's decision, the fact remains that these data are there. The fact remains that they have not received scholarly attention. I think that the Historians' Commission has a mission that they should address, and I should like to see them continue examining the whole period until the renewal of our independence in this, as in many other aspects.
There is a great deal to be done. We might as well derive scholarly information from the sufferings that our people have gone through.

This is President
Vaira Vike-Freiberga's address
at the opening of Volume XI
of the Historians'Commission at Riga Castle on May 21, 2004