RIGA - Artis Pabriks, Latvia's new foreign minister, said this week that forming a new intergovernmental commission with Russia would be a waste of time and that he would like Russia's leadership to finally issue an "objective assessment" of the 1940 Soviet occupation of the Baltics as a way of turning a new page in bilateral relations.
Russian officials have reportedly said that a new intergovernmental commission must be established to promote relations even though such a commission has been in existence for seven years.
Russia believes that the present commission has exhausted its resources, while Pabriks has suggested that the lack of political will that has dogged the commission was likely to hinder any future commission as well.
"Right now we are in a bit of a dead-end, as the legal understanding of how the commission could work differs," Pabriks said. "Wasting time is not in our interest."
Mikhail Margelov, head of the international affairs committee in Russia's upper house of Parliament, would not comment on the issue.
The present commission was established in 1997 but has never really taken off due to postponements and changes in staff. Last year Russia canceled the scheduled meeting for the commission due to tense relations between the two countries.
In late July Russia urged that Latvia confirm its wish to uphold the intergovernmental commission, to which the Foreign Ministry said it was prepared to start work on the commission.
Pabriks said on Aug. 14 that he would like to hear an "objective statement" from Russia as to the occupation of 1940.
"We want to hear that Russia in some way may have an objective statement regarding the events of 1940. This is purely for moral and ethical reasons, which could promote our relations," he told the Baltic News Service.
Margelov, however, has said that Russia's assessment of the events of 1940 was aptly demonstrated through the policies of glasnost, perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He added that the "historical period for Latvia was very hard," as the country was between Hitler's Germany and the U.S.S.R. According to Margelov, 1940 was a tragedy for those Latvians that refused the country's incorporation into the Soviet Union, while for others it was an "expected event," and the Nazi occupation of 1941 was a "great tragedy."
"We understand that the historical period was not simple," said Margelov.
After visiting the Latvian Museum of Occupation last week, Pabriks suggested that Russia begin a discussion about the Soviet occupation of Latvia and the Baltic states, hoping that it would "result in a better understanding in admitting the fact of the occupation."
Pabriks also said he intended to take the Occupation Museum exhibition to Brussels and Strasbourg to explain Latvia's history.
Russia's Foreign Ministry, however, has criticized the idea as "pointless," claiming that such a stance shows "complete ignorance concerning the mood in the Russian public, which, as is well known, has a common understanding in regards to approaching historical problems."
Many Baltic politicians, including Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts and former Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse, have called for a Europe-wide condemnation of communism. Others have demanded that Russia compensate the Baltics for the 50 years of occupation.
Meanwhile, Ina Druviete, chairwoman of the committee for human rights and public affairs in Latvia's Parliament, said that Latvia should not ratify the National Minorities Convention while protests against the education reform are still going on in the country. She said ratification of the convention would only split society further.
Special Task Minister for Integration Nils Muiznieks has repeatedly said the convention should be ratified, and that it would only promote societal integration. He did add, however, that the convention should be ratified with one reservation - namely, that street signs are only in Latvian.
Pabriks, for his part, said the convention should be ratified if "we know for sure that it could promote this integration and society's consolidation processes."
He added that if the convention was ratified, "there are certain aspects that would simplify the Foreign Ministry's work, since a part of the reproaches would be channeled away and we could concentrate on other things."