Latvia stepped forward as an Eastern European leader on May 12, adopting a declaration by Parliament that denounces Communist rule. Foreign policy experts, however, say that the declaration will hardly strengthen relations with Russia and that its international and European importance is rather explanatory.
The declaration, which denounces totalitarian Communism and calls for the repatriation of former Soviet army officers to Russia, also asks Russia to recognize the consequences of Latvia's occupation and to denounce the events that took place during Soviet rule.
"The Soviet Union occupied and annexed the Republic of Latvia, destroyed its state system, killed, tortured and deported hundreds of thousands of people, robbed them of their property without any legal reasonâ€¦ persecuted people for their political views, religious belief and national origin, and tried to demolish and Russify Latvia's national culture by sending in hundreds of thousands of Soviet Union residents," the declaration reads.
Latvia's former foreign minister, Valdis Birkavs, said that such a proclamation was necessary.
"The EU always says that life must be lived looking ahead, but it can only be done by looking back at the past. We undertook the role of Eastern European leader by condemning Communism. It could have been Latvia's triumph, clearly defining its role in the EU and the world, if Latvia had been constructive before and had signed the border treaty with Russia," said Birkavs.
The former minister added that it was unlikely Russia would provide any compensation for Soviet-era damages within near future. "A number of years will have to pass for Russia to change the way Germany did. The change came easier to Germany as the losing side," he said.
Political scientist Karlis Dauksts agreed, noting that Russia will be especially unwilling to provide compensation now that Latvia has adopted the declaration. Dauksts added that he expected bilateral relations with Russia to further deteriorate - although without any serious consequences 's and that the declaration lacked strength.
"Those [the declaration] are only empty words. It is not a real policy, but a verbal exchange of opinions. We should put all declarations aside and finally start practical negotiations with Russia," he said.
Meanwhile, political scientist Zanete Ozolina said she expected a dual response from the international community. Russia will denounce the document, she explained, but the West will be understanding since the Council of Europe has passed a similar declaration.
As for Latvia receiving compensation from Russia, Ozolina agreed with her colleagues, saying that was not probable for the near future. She added, however, that the document could be especially important for coming generations, and that Latvia should have adopted such a declaration a long time ago.
Yet not everyone in Latvia supported the motion. MEP Tatjana Zdanoka, representing For Human Rights in a United Latvia, protested the document, saying that it violated human rights.
"A number of its [the declaration's] assertions would create a legal basis for the violation of human rights and lead to huge injustices in my country, Latvia, as well as in neighbouring Estonia," she said. "The motion for a resolution states that the countries of Eastern Europe were under Soviet occupation for many decades. In the case of Latvia and Estonia, such an approach would have dangerous consequences for the more than half a million people who settled there during those decades."
The document also notes that, contrary to the crimes committed by Nazis, the atrocities carried out under Communist rule have neither been spoken about nor denounced. At the same time, the declaration says that Latvia is willing to maintain good relations with Russia through "achieving a sincere and standing reconciliation" over the crimes of the past.