Balts mark Day of Mourning and Hope

  • 2005-06-15
  • Staff and wire reports
VILNIUS - The Baltic states commemorated the 1941 deportations this week, with leaders decrying Russia's attempts to whitewash Soviet history and calling on Moscow to pay reparations to victims of the deportations.

Addressing a small gathering at the Freedom Monument, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga stated that these crimes have no statute of limitations and asked that they not be forgotten.

In his remembrance speech at the Vanemuine Theater in Tartu, Estonian President Arnold Ruutel said that the country lost one in five of their compatriots and almost all representatives of ethnic minorities as a result of World War II and the occupations. "But the war and the occupations brought Estonia not only human losses that add up to nearly 180,000… Estonia lost due to a fall in the quality of life and skills, destruction of the environment and morale," he said at a conference on the subject.

In Lithuania, leaders marked the Day of Mourning and Hope by laying flowers at a special memorial. Speaking in Parliament, Homeland Union MP Rasa Jukneviciene took a jab at Moscow when she said, "the Machiavellian show is for the whole world to watch in 2005, in the 21st century." She was evidently referring to the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany organized by Moscow. The celebration failed to acknowledge the crimes against humanity committed by the Stalin regime.

According to information available to the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, every third resident of Lithuania fell victim to Soviet repression from 1940 's 1958. Thousands of people were exiled to Siberia and perished in Soviet camps, resistance movements, were tortured to death or executed.

On June 14, 1941 the Soviet occupying force began sending Balts to camps and prisons in the most disadvantaged regions of the USSR. The deportations recommenced after the Soviets reoccupied the countries from Nazi Germany and then again after World War II during the partisan resistance movement that lasted until the mid-1950s.

In Latvia, historians' research has shown that the June 14, 1941 deportations affected over 15,000 Latvian nationals, Jews, Germans, Poles, Russians and others.

Some 50,000-60,000 Lithuanians 's every third prisoner or deportee 's died in exile. One half of the deportees could not return home for 10 's 30 years, while various professional and other restrictions were imposed on them and their children. In all, Soviet authorities deported about 150,000 people from Lithuania, most of which perished in the Soviet camps from inhuman conditions and starvation.

Vike-Freiberga said that overnight on June 14, 1941 people who were included on the lists were detained and deported without a trial. She admitted that Latvians were also involved in these crimes, including Vilis Lacis, a famous writer, Alfreds Noviks, and others.

The president voiced regret over the Latvian state being unable to provide more help to those who were doomed to death but survived and returned to their homeland. "You are winners, not losers, because that system has vanished," she said, addressing those in the crowd who had been subject to the repression.

Ruutel said history has taught people that closing their eyes to consistent restrictions of democracy may lead to the rise of totalitarian, and eventually, a criminal regime, as happened in Europe between the two world wars.

The president pointed out that less than 20 years ago these events did not exist in the official treatment of history imposed on more than a hundred peoples. "In these conditions it was unprecedented when the then Soviet Estonian Supreme Council began to discuss manifestations of Stalinist terror. The discussion produced an act that gave a legal assessment of the mass repression of the 1940s and 50s, declaring them unlawful acts and crimes against humanity. That assessment substantially equalized Stalinism with Nazism," Ruutel said.

Responding to demands for monetary compensation from Russian authorities, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said that restitution damages should be settled by way of negotiations with Russia rather than by adopting unilateral resolutions, such as the one proposed by the Homeland Union last week. He said that the government's efforts alone are not sufficient to negotiate the restitution of the Soviet occupation damages with Russia. In Brazauskas' words, only joint efforts with other countries that have suffered the Soviet oppression can lead to some positive results.

In 2000, Lithuania passed a law obliging the government to negotiate with Russia over occupation damages, but Moscow has refused to participate in such negotiations. Lithuania has estimated the damages done by the Soviet occupation to total 80 billion litas (23 billion euros).