The Baltic states won a small, albeit enormously important, victory last week when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution recognizing the occupation of the three countries and asking Russia to compensate the victims 's "persons deported from the occupied Baltic states and the descendants of deportees" 's of the occupation.
The phrase, part of a larger resolution on Russia's commitments to democracy and freedom (in its final version, far from flattering for Moscow), passed despite an impassioned plea from Russian delegates to leave out the word "occupation."
In a separate gesture, European Parliament President Josep Borrell opened a legislative session with a speech dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are members of the EU, he reminded MEPs, and so their history was "our history." In a discreet jab at Moscow, he said that countries that forgot their history were likely to repeat it.
The significance of Borrell's words cannot be overstated. West Europeans have a remarkably different perspective of World War II than those in the Eastern half of the continent, and bringing them around to see "the other side of the story" is no easy feat. Likewise, inclusion of the word "occupied" in the final version (it was not in the draft) is the result of persistent work in reminding the rest of Europe what the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the almost one-half century of communist rule did to the Baltics. These efforts, initiated by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga earlier this year, are beginning to bear fruit.
The Baltic states, of course, will never see any compensation. Only the foolish would harbor illusions that Russia, even with its massive cash reserves, will start doling out reimbursement to those who suffered during the Soviet Union, particularly the Balts. But this shouldn't diminish the sense of victory.
At the same time, last week's accomplishments in Strasbourg should also serve as stimuli for Baltic leaders to persist in their PR campaign. The PACE resolution on Russia contains a plethora of strongly worded recommendations about shortcomings in the country's record on human rights, particularly dealing with minorities such as Chechens and the Meskhetian Turks. The Balts can use the evidence behind these findings as ammunition in its confrontation with Russia, which has shown that it intends to continue pressuring the Baltic governments, on issues such as minority rights in international institutions. One small defeat at a time, and eventually Vladimir Putin will suffer his Waterloo.